Below is a slightly edited text of a letter I sent to my sister late last week. She's the first family member I'm coming out to.
I hope you received my last letter. I am writing this letter with some trepidation. I wanted you to understand more about your brother and part of the reasons why I have persisted in asking you about childhood memories. Please keep this letter confidential. You will understand why I make this request as you read it.
I have known at least since I went through puberty that I am attracted to men. I guess that means I’m gay. I suppressed these feelings all through my junior high and high school years, then on into my college years and beyond. I was deathly afraid of doing or saying anything that might divulge or expose my true identity. I walked the walk and talked the talk. However, privately, I knew that I was most definitely attracted to men, not women.
When I found the Church, I thought I had found a means by which to finally conquer the demons that had tormented me for years – at least that’s how I felt and thought about it. To me, the Gospel offered a path, and all I had to do was get on and continue on that path. I had a testimony that the Church was true. I saw the fruits of the Gospel in the lives of members and their families. I sincerely believed at that point in time that same-sex attraction (SSA) was something that could be overcome, sort of like alcoholism. I applied myself diligently to scripture study, prayer and service, and I really believed that my faith was being rewarded: I was changing.
Things went well at the MTC and in the first 4-5 months in France. But then circumstances put me in the path of two older male members of the Church, each of whom – independent of each other – could “see right through me.” It was never discussed openly, yet comments were made, and I knew they knew about me because – again, though nothing was ever said openly – I knew they, too, were gay.
Meanwhile, temptations were everywhere. I never sought these out. The city was full of beautiful men, some of whom were members of the Church, some of whom were in our English class, and many of whom we encountered on a daily basis while doing missionary work. There was never a physical temptation, but a lot of things were happening that were pushing me – for the first time in my life – to seriously consider life as a gay man.
Let me at this point back up a bit and say that President Packer’s comments in General Conference a few weeks ago triggered something in me that has propelled me to, among other things, write you this letter.
I knew that President Packer was wrong in what he said. Not only were his remarks out of line with the Church’s official position on homosexuality, but I had my own independent witness that same-gender attraction, in and of itself, is not a sin, is not immoral or impure, or whatever else President Packer called it. I knew this because of an experience I had during my last days in Paris, after I had been struggling with identity issues for weeks. I’d like to quote from something I have recently written to describe that experience:
“It was after struggling with these thoughts and emotions that swirled around me for a number of weeks that I had a dream that was unlike any dream I have ever had, then or since. It was so palpable, so real, so revelatory. Without going into all the details, I dreamt that I saw a person in a large room filled with people dressed in white. His presence seemed to tower over the others. As I made my way to the front of the room, my eyes became locked with His and He beckoned me to come to Him, to take His hand and embrace Him. As soon as I did so, we were transported, just the two of us, to another place, where we sat and talked about my fears and joys, the deepest corners of my soul – and my ultimate secret. My gaze never left His countenance, and in His beautiful eyes, I saw love such as I had never before felt. In those eyes, I saw no judgment, no guile; only perfect, total understanding. His very countenance radiated such intense purity that I felt as if I would faint from bathing in such exquisite peace and love. In this setting, enveloped in love and light and truth, He told me that it was ok – my “attraction” – and that He loved me just the way I was. And that was the message I woke up with.
Although I have shared bits of this dream with others, I had never confided the core of the experience – not even to my journal – that the Lord loved me for who I AM. [my wife knew about the dream, and she now knows about the core message of the dream, because I have told her.] Shortly after this experience, I was transferred, and I continued to struggle, to one degree or another, for the rest of my mission, then beyond. I ultimately made the decision to embrace marriage and family and have not regretted that choice ~ but the struggle continued in the quiet chambers of my inner soul, behind the façade, encased in the false persona.
Which brings me back to President Packer’s talk. I rejected what he said because it was so contrary to this experience I had had on my mission. Acting on an attraction may be one thing; but I knew that being the way I was and am is ok with the Lord. As I have contemplated many things these past few weeks, the thought has occurred to me: Have you ever stopped to think that one of the most sublime spiritual experiences you have ever had centered on your attraction to men? What should this tell me?”
