I was born the fourth child, the second son in a family of eight children in a conservation religious environment. It took a lot to get noticed in my family.
From my earliest days at school I always made friends with the girls far more easily than with boys. I wasn’t really good at or interested in the boys’ games at recess. I didn’t play kickball, or tag with the boys very much and when I did I wasn’t very good. I did play a lot of hopscotch, tetherball and play-acting and other things that girls gravitated towards easily. Because of this I was often teased from a very young age for not being boyish enough. I can’t exactly remember when it started but there were aggressive bullies who taunted me for being “queer” or a “fag,” terms that to me only meant I was a boy interested in stereotypical girls’ things. It didn’t take a genius to surmise that this was obviously a negative thing although I’m not sure even they knew what it really meant.
I was a good kid in school. If I ever got in trouble it was for talking too much when I should have been listening… funny that now my kids have the same issues in school … talking out of turn.
While I didn’t get called names at home, I remember the same sort of tension over my interests. I liked playing with my sister and her dolls, brushing my mom’s hair, learning to cook and watching musicals while my brother and the neighborhood boys gravitated towards playing basketball, smear-the-queer, shooting and experimenting with cigarettes or cussing. I remember one time begging my mom to let me wear her curlers too. I’m teased about it to this day in my family. To my mom’s credit, she never made me feel shameful for the interests that I had. In fact, it was usually her defending me to another member of the family and as time wore on I remember hearing her say something like, “just because he likes playing with dolls and cooking doesn’t mean he’ll grow up to be gay.” I internalized that defense that I was free to be whomever I wanted without necessarily turning gay. But embedded in that defensive reasoning was the implied message that being gay would have been a bad thing.
I sensed tension in my parent’s marriage because my dad wasn’t as religious as my mom would have preferred him to be. I recall her strong emotions over this and determined that I wouldn’t ever cause this hurt in her or in my future wife. I’d always be strong in the church. I felt closer to my mother and really wanted to please her. I believe that’s why I gravitated towards religion so strongly. I know it pleased her and, like any kid, I craved my mom’s approval and it brought me a lot of positive attention in the family.
There was a lot of teasing in our home and sarcastic tear-downs if your behavior strayed from the norm. I would say that I didn’t feel emotionally safe to express anything that would bother my mother or what I imagined would give my siblings a reason to tease me.
Up through 8th grade most of my friends were girls but I did have a small group of male friends in junior high school. Dave and David. I remember praying so hard to be David’s friend in 5th grade and was ecstatic when it came about. I had an enormous crush on the kid but would never have described it as such at the time. That continued throughout our friendship and when Dave moved into the school in 7th grade we three did everything together. Both of them moved away after 8th grade and didn’t go to my high school, so our friendship ended there. But I crushed on them both, like a young girl might crush on a boy that age. I don’t believe they ever sensed it because I knew it was something I had to hide and be cool about but my feelings were pretty intense. I was still bullied and called names through 8th grade, by some of the same kids in earlier grades. I once got attacked and punched on the school grounds by a kid and I remained terrified of him. It was pretty traumatic at the time.
In high school, I felt like it was my chance to escape all that and start fresh. We had to choose one elective class and I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I recalled an incident in 6th grade when we were all lining up in class to go to recess. While my teacher was rounding us up, I’m sure I was goofing off or saying something to make my classmates laugh. The teacher made an off-hand comment to me that stuck with me. I remember him grabbing me gently by the shoulder to pull me into the line and saying something like, “You are going to grow up to be an actor.”
So, remembering that one comment, I signed up for the Drama elective in high school.
That decision drastically changed school and my life. School was no longer a fearful avoidance of bullies, or having to pretend I wasn’t too smart so as not to attract negative attention. I could actually do things to intentionally get attention and talking was rewarded, not punished. By the second semester of freshman year my drama teacher invited me to join the advanced drama class and the speech team. By doing so, I was welcomed into a group of theatre friends who were seniors down to freshman and several of them remain close friends to this day. I thrived in drama and speech and did quite well in competitions. In junior year I entered a summer theatre program in Minneapolis. I had a very transformative experience with kids who were just like me. I felt at home there and energized by the creativity that I was immersed in. I was also amazed that my parents allowed me to go and that they could afford it.
