My name is Tyler Domgaard, I am an out and proud gay man living in Utah County, studying Social Work at UVU, and I have a passion for working with marginalized youth. Professionally, I work with our amazing queer youth at the John Williams Encircle House in Salt Lake City, Utah.
I grew up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Saints, with a big picture of the Manti Temple on the living room wall, church on Sundays, mutual on Wednesday nights, and missionaries over for dinner once a month. Though my Dad and two older brothers are, like myself, no longer active in the church, they still jokingly identify as jack Mormons. My one older sister and her young family is about as Mormon as they get and my mom started going back to church shortly after I came out of the closet last year.
My childhood was spent in a small mining town in northern Nevada before moving to the Uintah Basin in northeastern Utah when I was 13, then my parents divorced when I was 16 and my Mom and I moved to her hometown in south western Colorado. I find it hard to give my story justice in a short essay like this, it is the story of a secret that caused me a lot of pain growing up in the church, but all I can do is attempt the undertaking. So please bear with me.
I realized I was gay in the sixth grade and spent the summer before my first year in junior high a complete emotional mess. My poor Dad spent that summer constantly reminding me that boys don’t cry and my poor mother tried her hardest to figure out what medical ailment was causing me to always have an upset stomach and no appetite. (That ailment was depression, budding self-hatred, and a little suicide ideation, I just didn’t have those words to describe what I was feeling when I was 12 and crushing on a boy in my deacon’s quorum.) They knew that something was wrong with their sensitive youngest child, but I could never tell them what it really was. I could never tell them that I felt like something inside me was broken. That I was coming to the realization that I was inherently evil.
Being gay was a choice, being gay made you an abomination in the sight of God, that’s what I was taught for as long as I can remember. Yet here I was “choosing” to have crushes on other boys. It was terrifying and I was utterly alone. In my old journals I described my homosexuality and hidden depression as my inner demon, the war I raged in my head. On the outside I was a good kid who loved making others laugh and hated when others saw me crying.
I remember being so distraught before my first temple trip because I felt that I was not worthy to go. Could I get through the interview with my Bishop without him discerning my secret? How could God let an abomination into one of his temples? I got through that first temple trip with only one crying fit to my Mom the night before, confessing to some fictional sin I had committed so that I could tell her I felt unworthy to go to the temple. She assured me that God had forgiven me and that He wanted me to go on the trip. Let me put it to you this way; there was a voice in my head that constantly told me that if the people I loved found out my secret, they would not love me anymore. So I never told anyone my secret. Instead I dealt with it, I fought with it, behind a meticulously constructed mask and well hidden from everyone.
Other than the war I raged inside myself, my entire upbringing was a pretty happy one. I am eternally thankful for the childhood my parents gave me. I do not blame them for their homophobia, they are, like myself, products of rural America. Also like myself they have both grown a lot since I was that distraught teenager with a secret. I learned how to be kind to people who are different than me from my Mom and learned how to work hard and be a man of my word from Dad. Yet because of that war raging inside of me, I have never felt that I completely fit in at church and my parent’s divorce amplified those feelings. I found that I could escape the distress religion caused me by spending time with my nonmember friends. I regard that small town in Colorado where I graduated high school as my home because of the family of friends that I gained there. Being their designated Mormon at Saturday night parties lead to me waking up for church on Sunday less likely and soon I completely stepped away from the church. But it was never really about partying, I had found a group of people who came from broken homes, who showed their imperfections and who were kind people, in short, I found my tribe and they were not Mormon.
I had nothing to do with the church again until I was 21, going to school in Grand Junction, Colorado, when two missionaries knocked on my apartment door. My grandma had sent my address to the local singles ward and they were looking for me. Though I hadn’t given religion much thought for many years, I was still in the closet, living with my secret. I can’t stress enough the pain my secret attraction to other men caused during my developmental years. When the missionaries came looking for me, I could have easily been labeled a functioning alcoholic. I was depressed and angry all the time and really needed to make some course corrections. So when the Elders invited me to begin meeting with them, I agreed. That began a season of changes in my life and lead to me finally going on a mission at 22 years old to Western New York. I could not bring myself to come out to my church leaders then, but felt I needed to tell somebody. I wrote a letter to my Mom telling her that I dealt with same gender attraction but that I still wanted to live the gospel. Watching that letter disappear into the mailbox was terrifying and a few days later I got an amazing voicemail from my Mom telling me how much she loved me, then her and I decided mutually to never speak about again and left on my mission. There’s not much to say about my mission other then it was the hardest thing I have ever done and, despite my views on the church today, I do not regret it. Also the November policy came out while I was serving as a Zone Leader so I felt the sting of it in many meetings where we discussed how our missionaries were going to respond to questions about the policy. And I did end up coming out to my mission president, and even though it wasn’t a bad experience, I felt like he was more concerned with me getting through the rest of my mission and I really wish we would have focused more what came after the mission for me.
When I got home from New York, I decided to move to Provo. My first year in Utah was hell. I was so alone, so deeply depressed, and going through a faith crisis because I could not take the next step in the plan. I could not bring myself to marry a young woman when I knew I could never be sexually attractive to her. I had three suicide crisis that first year, keeping all of my distress completely hidden from my family and friends. Growing up I was taught that boys don’t show emotions, and so I have a really bad habit of internalizing what I’m feeling keeping a stiff upper lip as the British say. After the third suicide crisis, I decided to take a semester off and promised myself that I was going to seek out professional help before reenrolling for school again. During that break from school, I found out about this new resource center for LGBT youth in Provo called Encircle and started volunteering there. It was the first time in my life I surrounded myself with other gay people. Most of the work I needed to do surrounded getting over my own self-aimed homophobia and Encircle was invaluable in helping me do that. I came out to my family last summer and was pleasantly surprised by their reaction. Not to say my family and I constantly have to put effort into making it work, but it could have been worse than it has been and for that I am grateful. My Mom as told me that she would rather see me marry someone that I love and who loves me than to see me active in the church. My Dad, a trucker in the oil field, recently gave me a pink trucker hat, and I love that hat because it represents the progress my Dad has made on his attitude towards gay people since I came out.
There are still a lot of obstacle that we will have to overcome but I am optimistic. In the end, I have mostly been able to reconcile my bitterness towards the church. I came out on social media last October on National Coming Out day and only lost a handful of friends. As an out proud gay man living in Utah County, I must ask my religious friends to forgive and look past what makes me different from them, and in return I must forgive and look past what makes them different from me. If this did not happen in my personal relationships, then I am failing at my undertaking to change Utah’s culture enough for it to be a safe place for queer kids to grow up.
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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.