I made a new friend this past week. Mindy had invited me to coffee because of a common connection with Equality Utah, which advocates for equality for members of the LGBTQ community in our state.
As Mindy and I got to know each other, we discovered that we had a lot in common. Specifically, we had both come out of *very* Mormon backgrounds, and both of our terminally ill marriages had apparently finally been dealt a death blow -- mine certainly was -- as a result of the infamous address of LDS Church president Boyd K. Packer in October 2010 (about which I have written several times, such as this post), in which he said the following:
“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.”
That address directly resulted in me coming out.
As we sat and drank our coffee the other day, Mindy and I shared how we both felt that we knew that President Packer was wrong because of our own internal witness of what was right; however, neither of us fully shared what that witness was. We moved on to talk about how we have navigated life as post-Mormons, what "spirituality" means to us now, and how we interact with the Mormon community in which we live.
I've decided to share here part of why I knew Packer was wrong and why what he said had said an impact on me. I'd like to describe an experience I had while serving as a Mormon missionary in Paris, how that experience sustained me for almost 30 years, how it eventually helped me to come out and how I finally came to see it in a new, post-Mormon light ...
It had been building for weeks.
I was a Mormon missionary in Paris, France. When I had joined the LDS Church almost two years before, I had truly believed that I could leave the same-sex attractions that I had experienced since going through puberty behind me. I had worked diligently to discipline my mind. I had done everything I was “supposed” to do, and more.
The first four months of my mission were fine, i.e., I experienced no “temptations,” and I had little trouble controlling my thoughts. But then I was transferred to Paris, and temptations seemed to come at me from everywhere. Gorgeous men who attended our English class. Beautiful men on the street. Sensuality that was palpable. For the first (and only) time in my life, I was propositioned by a guy – directly, unmistakably, in a store in the heart of Paris. An older male member of the Church in a leadership position befriended me. I knew he was probably gay, but I didn’t care. Another male member, also in a leadership position, also probably gay, seemed to see right through my mask--he outrightly asked me one day (I can still picture the look on his face while doing so), "Elder Broom, what are you hiding behind that mask of yours."
All of this was extremely unsettling to me. One the one hand, I was horrified. On the other, I felt that some crucial part of me had been liberated. For the first time since joining the Church, I allowed the genie of my repressed sexual orientation to escape from the bottle and allowed myself to contemplate who I really was. It was exhilarating, but it was also frightening – particularly since I was a missionary.
It was after struggling with these thoughts and emotions that swirled around me for a number of weeks that I had a dream that was unlike any dream I have ever had, then or since. It was so palpable, so real, so revelatory. I dreamt that I saw a person in a large room filled with people dressed in white. His presence seemed to tower over the others. I knew it was Jesus. As I made my way to the front of the room, my eyes became locked with his and he beckoned me to come to him, to take his hand and embrace him. As soon as I did so, we were transported, just the two of us, to another place, where we sat and talked – I talked, he listened lovingly and patiently - about my fears and joys, the deepest corners of my soul … and my ultimate secret.
My gaze never left his countenance, and in his beautiful eyes, I saw love such as I had never before felt. Nor have I felt it sense, the closest thing to it being when Mark, in the final weeks of his life, would regularly hold my face in his hands, look at me intently with those beautiful blue eyes of his and say, "I love you."
In my dream, in His eyes, I saw no judgment, no guile; only perfect, total understanding. His very countenance radiated such intense purity and his essence such love and peace that I felt as if I would faint from bathing in the ecstasy of it. In this setting, enveloped in love and light and truth, he told me that it was "okay" – my “attraction” – and that he loved me just the way I was/am. And that was the message I woke up with.
Now, one would have thought that this experience would have given me permission to embrace my gay self. But the message of the dream and the message of the Mormon Church regarding homosexuality were completely opposite each other. And I wasn’t strong enough to embrace who I really was.
This dream remained vivid in my mind for the next 25 years. Even though I married a woman and vowed I would never come out and that I would make a success of my marriage, the memory of this dream and its piercing message sustained me in believing that God didn't condemn me merely for being who I was, for having the attractions that I did.
That is why, when President Packer said those infamous words, I knew he was wrong--even though for the past 27 years I had regarded him as man who communed with God. What had been the most spiritual experience of my life had convinced me that God did not condemn me. Thus began my journey out of the closet, marriage and Mormonism. But it wasn't until several years later, after I had left the Church and after I had met, fallen in love with and committed myself to my late husband, Mark, that this dream took on added significance.
After leaving the Church and leaving my faith behind me, I had pondered how to interpret "spiritual experiences," such as this dream. This process involved, as it turned out, a lot of unraveling, re-examing and--when I was ready--re-imagining. It became a journey into deeper self-awareness and validation.
As concerning the spiritual experience of my Parisian dream, the insight came in a flash a little over four years ago, seemingly out of nowhere. The insight: my dream, from a Jungian perspective (which posits that dreams are vehicles through which our subconscious tries to tell or teach us something), was really ME telling myself that it was okay to be gay. I had assumed that the personage was Jesus because my subconscious recognized that I viewed him – particularly at that point in my life – as the supreme Validator.
When I shared this revelatory experience with Mark, he provided the rest of the stunning insight, positing that the love I had felt emanating from “Jesus” was really from my own deep Self, extending love and acceptance to my troubled, anxious self who was trying to do the right thing as a Mormon missionary and a Mormon man who desperately wanted his homosexuality to go away.
My journey has continued since that December day four years ago when Mark shared that insight. In the new frameworks of my life--post Mormon, post-closet, post Mark--I continue to re-imagine, and I continue to be astonished at times when revelations come about who I am -- revelations not from God but from the Source inside me. Those moments, those insights, have become my new spiritual experiences.