The Mormon challenge


I've made a condensed version of this story available at www.theloveacceptanceproject.wordpress.com, for those who want to share it without sharing the PDFs on this site.


I don’t know if anything really sets apart my first 19 years from what most Mormons experience. Except perhaps that since the age of 5 or 6, if not earlier, I’ve been attracted to men (I'm a guy, by the way). Some people suspected, but no one knew but me. I hid. I talked unnaturally deeper. I was always trying hard not to act feminine. As a teenager, I skirted on the edge of deep depression here and there, but I got by. Those feelings would go away, right? And I would be able to have crushes on girls instead! The 2 year LDS mission came, and I fell in love with a couple of my mission companions. I ended up telling my mission president about the second occurrence, so that he would transfer one of us. The mission president was kind and understanding, and arranged for me to speak with a counselor on the phone to talk through this stuff. I still maintained a hope that my feelings would change. This is what kept me going, as I could not even come close to bearing the thought of living my life alone. My Plan A was marriage with a woman. My Plan B was suicide. Living alone, nope. Following my heart and being with a guy, absolutely not.


Then came the BYU stage, the year being 2008. The stage when the impossibility of Plan A started becoming clear. I dated women, and was always consumed by guilt when they would fall in love with me and I would feel no real attachment for them. I’d try so hard to feel something when I was with them. I forced myself to believe that I was attached. When I was far enough along in a relationship, I would tell them my dark secret. The first broke up with me because instead of developing feelings for her, I was developing feelings for her brother. I told her what was happening. I wanted to somehow work through it. She warned her brother about me and I lost my two best friends at once. Obviously she was wise to break up with me. It was a screwed up situation. To their credit, she felt really bad about the end result and he and I ended up becoming good friends again later. I think he had distanced himself from me because he knew I had to get over my feelings for him. This all happened at the beginning of a semester and so started my problems with academics, which culminated in academic probation. It was hard to prepare for the future when I began to want no future. It didn't take long after my mission for the suicidalness to start creeping in, even though I was scrupulously keeping all of the commandments. I never cussed, I was a full tithe payer, I studied scriptures everyday, you get the picture. I continuously kept trying to date. The next time I had a girlfriend, I told her about my orientation when she started bringing up marriage. She let go of my hand and scooted away from me on the couch. She asked if she was my experiment. I tried explaining myself, returned home, and sorta definitely cried. She came around the next day, but I eventually decided that I couldn’t put her through a life with me, when another guy could fully love her. I’d hear people say stuff like, “It would suck so much to find out your husband is gay!” 


I felt like I had no one to talk to. Certainly no one who understood me. I avoided gay help groups, because I wanted to avoid the temptation of meeting guys who I knew could love me back. I felt that if any of my straight guy friends knew who I really was, that they would shun me or worse. With my few friendships with women, I was terrified they would fall in love with me (some did) and that I would end up hurting them. I thought that I would be damned, as my Patriarchal blessing said that my marriage would be one of the happiest experiences of my life. That meant my chance was in this life, not the next. Bishops would encourage me to keep dating girls. I said I didn’t want to hurt them and felt guilty dating them. Two bishops responded saying that was the devil using my good traits against me. I kept falling in love with close guy friends. There was one best guy friend in particular who I fell in love with. I felt whole around him. I wanted to be with him always. The church taught me I was evil for it. I knew my feelings of love for him were beyond hopeless, and such feelings never came for women. I'd be alone, always. I remember calling my mom. I was away from my apartment and looking around a dumpster for a sharp object as I made the call. I essentially begged her to let me kill myself, me saying something along the lines of “I can’t do this to you. Would you be ok if I check out? I can’t take this anymore.” She helped me survive the night. When this best friend got engaged (to a woman)… I saw my life before me. My heart getting crushed over and over. My friends going off and getting married, leaving me alone. Alone my whole life. I saw couples everywhere. I heard love songs everywhere - reminders that I was facing an eternity of being alone. I couldn’t focus on school work and I failed almost all of my classes that semester, which didn’t help my situation. It's difficult to adequately describe the combination of anxiety, confusion, and despair - how each lonely night felt endless. I was seeing a counselor at BYU. I told him that I would rather kill myself than be gay, and that I had to somehow find a way to fall in love with a woman. He didn’t discourage me from rearranging my priorities. Maybe he was too shocked by what I said to come up with anything. I dunno. I'll admit that years into this phase I eased up on the scrupulosity, though I'd still give myself a B for keeping the commandments. Church was usually depressing - it being a dating-focused single's ward. For example, there were a few times when I just went to a different ward's sacrament meeting.


