I was a golden convert when I joined the Church at age 24.* 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. There is much I have written and will no doubt write on this subject.
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 individual – Barbara, a middle-aged woman who was very charismatic and had a lot of faith - 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, and I believed her. What she was telling me made me feel good about myself and that I had purpose in this life that had been awaiting my discovery.
Barbara in turn introduced me to a “perfect” family who began to “fellowship” me. This family represented everything I thought I wanted; their home seemed to be a “bit of heaven on earth.” They 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 often 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.” While I do not doubt the sincerity of those members who welcomed me into the Church, what I later came to realize 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 because I wanted to believe it. I believed that I had a great mission to accomplish in this life because I wanted to believe it. I believed it when Barbara told me that I had a calling as a father (which vision of my future stood in stark contrast to my thoughts of becoming a Catholic priest – a subject that I wrote about here).
I believed all of this because I wanted desperately to believe it and 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 same-sex attractions I felt. This belief was bolstered by another key belief, i.e., that the Church was and is true. As I wrote a few days ago, finding the Church provided certainty to the great questions of my life. The Church taught – in contrast to the wishy-washy beliefs of “the world” – that homosexuality was WRONG. Period. It could be overcome. Period. I believed that because I believed the Church was what it purported to be and, I suppose, because there was a part of me that wanted to believe that I could be “fixed.”
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. Those who had introduced me to the Church and others fueled these expectations when they 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.