There must have been some reason why, almost 18 years ago, I went in to see our bishop, while in graduate school and serving as ward executive secretary, to tell him that I “suffered” from “same sex attraction”. But for the life of me, I can’t remember now what it was.
As I look back on my early married years while I was in graduate school, and in light of my recent “coming out,” I have tried to remember what was going through my mind in terms of same sex attraction. We lived in married student housing on the edge of campus in a large city. I saw plenty of guys all the time, walking across campus and in classes. But yet I don’t remember having a “problem” thinking about guys. I certainly don’t recall ever having a guy crush or anything approaching a bromance. (Well, maybe just a little one.)
So why, I wonder, did I go so far out on a limb to do something I had never done before and have never done since: confide in my bishop that I secretly harbored an attraction to men? I admit it: I’m baffled.
But I think my bishop was far more baffled by my confession than I am now. I don’t remember exactly what I told him, but I think our conversation went something like this:
“Well, bishop, I asked for this opportunity to talk to you today because something has been weighing on my mind, and I’ve decided I want to get it off my chest.”
(Remember, I was serving at the time as executive secretary. Every other member of the bishopric was about the same age I was. My wife and I had been married about 3 years; we had one child by then and another one on the way.)
The bishop looked nervous and his brow was somewhat furrowed. I imagined him thinking, “Oh no! What now?”
“Well, bishop, I’m struggling with same sex attraction. I’ve pretty much always struggled with same sex attraction, and even though I’m married, I still struggle with it.”
His facial expression shifted from worried furrowed brow to deer-in-headlight look. This quickly morphed into a look that conveyed total incomprehension.
I think by then, I had started to cry a little bit. This made the bishop even more uncomfortable. He shifted in his chair and looked over the top of his glasses at me.
“Do you mean,” he finally said, “that instead of thinking, gee that’s pretty woman walking down the street, you instead think, there goes a good-looking guy?”
Rather stunningly simplistic, don’t you think? But in an effort to go with this tack that the bishop had decided to take (after all, he was the one who was supposedly entitled to inspiration on my behalf), I said, “Yeah, that’s sort of it.” (The words “gay” or “homosexual” were, to the best of my recollection, never used in our conversation.)
After that, my memory goes blank. I have no idea what he said after that or what I said. But I’m pretty confident that he didn’t go into any details – he probably didn’t want to – nor did we discuss, in any substantive way, what this “revelation” meant to me personally, or to me and my wife as a couple.
I have the impression that he reacted in much the same way concerning my same sex attraction as he would have had I told him that I had a problem with masturbation, i.e., it was a “bad habit” that needed to be overcome. This impression was reinforced in subsequent bishopric meetings when he started to call on me to say the prayer, then changed his mind and called on someone else. He obviously saw my attraction as a “worthiness” issue that had temporarily afflicted me and would go away with time.
There were no follow-up appointments, and the subject was never discussed again between me and the bishop. End of story. I never again talked to him, or to any other bishop, regarding my same-sex attraction.
I look back on this incident now with a mixture of bewilderment, bemusement, sadness and regret. I am bewildered and saddened by the fact that I do not have a clearer memory of what was going on in my mind and heart that was obviously significant enough to propel me into the bishop’s office. I do know I must have written about this in my journal because I recall ripping certain pages out of my journal at a later date, wanting to leave no record of my struggles with homosexuality.
I am somewhat bemused by the bishop’s initial response to my revelation, but I am also saddened by it. I wonder what might have happened if he had really pursued the matter. Would this have had the effect of forcing the issue to the surface and inadvertently forcing me to confront my gayness? I wonder ...
I can’t recall whether I told my wife, either before or after the appointment, why I had sought a meeting with the bishop. How might this have affected our marriage had the bishop called my wife in so that we could discuss this together?
I am left with the conclusion that the bishop didn’t understand homosexuality and, in consequence, didn’t think I was really “serious” about being attracted to men. Again, the comparison to masturbation: it was of some concern, but I was a strong member of the church and could “deal with it.”
I look back on this incident with regret because, even though I cannot remember the circumstances that propelled me to talk to the bishop about this, I was obviously concerned enough to feel that I needed “help” of some sort. I wonder what might have happened if we had lived along the Wasatch Front at this time instead of in a large city far away from the center of the church. For example, how might my life have been different if the bishop had asked me to go to Evergreen? How might such an opportunity to explore my sexuality with others have perhaps affected the course of my life?
As it was, the whole matter was promptly swept under the rug and forgotten. Based on my experience with this bishop, I concluded it wouldn’t do any good to ever bring the subject up again with another bishop. So, I locked myself into the “Peter Priesthood Path” and marched forward, believing in the Path, yet at the same time dealing with feelings of guilt and self-loathing on a regular basis, resenting the guilt and self-loathing, but believing I had no other real choice.