My name is Scott Burt. I’m a chemist. I enjoy the outdoors (hiking, camping, snowboarding, etc.) I love listening to slow meditative electronic music. I have always been fascinated by and obsessed with dragons. When I have free time, you’ll usually find me baking sourdough bread, reading medieval sagas in Old Norse, or translating traditional folktales from various Scandinavian languages into English so my family can enjoy reading them, too. I have three children and I’m in a mixed-orientation marriage: my wife, Steph, is lesbian and I’m queer.
Even as recently as a year ago, I would never have been able to admit to anyone beyond Steph that I was queer, let alone share a public story like this. I’m getting ahead of myself, but it’s precisely this complete change in perspective that compels me to share my experiences.
I grew up in the LDS faith in a loving and supportive family. Growing up, there was no distinction between church life and regular life: prayer and priesthood blessings were a bedrock of our family life; we grew up hearing stories of my father’s experiences as a missionary as well as the stories of our ancestors who joined the church – both the miraculous and difficult experiences they had; we took long road trips to visit my grandparents when they were serving missions, including two missions in Nauvoo. The gospel was simply part of our everyday life and, because of this, I’ve always had a close relationship to God through prayer. This also gave me a foundation of trust in my church leaders and a strong desire to live up to the examples of my ancestors, grandparents, and parents.
Outside of my family, I was a nerdy, socially awkward, know-it-all who enjoyed schoolwork and reading books far more than I enjoyed socializing. As young as first grade, it was obvious, if puzzling, to me that my personality didn’t fit that of the other boys my age. Among the many differences I could describe, the most important one for this story is that I wore my emotions far too close to the surface. This socially unacceptable tendency to display emotion was quickly beaten out of me by my young peers until I learned to scrupulously hide all my emotions behind a mask of perfection and self confidence.
Being an unsocial bookworm, I spent a lot of time on my own, daydreaming. Not long after I turned 12, I remember being quite embarrassed at the topics that began to show up in my daydreams. I was not familiar with the words in the LGBTQ+ spectrum aside from their use in schoolyard taunts and bullying; however, I was concerned enough with my inability to turn off these thoughts that I spoke with my bishop for advice. Without sharing specific details, I alluded to the sexual nature of these unwanted thoughts and attempted to hide my embarrassment with a mumbled “at least it’s not a problem with the law of chastity.” Unfortunately, my elderly bishop did the worst possible thing for a young man who was already a budding perfectionist: he quoted Matthew 5:28 and told me in a gravely serious tone that this was indeed a serious problem with the law of chastity because there simply was no difference between sexual thoughts and sexual actions. Now, being the overly serious youth that I was, I had paid close attention in Sunday School and remembered quite clearly all the lessons where I was taught that sexual sin is second only to murder in the eyes of God (Alma 39:5-7). Later, as I began seminary, I learned that I would have been stoned to death had I lived under the Mosaic Law and acted on those thoughts that came to me more naturally than anything else. So, given my respect for and trust in my leaders, I took all these teachings at face value; I cut deep into my heart, and planted these ideas there. Meanwhile, I took great care to avoid displaying any outward sign of the anguish this caused me.
This perspective was further supported by many other things I heard in church and seminary over the years and I became thoroughly convinced, without a doubt in my mind, that I simply was not worthy to be alive. After all, how could God love an abomination like myself if His own prophets taught that I was second only to murderers and worthy to be stoned to death? This rather extreme perspective was only reinforced by trusted leaders as I grew up. Of the many examples I could share, one stands out particularly clearly in my mind. One Sunday, our quorum advisor informed us, with obvious relish, that Freddie Mercury had recently died of AIDS: “good riddance!” were his words, followed by some statement about this horrible gay man finally getting “what he deserved.” I was rather oblivious to popular culture at the time and honestly had no idea who Freddie Mercury was, but I remember the shock and horror that I felt at the palpable disgust and hatred in my leader’s voice. This strongly reinforced to me that I had no choice but to keep this shameful side of myself hidden so deep that no one would ever suspect how horrible of a person I really was inside.
Based on our culture’s emphasis on works (2 Nephi 25:23, grace only applies “after all we can do”), I was convinced that if I just tried hard enough, I could change my orientation. After all, I had read “The Miracle of Forgiveness,” and President Kimball promised that if I bloodied my knuckles knocking on the door long enough (i.e., if I could just be perfectly righteous enough), God would take pity on me and change my orientation. So, I buckled down and tried to be as perfect as I possibly could in every facet of my life. I continued to bottle up my pain and emotions and presented the world with a happy confident face. But inside, I felt like a hypocrite. I felt like a whitewashed sepulchre full of decay and rot because I knew what thoughts and desires constantly filled my mind and I hated what I was. As far as I’m aware, no one ever suspected I was constantly waging this internal battle – after all, I was a successful student, an eagle scout, a polite and helpful priesthood holder at church, etc. I was surrounded largely by kind and encouraging people in my ward; but, every time they complimented me or praised me for something I’d done, I felt like an imposter. The harder I tried to be perfect, the more painful it felt when nothing inside me changed and I was forced to bury this turmoil deeper and deeper within me lest any signs of my struggle might be noticed.