I had a lot of high school friends both in drama and out. I was junior class president (I was the only one who ran). I dated a lot in high school, but it was mostly because it was a way to hide what I really felt inside. I continued to have crushes and become obsessed with other boys in high school and yet that never caused me to think, “Hmm I might be gay.” There was one older boy in our church congregation who had come out and left home, or gotten kicked out (I’m not sure which). I remember the sad, pitiful looks of the parents and that others threw their way whenever it was discussed. I just remember thinking that I knew whatever that kid was, I was that too and I don’t think I could live with being talked about that way and have my parents receive the pity of everyone around and so I had to do everything possible to not end up like that.
I had girlfriends, kissed them and had a good time but taking things further was never a temptation for me and things were kind of mechanical in our relationship. I behaved how I knew I was supposed to behave and in ways that successfully hid what I was really feeling about the boys around me, not necessarily in ways that came naturally to me. In other words, I was playing a part and the acting role of my life was easy, but internally unsatisfying.
When it was time to start applying for colleges early in my senior year, my best friend asked me to join her to audition for a well-known drama program in New York City. My friend had had been involved with local community theatre from a young age and knew way more about that world than I did. I seriously had never heard of it or thought too deeply about what I would do after high school.
I blindly tagged along with her knowing very little about what I was doing and I was accepted into the program. Once I was accepted, I desperately wanted to go. I had had just very brief encounters with theatre folks up to then but I knew these were my people. I was slightly amazed that my parents were agreeable. It was very expensive and that was my biggest worry, but I had gotten some partial scholarships and loan money to cover a portion of it. My parents paid for the rest. As far as studying theatre, my parents were always supportive and never discouraged me. My dad was an artist and his father had treated him negatively when he wanted to leave to study art, so my dad was actually kind of pleased that I had a creative side and he was determined to be encouraging even though he really didn’t get the theatre side of things. My mom had started occasionally taking me to the major plays that toured through our hometown when I was a teenager and so she was also supportive even though neither one of them had any clue about the theatre more than that. I don’t remember getting any hesitation or pushback from them at all. In fact, I think my being accepted to that program became bragging rights for them among the community, their friends and our church congregation.
Once there I loved it. New York City quickly felt like home to me. I loved the diversity of my classmates and what I saw all around me and I don’t really recall feeling homesick. I did attend church while I was there.
In about my second month in NYC I ran into a few girls in the elevator after church one Sunday. They were all nannies working in nearby Westchester County and in the city to attend church and play for the day. They invited me to join them and they became my major group of friends. They were pretty aggressive towards me, in a desperate single girl sort of way, and I followed the path of least resistance and started dating one of them. I often spent weekends up with her and she often came into the city to be with me. We got close to having sex a few times but it was always easier for me to stop and not go all the way than it seemed for her. I remember in the family she lived with, the father told her she should let me go because he suspected I was gay, but she defended me and I absolutely denied it.
After all, we were practically all over each other, right? But the truth is she was practically all over me and I played the part of good Mormon boy who “just couldn’t.” The truth is I didn’t want to, and deep down I knew her boss was right. In the city during the week I found myself adoring the sight of the men. At the time I lived on the edge of the “gayborhood” the West Village and would often see men showing affection, holding hands or even kissing and it was simultaneously thrilling and terrifying to me. I’d be desperate to go away to my girlfriend’s for the weekend to prove to myself that I could be straight… and that’s the nature of what my time with her was: me using her to prove to myself that I could be straight and that I wasn’t who I felt like on the inside.
This was also the very early stages of the AIDS crisis in public eye. There was a lot still unknown about it and people were scared. Being gay meant danger beyond just the moral, social and religious implications. It meant sickness and death. That was a perfect cocktail for denial and I drank that up.
Around the beginning of my second semester I had just come back from Christmas vacation at home when my girlfriend and I had gotten extremely close to having sexual intercourse, close enough to need to confess to my church leader, as was the custom in our religion. I had subconsciously used her to prove to myself that I wasn’t gay, that I was straight. I confessed the incident. During that meeting the church leader talked to me about going on a mission, another custom for the men of that religion. Since I was so spiritually vulnerable and wanting to get back “right” with God, I promised him I’d prayerfully consider it. Up to that point, I’d always assumed I would go, but I honestly didn’t really think about it much. It wasn’t something I saved money for or had as a firm unshakable goal. Anyway I had the paperwork in my hand as I walked out of the leader’s office. My girlfriend was waiting for me and got all excited like my mom would have when I told her the impending mission. It then became clear to me that if I was going to really do this straight thing right, then I’d indeed have to do the mission to get there.
