Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Mormon Missionary in the Loire Valley

Being transferred to from Paris to Tours in the Loire Valley, I wrote my LDS mission president almost 32 years ago, was like moving from a crowded train station into a peaceful rural valley. These past few days, as I have been preparing for this week's French wine course class on the Loire Valley, my mind has been flooded with memories of my mission and the four months I spent in what has been called "the garden of France."

My months in Paris had been intense in many respects, especially with respect to the secret that I carried within me. Two years before, I had joined the Mormon Church in part because I thought doing so would enable me to move past what had been unwanted feelings of attraction to men -- feelings I had experienced ever since going through puberty. 

My hands-down favorite picture from my mission, when I was playing
the part of a "clochard" (drunk) in a missionary skit in Paris

But my time in Paris had convinced me that "pray the gay away" didn't work and that those feelings would never leave; I would simply have to somehow learn how to live with them. My first four months in a provincial Breton city had been easy, but going to Paris ... there were beautiful men everywhere. Eroticism was commonplace. I interacted with men, both in the Church and out, whom I knew or strongly suspected were gay; and some of those men seemed to suspect that I was as well. I'll never forget the panic I felt when one of these men, who was in a leadership position, challenged me with these words: "Elder Broom, what are you hiding behind that mask of yours?" Shortly thereafter, for the first time in my life, I was propositioned by a total stranger, an attractive American boy, in the heart of Paris. It scared the crap out of me.

For a deeply closeted Mormon missionary, these things were very disturbing. They weighed increasingly heavily upon me. I couldn't understand why men were coming on to me. It seemed to me like I was wearing a sign, "I am gay." But I didn't want to be gay. I didn't think I *could* be gay, i.e., live my sexuality. All of these pent-up emotions culminated, shortly before my time in Paris came to an end, in one of the most intense dreams of my life, which I described here.

It was a relief to be transferred to Tours. I loved my new companion, I loved the local Church members and I loved being able, on our days off, to be able to see some of the beautiful chateaux that adorn the surrounding countryside. For the first time on my mission, I had fun. Life felt beautiful and light, despite the drudgery that missionary work could sometimes be. 

My new companion and me at the Chateau de Blois

I also allowed myself, in the privacy of my thoughts and prayers, to examine my sexuality in a way that I had never before permitted. It was during those months in the Loire Valley that I felt more comfortable in that particular skin than at any other time in my life, a comfort I would not again feel until I finally came out 26 years later.

A group of us on the train in the Loire Valley



Another companion and I along the Vienne River in Chinon

A vineyard with the Chateau de Chinon in the background

Annie and Tony, newly-baptized members who enjoyed taking us to see chateaux.

Place de Plumereau in Tours.
Many fond memories here, including tasting Tarte Tatin for the first time.

At the Château d'Ussé near Tours


Waiting for our train in Le Mans

It was ...  a beautiful summer. An interlude. I've enjoyed revisiting it in my memory these past days, reflecting, grateful for where I now am.

"I see aspects of what I know is my true personality dancing around me 
as shadows from a candle flame. But I have yet to discover the key 
that will let the real Joe Broom out, that will permit me to see and become one 
with the person who is generating all the shadows I see dancing on the walls."

- Mission Journal, Fall 1985


  1. Your words are so powerful and poignant here, Joseph. And reading what you wrote from your journal as a missionary especially makes me remember the enormous conflict I felt within myself while on my own mission. I felt so alone. So confused and forsaken. I will never forget the inner torment and turmoil that I went through during my mission. I dare say that I may have to dig around my storage boxes and find my own mission journal. What hints did I write that indicated such pain and conflict? I wonder.

    I am so glad that you are writing again! I'm sure your words will continue to help many others. Hope you and your family are doing well!!!

  2. Hi Jeff. Thanks for your comment and your best wishes. There is much more I can (and perhaps someday will) write about what I experienced on my mission. Comments such as yours inspire me to continue writing, so thanks! Go find that journal! :)