Not surprisingly, my anxiety and depression steadily increased and, by the end of my freshman year at BYU, my suicide ideation had surged to levels that were truly frightening to me. Perhaps ironically, if not unexpectedly, it has always been during these times of deep despair that I have experienced many of my most powerful and cherished spiritual experiences. Prayer was my lifeline and God poured out his love to me during these times with an overwhelming power that I can’t describe in words. It was undeniable that he loved me, even if I couldn’t understand why he would love someone like myself. Stepping back to that specific time after my freshman year, I reached a point where the only path I could see forward was to take my own life; however, God made it very clear to me that I was not allowed to take that path. I’m ashamed to say it, but there have been times in the decades after that experience where I have been angry at God, bitter even, that he closed that door to me. There have been times where I simply could not see any other path forward and I yearned for the embrace of death to finally end this overwhelming turmoil inside me that only seemed to become worse with time. In total, I hated myself deeply for 27 years. Throughout these years, I routinely struggled with self loathing, depression, and suicide ideation. Again, thanks to my very early experiences, I honestly felt I had no choice but to present a stoic face to those around me and simply bottle everything up no matter how self-destructive it became.
Well, after trying to be a perfect missionary and a perfect university student (and always feeling like a failure because nothing inside me changed), I got married and hoped beyond all hope that if I just tried hard enough at being a perfect husband and father, God would finally fix me. That didn’t happen. Marriage has an interesting way of stripping away everything superficial and superfluous; any fantasies I held that I might really be straight with some unwanted thoughts sprinkled on top were proven quite false. As difficult as it was, I simply pushed myself harder, hoping desperately that God would see my sacrifice and fix me. About 8 years into our marriage, Steph reached a point where she was able to admit to herself that she was lesbian and came out to me. In that moment of vulnerability, when she shared something so raw and personal with me, for the first time in my life I was finally able to put into words what I had never been able to tell anyone else. Coming out to each other was a great turning point in our relationship and drew us closer together than ever before; however, we both still viewed ourselves as deeply flawed and broken.
Against my hopes and naive optimism, my internal struggle only deteriorated over the next 6 years. Despite coming out to Steph and my deep love for her, those familiar unwanted thoughts and feelings only increased in frequency and intensity. It reached a point where I started to self-harm and was actively researching how I might convince a doctor to physically castrate me as a desperate last-gasp attempt to rid myself of these unwanted desires. And that’s when something finally did change. Now, at this point, I had spent 18 years putting my name on the temple prayer role and 26 years fasting and praying and begging God to change my orientation; but, that isn’t what changed. Instead, while walking to work one day, I was struck with a powerful, but quiet, clear assurance that God had no intention of changing me. Specifically, I was told that he had no desire or need for me to change my orientation. Interestingly, this was not one of those overpowering emotional spiritual experiences like I often had while in the depths of despair; rather, this was a peaceful, transcendent feeling of pure insight that I have felt in the past when the spirit testified of eternal truths to me. It was just as clear and unmistakable as the unexpected witness that I was supposed to marry Steph, despite neither of us being romantically or physically attracted to each other. I must admit that I was shocked. I had never once, in all those years, considered the possibility that it was OK to simply be who and what I was.
Slowly, over the next 9 months, I attempted to break apart my habits of mental and emotional self-flagellation that I had built up over the previous 26 years and I struggled to try and allow my brain to simply be itself while I observed how it responded to the world around me. Interestingly, in the midst of these efforts to reach some semblance of inner peace, Steph had a series of amazing spiritual experiences that led to her coming out to several close friends and then to a number of other friends and eventually coming out publicly. It’s funny, I distinctly remember telling myself over and over again that I was perfectly happy to fully support Steph in coming out, but there was no way in Hell I was ever going to come out myself – I had been deep in the closet for 27 years and the magnitude of the soul-crushing shame I felt in regards to my orientation was such that I was determined to take that secret with me to the grave. Well, after a month of countless deep discussions with Steph, analyzing our past experiences from the perspective that maybe we weren’t actually broken after all, I was shocked to discover my internal perspective had completely reversed. I wanted to tell people. I was tired of hiding behind a mask. Even more strange, when I looked back at the previous 27 years, I no longer felt any shame. That was a miracle that I never dreamed possible: to have 27 years of soul-crushing shame and self hatred completely wiped away.