So, much like my being in NYC itself, I kind of fell into the idea of a mission haphazardly. And I just carried on with it. I filled out my mission application, and accepted the assignment to Brazil when it came the last week of my freshman year of college. The mission functioned in my mind as a process I had to go through to prove to God and to myself that I deserved and could earn everything that any straight man could get… a spouse, a family, heaven.
To remain in the drama program, we had to audition at the end of the year. At my audition in front of the panel of my first year teachers I was praised effusively and then when I told them about my mission they were intrigued and offered me even more glowing praise saying that the experience would probably make me a better actor and wished me well.
When I left, I fully intended to return after my mission.
I wasn’t the type of person to do anything half-assed and so I threw myself into my mission. I was an obedient, hard-working missionary. I had a miserable first few months but after the initial culture shock of Brazil wore off I ended up enjoying myself. I didn’t really crush on any of my fellow missionaries but I drank up the one-on-one time with men much more than the average straight missionary does I believe. I got along so well with my assigned companions that my mission leader even commented on it a few times. The truth was that I just valued the closeness with these men and worked harder to make the relationships work smoothly. It wasn’t sexual, but it was deeply emotional. I also valued these relationships more deeply than they did, I believe. After our mission, my attempts to get together and continue these relationships were mostly met with apathy and indifference. That hurt.
At this point I still fully intended to return to college in NYC.
Upon returning home, however, my innate gay feelings returned with a vengeance and I was additionally frightened that they were stronger, not milder. My scheduled return to NYC was filled with mixed emotions and fears for this reason. I was afraid that going back into “the world” I’d succumb to my homosexual urges and undo everything I’d just accomplished on my mission. I determined that a church school in the west would be safer for me. After all, there aren’t any homosexuals at church colleges, right?
My first semester at the new school I remained a drama major. While it was enjoyable I quickly discovered that it was nothing like the program in NYC and it wasn’t really professional preparation like the NYC program was. I bought into the idea that I needed to come up with a practical alternative to acting. So, without too much research I selected Communications, the major one of my new BYU friends had recently selected. I decided to continue active in the theatre department by performing in plays and such. I thought this was more practical and what God wanted out of me.
In the first year off my mission I had several homosexual experiences. Although they weren’t full-blown sex and in the real world they would elicit not much more than a shrug of the shoulders, they were still clearly the experiences of a closeted, ashamed and terrified homosexual. Each time, I ran and confessed to my church leaders in a cycle of shame to repentance to feeling clean, righteous and invincible to finding that state unsustainable and exhausting to again longing for male companionship to impulsively doing something to get it, and then back to shame, my old friend. What my church leaders would say is, “Don’t ever think about this again and certainly don’t ever tell anyone about this especially not your future wife.” I regret listening to them.
I continued dating a lot and enjoyed it, but my motivations were pretty much in line with why I dated in high school. It was a way to prove to myself and to others that I was straight; it was a way to qualify myself for the good things in society and the church that I also wanted to take part of, but that homosexuality would disqualify me from … marriage, kids, respect, heaven. I didn’t ever date anyone I wasn’t honestly interested in as a human. They were each kind, talented, fun and creative women but I was incapable of and disinterested in the kind of intimacy they were looking for, which they deserved. My relationships with them were always clouded by my subconscious guilt that I was just using them. I was still just acting.
After college I was rudderless and bounced for a few months between living with my parents and my sister, where I did more theatre. One day while looking for a job in the newspaper I found about a job opportunity teaching English as a second language in Japan. I’m not sure if the desire to travel was real or if I just wanted to escape my inner demons. Nevertheless, I applied and got a job.
Just before I left, I felt something inside boiling over and I saw a counselor just a handful of times. I told him that I was gay, the very first time I verbalized those words to anyone. He first introduced me to the concept of reparative therapy and gave me a lot of reading and personal work to do while I was in Japan. The reparative therapy wasn’t necessarily destructive or damaging. It was just ineffective and misguided since it was founded completely without a scientific foundation. I went off to Japan feeling a gazillion pounds lighter than I ever had and with hope that I’d could possibly cure myself of the scourge of homosexuality. As part of this program, I worked out daily, continued to attend church, had no gay encounters to speak of.
