[This story deals with my Mormon past. If this isn't the sort of thing that interests you then there's lots of other fun stuff on the blog to explore. I include these stories about my Mormon past because there are a number of visitors here who have an interest in such things and you know, because I'm so determined to win the popularity contest I have to keep trying to include something for everybody. Yeh, that's me - a real people pleaser.]
I grew up in Rome where I moved with my family in the very early sixties. Remembering almost nothing about my early childhood days in Alaska, Italy because the place that I called home and was the country that I was most closely identified with. Even though Italian was my second language my native fluency in it placed in on an even par with my English. So in virtually every way imaginable except for my blonde hair and blue eyes, I was more Italian than American when my family moved to Southern Idaho in the late sixties.
The overwhelming culture shock of returning to live in America as a teenager left me feeling isolated and lonely. I had nothing in common with the rest of the guys my age and they either ignored me or treated me like the eurogeek that I was. So I became friends with the kids from the special education classes and dated a lot of girls. I remember Joyce in particular; she was my age with short brown hair and Down Syndrome. She and her friend Janice, a hydrocephalic, used to hang out with me from time to time and for Valentine's Day one year they made me a little card in which Joyce wrote; "To Tommy. You are my best boyfriend."
I loved being Joyce's best boyfriend.
In addition to hanging out with the kids from the special education classes I played the piano. A lot. During my Jr. High and High School years I practiced the piano at least two or three hours a day and eventually won several scholarships for college as a result of my diligence. I played the piano and organ for church, I played the piano for the school choir and I performed everywhere constantly every chance I got. I had a strange kind of eccentric popularity because of my performances in the school musicals and even got voted best all-around senior. But there was still always something missing. I wanted to be with the guys. I wanted to have a best friend like everybody else had. But it just never seemed to happen. The guys were playing football, basketball and baseball and I was playing the piano. Even though I often dated some of the most popular and beautiful girls, high school became a very lonely experience for me and I left home and that dismal southern Idaho town the night I graduated. I was looking for something but I had no idea then what it was.
So imagine my excitement when I arrived at BYU in the fall of 1972 and suddenly there were all of these guys who seemed to really enjoy being friends with me. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. I didn't know I was gay back then. I didn't even know what gay was. And homosexuality was something I'd only heard whispered about in the dark corners of strange conversations; it had no relevancy to me I thought, because I had always been interested in girls and had dated dozens of them over the years. I had no way of knowing then that my deep longing for friendships with men were simply the early sentinels of my budding homosexuality.
Shortly into my first semester at BYU I became friends with one of the guys on my floor at Deseret Towers. Dan was a tall, good-looking athletic kind of a guy with big doe eyes and a gentle nature. We spent hours and hours together dancing with our girlfriends, talking about our lives and running off in the middle of the night for root beer floats. For Thanksgiving Dan had invited me to his home in Washington but at the last minute we realized that there wasn't room in the car for me so the two of us decided to hitch hike home. It was pretty easy getting rides given our clean-cut, college boy looks. But as that first long day of hitching rides drew to an end and it started getting dark we realized that cars weren't stopping anymore and we were afraid we were going to have to spend the night in an open field along a desolate stretch of highway somewhere in the desert of Idaho or Oregon. Or was it Nevada? We didn't even know where we were and were beginning to be afraid.
So we walked out into a field and kneeled down and prayed that God would help us get a ride. A few minutes later someone stopped and gave us a ride to the nearest truck stop. Our prayers had been answered. The church must be true. Once inside the truck stop we decided that we would start asking some of the truckers if they could give us a ride on into Seattle. The bathroom seemed like a good place to start scouting for potential rides so I approached one of the truckers while standing at the urinals and asked him if he'd give us a ride. He said that he wasn't allowed to have riders but as he zipped up his pants and turned to walk away I could see that he was feeling sorry for us and he said he'd see what he could do.
