This past weekend, I wrote a letter to my former bishop (who has also been a friend), which I then shared with a dozen or so other people who are (had been) close family friends prior to my separation from my wife. Due to the Mormon Stories podcast, I knew that it would only be a matter of time before word started getting back to these friends and other members of my former ward, and I wanted these friends to hear my story from me, not fourth-hand through someone else.
Altogether, I sent the letter (a slightly edited version of which is set out below) to 13 people. So far, I have heard back from two. The first response was short, but positive. The second response was from a man who has held some very responsible callings in the church. He wrote in part: “ … there is nothing you have said that would keep me from wanting to continue to be your friend. I am sure this has taken a great deal of courage … My appreciation and esteem for you has not diminished one iota.” Needless to say, I was very appreciative of this response and it revealed to me much about the character of this man.
I have little expectation that some of those to whom I wrote will respond positively, but I hope to yet hear back from some of the others. I have to admit it would be hurtful not to; but I am prepared to move on regardless.
The journey continues ...
For some time, I have thought about writing this letter, and I finally decided the time had come to do so.
Bishop, you know intimately of the serious struggles that my wife and I have gone through in our marriage, going back several years. We were very close to divorce a year ago this time. I had strenuously resisted the prospect of divorce because, to me, this represented the ultimate failure. I had come from a family in which there was a lot of divorce and dysfunction, and one of the main reasons I had joined the Church in the first place was because of the hope it held out for having a functional, happy family.
Despite my reluctance, however, I came to a place about a year ago where I could accept divorce. It really came as a sort of epiphany to me one morning while I was out running. Suddenly, as if a curtain had been lifted, I could see that my life would not necessarily be a failure, that there could be life after divorce, and that perhaps we – my wife, me and the children – would all be a lot happier if we ended our marriage.
Paradoxically, things got better after that between her and me – at least for a brief period of time.
Then, totally unexpected, blindsiding, came President Packer’s talk at General Conference. That talk set off a chain reaction in me that could not have been controlled, even if I had wanted to, and it changed my life, and the life of my family, forever.
You see, not only did I join the Church because of the Mormon ideal family; I also joined the Church because I saw it as offering a way out of something that I had struggled with since at least the age of 12: my attraction to men. I believed the claims that the Church possessed the truth, and the Church taught that homosexuality was something that could be overcome, that I could be changed, that it was not innate, but rather a choice that could be altered. I believed this with all my heart and applied myself with undeviating determination (to use one of Elder Packer’s phrases) to doing just that.
It was while I was on my mission, however, that I realized that the “pray the gay away” thing didn’t work. I came home confused, disappointed and disoriented. For the first time in my life, I considered living my life as a gay man. Though I still didn’t self-identify as gay, I very definitely knew who and what I was.
I had met my wife before my mission, however, and there was also a very big part of me that desperately wanted to have a normal happy family life, to be a husband, a father and a worthy priesthood holder. As we went through a very stormy courtship, I told her of the attractions with which I had struggled since going through puberty. Yet, we both decided that, despite this, our getting married was the right thing to do. And because it was the right thing to do, we felt that things would work out.
After marriage, I devoted myself heart, mind, body and soul to my marriage. I was faithful in the Church, dutiful as a husband and devoted as a father. I could not possibly have tried any harder than I did. I am totally at peace with that.
Yet, there was a conflict deep within me that caused great unhappiness. At the time, I didn’t recognize the source of the unhappiness; I simply knew it was there. It has only been within the last few months that I have come to understand the source of that unhappiness.
Unfortunately, tragically, this unhappiness affected my relationship with my wife and children. Though it was not intentional, this unhappiness, along with the intolerance, need to control and other undesirable results of living a deeply closeted, deeply conflicted life – these all took their toll on me, my wife and my children. Again, I have only come to see this within the past few months, and I have apologized to my wife and my older children for the pain and hurt unintentionally caused by my own internal conflicts.
For almost 25 years, I dutifully tried to live the life of the perfect Mormon heterosexual husband, father and priesthood holder. But when I heard President Packer utter the following words at General Conference, something inside of me snapped:
“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.”
As I am sure you are aware, these statements (particularly coming as they did after a rash of gay teen suicides throughout the country) caused a huge uproar, both in and out of the Church. The written text of the talk was subsequently changed for insertion in the Ensign; and despite what others have said, I know what I heard and I know exactly what he meant. And what it meant to me is what is important, at least for the purposes of my story.
I think the reason these words affected me so profoundly was because I knew Elder Packer was wrong. They contradicted not only the Church’s current position on homosexuality, but my own witness of God’s acceptance of me, just as I am.
You may recall me speaking of a special spiritual experience I had on my mission in which I saw and conversed with the Savior in a dream. What I had never shared, however, is the context of that dream. It came at a time when I was deeply troubled by recurring attractions to men – something which I had desperately prayed and fasted would be taken away from me, but which had not only not been taken away but had come back.
So, in my dream, I sat down across from the Savior and poured out my heart to Him, all my fears, all my self-loathing, all my self-contempt. He looked at me with a love that was almost too intense to bear, through eyes that I shall never forget, and said simply and lovingly, “It’s ok. I love you just the way you are. It’s ok.”
I wish I had more deeply appreciated the significance of that dream at the time, but at least it enabled me to go on at a time when I felt like I was drowning. It was only in the past months that I realized that the most sublime spiritual experience of my life centered on my homosexuality. The significance of this was not lost on me.
As I listened to President Packer, that dream came back to me with a force that was jarring, and the dissonance between what he was saying (along with what happened in the days following Conference) and what I knew to be true was of seismic proportions.
To say that something snapped deep down within me would be a gross understatement. I knew I could not go on hating myself. I was done. I was done hating myself, done hitting my head against the wall, done trying to negate and repress this aspect of who I am. I “came out” to my sister, then to my wife. Of course, she had known of my attractions, but it was still a shock for her to hear me say, “I am gay.”
Though my original intention was simply to affirm myself, not to push our marriage off a cliff, my wife ultimately decided that this was the final straw, and I concurred. Our marriage was over.
Over the next several months, I “came out” to our older children. Some of them have been very accepting, others less so. This is something we will be working out as a family for years to come.
I am sharing these things with you because I wanted you to be aware of them, so that you can better understand what happened to our marriage and what is going on with our family at this time. I want you to know that I did and do love my wife, that I love each one of my children, that I do not “regret” getting married, and I certainly don’t “regret” having any of our children. The only regret I have is the pain that came from situation that scarred me, my wife and, to one degree or another, each of my children.