"My heart reaches out to young Californians, teens who are not out of the closet who are alone ... listening to hateful [rhetoric]." - Linda Barney, Mormon Mom at recent Salt Lake rally
Growing up gay and Mormon is a unique experience. It is a path few have travelled, and for those who do, they spend far too long walking alone.
Luckily, I’m not the teenager alone and hating himself in the closet anymore.
I lived through the self-loathing, the pleading to change, and the tear-filled nights. Now I’m 24. I survived the group showers at the MTC. My best friend is gay, too. On Saturday night I hung out with seven other gay Mormon guys and had a lot of fun. I’m ‘out’ to my ward. I’m more than surviving, I am happy.
Here’s a letter I have written to my seventeen-year-old self.
You're not fooling anyone. You have a poster of Justin Timberlake on your wall for goodness sake! If you want to fly under the radar, put up one of Britney Spears (or at least one of all of 'N Sync) and probably throw away your Backstreet Boys' action figures—GI Joes they are not.
Don't do it though! Be who you are. Don't waste time or opportunities to do what makes you happy. What other people think or say isn't worth missing all the happy memories you'll make.
While I have your attention, I wanted to give you an edge up on the learning curve. Over the next seven years, you are going to learn a lot of things about yourself, about the Church and about being gay.
You’re going to cross the Sweetwater River, climb Mount Moriah, collapse on the plains from exhaustion, and feel as alone as Mormon and Moroni did. And (not to sound like a cheesy EFY CD, but) find joy in the journey.
You are not aloneFirst and foremost, you are not alone. Sure, you feel alone. But you are not the only one. There are more than just gay celebrities and all those guys in Sean Cody videos. There are other gay Mormons. There are probably a couple in your life right now.
You spend too much time thinking that you are the only one so weak or ungodly to have this 'wicked spirit in your breast.' But you are thinking about it all wrong. There isn't anything inherently wrong with you. You believe it, but it’s not true. No matter how much you fast and pray, its probably not going to change (at least it hasn't happened, yet).
Ignore the gay jokes in Priest Quorum. Ignore the differences you perceive between yourself and your 'normal' peers. They will only isolate you further. Somewhere along the way (and not a moment too soon), your path will cross another gay Mormon and your life will forever change. You will realize that someone else experienced what you did, someone else feels the way you do. Someone else is just like you. In time, you'll meet others. And soon you'll realize the truth of the words that Joseph Smith recounted on finally being able to show the gold plates to three others:
... You do not know how happy I am; ... I feel as if I was relieved of a burden which was almost too heavy for me to bear, and it rejoices my soul, that I am not any longer to be entirely alone in the world.
Sometimes you will want to give up, and that's okayEveryone wants to throw in the towel. When things were darkest even Jesus himself uttered the profound words "let this cup pass from me." (Matthew 26:39)
Things will be hard. You will experience loneliness and longing that other people will never be exposed to, let alone understand. Reconciliation isn't easy and it will be difficult to find harmony between the teachings of the Church and the inclinations you did not choose. But the struggle is worthwhile. Figuring things out will make you a more sympathetic and compassionate and stronger person.
You are loved youGod loves you. You might not believe that. You'll be given reasons to doubt it. But it’s true! No matter the choices before you, the temptations you face or the mistakes you make His love will see you through it all.
Eventually, you'll find other people that love and support you. More than you ever could have thought. People who will have no other reaction to you ‘coming out’ then to wrap their arms around you. People whose hearts will pain as they think of the pain you have had to deal with. People who will be anxious to share your burdens.
There is a place for you in the ChurchI don't know where it is, and if you somehow find it before me, please let me know. The Church needs sensitive, selfless and faithful men and because of this challenge/trial/blessing you can proudly measure up to the standard.
Read the New Testament: Jesus always made room for the ‘misfits’ [read: gays], those who no one else saw [read: gays], and who were treated poorly by those in power [read: gays].
Count yourself lucky that you get to chose a different, higher, better path. Your conviction will be tested. Your faith will be tried. Other people choose whether to go to Mount Moriah (and most do not), you will be dragged there (even if it is kicking and screaming). You are a lucky one.
Life will get better, richer and more meaningful. Hang on!