He told us to go back outside to the counter in the cafe and sit there and wait while he looked around to see if anybody was out there who could rat on him. He said he'd give us a signal if all was clear but not to look at him too much. So Dan and I returned to the counter and waited, glancing over every once in awhile out of the corners of our eyes to see if he was signaling us yet. It all felt so cloak and dagger and I remember how hard my heart was pounding as we sat there waiting for the signal. After what seemed like forever he slowly nodded his head yes and then walked outside to his truck. We waited a minute or so and followed him out.
The ride was a long one but this good Samaritan of a trucker decided he was taking us all of the way home, which at that point was at least seven or eight hours away. We had to keep talking to him and singing to him to keep him awake - something that Dan and I ended up doing in shifts while one or the other of us slept. But that seemed like a small price to pay for a ride to Dan's front doorstep, where we arrived sometime in the wee hours of the night. The bonding that I experienced with Dan during that long and crazy journey to his home in Washington, was just exactly what I'd been longing for; a bonding with a friend that I could have adventures with. Someone who enjoyed being with me as much as I enjoyed being with him. A best friend at long last. I didn't realize that I was in love with Dan then because I didn't know that I could be. But in looking back I can see so clearly that I was.
Back at BYU that first wonderful semester was drawing to a close and for reasons that were never fully explained Dan decided to go home at the end of it and not return. His girlfriend and I accompanied him to the airport when it came time for him to leave and I found myself completely overcome with emotion - so much so that I could barely contain the sobs that threatened to come hurtling up out of my chest. As Dan kissed his girlfriend goodbye and boarded the plane I finally caved in and let the tears flow. I'm sure his girlfriend must have found that somewhat odd. But she was crying too and probably not paying a whole lot of attention to what was going on with me. All I really remember at that point was feeling heartbroken; something I'd never experienced over another guy. It seemed strange but I had no idea what was going on and I just had to let the whole thing slip away into the unknown.
In the months that followed at BYU I had more buddies than I knew what to do with. Everybody was so friendly and so available that I found myself not feeling all that different anymore. I was just one of the guys, having a great time getting into trouble for having shaving cream fights in the dorm and locking our R.A. in the shower. I continued dating a lot of girls, going to classes, and having the time of my life with my new found freedom.
Somewhere in my second semester at BYU I auditioned for an opening as a dancer and was accepted into The Young Ambassadors that traveled around to different cities and states putting on shows. A tour was planned to Northern California shortly after I joined the group and as I boarded the bus to take off for the tour I looked down the rows of mostly full seats and realized that I hardly knew anybody. But I found a seat next to some sleeping guy and settled in for the long ride to California. Sitting in front of me was Gary - a laid back, affable and handsome guy who was a few years older than I was. He turned around and introduced himself to me and we talked for several hours before the bus finally stopped for a lunch break. When it came time to board the bus again Gary asked a couple of people if we could switch seats and just like that I was sitting next to my new best friend.
Our first stop that evening in Los Gatos for a show was followed by being shuttled off in pairs to various church member's homes where we would stay the night. Through some clever maneuvering and rapid deployment of that disarming smile of his, Gary managed to get us reassigned so that we'd be staying together. I remember feeling completely knocked out by the fact that this older, really cool bass player guy had taken such an interest in me and was willing to go to so much trouble to make sure that we'd be rooming together for the rest of the tour. Gary wasn't gay - he was just a really nice guy who wasn't afraid to pursue being with somebody whose company he enjoyed.
We climbed into bed together that night and lay there and talked for hours. Gary was open, curious and interesting and seemed able to talk about anything that came up in the conversation. I was so enthralled that I could have stayed up all night talking to him. At one point he even asked me if I masturbated and I remember thinking that this was the most amazing thing in the world - to be lying here in bed next to this guy and be talking about something that I'd never talked to another soul about before. I wasn't feeling anything sexual; I was just feeling really amazed that we could be talking so openly and comfortably about something that I had begun to feel was so shameful and private.