In the end, I can testify of God’s personal and individual love for each of us. God has consistently poured out his love on me, time and again, reaching out to me when I was at my lowest. And yet, I refused to listen to what he was telling me all those years. Yes, I knew he loved me (in some generic sense) because I was a spirit child of God, but he couldn’t actually love me, right? My self hatred ran so deep that I couldn’t comprehend how completely he loved me that entire time. Sadly, our culture lends itself to viewing God’s love as conditional and it took 27 years of tearing myself apart before I could finally open my heart and hear what God had been telling me all along. That simple (and yet surprisingly difficult) act of accepting myself as I am and actually believing God, believing that his love is unconditional, has completely erased 27 years of shame and self loathing. It’s truly the most curious thing I have ever experienced. Now, to be fair, I still struggle with anxiety and panic attacks. Depression doesn’t just vanish overnight. My sense of self worth is still largely non-existent. I still bottle up my emotions and revert to stoicism when things get difficult. But, I can see things beginning to heal. I can see that my depression has less ammunition to use against me. For the first time, in as long as I can remember, I simply am.
Anyhow, I eventually told a close friend and then my immediate family. I slowly opened up to a few other close friends and have generally become more comfortable telling people when appropriate situations arise. I’ve been very surprised at how positive and supportive people have been as Steph and I have come out, especially considering that I’ve lived in absolute fear for almost three decades that someone might discover this great shameful secret about myself. Despite this, I have kept things on a more personal level because I don’t like being in the spotlight. I have also had some concerns about how being more public about my orientation might affect my employment. However, at the end of the day, Steph and I feel strongly that people need to know. It’s easy to hate and legislate against a political bogeyman; but, how many people out there simply have no idea that people around them whom they love and respect are LGBTQ+ (relatives, friends, colleagues, mentors, etc.)? People need to know that we are here and they need to hear our stories.
I wish people understood that being LGBTQ+ is like being left-handed. This isn’t something we have chosen. Even more important, it’s not something that God needs to fix. It would be absurd to tell a left-handed person that they should look forward to the resurrection when they’ll be “fixed” and can finally experience the world properly as a right-handed person. And yet, this pernicious pseudo-doctrine leads our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters to the brink of suicide because they feel broken, wrong, rejected, and isolated – because of the way we teach things and the way we talk about things, they feel their only hope lies beyond death. From personal experience, I can testify that this is a very dangerous philosophy.
I wish people understood the power of their words and comments. As a parent, I know how often it seems like children and youth aren’t paying any attention to what we’re telling them. But, they are listening. In our idle chatter and joking, are we pouring salt into those hidden wounds the eye can’t see or are we building a safe haven where people, especially youth, can trust us enough to be vulnerable and authentic and find peace and Christ-like love?
I wish people understood how those of us on the LGBTQ+ spectrum feel like we’re being actively pushed out of the church. I love the pure teachings of the gospel of Christ. I grew up with the comforting and sweeping vision of the plan of salvation. I served a mission and entered into covenants in the temple. I take my covenants seriously and I grit my teeth and try hard to remain stalwart and active in the face of those philosophies of men, mingled with scripture, that too often are preached in our church meetings despite the pain and trauma they inflict on our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters. Steph and I constantly feel slapped in the face by comments, lessons, policies, and cultural traditions that insinuate that people like us are tearing apart the traditional family, that we’re inherently wicked and selfish, that 1950’s American gender roles are somehow eternally relevant. As missionaries, Steph and I both taught people about Joseph Smith and how personal revelation is the cornerstone of our religion. God has revealed to both of us (and countless others) very specifically that he made us this way, that he loves us as we are, and that he doesn’t want us to change. What greater witness can we have than from God?
I wish people were less irrational when it comes to mixed orientation marriages. On the one hand, straight/religious people need to stop pushing mixed orientation marriage as a way to fix gay people. It doesn’t work. From personal experience, I can testify that your orientation only gets narrower in the experience of marriage. Looking at the divorce rates for straight people – marriage is difficult enough without throwing incongruous orientations into the mix! On the other hand, I wish there was less pushback from the LGBTQ community towards those of us who choose to be in a mixed orientation marriage. Steph and I chose to marry each other. We’ve paid a steep price and fought our way through emotional pain and anguish to make things work. We’re not lucky, we’re stubborn and unromantically pragmatic. But, we started off as close friends who could discuss anything deeply and we’ve built on that and grown closer as we’ve come out to each other and supported each other and found ways to be vulnerable enough to expose the most sensitive and raw experiences of our lives to each other. Both sides need to let people love whom they choose to love and stop feeling threatened by relationships that don’t fit whatever stereotype they’re most comfortable with.
Anyhow, I hope my story is helpful for somebody out there, be they allies, parents, siblings, or LGBTQ+. The culture within the church can make things extremely difficult, but God loves you. Prayer and personal revelation can bring you peace that you can’t imagine. If you’re willing to bring that most vulnerable part of your life before God and ask Him what He really thinks about you, you might be surprised at His answer.
Want to read another story like this one?
CLICK HERE for more!
This In My Own Words story is a contribution from Let’s Love Better, a Facebook group dedicated to helping people learn to better share love, while fostering an atmosphere of understanding. When we know better, we do better.