During the remainder of my mission, I continued to wrestle with which path to choose following my mission: marriage, or a path that would likely lead, eventually, to an openly gay lifestyle. Though the pressure I had been feeling had subsided, I had other experiences which showed me that joining the Church, followed by much prayer and fasting, had not changed my basic sexual orientation one iota. I was still VERY much attracted to men. What it did do, however, was give me even more reason to try to suppress my orientation.
You know what happened after I came home. I eventually made my choice: to get married. But before doing so, I told [my wife] about my SSA. I told her some of the experiences I had had, including about the boy I was more or less in love with while in my senior year of high school. I felt I owed it to her, as well as to me.
Since marriage, I have been faithful to [my wife]. I have walked the walk and talked the talk. I love her. I love my children. I love my family. But, I am who I am inside. I have no intention of acting on this or of leaving my family. However, I am no longer willing or even able to repress all of this. It is a fundamental part of who I am as a person. I am sick of feeling guilty about, feeling dirty about it, feeling “impure and unnatural,” in President Packer’s words. His statement (which was subsequently revised before being put out in print) was as follows: “Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember, He is our Heavenly Father.”
Those words cut through my heart, as they did countless other Mormon men and women who are struggling – faithfully, painfully, totally alone for the most part – in the hidden chambers of their innermost soul. But, President Packer didn’t stop there. Not only did he call me “impure and unnatural,” he poured salt in the open wounds by saying, in so many words, that God would never make such a depraved person as me, and that God didn’t love me for who I am – that even before GOD, I could not be my true self because my true self was not acceptable.
The experience of hearing President Packer’s words, following upon other growth experiences in my life during the past months that have nothing to do with SSA, per se, caused a tectonic shift somewhere deep down inside of me: I was NOT going to crawl back in my hole! I was going to affirm who I am: a MAN - who is Mormon - and married - by choice, but who is SSA by birth.
Further, I determined that I was going to continue the process that had already begun of trying to understand what happened to me as a child – NOT to relive all that crap, all the pain, all the sadness. But I was and AM looking for THE PERSON I TRULY AM! Not some false persona, not some cardboard cutout, not someone who is simply going through the motions in life, but someone who is ALIVE to who he is and embraces and affirms it. In short, I want to LOVE MYSELF after a lifetime of DESPISING myself. (You can’t hear me, but I am SHOUTING these words inside me.)
[My wife] and I have talked a bit about this. She had a revelatory experience a couple of weeks ago, that I described as follows:
The past couple of years had been a difficult period in our marriage for reasons having nothing to do with my same-sex attraction. It’s complicated, and I will probably write about it in future entries, but let me simply say now that a lot of our problems had their roots in abuse I suffered as a child and the dysfunctional family situation in which I grew up. A few months ago, however, we experienced what we both termed a miracle in our relationship. I won’t elaborate except to say that we came through these challenges with a different, and what we viewed as a more healthy, outlook on life (including our sex life): we were a lot more open, a lot less “churchy,” and a lot more willing to look and live “outside the box” of conventional orthodox Mormonism (again, a subject for another post).
It was in this environment that we headed into General Conference weekend – the one with the BKP talk. In the ensuing days, I followed with intense interest the articles in the local newspaper and postings on various blogs like By Common Consent.
[My wife] didn’t say much about the matter until after the big demonstration around Temple Square. To her, the protest seemed to be directed against Elder Packer’s comments about gay marriage, and she couldn’t understand why gays couldn’t just respect the Church’s position on this.
I remember standing in the kitchen talking with her about it one evening. I said that I thought that it went beyond this; that what people had found so hurtful were BKP’s comments about the orientation itself being unnatural and evil. Suddenly, she set down the pot she had been holding and looked at me. The look on her face was one of sudden insight and compassion. I wish I could remember her exact words to me at that point, but there were something like this: “Is this painful for you, because of your attraction to men?”