Somewhere in the next day or two of the tour Gary introduced me to his girlfriend Deb; a stunning, long-haired beauty with a gorgeous voice who played viola in the group's orchestra. The three of us became fast friends and eventually back at BYU formed a dance band together that we called Portrait. We made great music together and had a lot of fun playing for dances up and down the Wasatch Front. When the semester ended Deb and Gary decided to get married and I was best man at their wedding in Salt Lake. I longed for the time with Gary that I'd enjoyed before he'd gotten married but did my best to allow him and Deb them their romance and relationship. I poured my heart out into my journal, filling page after page of how great Gary was and how special I felt being around him. Here again, I was falling in love. But I didn't know it then and I wouldn't know it for a long, long time.
I had turned nineteen during my first semester at BYU and the pressure was building for me to go on a mission now that my second semester had ended. My twin brother left for his mission after those first two semesters and I was expected to do the same. Problem is, I didn't want to go. I was having too much fun at school and the thoughts of having to cut my hair, put on a white shirt and tie and go knocking door to door left me shuddering. And too, I wasn't all that sure I had enough of a burning in my bosom to go out and try to convert people. So I stood my ground and insisted on attending BYU in the fall of '73. Dan had long since faded into the past and Gary was busy with his new life and wife. I was still feeling a longing to have a best friend and wondering from time to time why it was that I was becoming so attached to these guys that paid even the slightest bit of attention to me. I had no idea what was going on so I did what I'd gotten good at doing; just pushing everything unanswerable into the back of my mind and forgetting about it.
That was all fine and well until the summer of '73 when I met Michael. This time I knew I was falling in love but refused to allow myself to think the unthinkable. We became inseparable and our friends often teased us about being the Bobsey Twins since we took to dressing alike and were almost always together when we weren't in classes. We had something of a stormy friendship at times but loved the intense creativity and crazy adventures that we had together. A graduating senior named Carlos came along as that third semester at BYU began and Michael and I vied for his attention like two hungry puppies. Carlos was amazingly attentive and affectionate with both of us and there were times when I would sleep on the floor next to his bed at night just to be near him. Sometimes I would fall asleep holding his hand and other times I would cry when I'd read a little note he'd leave for me on my bed. He called me Tommy and made me feel like the most important guy on earth. For a time, I had not only one best friend but two, and the world seemed like an amazingly wonderful place to be.
As that idyllic semester drew to an end Carlos withdrew from my life and for all intents and purposes vanished. I banged on his door and he wouldn't answer. I pounded on his window at night and he pretended not to be there. And then he left BYU and was gone for good. Just like that Carlos had ended our friendship without saying a word. I was so devastated that I took to standing in the shower to cry so that no one would hear me. Michael was readying himself to go on his mission and our friendship had taken a turn for the worse since we'd crossed a line one night and briefly touched each other in a sexual way. It never went anywhere and was pretty innocent by most standards. But that awkward, searching moment had done its damage and left our friendship in shambles.
By now I was starting to feel that something was wrong with me. I knew that I was having feelings for other men that I didn't understand, didn't know what to do with and was terrified to talk to anybody about. I knew well enough how Mormons felt about homosexuals and I wasn't about to go marching into some bishop's office and tell him I thought I might be one. I'd have rather died. Add to that the fact that I was nursing a broken heart over the abrupt ending of my friendships with both Michael and Carlos and I was in a pretty big mess both emotionally and psychologically.
Although I hesitate to mention it for reasons that will become obvious, there were also other things going on at this time that seriously troubled me. But by writing about them I think I'm painting a more accurate picture of where I was at when all of this was going on. A girlfriend of mine from school was diabetic and sometimes she would have me give her her daily insulin injections. I started keeping some of the needles and while I was in the shower crying my heart out over the pain of losing my two best friends I would jam the needles into my genitals until I was bleeding and bruised. The implications of this behavior became obvious to me many years later, but at the time I had no idea what I was doing. I just knew I was in a lot of trouble, that I was scared and that I was desperate for something or someone to help ease the pain.
Thinking it might help, I went to see a psychiatrist in Provo who gave me a series of tests that indicated that I had a high feminine quotient. Well, duh. I remember sneering at the doctor and wanting badly to tell him that I could have told him as much without wasting my time taking a bunch of stupid tests. If there was one thing I knew about myself at that point, it was that I really liked doing things that most Americans thought were only for girls; things that had always been OK for me to do in Italy but that here in the States were anathema in terms of social acceptability for guys.
