"If I can help save just one young man from the lies of Satan, then what I have been through will be worth it."
I wrote these words in my journal a couple of months after I joined the Mormon Church. I was 24 years old. I hadn't thought of them in a very long time, but they were brought to my mind last night as I watched an advance showing of the new movie, Boy Erased, which tells the true story of a young gay man who was put into a "Christian" conversion/reparative therapy program by his very religious, but misguided, parents.
When I wrote these words in the summer of 1983, I had been dealing with feelings of same sex attraction for over ten years. During those years, I had struggled to understand what I felt. Was I gay? Would these feelings go away when I "met the right girl?" Were they sinful? Was I condemned to a life as an "other?" How could I, who had always striven to excel at everything I did, accept this about myself, condemning myself to a life of seeming marginalization and debauchery?
I was confused. And I was at a particularly vulnerable point in my life when I was introduced to and joined the Mormon Church. I was seeking certainty. Direction. I wanted to have a family.
These are some of the reasons why I was prepared to accept what the Church taught me about myself and my sexuality: It was Satan who planted these thoughts of same-sex attraction in my mind. It was he who sowed confusion. I could change. I could rise above my feelings and thoughts. I could be happy married to a woman. But it would require an unbreakable and unswerving devotion to living the commandments and precepts of the Church, ironclad control over my thoughts and a rejection of everything I had previously wondered about myself.
In short, I would have to put myself through my own conversion/reparative therapy every day of my life.
At first, I thought it was going to be easy. The Lord would bless me, open the way as I remained faithful and diligent; and indeed, this seemed to be the case. I carefully guarded my thoughts as I prepared to go on a mission for the Church. Before I left, I met a young woman whom it seemed the Lord had placed in my path, a woman whom I could (and eventually did) marry and with whom I could (and eventually did) have a family.
In my zeal and naivete, I wrote the above-quoted sentence in my journal. Not only could I heal myself, I thought; I could perhaps help other young men who experienced the same struggle.
But it was on my mission in Paris and other cities in France that I realized that my feelings and thoughts would never go away. They were something I would have to live with and fight, most likely the rest of my life.
And fight I did, until eight years ago when I finally decided I couldn't and wouldn't bash my head against that cement wall any longer. I came out. It was then, paradoxically, that those words I wrote in my journal all those years ago took on a new meaning. I began to blog, first under the pseudonym of "Invictus Pilgrim," and then on this blog, and one of my primary motivations for doing so was the hope that I could possibly help just one young (or older) gay man to overcome the lies he had been taught about himself--not by Satan, but by misguided religious teachings--and to come to not only accept, but also love, himself for who he was/is.
This same motivation led to my involvement in the production of a soon-to-be-released documentary that also deals, in part, with the destructive effects of so-called "Christian" reparative/conversion therapy. For They Know Not What They Do, directed by independent filmmaker Daniel Karslake, tells the story of the Robertson family, an evangelical couple who put their son in conversion therapy when he came out to them as a young teenager. The film, which has been submitted to a major film festival,** also powerfully addresses issues faced by transgender individuals and their families through the stories of two individuals, one a transgender woman and the other a transgender man, both of whom were raised in conservative Christian environments. Lastly, the film tells the story of Vico, a young Puerto Rican gay man who was first rejected, then embraced, by his devoutly Catholic family before he experienced the horrors of that terrible night at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
I'm glad I was reminded last night of those words I wrote all those years ago. I'm glad I was reminded of what I went through and how I felt, both before and after I joined the Mormon Church and both before and after I came out. Though I have experienced many trials and struggles in my life, I have also been richly blessed, my children and my late husband, Mark, chief among these blessings. Those words reminded me why I am here and what I can do. I hope I will always remember that.
"Just one young man ..."
** The production of For They Know Not What They Do has been entirely funded by tax-deductible donations. We are still a bit short of our financial goals, and contributions of any amount, which can be made online through the film's website, would be welcome. Every contribution will help make a difference in the life of not just one young man or woman, but in the lives of countless individuals and families around the world who will eventually see this film.