It was another “secret” destination – something I hadn’t planned on or expected during my recent trip out of town for Pride weekend. I don’t know what exactly precipitated it. I was sitting in a reading by Armistead Maupin, and something he said triggered the realization, which was stunning.I could not believe I had never considered it before.
This realization explained much of why I had done what I had done – why I had married, why I had repressed my homosexuality, why I had remained active in the Church.
I was a golden convert. When I heard the message of the restored gospel, I readily embraced it. Doing so gave me a sense of purpose at a point in my life when I desperately needed one.
But it went beyond that. I also joined the Church because of the Mormon ideal family. I wanted that. I came from a dysfunctional family in which there had been a lot of divorce, and I wanted the family that I had never had a child. This desire became problematic, which I never fully realized or understood until shortly before coming out, when I realized that I had tried to re-create in my own family, then “fix”, the family I never had as a child (a complex topic for another post).
I also thought joining the Church would get me out of homo hell.I believed what the Church taught about homosexuality. I believed it was a weakness, a predisposition that could be controlled, then eventually overcome, as long as I was faithful.
Then there was the whole matter of being elect. I was introduced to the Church by someone who thought I was special, golden, elect. This person told me, among other things, that I must have been tremendously valiant in the pre-existence, someone who therefore had a great mission to fulfill in this life.
This person in turn introduced me to a “perfect” family who proceeded to “fellowship” me. This family also thought I was someone special. They welcomed me into their family circle and showered me with love and affection. I also met other church members who were incredibly warm and welcoming. I had never before in my life experienced anything like this.
I used to say that I was loved into the Church. I said this in a positive way, as a compliment to the Church, as a means of demonstrating its truthfulness. After all, “ye shall know them by their fruits.” What I now realize was going on, however, is that I was basking in the attention given a new convert. And every new convert – let’s face it – boosts existing members’ belief that the Church is indeed true: after all, if other people are joining the Church, it must be true, right?
I was deathly afraid of losing this newfound love and affection. In particular, I was afraid those who had introduced me to the Church and those who had fellowshipped and welcomed me would discover my deepest, darkest secret – that I was a homo, a queer, a fag.
I also believed, because I wanted to believe it – passionately – that I was special. I believed that I was valiant in the pre-existence. I believed that I had a great mission to accomplish in this life. I believed it when she who had introduced me to the Church – a middle-aged woman of great faith who was charismatic and forceful – told me that I had a calling as a father.
I believed it because I wanted desperately to believe it. I believed it because such beliefs would allow me to treat the same-sex attraction with which I had struggled for years as merely an attempt by Satan to thwart the great mission that was mine to accomplish in this life. Such beliefs allowed me, even propelled me, to believe that homosexuality was no more than a “thorn in my side” – a weakness akin to a predisposition to alcoholism - that would propel me to greater strength. I also believed that I was strong enough – or could be strong enough through prayer and righteous living – to overcome the attractions I felt.
As to my mission in life, I am embarrassed to admit this, but I truly believed that I had the potential to rise to great heights in the Church. I looked into my future and saw offices such as bishop, stake president, maybe mission president and perhaps even more. These expectations were fueled by those who had introduced me to the Church and by members who made comments like, “I’m sure I’ll read about you in the Church News someday.” They were also fueled by my patriarchal blessing, which spoke glowingly, e.g., of the “great work” that Heavenly Father saw in me.
What were the effects of these expectations? They significantly raised the cost of ever leaving the Church. I had to believe that the Church was true, for it provided the reason for believing that I was special, that I was better than other people, that I had almost magical powers, that there was a whole world, Harry Potter-like, beyond the ordinary one in which others (mere Muggles) functioned.
Such expectations, which became aspirations, also significantly increased the cost of acknowledging that I am gay, which would result in the collapse of the entire structure of my life post-baptism. There was a cost of being special, and that cost was to enter upon a “career path” that required keeping up appearances and complying with a code of conduct. One false move, one careless admission, could mean time in the penalty box or, even worse, that I was out of the game.
However, there was also a toll that was being incurred, day by day, month by month, year by year, as I struggled to maintain this outward persona. It was a dreadful toll, being exacted not only from me, but also from my wife and children. Eventually, I reached a point where payment of this toll was demanded, and the cost exceeded that of any benefits accruing from the path I had so diligently tried to walk.
All of these thoughts and more passed through my mind in a matter of moments as I sat listening to Armistead Maupin. Suddenly, with great clarity, I understood much about myself, about things I had known but had buried deep within me.
Then, just as suddenly, I understood that these realizations were a gift from a part of me that wanted me to forgive myself for not coming out earlier in life; for I saw even more clearly why this had not been possible: the person I was would never have permitted it.