Things got pretty rough there for awhile. I wasn't sleeping for nights at a time and so the psychiatrist prescribed an insidious drug called Chlorpromazine that has long since been taken off the market because of its terrible side-effects. And that was the sum total of what he was able to do for me. The sessions with him never once addressed the possibility of my being homosexual. In fact, I don't remember the word ever being mentioned at all in our two short hurried sessions. All I remember is that this guy in a white jacket with graying hair seemed to be as far away from me in the room as he could get and that he was in a hurry to write me a prescription and get me out of his office. He'd been recommended to me because he was a good Mormon and supposedly something of an expert in sexual matters. I don't know what kind of sexual matters he might have been an expert in but they weren't the kind I was dealing with. I called my mom and told her we'd just wasted two hundred dollars.
As the end of December rolled around I was in a state of drug-induced sadness, pain and confusion as the Chlorpromazine began adding its own debilitating weight to what was already going on. Not knowing what to do or who to talk to I found myself walking around crying most of the time. My mom, who had always been so close to me and so supportive of me, wrote me a poem in which she said, among other things, "God gave a mother a son. And now He must take him back again." You know you're in trouble when your mom starts trying to hand you back to God.
The pressure to go on a mission had now become intolerable and I finally caved in and said I'd go. It was suggested on more than one occasion that going on a mission would solve all of my problems - yet another impossibly misguided piece of Mormon platitudinal bullshit. The day my mom dropped me off at the mission home in Salt Lake in January of '74 I was just about the saddest kid alive. And the pictures she took of me in front of the temple proved it. If ever there was a young Mormon boy who should not have been going on a mission at that time, it was me. But there I was anyway, heading off back to Rome to convert people to a church that despised and condemned who I was. A church that I wasn't even sure I believed in anymore. The only burning in my bosom I'd ever felt was for the guys that I kept falling in love with. But I was doing what I was expected to do and my own personal crisis was once again being pushed into the background.
Oddly enough, one night in the mission home while I was on my knees praying the word homosexual came raging into my thoughts and wouldn't leave. God was finally talking to me it seemed; he just wasn't telling me the things I thought he was going to. I was terrified at the implications of what it meant to be homosexual and spent an awful lot of time crying about it after the lights went out at night. A week or so before I was to leave for Italy a letter arrived from Carlos apologizing to me for the way he'd shut me out and had disappeared from my life without explanation. He said that he'd had to do it so that I would stop being so dependent on him - that our friendship had been heading towards something unhealthy and that his actions had been for my own good. His words made no sense to me but I felt strangely comforted just by getting a letter from him.
From the perspective that I have today I've often wondered, based on the nature of our relationship and the things we did together, if Carlos wasn't gay and had run from our friendship out of fear for what he was feeling rather than trying to do me a favor. Even though I've always known where he's living I've never felt that it was appropriate to try to contact him. He did call me once right after I got back from my mission and invited me to go see the movie Mahogany with him. How gay was that? But I've not seen or spoken to him since that night almost thirty years ago. He's married and has a family and it's always felt best to just leave things alone. Still, there are unanswered questions that I've often wished I could resolve with him.
While on my mission I fell in love with a young man named Gianni and it was after my first kiss with him that I finally realized what had been going on in my life. But rather than feeling relieved I was now plunged into the despair of knowing that I was really and truly, that which the Mormon church hated and condemned. I loved being back in the land where I'd grown up and where I felt so much at home but it was a rough two years being a missionary for the Mormon church in Italy and I've often wondered how I managed to survive.