There was one point when I had a date with the most beautiful girl I knew. Surely I would feel something then. Attachment. Longing. Desire. Something. There was nothing. If there was nothing with the most beautiful girl I knew, what chance did I have of this ever working out? Around this time, I remember driving late at night, screaming to God for any kind of help. To send someone to help me. Someone who understood.


One month later, I began to feel all of those feelings (attachment, longing, etc.) for a guy in the ward (a ward is one's local congregation). When I was around him, I felt whole. Everywhere else was darkness, but not with him. I spent time with him because I was actually happy around him. So happy. Over the next months, we watched a tv show together and over the episodes we would gradually sit closer and closer. Eventually he put his arm around my shoulders. We would take turns doing that. I was ecstatic. I can’t describe the feelings going through my chest then. It got to the point where he paused what we were watching and we just embraced. Faces pressed hard side to side. We’d embrace for what may have been hours. This began to happen several times a week. I remember a time when we were embracing for half an hour in the kitchen, in spite of a roommate being right around the corner playing video games. Fast forward a month and we would cuddle in bed (clothed) for hours at a time. I remember him taking note that it was weird that it didn’t feel wrong at all. Our relationship wasn’t just physical contact. We would go on somewhat lame adventures together and hang out whenever we could. I had found requited love, and it was better than I had ever imagined.


INTERMISSION (jk)


Something ate at my happiness, though. I knew that we both still planned on marrying women. The thought of it ending haunted me. Eventually our cuddling became more sexualized and something happened, so we ended up confessing to our bishop. I expected leniency, as waiting for marriage to express our love wasn’t an option. I went first, and I preemptively begged the bishop not to require us to end the friendship. I told him that with this friend, I finally didn’t see my road ending in suicide. The bishop required me to name who the other guy in the ward was. I only gave his name because he had his appointment later that night. The bishop put us on informal probation. We resolved not to cuddle again, and the bishop let us remain friends. We allowed ourselves an extended embrace one last time (I may or may not have cried). To this day I can't listen to As Long As You're Mine from Wicked without really hurting. Well, shortly after this meeting, my friend started turning cold towards me, as he resolved to date women again, people who he didn’t love and wasn’t attracted to. Pretty soon I was always the one initiating communication. I felt like I couldn’t turn to anyone and talk about what I was going through. I felt like I wasn’t allowed to grieve for him, because I shouldn’t have had the relationship. We would be together in my dreams at night, and then I would wake up to reality. 


By the end of that year, I finished repenting (granted, I couldn’t get rid of my feelings for him) and I was again resolved to somehow marry a woman. That was a confusing repentance. I was so lost as to how I was supposed to feel sorry for the absolute joy I had felt. One day out of the blue I said to myself, “In order to be an honest seeker of truth, I need to look and see what the anti-Mormons have to say.” After a few hours of research, I felt betrayed. I felt ecstatic (I can be with my friend! Surely with this evidence he can see the church for what it is and we can live out the rest of our lives together). I felt terrified of the reactions of my family and friends. I knew at that point that I would end up with a guy, and thought that I would lose almost every other relationship. In the end, I felt a great sense of peace. For a few days I did some research to confirm that the anti-Mormons weren’t lying, and I hurriedly sent my friend an email. We can be together. The church has been lying to us. Please look this stuff up. You don’t have to be alone! After a few anxious days he responded. He was saddened by my decisions. He advised me against what I was doing. He didn’t want to talk about it any further. I felt like I was losing him all over again and told him I would wait for him. It was now 2014 and I started a much happier life as a post-Mormon BYU Grad in spite of going through some terrible relationship issues. My younger brother played a valuable role in helping me, as he had already left the church and was thrilled to hear the completely unexpected news that I was now on his side.


