France, July ’95—My grandmother called out my name as I got back home after the weekend. She lived next door. I had not seen her in the dark, still in awe of the testimony I’d received. ¹ She asked me to go sit with them. It was a warm night. My gran’s sister was visiting for a few days; my mother and my 14 year-old sister were sitting out with them. All I wanted to do was finish reading these books I had borrowed from the library ² and read from the Book of Mormon too but I sat down with them and looked at the stars above.
2—How it all began: teenagers looking for religion.
5—Was it strange that I had come to the conclusion that Mormonism was for me? Not only was I a gay teen but I was also born and raised in an Atheist family.
I could not tell them what happened. ³ In my family, the women had some notions of faith that resembled childhood memories and the men were staunch Atheists who poked fun at religion. To this day, my grandfather remains the only person I know who had a humanist funeral.
I often felt like I was invisible, so I might have turned to the invisible world for that reason.
Although secular to the extreme, most French families come from a Roman Catholic background and go to church for weddings and funerals. Many families also get their children christened, and some do their First Communion. If some have a genuine faith, for most French people Catholicism is mere tradition—not religion.
I remembered that my grandmother had insisted I got enlisted to do my First Communion, because “that’s what people do.” I wanted to go to Catechism—preparation classes. Perhaps my childhood interest in ghosts, vampires, magic and demons was one step away from angels, Jesus and God. Whatever the reason, I became convinced at a young age that there was a God; I believed in Jesus Christ, and I wanted to learn more.
For the other kids their Communion meant a family reunion and some presents but to me, it meant getting closer to God. I asked for religious books and church music. That baffled my mother. But it was nothing compared to when I announced I wanted to go to mass. No one would go with me and I went alone.
I was quite strong-willed because I was used to doing my own thing. There weren’t any kids in our neighbourhood and, with my family, I often felt like I was invisible, so I might have turned to the invisible world for that reason. I developed my own worldview and did not care about what others did or thought. Some personality trait that has let me become my own person and evolve the way I wished up to this day.
My sister said she was going home to watch TV. When I was a kid, I watched a lot of TV. We also had all those American sci-fi shows. I was crazy about space ships, built a few with legos, read books about astronomy and drew charts of the revolution of planets around the Sun. My favourite cartoon was Ulysses 31, which propelled the epic of the Odysseus into outer space and the 31st century. So, I subsequently read about Greek mythology and put together genealogies of the gods. Perhaps all that prepared me for the Mormon cosmology.
My mother said goodnight and went home next door, I remembered the orange book Le Nouveau Testament and, my favourite, the brown one about the Old Testament, still in the secretary in the spare bedroom, which the Catholic priest had given the kids preparing for Communion. I had asked my mother questions but she did not want to talk about religion. I had asked my grandmother but she did not have much knowledge. I asked the priest but he could not give me clear answers. So, I’d been alone in religion before and maybe that too prepared me to be a Mormon in France.
There was no man in the family. My grandfather died when I was 10 and when I was 7, my father packed his stuff. I knew there was another woman; I had heard conversations I wasn’t supposed to hear; I saw my parents fighting. But no one explained or comforted me. In fact, I was the one comforting my mother. The absence of a father had led me to rely on no one else. And I knew was that people you loved, and were supposed to be there for you, could one day leave with no warning—and my mother said they probably would.
Divorce wasn’t common back in the early ’80s, and my mother never got over it. In the beginning, she was always at the lawyers’ or in court for one thing or another. She’d always been quiet, had found it hard to communicate, but she became even more withdrawn and negative. She was not cut for divorce—and that was not the amicable kind.
My father was a police officer who filed false reports—and encouraged others to do the same—against my mother and anyone who sided with her. He ‘kidnapped’ my sister for several months and refused to let my mother see her. Once, I refused to spend the weekend with him and he left; only to come back with cops in a police van to enforce his right of visitation. I will never forget the fear and the shame. I was 8. I sometimes woke up in the middle of the night, paralysed, after having nightmares about him.
I think it’s a miracle that through all this, I remained a confident, outgoing child. By the time I was 10, I wrote class presentations and came up with game ideas. I produced on stage; I was sociable and would approach just about any child or adult.
That completely changed after I started le collège (middle school, from 11 to 14). When I see photographs, I can’t help feeling sad that the boy lost his smile. The sparks in his eyes are gone too. You can tell he’s almost pathologically shy and in silent pain.
I put religion on the shelf but I never let go of faith in God—I just did not want to talk to Him. Even when it could have helped.
That school was the wrong environment for someone like me. The students fought and assaulted teachers. I knew I was different from a very young age, but not until then did my sexual orientation cause me any problems. I got called lots of names. The first day of school I got beat up, so I figured names weren’t that bad.
No one ever took it up to a teacher. My mother ignored it. I did too. I was too ashamed. Homosexuality was something you did not talk about—unless if it was to be bashing someone or telling dirty jokes. My teen years became a time for me to hide. A time to pretend. All those years I told myself I was strong and carefree (when I was in pain and lost inside). I had no one to turn to. Not even God, I felt.
I wouldn’t talk to Him. Even when it could have helped. I went to mass until I was 12. Until I had come to the conclusion that Catholicism was a fraud. I put religion on the shelf. In my worst years I did without God. It is only when I started le lycée (high school, from 15 to 18), and got exposed to different belief systems, that I started to approach Him again. Some people turn to God in times of need. I felt God was like a friend. I don’t like annoying my friends with my problems. And since God is all-powerful, I was a buit mad at Him in those years.
My sister went to bed. The Moon was high. I looked at its round shape and its light. The Moon always made me feel blue but also less alone. Tonight, under the stars, I felt peaceful; I felt whole. I hardly listened to what was being said. I felt the afterglow of my testimony like a fire inside of me.
Since I started le collège I often sat outside in the summer, to look at the Moon and the stars. I imagined the never-ending universe still expanding—like a brush that never stopped painting long black strokes. I mused on the fact that it took centuries for the light of some stars to reach the Earth. It made me feel small, in a good way—my worries being insignificant in the grand scheme of things—and it made me feel big—knowing I was a part of this mysteriously amazing universe.
Now it was was my turn to say goodnight to my grandmother and her sister. I walked the few yards to our front door. I’d call the missionaries in the morning and make an appointment for the first discussion. No one needed to know.