One of the smartest things I did on my mission was to refuse to read Spencer Kimball's book The Miracle of Forgiveness. A companion handed it to me one day and as I was leafing through it I came upon one of the passages that Kimball had written about morality. I read two or three sentences, snapped the book shut and handed it back to my companion. I honestly remember thinking at the time that Kimball was a stupid old man who didn't have a clue as to the things he was writing about. To this day I still believe that this book is one of the most vile things to ever come out of Mormonism and has done more harm to young men and women than anything else the church has cooked up for them. I've since gone back and read the more offensive portions of the book and believe that someday Mormons will be as embarrassed about what Kimball wrote as they are about some of the things Joseph Smith and Brigham Young wrote about.
By the time my mission ended I was facing returning home in disgrace and being excommunicated because of my affair with Gianni. But hey, at least I'd finally experienced making love to another man and could stop calling myself a virgin. Somehow, virginity on me always felt like a glass slipper that didn't fit. I was glad to be rid of it. I just never quite imagined losing it on my mission. (Actually, I didn't lose it either - I know exactly where I left it. But that's another story.) There was some relief in finally knowing what was going on with me but it was a relief that was completely overshadowed by my continuing uncertain and troubled relationship with the church.
Having escaped the harsher judgments of a church court and been granted clemency by an understanding bishop at home, I returned to BYU in January of '76 a confused and zombified RM. (Common mormon acronym for Returned Missionary.) I was just going along blindly hoping that somehow God would take all of this away from me if I kept praying hard enough and kept doing what I was told to do. Apparently, getting God to answer a prayer for a ride while hitchhiking through the desert was easier than getting him to answer a thousand prayers to take my homosexual feelings away. If one prayer can get you a ride, why can't a thousand prayers get you turned into a straight boy?
I took a job working in the Language Training Mission at BYU and was quickly promoted to the position of Director of the Italian area because of my fluency with the language and my enthusiasm for the country and her people. I immersed myself in the work and soon found that it was challenging keeping up with my studies because I loved teaching more than I loved studying. I was popular with the missionaries and their test scores at the end of their two months in the program soon shot way above all of their peers in the other language programs. I loved the companionship of the young, impressionable and adoring missionaries and found myself spending so much time with them that they soon became my entire social life. I barely dated at all during those last few years at BYU and had few if any friends outside of the missionaries I met teaching in the program.
During my last year at BYU in 1977, the new Mission Training Center had been completed and the missionaries now had beautiful dorms to live in while they completed their two month intensive language program. I was not only teaching them during the week but spending all of my weekends and free time with them as well - often counseling those who were troubled, cutting hair for some of the elders and just hanging out with them in their dorms and sometimes staying the night in a spare bunk. Once in awhile I'd break free and go riding a friend's horse up into the mountains south of Provo. But other than that, my life at BYU was with the missionaries.
I'm not sure how it happened really, but somewhere along the way I became friends with a young missionary whose name I don't remember. I only remember his gentleness and how much we enjoyed each other's company. I was to have spent the night in the dorm with him and the other missionaries who shared the room. But there was no spare bunk for me to sleep in and I ended up spending the night in his bed. There was nothing sexual that took place but he and I were curled up in each other's arms the entire night, often moaning quietly at the feelings that were going on between us. None of the other missionaries seemed to notice anything and nothing was said that night or the next day. And he and I never spoke about it. But I knew in my heart that I had crossed a line and was walking on thin ice. The experience had been unmistakably sexual even in the absence of any overtly sexual activity. We may have even kissed - I honestly don't remember. But it was the first time since being with Gianni on my mission that I had been affectionate with anybody, male or female. And it felt really good.
About that same time a missionary came into the program who took an instant disliking to me and he made no secret about it, often challenging me openly in front of other missionaries and teachers alike. He was several years older than the rest of the missionaries and seemed not to be cut from the same cloth as they. He was hard around the edges and had an attitude that seemed distinctly out of place among all of the other young, dedicated and fresh-faced Mormons. As I recall, he also had a lot of difficulties with the language. I didn't know what to make of him at the time but I knew that he was trouble and did my best to avoid getting into anything with him. It was difficult to ignore him though as I often caught him whispering in sneering asides to other missionaries as I walked by.