Months later is when I started my more intensive research to show my parents that I wasn’t deceived – this research evolving into www.themormonchallenge.com. Looking back, I’m sure that the idea of saving the guy I loved helped motivate me, but I actually had my parents foremost in mind. Once the website was up, I hated the idea of being so at odds with my family, but I knew that people’s lives were ending over the LGBT issue. I knew it because mine almost did. I had to keep my site up to help people escape. To create allies. My parents remain LDS, but they now better understand where I’m coming from. I did end up sending my friend the site. I don’t expect to hear back from him.


In 2015, my feelings for the one I lost were finally fading when I accidentally fell in love with one of my best friends – a (probably) straight active Mormon. He was such a good friend, sticking by me during my faith transition and hanging out with me one-on-one even after I told him my orientation. The feelings started running deep. I told him what was happening and that I had to put distance between us. I’m real sorry man. This is hard for me to write. This one is my bad. Such deep prolonged unreturned love was really dangerous for me given my suicidal history, and taking the friendship in small doses wasn’t going to work, as I was pulled to him too strongly. The pain was intense. It was sad for him too. He was one of my all-time favorite friends and I’ve barely seen him since. 


That fall (2015), I came out as LGBT on Facebook. The reactions were positive. To my face they were positive. It was horrible to see so many of my friends posting anti-gay stuff, especially when they know that I’m LGBT. I wasn’t perfect either. I said things in anger that I now regret. The negativity was difficult to escape. The policy change happened, and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing all over Facebook. Me thinking, How is this protecting the kids from conflicting messages, when you’re still wanting these kids to attend church, where you then tell them that they need to move out at age 18 and get First Presidency permission to get baptized because of their parents?! Forbidding baby blessings? Will the suffering of LGBT people ever end? Rumors came of people losing hope and ending their lives over it. I knew why for some of those cases, as these people were essentially being forced into unbearable options, and many of them were already on the edge. I still live in fear for my probably-gay friends who believe they will live out their lives into old age alone, with no spouse or grandchildren. 


I felt at times, years ago, that it was like I was being forced into monkhood. And what if it was all for nothing? Catholic monks live celibate lives, and LDS people believe they don’t have to do that to reach heaven. Was I like them? In some ways I knew I wasn’t. In their case, they chose celibacy, and they likely don’t have romance-driven brains. In LDS society, there are some gay people who are totally fine being celibate. People are wired definitely. Their experiences are just as valid as mine, but I feel like they sometimes dismiss the experiences of romance-driven individuals such as myself. There are still others, who while not sexually attracted to the opposite gender, may be wired differently love-wise, and could make marriage work. As I don't feel romantic love for women, I couldn’t continue pursuing that route. It always felt wrong.
 
I ended up developing a goal. To help reform Mormonism into something better (see the last page of The Mormon Challenge), or to somehow help build up or reform an organization into being the perfect replacement for Mormonism. Either way, to give people a community without all of the downsides. I don’t imagine I’ll achieve that goal, but I’m filled with peace at the thought of working on it. We’ll see how that goes I guess. I’m still alone. I’m so used to extremely slow-moving relationships that nothing has really worked in the faster-paced gay dating world, but the hope of love being around the corner makes all the difference. The difference between drowning and breathing.

2017 update: The past couple years have gone so well that it sometimes feels like the disturbing parts of this story belong to someone else. It took time to get back to the point where I truly wanted to live a full life. I did make the mistake a few weeks back of looking at a picture of my first love. It remains the only experience of reciprocal love that I’ve ever had. When looking at him I felt like I was home. If I never replace that with someone else, I’ll at least be glad that I got to experience it once.