Sunday, January 12, 2014

If I Can Save One Young Man

I was kneeling in my bedroom in my brother’s house in Slidell, Louisiana. It was the spring of 1983. I was 24 years old. I had just joined the Mormon Church.

For at least 12 years, I had known that I was physically attracted to boys and, later, men. This had been a well-kept secret. Though I think it could be said that I had fallen in love with a boy during my senior year of high school, those feelings were never shared with him, nor were any of those feelings ever expressed sexually. Not even a kiss.

As an aside, I have written before about that one-sided relationship with that boy, and I used the term “puppy love” in doing so. A very wise man pointed out to me that those feelings I had were genuine and I should not disparage them with such terms as "puppy love." I appreciated that comment, and it reminded me (i) why I never learned much about romantic love as a teenager or young adult and (ii) that I need to consciously validate now the boy and young man I once was and remove the layers of shame that shrouded much of my youth.

Like I suppose many of the boys of my generation did, I assumed when I was a teenager that these feelings would eventually go away. I told myself that I had these feelings because of a series of events that coincided when I was 12 or so. My parents’ separation and subsequent divorce. Puberty. A somewhat distant father. An overbearing mother. A traumatic event involving an older man in town who preyed upon me that left a deep emotional and psychological scar.

I don’t think I ever, ever allowed myself to consider that I was “born that way.” That concept just wasn’t on my radar screen.

When I was introduced to Mormonism, the thing about the religion that appealed the most to me was the doctrine that it was absolute truth. Absolute. In the context of my homosexuality, all the questions and confusion that had surrounded my feelings were removed. I had been misled by the world. I could overcome these feelings through the Plan of Happiness provided by the Mormon Church - marriage, children, church, family.

Which brings me back to me kneeling beside my bed. I prayed in gratitude that I had found THE way and that I now knew the “truth” about homosexuality. I recall writing in my journal shortly after my baptism that if I could save one young man from the errors of the world, i.e., in believing that homosexuality was okay, then all that I had been through the previous 12 years would be worth it. 

Obviously, I was very wrong.

Fast forward to today. My teenage son has recently told me something of the struggles some of his male friends have faced in a heavily Mormon suburb of Salt Lake City. My son is a valiant and courageous defender of gay rights and of gay boys who are teased and bullied by other kids (and I am immensely proud of him). It distressed me to hear of the confusion, the sadness, the wondering, the bleakness that some of those in his circle of acquaintances have faced as they have tried to come to grips with their sexuality.

These conversations with my son, as well as a post I recently read on the blog No More Strangers, inspired me to write this post. Andy's Story is an account written by a young Mormon man of how he came to terms with the fact that he is gay. One of the things that impressed me about that account was Andy's description of how helpful he had found gay Mormon blogs during his process of self-discovery.

I hadn't thought for years about that passage I wrote in my journal when I was 24 and just beginning my 28-year experience with Mormonism. When it came into my head a couple of days ago, I decided I'd like to turn those words on their head. If I can somehow help even one young man to deal in a positive way with his homosexuality, if I can help him see that his absolute truth is that he is gay and was born that way - in spite of strong currents of shame that would carry him away from his truth – then I will feel that some of the pain I have experienced in my life will be transmuted into peace.

With Andy's words in my mind, I have decided - in addition to my contemporary writing - to re-publish, from time to time, posts that were originally published on my first Invictus Pilgrim blog during the months following my coming out. I will do so in the hopes that perhaps someone like Andy might discover them and that they may help at least one young gay Mormon man on his journey.

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