It was like a log jam burst inside of me. I walked over to her, wrapped my arms around her and proceeded to cry like a baby. “Yes,” I replied through tears. “I am tired of feeling ashamed and dirty and useless because of this. I didn’t choose this! And President Packer was wrong! His words did not echo the Church’s position. But beyond all that, I have decided that I am accepting this about myself and not going to beat myself over the head about it anymore.” “But,” I added, “I want you to know that I have made my choice, and I chose you.”
So, she knows that I “have” SSA, and that, by the way, I will have it until my dying day (and beyond?). It’s an integral part of who I am. It’s not alcoholism, for example, or even a propensity to alcoholism (a comparison that some members of the Church have made and are want to make). Sexual identity goes to the very core of a person, and though one may choose not to make that sexual identity their lifestyle, it does not change the fact that it’s there.
Before I go on, I should probably address something that is no doubt in your mind. You’re probably saying, “But you have children! You obviously have sex with your wife. Doesn’t that make you at the very least bisexual and not gay?”
I guess my response to that on one level is, does it make a difference? The fact of the matter is that I am still attracted to men, even if I don’t act on those attractions. And that is the part of my identity that I am trying to recover, embrace and affirm. On another level, I would say that, yes, I have had and do have intimate relations with my wife, and a large part of the fulfillment and enjoyment I take from that union derives from the fact that she is my wife: She is someone I care very deeply about, someone with whom I have shared a very large part of my life, and sexual intimacy follows as a part of that union.
This being said, I would never seek out a sexual liaison with another woman, and I frankly barely even notice women – and, believe me, this is not due to the fact that I am some super-righteous “Peter Priesthood” Mormon.
It is due to the fact that I am attracted to men, not to women. [My wife] tells me fairly regularly that I don’t notice women giving me the eye in the grocery store or somewhere else out in public. And she’s right: I’m not looking for it, so I don’t notice it. But I also have never believed that women are attracted to me, and I have found it difficult to believe when [my wife] has said to me, “Did you see that?” This obviously goes to self-image and a sense of self worth, and the basic fact of the matter is that I have had a low self-esteem and self-worth throughout my life, in large part because at my very core there has been this swirling, hissing, lashing, sadomasochistic mass of self-loathing because of my SSA.
On the flip side of the “checking things out coin”, I have had to restrain myself for many years from looking at men I see out in public, particularly when I’m with [my wife], mainly because I haven’t wanted to hurt her or minimize her in any way. When I’m not with her, I’ve also had to be very careful because of my long-standing and deep-seated fear of “being discovered.” At the very least, I would now like to give myself – without being racked with guilt and self-loathing – that little bit of pleasure and freedom of being able to discretely notice and look appreciatively at another man – not lustfully or lasciviously, but simply admiringly – just like many if not most Mormon men see no problem in appreciating the beauty or sensuality of a woman they see or encounter.
So, that’s pretty much it: I have decided to “out” myself to you. You, apart from [my wife], are the only person who knows [me and knows] this about me. And you now know more of the details than even [my wife] knows. I have not told her that I am writing to you. To me, this is my business, and I must again ask you to keep the contents of this letter to yourself. I will probably come out to [my other sister] in the near future, but I want to do so when I feel the time is right. The main reason I have come to the decision to out myself to you two is because I have had relationships with you in the past that I value, and I want you to know the authentic me. I wanted to do this for myself. I also have no plans to tell my children about this – at least not now and not for the foreseeable future ...
The bottom line is that I know I was born with SSA. It is an integral part of who I am, and to better understand this as well as the rest of me, I need to better understand what happened to me as a child. And to do this, I need your help with memories and impressions. I also need you to tell me about the me that you knew when we were children and what, in your eyes, happened to him.
I hope you will choose to help me on this journey. I would like your help, but I can move forward without it.