I taught ESL in Japan and then in the states for another 8 years. After that, once I was married it has been a constant hunt for more money rather that wise career moves that are fulfilling and life-sustaining. I seem to move about every 2-4 years too.
While I was teaching ESL back in the states, I resumed seeing the counselor and continued the quest for ex-gayhood. I was sent on a lot of foolhardy adventures in this quest. One of the major themes of the ex-gay conversion therapy is that I needed to just develop healthy, non-sexual relationships with other men and do manly things and I’d be cured. So, in the church I attended I became friends with a guy, who was very obviously not gay and just barely starting to go to church. He knew nothing about my ulterior motives for our friendship or the fact that at this point my church activity was more mechanical that spiritual. I attended because that’s what I knew and what I believed would take me where I wanted to go, but I honestly didn’t like it. I didn’t enjoy church or many of the people there. I didn’t hate it. I just wasn’t feeling much of anything at all at this point. My new friend was enthusiastic about all things church related and I guess I hoped some of that was contagious.
At one point, after he and I were solid friends and I was feeling like I had this ex-gay thing down pat I met his younger sister when she came home from college with plans for a mission to Portugal. I had gone to Brazil and so I excitedly talked to her about the Portuguese language and mission stuff.
So, if you combine that I was feeling pretty confident on the path of “cured of homosexuality” with my advancing age (I was 27 at this point) I latched onto her as my last chance to make the only really acceptable path in life, the whole straight husband worthy of heaven thing. She left to Portugal, but I didn’t care because I thought I had her in my back pocket. Her time away would give me more time with her brother… in a straight, healing from homosexuality sort of way and make me an even better, straighter husband for when she returned. And that’s exactly what happened. I wrote her letters for her entire time away while her brother and I moved in together to wait it out as straight buddy-friends. I think I did a few counseling sessions during this time but I really did feel like I was getting cured and didn’t need it. Lurking beneath the surface, however, my homosexual urges were strong and guilt-inducing. I taught a lot of gorgeous European men in my job and drooled over them (silently and inconspicuously) while convincing myself that since I had a straight roommate/friend that I went home to and that I felt no sexual attraction towards that I was obviously straight. It was a time of that weird dichotomy. Straight life at home, repressed homosexual urges and thoughts the rest of the time
By the time his sister returned from Portugal it was a foregone conclusion that we were going to get married, so I asked her right away even though we had really only dated 2 ½ months before she left, something that I would have normally made fun of and ridiculed. Somehow, the fact that her 18-month mission extended our acquaintance to almost 2 years made it seem normal.
It was somewhat of a desperate move if I’m being honest. And I’m ashamed to admit that I used her and her brother in my quest to achieve what I’d always been taught to value in life. Without them I never would have been able to, at moments, feel straight, and feel like I could achieve those things that I needed and wanted … marriage, kids and heaven.
So, we married. I was terrified on our wedding night but thrilled that she didn’t sense my fear and that I was able to pull it off. I was certain that it would become easier and that I’d never have any need to tell her about my struggles with homosexuality because I was on a sure path to heterosexuality.
Almost immediately I sensed that I’d made a grave mistake, but I was determined that this was a path I chose. I was going to stick with it and not cower out of it. I was confident I could pull it off and that things would only get easier with the passage of time. For a lot of the emotional, intellectual and especially sexual parts of our relationship I was acting a part. It was a part that over time proved to be exhausting and unfulfilling. In spite of doing everything I knew I was supposed to do I grew miserable and resentful and angry inside. Despite how much I prayed, read scriptures, attended church, volunteered and tried to act the part of good husband, I felt incredibly hollow inside. I felt like parts of me were getting eaten away and suffocated year by year.
Since all my previous friendships were primarily women I pretty much lost them when I got married because the church culture really frowns upon opposite sex friendships after marriage. In my case, this was devastating and I grew lonelier because of it. I felt isolated and trapped. The funny thing is that in daily life my wife and I got along. Arguments were infrequent. When they occurred they were usually over extended family or sex.
