Yesterday I had dinner with David, a young aspiring actor and student at Macalester College in St. Paul. He's playing the role of Joe Pitts in the school's production of Angels in America, and he wanted to talk to a real, live, gay Mormon "who came of age in the 1980s!!" I realized he couldn't have been born any earlier than 1985. For the first time in my life I actually felt old.
I shared with him my story, and pieces of the stories of other people I've come to know along the way. My three best friends at BYU, all of whom were gay (though I wasn't aware of it at the time), and two of whom, like me, were suicidal. I told bits of the stories of some of the folks I've come to know well in returning to the fold, including some of you.
I told him what it was like for me growing up in the Church. Which for the most part was an experience of feeling surrounded by love. Loving parents and family. Loving bishops and teachers and quorum leaders. I talked about what it was like becoming a priesthood holder as a youth, what it was like getting ready to go on a mission. I talked about patriarchal blessings, and getting ready for the temple. And I talked about struggling with feelings of unworthiness as I became aware of my gay feelings. I talked about Packer and the infamous talk, and The Miracle of Forgiveness, and various statements I heard made by priesthood leaders and bishops and stake presidents.
As I talked, I had this insight about why I wanted to kill myself. It wasn't because the Church hated me or treated me cruelly. It was the opposite. It was because the Church loved me. Because it made me feel warm and safe and protected, and a part of something, a part of the very best thing I could possibly be a part of. And when I was confronted with losing that, and when my faith began to fall to pieces, I felt like there was nothing left for me. Literally nothing.
He quizzed me about my mission, and I talked about how I felt incredibly close to every single one of my companions, how every transfer broke my heart. And how I also struggled and felt anguished because I felt attracted to every single one of them.
I talked about how some guys have related how they closed themselves off from male friendships because they were afraid of what it might open up in them. That was never me. I talked about how some guys have had to separate the Mormon thing from the sexuality thing, how they have had to compartmentalize and almost create two versions of themselves, and what a struggle it is to try to bring those things together.
I talked about what a powerful thing the Church is in our lives. I told him about men I knew of who had been in same-sex partnerships and left them in order to be reunited with the Church. I talked about my own journey back, with its attendant struggles and heartaches and joys.
He quizzed me about gay married Mormon men. He needed insight into how his character, Joe Pitts, would relate to his wife Harper. I said, "The bottom line, the thing you need to understand most is, the gay married Mormon guys I know love their wives. They love them deeply, sometimes more than they love themselves. They would lay their lives down for them. In a sense they already have. When things go wrong in the relationship, they have a tendency to blame themselves. They feel responsible. These guys are some of the sweetest, most humble, most sensitive guys I know." I dunno, guys, did I represent? That's truly my perception of you... He took copious notes.
I actually felt the Spirit there as we spoke. I felt really good. Later, after I went home I prayed a prayer of gratitude, because looking back over my life, and looking where I've come to, I feel so blessed.
When we had finished, he thanked me very warmly and gave me a good strong handshake. I told him, "You've got a Mormon handshake there!" He laughed.
He said, "I'm so glad I talked to you. I've talked to other folks, but from you I got a more positive view of the Church. That's the view I think Joe would have had."
"Yes," I smiled.
I'm sure Joe's view of the Church was complicated. But on balance, good.