Exodus: A Gay Mans Journey Out of Marriage and Mormonism
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.
Great post Invictus Pilgrim. Whether we are gay, or not, I agree with you that the LDS Church expects us all to give up our individuality, and become someone we are not. I can’t imagine how hard it would be for the LGB population in the Church to pretend to do this. Your post helps me start to see how difficult it is. Thanks for sharing your story.
Like you, I think many of us who have left have felt that same discontent with not being true to who we are, noticing the chinks in the armor of our authorities, and then discovering how fully disingenuous the Church is after scratching the surface a little. It doesn’t take a lot of searching to discover it; it just takes a willingness to look.
Fabulous post Invictus! I agree with Josh that the LDS church’s cost of membership is the sacrifice of self. I can imagine how much more difficult your journey must be with the added sacrifice of sacrificing a self that was deemed impure and ungodly, which is something that you had to convince yourself to do.
As you have so rightly put in recent posts on your blog, God’s love is for all. While the church will say that heterosexuality and blind obedience are necessary to partake in God’s kingdom on earth and beyond, we all KNOW that this is not the teaching of Christ – to paraphrase your lesson from yesterday, Christ’s table is for all no matter your past, clothes, sexual preference or political viewpoints: we all have a place there and no one gets privileged seating: we are all equal.
@Josh – Thanks for your comment, Josh. I’m glad that my post has helped you start to understand some of where gay Mormons are coming from. And you are so right about scratching the surface and the willingness to look. I think the first step for many is coming to see/accept that the world is not black and white, to overcome the dogmatism that is inherent in Mormonism.
@Libellule – Thanks as well for your comment. I used to think that self had to be sacrificed for the sake of “Truth” but have since come to see that following one’s true self only leads to ultimate Truth, and seeking ultimate Truth leads to true self. Anything else is counterfeit.
The problem with Packer’s comment from the perspective of other church leaders was that it wasn’t clear whether he was referring to the ability to overcome “homosexual acts” or “homosexual feelings.” So he basically created a feeling of overcoming same-sex attraction generally, which made the Church look ignorant. Church policy right now is to overcome “homosexual acts” and resist “homosexual feelings,” and to “not care” whether the feelings are inborn, since they’re not part of salvation anyway. However, even this is not really a coherent policy for what I would consider affective reasons: (1) The fact that outside the Church, the discourse of gays as “struggling” is at once condescending and inapplicable, and (2) there are increasingly alternative religious readings of homosexuality that in their coherency outdo Mormon policy because they are not condescending and are applicable. These are realities that I think the Church is just now starting to grapple with.
Excellent post, invictus! I hope everything works out for the best. It sounds like thinks are looking up!
@Alan – Thanks for your comments. Your take on Packer’s original comments is interesting. I’d just like to offer a clarification: to the extent the church has an official policy, it is that being homosexual is not a sin, but acting on homosexual feelings is a sin. This is slightly different than the way you expressed it. But even this “official” position rings hollow when one considers the way gays are treated at the ward and stake level, which is very different than even what this “official” policy would tend to indicate. I’d welcome comments from others who would care to share experiences, but I know of situations where a gay friend was disfellowshipped for stating in his testimony that he is gay, where another gay friend and his wife were threatened with discipline if they publicly stated that the reason for their divorce was his coming out, where a gay friend was told by his bishop that he wouldn’t be disciplined if he stayed away from church but would be if he came to and participated in church as a gay man. And these experiences are from only a small group of personal friends. The bottom line is that, though official church policy is that being gay is not a sin, gays at the ward level are – at least along the Wasatch front – not welcome as they are, for who they are. They’re only welcome if they go back in the closet and stay there.
It’s so gratifying to read such a well-written personal essay here at MSP. I just wish we had a “like” button I could use to express my enthusiasm for this wonderful post.
