He attack consisted of words that pierced to the very heart of me. If someone else had uttered these words at another time, the attack would likely have been deflected by the armor of my false persona. But, they were uttered at a time when that persona was vulnerable, by a man whom I had previously sustained as an apostle of Jesus Christ – a man whom I had previously regarded as a prophet, seer and revelator, second in line to succeed to the office of President of the LDS Church.
That man was Boyd K. Packer. The words he uttered that became the missiles that pierced my armor and then exploded with me were the following, spoken in the context of a talk (sermon) about morality:
“We teach a standard of moral conduct that will protect us from Satan’s many substitutes or counterfeits for marriage. We must understand that any persuasion to enter into any relationship that is not in harmony with the principles of the gospel must be wrong. From the Book of Mormon we learn that “wickedness never was happiness. 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.”
I have previously written, several times, about the impact that these words had upon me. They cut through my heart, as they no doubt did countless other Mormon men and women who were and are painfully struggling, totally alone for the most part, in the hidden chambers of their innermost soul with feelings of attraction to members of their own sex. Not only did President Packer call me, and those like me, “impure and unnatural,” he poured salt in open wounds by saying, in so many words, that God would and could 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.
Then, as if this wasn’t enough, there was the added injury caused by thousands of Mormons who “rallied” to President Packer’s side to “support” him, revealing the wide and deep homophobia that exists in the church. Many of these people, who obviously believed that they are not required to be “Christian” toward homosexuals, vilified gays with such choice comments as the following: “If the church ever allowed gay marriage, then the church is not true,” and “Thank you President Packer … even though the wicked fight against you.”
Before hearing President Packer’s words, I had never before seriously considered coming out, though I had known since I was 12 that I am gay. I had gotten married and devoted myself with my whole body and soul to living the “Plan of Happiness” (ideal Mormon life) – a devoted Mormon husband, father and priesthood holder. I had suppressed my gay identity for nearly 40 years.
But upon hearing those words, I snapped. As I wrote in a letter to my sisters a few weeks later:
“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 same-sex attraction, 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 gay by birth. 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.)”
As I have written above, the straight false persona that I had maintained for most of life was mortally wounded by President Packer’s words. Within a few weeks, this persona was dead, and my life has changed more dramatically during the past year than I would have ever thought possible.
Looking back on this past year, I can say that I have left the closet forever. As Catherine Tate's character would say, “[I’m] a gay man now.” But, I have found that it is far easier to leave the closet and to "come out" - as difficult a process as that is - than it is to shed the decaying skin of my false persona that enshrouded my true self for so many, many years. Though I have made progress, I catch glimpses, from time to time, of how far I yet have to go in order to discover and recover my true self. Rather than being daunted by this, however, this gives me hope that there is much personal growth and self-discovery waiting for me.
So … this is my goal for the coming year: to discover and reclaim who I truly am, to learn to love that person, and to thereby learn to love others more authentically and more compassionately. As an integral part of this process, and due to circumstances in my personal life, I have decided to cut back on my blogging. I need the time and the introspection to continue to reflect, to discover and to heal. However, I hope to chronicle here, at least to some degree, my continuing journey. (And I have yet to celebrate the one-year anniversary of my blog, which is October 22nd. It'd be neat to hit 100 followers by that date, so if you're lurking and would consider "coming out" or can otherwise help me reach that goal, I'd appreciate it!)
Meanwhile, I pause on this Conference Weekend to reflect on the events of a year ago and – even though I am in the middle of a divorce and have become alienated from some of my children – to express gratitude for the words and events of a year ago that resulted in the death of my false straight persona and allowed my true, gay, self to begin the slow process of shedding the shroud and recovering and discovering itself.