Tragically enough, unlike many gay married men I’ve since spoken to, I was far more interested in sex with my wife than she ever was with me. In my mind, I guess, the marriage bed was the only place I was going to have sex and so it was better than nothing. I had a stronger libido than her at every point in our marriage but especially after kids came. Sex was the one bright spot in my otherwise numb existence. The few minutes that I was allowed to feel something.
Nevertheless, on the outside we maintained a stellar image of the perfect godly family.
Probably the stickiest glue in our relationship was our kids. From the day my oldest was born I LOVED being a dad. All of it. In fact, I remember joking with my older sister once when I was 17 that I wanted to grow up to be a dad; I didn’t necessarily want to be a husband. This sentiment was prophetic because I found immense joy in my kids. The days they were born were the 4 best days of my life. Yet I was miserable in my marriage and I couldn’t admit to myself why. I had a beautiful wife. Amazing children. Respect and responsibility at church and work. I was checking all the boxes but what was this hole in my heart?
I reasoned that since the church leaders taught that being gay was a verb, not a noun, and since I wasn’t actively doing anything gay then I wasn’t gay.
My soul knew better.
My mom’s death was a significant turning point in my life.
I was 37 with 3 kids.
Her death was fairly sudden. She became ill and then died four months later.
I had a close friend of mine, non-religious, lose her father at the same time. She had a wonderful loving relationship with her father. I remember thinking to myself during my mom’s funeral, “So because my mom and dad were married in our religion, then I’m going to be able to see my mom in the afterlife? But my friend and her father who had as much love between them or more than my mom and I, they won’t?
It didn’t make any sense to me.
I let that all stew in me for years
Just before this, I had volunteered to teach daily youth religious classes in our church. I liked it a lot because I enjoyed teaching and felt like I had a talent for it. I tried hard by studying extra and bringing more to the lessons when I could, but in that process I ran across material that contradicted the official party line that the church was providing me in lesson manuals.
Finding such material only led me to search out more because I knew that what I was reading had to be wrong because the church couldn’t possibly be duplicitous in ANYthing, could it? Teaching was the first time in my life I discovered and knew that the official church story was incorrect in many respects and that a church leader could be factually and blatantly wrong… and that following them as if by the voice of God was at times, in my opinion, morally weak.
I let that stew for a few more years
Early on in her illness, my mom had sensed that something was fatally wrong with her and so she recorded some final words on a cassette tape that we didn’t find until after she passed away. We made a family meeting to hear the tape together.
When she died, I was shocked and sad, of course but I was at peace too.
But in this cassette tape I expected to hear her tell of fond memories between her and my dad and with us kids, to talk to each of us individually and to give us some life wisdom. But what we got was a church testimony. It was teary and heartfelt, but I was devastated that her last words were nothing that I couldn’t hear any Sunday in any building of our denomination on the earth. I felt cheated and deprived of my own mother by the church that she and I had devoted our lives to. All of the believing members of my family, at least outwardly, expressed how special the tape was. The “slacker” ones including my dad must have felt ignored and shat upon. I was somewhere in the middle. I was completely believing in the church at this point, but completely devastated by this unfulfilling, plastic and robotic version of my mother. Instead of making me feel close to her it created this huge gulf between where she expected that testimony to take me and where it really took me.
That was the another experience that I stewed upon for years without resolution.
Just before my mom passed away, my wife had campaigned hard for us to move from our condo in the city to a home in the north part of the county. I resisted for months if not years. Homes were cheaper there and she could fulfill her dream of being the stereotypical suburban stay-at-home housewife and mom. The move involved about an hour+ commute to work for me which I wanted nothing to do with, and I’ve never really been a suburb dweller at heart. I thrive in urban environments, but since her dream coincided with the part I was playing, I acquiesced.
I recall processing a strange thought at the time of this decision to move that I never verbalized or shared but that would later be quite shockingly significant. I remember while resisting my wife’s insistence on moving that the thought entered my mind that, “Okay, you’ll get this one, but this is going to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I won’t be able to maintain the façade up there. That is going to be where I lose it.”
I was driving 2+ hours to work daily, in church meetings several times a week and rarely seeing my kids, yet they were the only thing that provided me with joy at this point in my life. Things inside were boiling and boiling. After time, I got a job closer to home but the stress was only mildly relieved.
