My world changed forever on Sunday, October 3, 2010. That morning, I heard four sentences that wrecked my faith in Mormonism, shattered my marriage and destroyed a false persona that I had carefully maintained for most of my adult life. These words, which quickly became infamous, were uttered by the second most senior apostle of the Mormon Church in his address at the Churchs October General Conference. In the midst of a talk about moral purity, President Boyd K. Packer read the following sentences:
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.
These four sentences cut through my heart, as they no doubt did countless other Mormon men and women who are painfully struggling, totally alone for the most part, in the hidden chambers of their innermost soul with same-sex attraction. Not only did President Packer call me, and those like me, impure and unnatural, he poured salt in open wounds by saying, in so many words, that God would and could never make such a depraved person as me, and that God didnt love me for who I am that even before GOD, I could not be my true self because my true self was not acceptable.
Then, as if this wasnt enough, there was the added injury caused by thousands of Mormons who rallied to President Packers side to support him, revealing the wide and deep homophobia that exists in the church. In typical Mormon fashion, many of these people, who obviously believe that they are not required to be Christian toward homosexuals, vilified gays with such choice comments as the following: If the church ever allowed gay marriage, then the church is not true, and Thank you President Packer even though the wicked fight against you.
Well, I guess Id like to express my thanks to President Packer as well: I have him to thank for forcing me to finally admit, both to myself and to others, the truth that I am gay. I had spent all of my youth and adult life until October 3, 2010 denying and hiding this basic fact about myself. But hearing Packers words, and discerning clearly the vast theological and cultural dogma and mindset that lay behind these statements, caused a tectonic shift deep within me. In the moments, hours and days that followed, I realized that I was no longer willing or even able to repress who I am, that my homosexuality is a fundamental part of who I am as a person, that I was tired of feeling guilty and dirty about it, and feeling, in President Packers words, impure and unnatural.
In the days and weeks that followed General Conference, my resolve hardened: I was NOT going to crawl back in my hole where I had lived for most of my life! I was going to affirm who I am: a man who did not choose to be gay, but was born that way; a man who had spent most of his life denying and trying to hide not only his natural sexuality, but also multiple facets of his identity and personality that were bound up with this sexuality. I swore that I was going to shed the false persona that had controlled my life; that I was going to cease living as a cardboard cutout, as someone who was simply going through the motions in life. After nearly a lifetime of despising myself, I was instead going to affirm and embrace who I am and yes LOVE myself for who I am.
This resolve led me to come out to my wife. She had known before our marriage that I was attracted to men; I had told her this. But we had determined, together, to do what the Church said we should do: get married and start a family. This we did. For over 20 years, we lived the plan of happiness by having children and adhering faithfully to the Church and by doing, to the best of our abilities, all that we were asked to do as temple recommend-holding members.
The subject of my same sex attraction occasionally came up between my wife and me during the course of our marriage, but for the most part, a dont ask, dont tell policy was kept in force. This ended the night that I said to my wife, I am gay. We had had some serious marital problems the previous few years, but that admission put the final nail in the coffin of our marriage. We are now in the process of an amicable separation and plan to eventually divorce.
Coming out, to the extent I have, allowed me to reflect back honestly upon my life since joining the Church as a young adult and then subsequently marrying. I realized that, in order to live the Plan of Happiness, I had abandoned much of my identity, first upon joining the Church, then again upon my marriage, and had lived, as best I could, as a worthy heterosexual priesthood holder. I had been determined to do everything expected of me, everything asked of me, in order to prove (to myself, ironically) that I could overcome my same sex attraction and be a faithful worthy priesthood holder, a successful Mormon husband and father. I became my own worst enemy.
It was only after starting the coming out process that I came to realize the toll that this abandonment had exacted. Subconsciously, it created another huge conflict that only added to the conflict I felt with respect to my sexuality. Looking back on it, I came to see how much I subconsciously raged against this abandonment. I had abandoned my core, but yet I raged against feeling that I had to adopt someone elses core as my own. I raged against feeling like I had to be a certain way in order to be accepted, to be true to the path I had chosen. Yet I had to be accepted in order to fulfill the path I had chosen. It was a hopeless conflict that played itself out day after day, month after month, year after year, adding to my sense of unhappiness, alienation and lack of fulfillment, exacting a terrible toll.
Speaking of casualties, one of the first fatalities of President Packers remarks was my willingness to sustain him and others as prophets, seers and revelators. I knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that President Packer was just plain wrong in what he said about homosexuality. Not only were his remarks out of step with the official position of the Church (to the extent there is one), but I had received my own witness, paradoxically while serving as a missionary, that God accepts me just the way I am – gay. This witness came at a point in my mission when my struggle with same-sex attraction and the accompanying feelings of confusion and guilt had reached an almost unbearable level; I only wish I had given more credence at that time to this spiritual experience, which I have since with the passage of time come to see as the most sublime of my life.
As I reviewed, in the weeks following Conference, what various leaders of the Church (including and especially President Packer) had said over the years about homosexuality, my belief in continuous revelation shattered. How could leaders claim to be inspired with respect to homosexuality when the Churchs stance has so obviously softened over the years? And if they are so obviously not inspired when it comes to homosexuality, how can they claim inspiration with respect to other matters (a conclusion most recently solidified by the speech given by Elder Dallin Oaks on religious freedom)?
The next major casualty was the entire Plan of Salvation. Having finally accepted myself as gay and accepting that I did not choose to be gay but was born that way, and having received my own independent witness that God accepted my homosexuality, how could I possibly continue to believe in a religion that ultimately boils down to the union of a penis and a vagina? The entire plan of salvation, the entire raison dtre of Mormonism, boils down, ultimately, to this goal: the eternal union of a man and a woman who together create myriads of spirit children and worlds without number.
There are other things that could be said about this goal, but as a gay man who has finally accepted and affirmed himself, his sexuality and his identity, how could I possibly accept as my eternal goal something that is so totally contrary to who and what I am? How could I possibly accept the insulting and degrading doctrine, voiced by some general authorities, that I will be miraculously healed of my homosexuality in the eternities (if I am worthy), much like a child with Down Syndrome or someone born with a physical handicap or deformity?
I refuse to believe any longer that God who has affirmed to me who I and what I am treats me and will treat me as a second-class citizen, not only in this life but throughout the eternities. Beyond this, how could I possibly remain active in a religious organization that so obviously stands for much of what Im not and that would excommunicate me for living the way Im wired?
Some will say that I have lost my testimony. I reject that paradigm. In some ways, I believe I have, rather, found my testimony. Another way of expressing what I believe has happened in my life is that the Church and I have come to a fork in the road, and, paraphrasing the words of Enyas song Pilgrim, one way leads to diamonds and gold, whereas the other leads only to everything Im told. I must take the path less traveled by, but which leads to who I am, not to someone I cannot be.
Thus, I am now on an ongoing pilgrimage out of marriage and out of Mormonism. There certainly have been and will undoubtedly yet be times when I feel disoriented, alone, or temporarily lost. Yet, grace sustains me. Sometimes, wrote Protestant theologian Paul Tillich, it happens that we receive the power to yes to ourselves, that peace enters into us and makes us whole, that self-hate and self-contempt disappear, and that our self is reunited with itself. Then we can say that grace has come upon us. Grace has come upon me, and we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.
Invictus Pilgrim has shared more of his journey on his personal blog.