I had just sat down to watch another episode of “Queer as Folk.” I’m on the second season. (I know, I know: I came late to the party.) It was a particularly steamy opening, with Brian engaging in his favorite activity.
Then my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number, but I answered anyway, muting the volume as I did so. It’s a good thing I did: it was my new bishop, calling to see when might be convenient to drop by for a visit. Hmmm. I had muted the volume, but hadn’t paused the DVD, and I was finding what was happening on the large screen in front of me very distracting. “How about next week,” I finally replied. He said that would work.
“Oh, by the way,” he added, “I understand you play the piano?” Hmmm. “Yes,” I hesitantly replied. “Do you think you could play for priesthood sometime?” Hmmm. “Um, sure,” I responded, my brain trying to figure out just how he had discovered that I played the piano. I strongly suspected my roommate and began imagining the various ways in which he could die.
When I confronted him the next morning, however, he said that he had not told him. That could only mean one thing: my new bishop had talked to my former bishop. This plus the fact that my records had not yet arrived made me somewhat apprehensive as our appointment approached. Would he outrightly ask me if I am gay? Would he ask questions about “morality”? My roommate assured me that he would not. Nevertheless, I rehearsed certain responses to hypothetical questions with a couple of other friends. I was somewhat apprehensive, but only because I didn’t know what this new bishop new and where I stood.
The Bishop arrived at the appointed hour, and I motioned for him to sit down in our living room. He was dressed casually; no suit and tie. That was a good sign, I thought. I felt good. I was prepared.
“So,” he said, after sitting down. “Tell me about yourself.” The opening thrust. No way. I wasn’t about to respond to such an open-ended question.
“Well,” I responded, parrying, “it sounds like you’ve talked to my former bishop, so you probably already know a lot about me.”
And so it went for the next hour. He would ask a probing question, and I would parry. In the process, we talked about a lot of things: his profession, my profession, how I felt about the Church, where my testimony is at, whether I would play piano for priesthood opening exercises (reluctant agreement, when I’m there), whether by chance I also played the organ, etc., etc. But … I sensed that he knew I am gay and was waiting for an opportunity to engage me on this issue.
Finally, he decided to make a decisive move. “Your former bishop has suspicions about your sexual orientation,” he announced.
At this point, I knew I couldn’t parry anymore without getting into a ridiculous situation, so I did the next best thing: I proceeded to take control of the story. I gave him the 10-minute overview of my life: that I had known since I was 12 that I am attracted to me; that I had repressed this attraction all through my teen years and early adulthood; that I had joined the Church believing that it would provide a “cure”; that I had married, trusting in the Church’s teachings that marriage would “cure” me; etc., etc.
So, my roommate was mistaken about whether the bishop would ask directly whether I am gay, and he was also mistaken about the second question he said the bishop wouldn’t ask me. He asked the same questions he had asked of my roommate last fall: what are my intentions; do I intend to “act” upon my attractions; etc. More gamesmanship.
In these discussions, the bishop used the term “SGA” [same-gender attraction, the Church’s current term of choice for being gay] several times. Each time he said it, it was like fingernails on a chalkboard. I finally got to the point that, if he had used it one more time, I would have informed him in no uncertain terms that I find that term insulting. I didn’t want to have to do that, however, because I really felt that this guy was trying to reach out and that he had a comparatively open mind.
Then, however, he completely blew me away by asking one simple question. “I’m just curious,” he said tentatively, “did you, in your young married years, ever pray that these feelings of attraction would go away?”
I was dumbfounded. First of all, I found it difficult to believe that a bishop who seemed to be pretty hip with respect to gay, er SGA, issues would ask such a question. Secondly, I couldn’t tell whether he was asking because he wondered whether I had tried to “pray the gay away” or because he was gathering information for his own benefit, to confirm a belief that he had already formed that “praying the gay away” doesn’t work.
What kept me from blowing up was his obvious sincerity. But I couldn’t help throwing my head back and saying, “Oh, God!” It was an involuntary reaction. “That is universal among young gay Mormon men!” I exclaimed. “Everyone prays, and fasts and prays, and then prays some more! But I don’t know of a single instance where that particular prayer has been answered.”
“I do know, however,” I continued, “of instances where gay men have finally realized that they were perhaps asking the wrong question, and when they instead asked God if it is ok that they’re gay, they’ve receive a witness that He’s fine with it.” I think this was a bit more answer than the bishop was looking for, however (just as was the opinion I expressed that the policies and doctrines of the Church dealing with homosexuality will continue to change, especially after certain members of the Twelve have passed to their reward).
By the time he left (after asking me one more time whether I’d be willing to play the piano for priesthood), the bishop had been there for two hours. I was exhausted. But at least I now knew where I stood, I was out to him and I had successfully severed my connection to my former ward, which had a liberating effect on me. I was ready to move forward, whatever that will ultimately mean, which, at least in part, apparently means that it’s a bloody good thing I play the piano.