I continued my research into the doctrine history of our church that I started years earlier as a teacher to confirm for myself that those contradictory details I’d discovered were aberrations and that the faith was as built on as strong of a foundation that I always believed.
I spent lunch hours at the public library and read books that had seemingly nothing to do with religion, but that had everything to do with my religion. After about 2 years of this sort of study, working on my thankless church volunteer work, rarely at home and with the growing distance between my wife and I, I returned to my office after a lunch hour at the library and for the first time the thought entered my mind… “They (meaning church leaders) have gotten it wrong so many times about all these things I’ve studied, what else could they possibly have gotten wrong?….. OH MY, I REALLY AM GAY.
It’s hard to explain the ambivalent feelings of joy and terror that came from that first admission. Suddenly, so much in my inner life made sense. It was an especially euphoric feeling to admit that single truth about myself even though no one else was there to listen.
I was high on a cloud for weeks after that, but at the same time I was horrified at how incompatible my current state in life was with that truth. I was married with 3 kids! I was paralyzed about what to do and so I just sat on it for about 2 months.
My wife soon noticed that something was wrong with me. It was several weeks before I gained the courage to tell her but I eventually did.
“I don’t believe in our religion anymore and I’m gay.”
I was determined that this didn’t change anything as far as our future and who I was deep inside. But it changed everything. Still, I walked on air and had a lightness about me that I’d never known before in my life.
I was also scared that I was going to lose the things I most loved in my life, my kids.
We tried to make things work for about a year or two after that, but once you come out of the closet that door won’t close again no matter how hard you try. Many couples divorce with just one of these issues in their lives. We had both: incompatible belief systems and incompatible sexual orientations.
I still went to church and I remained faithful to our marriage. I tried to claim I was still ME and that we could make it work. At one point I thought I even had her convinced it would work since she claimed to have had a revelation that we needed to have another child. She said she’d had a dream that our 1 son had a younger brother waiting in heaven to join our family and that we needed to bring this soul into the word. This meant I would be able to keep the family together and so I agreed. So, believe it or not we chose to have our fourth child after I came out and after I revealed my disbelief to her.
I maintained the public image of the straight religious man, but personally I stopped the private manifestations of devotion and these proved to be the end of our marriage. I think the clincher was more so that I refused to do any sort of counseling or reparative therapy to “cure” the homosexuality. This was almost 40 years in with my battle and I’d been through all of that on my own. It was brand new to my wife and so she expected me to start back at square 1 with all the shaming and “Wo is me! Please cure me” godly efforts. I was just not willing to go there again. In the end, she filed for divorce. I got the divorce letter at work. And I honestly didn’t expect it.
Just a few weeks before I’d bought us both new cars. I’d stopped volunteering in church. I was able to spend so much time with the kids that it was refreshing. I also remember talking to her about the difference and asking her, “Would you rather have the involved father for your children and the frequently at home husband like I am now, or would you rather have the absent church volunteer as a husband?” Without blinking, she said “the church volunteer.” I knew then that it was over, at least emotionally.
I still hadn’t come out to anyone else. The divorce took only about 4 months and at about 6 months my son had overheard my ex-wife on the phone talking about me being gay to a friend or relative. He asked me about it in the car one day. So, I told the kids in the car at that very moment which was much earlier than I expected to. I came out to them. And once I told them I knew I had to tell others. I gradually told family and friends. First, I told my dad who was completely loving and affirming towards me and I’ll always love him for his reaction.
My kids sensed my ex-wife’s discomfort with my being gay early on but for the most part they have been wonderfully accepting and it’s been a non-issue in their lives. In spite of her caustic demeanor towards me, I have my ex-wife to thank for outing me far earlier than I would have done it on my own.
While I have had relationships over the years I am currently single and spend my free time raising my kids in a shared 50% custody arrangement that I’ve had to fight hard for. It’s been a wonderful and yet difficult roller-coaster ride. My ex-wife moved out of state, but I determined to stay close to my kids and eventually followed. I now live about 2 miles from their mother in a city and state I wouldn’t have chosen to live in myself. Still, I don’t regret it. My divorce and coming out were rewards in and of themselves even though to date the freedom to be me hasn’t led to a partnership with a love of my life like I had hoped.
My personal peace and joy come from living on the outside in a manner consistent with how I feel on the inside.