I don’t support the policy of the Church, but it’s pretty clear to me that this isn’t the Church’s policy. Church leaders don’t consider “being gay” to exist (in an “eternal” sense) so they have suggested that a person not define themselves with a sexual orientation (whether “gay,” “bisexual” or “straight”). If you take the language from God Loveth His Children (2007), it reads: Attractions alone do not make you unworthy. If you avoid immoral thoughts and actions, you have not transgressed even if you feel such an attraction. In other words, they’re drawing a distinction between “attractions” and “thoughts/actions,” as if somehow “attractions” are different than “thoughts.” Doing this does not make “being gay” okay (which would include thoughts), but rather “temptations” (attractions) are okay because everyone is tempted toward something or other. This is the position the Church took up after the failures of reparative therapy.
Unfortunately, this would also explain the continued policy of disciplining people for disrupting the peace when they say they’re gay — whether that’s a disruption of a marriage, or sharing a testimony of being gay. By and large, “being gay” is still not allowed, although I think more and more Mormons see the silliness behind the distinction between “attractions” and “thoughts.”
Only within the last year has the Church used the phrase “sexual orientation.” So I think there is a lot of movement toward “being gay” being allowed and considered normal. But I think church leaders are fearful that if they give people “gay” (instead of insisting people “resist homosexual attraction,” which is still the current policy), then you must eventually give them the freedom to “act on being gay.”
Thank you for sharing your story. I cannot even begin to understand the depth of pain that emanates from such a conflict.
Thanks for sharing your story! I hope you’ll find time to write more for MSP (in addition to your personal blog, which is great)!
So the wife was also threatened with church discipline merely for publicly stating that her husband is gay? It sure makes it sound like the policy is/was “being gay isn’t a sin because being gay doesn’t exist” — and they don’t want to hear the contrary. So you won’t get in trouble for silently struggling with a shameful secret, but if you come out and say “I’m gay” (or “s/he’s gay”), then it’s like saying homosexuality is ordinary and understandable and not something to be ashamed of, and they can’t have that. But, as Alan says, there seems to be some evolution on this issue.
@Alan – I take your points. I guess it boils down in a sense to how one defines homosexuality. For the benefit of those who may be interested, I am including a couple of links to pages that discuss the recent changes to what the Church Handbook of Instructions has to say about homosexuality.
@Diana and Chanson – Thanks for your kind words. Yes, Chanson, I think it is clear that there is evolution on the whole issue of homosexuality at the top levels of the church. It also appears that there is disharmony and misunderstanding among the GAs on this issue. It is also clear that, barring a “revelation” similar to the one concerns blacks and the priesthood, there is and will be a disconnect between the general leadership of the church and the general membership.
Chino, that’s why I added the Facebook “like” button – I wanted to “like” it as well! 😉
I was looking for something more along the lines of the “like” feature on Facebook, but the one I found works.
And I’ve been using it. Glad to see that somebody has finally read my previous comment in the proper spirit … I was just looking for an excuse to mention that whoever added that “like” feature is a goddamn genius in my book.
Thanks for sharing your story. I’m glad you finally had the strength and courage to live an authentic life. So many people don’t, opting instead to bow to the demands of their church/family/community.
It’s terrible to see how much pain and suffering are inflicted by religious organizations and their overwhelming demands for conformity. Being gay is an unpardonable “sin”, but living a complete lie (which often involves lying to everyone around you) is OK because it pleases the Church. Funny how god gets bent out of shape over how you use your body, but doesn’t mind if you spend your entire life doing something completely dishonest (and since he’s ostensibly omnipotent he’d know when you’re lying, if only to yourself).
That was an excellent read. I like the way that you write.
I wish I had a more profound comment as I feel that your post deserves one but all the lovely pics on your blog have turned my mind to mush. 😉
@Buffy – Thanks. I appreciate your comments. In the end, I didn’t really have a choice; I simply couldn’t go on the way I wasn’t.
@Barmy Stoat – Thanks for the kind words. Sorry about the brain mush. 😉