Eventually he went to the Language Training leaders and complained to them that I was unduly coercing the missionaries and making those who couldn't keep up feel like they were failures. Something of course, which was utterly untrue. But his words seemed to get the attention of the hierarchy who never could understand anyway, why it was that the missionaries under my tutelage were so far out-performing all of the other missionaries in the other language programs. I was called in for a talk and managed to convince the mission leaders that it was my love and enthusiasm for Italy and her culture and people that inspired my missionaries to do so well - that and the fact that I was simply a good teacher and managed to hire and train other gifted teachers who shared my same energy and enthusiasm.
A few days later I was called in again and told that I was being released immediately from my position as director of the Italian Language Training Mission. This time something was different; there was a foreboding and threatening energy that hung heavily in the room. I felt my heart sink into my stomach and knew instantly what this was all about. The blood rushed to my head and I felt dizzy and nauseous. Somebody knew what had gone on between me and the missionary I'd slept with the week before. Somebody had been awake that night in the room and the word had gotten around. I gathered my composure and pretended to be completely bewildered by this sudden decision to let me go. But in my heart I knew. I tried to get them to tell me why they were letting me go but they steadfastly refused to elaborate, saying only that under the circumstances it was the right thing to do. And that I knew what this was all about.
I pleaded for my job but could tell by the look in their faces that it was no use. The decision had been made and my time in the Language Training Mission was over. I also knew without doubt that the missionary I'd had so much trouble with over the previous few weeks had been involved somehow in this mess. I knew he'd heard some whisperings somewhere along the way and had finally found what he was looking for - some serious ammunition to use against me. When I saw him later that day he had a look of defiant gloating in his eyes and confirmed to me with that look, that which I already knew to be true - that he had been the one who had gone to the mission leaders with information he knew would get me fired.
For many years I carried a lot of anger towards this missionary, not so much because he got me fired (that was my doing) but because I knew that look in his eyes. I had seen it before in other guys who picked up on my homosexual energy somehow and decided to go after me because of it. Today we call it homophobia, but back then it didn't have a name. It was just this underlying current of animosity and hatred that expressed itself in a variety of frightening and intimidating ways. I've often wondered how many other gay missionaries suffered at the hands of this mean-spirited elder as he bulldozed his way through the two years of his mission.
I never doubted that I deserved to get fired for having crossed the boundaries of propriety. But it so completely devastated me that I left BYU without even formally graduating, even though I'd completed with flying colors all of my requirements to do so. I knew without doubt that there was an unstoppable homosexual desire and need going on in me and even though I'd been successful at suppressing it during the years following my mission, it was still there and it wasn't going away. And now, in the worst possible scenario imaginable, it had surfaced again. All of my prayers, all of my attendance at the temple and in church and all of my extraordinary dedication to the missionaries in the Language Training Mission, still couldn't put an end to that which was raging silently inside of me.
I wanted to hate myself for having been so thoughtless as to have crawled into bed with a missionary to whom I was supposed to have been extending a sacred stewardship. What was I thinking? How could I have been so reckless and stupid? What was wrong with me? I tried and tried and tried to keep finding some loathsome place inside of me that I could unload all of this guilt and shame into. But I couldn't find that loathsome place. I knew I wasn't a bad person. I knew I wasn't the pervert that others thought homosexuals were. I had known love with another man and it wasn't an ugly, regrettable experience. It was something beautiful and profoundly gentle that had awakened in me all of the best of who I was. It just didn't fit with everything the church had been saying to me all of my life.
I packed my belongings and left BYU with my tail between my legs and drove home to my parent's place in Idaho, not knowing where else to go. My mom gave me a good chewing out and told me to go back to BYU and graduate - that she and my dad hadn't invested all of this money in me to just have me turn and run because I'd gotten fired from a job. Naturally, I didn't tell her why I'd been fired - just that I had been. In her typical Mormon way, she told me that I just needed to get down on my knees and pray and that everything would be OK. So on the same day that I'd arrived, I got back in my car and headed back down to Provo, thinking that she was right; that I needed to return to BYU and graduate. Just do what you're told Tom. Just keep doing what you're told and just keep praying and everything will eventually work itself out.
More unanswered prayers just kept piling up on top of the old ones until they would eventually became a mountain of hopelessness.
As I was driving past Salt Lake on my way back to Provo I felt this strong, inexplicable urge to get off the freeway and go into the city. While there I called on a friend who I'd taught in the Language Training Mission and who had recently returned home from his mission in Italy. It was great seeing him again and after we'd chatted for a few minutes he asked me what I was doing in Salt Lake. Surprised to hear myself saying it I told him I was there looking for a job and then I asked if I could stay at his place for a few days while I checked some things out. He said sure and I asked to borrow a phone book, looked up the name of an employment agency and drove into town for an interview. My days at BYU were over and I knew it. I couldn't go back. And here I was making things up as I went, creating a new life for myself from moment to moment.
After the interview at the employment agency I drove to the top of the avenues there in Salt Lake and sat on a curb and looked out over the sprawling expanse of Mormonism that lay before me down in the valley. I felt odd and empty inside. I didn't know what I was doing or even why I was doing it, but for once I was doing what I felt like doing instead of what I'd been told to do. I didn't need to have a reason. I didn't need to have a plan of salvation laid out for me. I just needed to start thinking for myself.
I wish I could say that from that evening when I sat on the curb looking out over the Salt Lake Valley that everything went along happily ever after for me. But I can't. That was really only the beginning of another long and challenging chapter in my life. I was still holding onto my tenuous beliefs in the church because they were all I'd ever known. It didn't ever occur to me that I could be anything but a Mormon. And it would take sinking down even deeper into the belly of the beast before I would finally realize that I could not be both a gay man and a member of the Mormon church. Something had to give.
I didn't have the benefit of a handbook for gay Mormons or even an inkling that there were other guys just like me out there with whom I could find safe haven. I just had to go stumbling blindly along until bit by bit and heartache by heartache I would discover that the world is a bigger place than most Mormons even begin to understand. And that out there somewhere would be a place wherein I could find community and a sense of self-worth. When you're brought up being taught and believing that homosexuality is a sin and an abhorrently evil one at that, it's a pretty crushing moment to realize that you are that which you've been told is most terrible.
In those first few weeks after leaving BYU and moving to Salt Lake City I met and had an affair with a wonderful man many years older than I was. Although married and a Mormon he was decidedly gay. Our clandestine affair lasted but a few months but during that time I learned a lot from him and still admire him immensely for his willingness to help me find my way when I was so lost. He knew what I was going through; he'd been there. He knew what I was facing; he'd been there too. He introduced me to books, ideas and concepts that suggested for the first time, that I wasn't alone and that there was hope. And in a card that he gave me on our last evening together he wrote these words that have been lighting my way ever since: "We are not doomed because of who we are. We are doomed only if we choose to live in despair because of it."
I took his words to heart and started choosing to live my life in such a way that I eventually found my serenity. And it's a serenity that's far, far away from the reaches of the Mormon church. Even though Mormonism barely registers as a blip on my radar these days I know that there are still thousands of gay Mormons out there who are struggling with the very same heartaches that I used to. My stories are for them; a way of reaching out and letting them know that there is a rich and wonderful life waiting for them outside of the confines of Mormonism.
I believe in a universal law of checks and balances - that right begets right and wrong begets wrong. And that somewhere along the way we all end up reaping what we sow. So I will leave Mormonism to its own self-evident fate and continue to be grateful that I had the good sense to get out when I did. I'm one of the lucky ones really - I got out while I still had enough energy and enthusiasm to build a new life for myself. But others, like Stuart Matis and Jacob Orosco and many others like them, end up taking their lives as the conflict between their Mormon beliefs and their sexuality becomes an overwhelmingly impossible burden to carry. It's for Jacob and Stuart and others who suffer as they did, that I'm willing to open up the book of my life and let the world in.
I'm not an example of how one should choose to live his/her life - far from it. But I am an example of someone who had the courage to leave Mormonism behind and create something new and wonderful in its place. And maybe in that, there's something worth looking at.