France, August ’95—I know folks who only choose holiday destinations that have a gay scene. There’s this friend with whom I wanted to go to beautiful Siena in Italy who refused because “there’s no gay scene out there!” I’ve been accused of not embracing my ‘gayness’ because I don’t like clubbing, shopping or watching chick flicks. Yet I’m no part-time gay. I can be ‘very gay’. But most of the choices I make—and I assume this is the same for straight people—aren’t based on my sexual orientation— and that includes religion.
3—Becoming a Mormon
1—I had received a testimony and the missionary discussions. I was determined to join the LDS Church. It did not matter that I was gay. In retrospect, those are the reasons why.
I know some people are puzzled when I tell them I knew I was gay when I joined the Mormon Church. But the gender I felt attracted to had no bearing on my quest for the true Church. Besides, in France in the mid-90s, homosexuality wasn’t acceptable anywhere: It made no difference whether it was the Mormon Church or Cirque du Soleil I chose to join. And I had no intention of ever coming out.
“Still, why that Church?” Because I had a testimony. ¹ Gay or not , I felt I was a Mormon already. I remember one night with Stephanie and Vincent and a few other friends who were playing pool. I said, “Nous, les Mormons…” (“Us, Mormons…”) and it stuck. They’d repeat it whenever we met and they even got those three words printed on a T-shirt for my birthday. I’d stopped drinking alcohol soon after I started taking the missionary discussions. No one had asked me to.
It all came down to that testimony I had received. I remember family visiting mid-July. We went to a picturesque village by a lake. In the 12th-century Catholic church, the heat had no sway and stained-glass windows threw colours on the delicate statues. I had the feeling that that beautiful and peaceful place was everything but (properly) spiritual, and I felt blessed knowing I’d finally found the one true Church after a long search.
The gender I felt attracted to had no bearing on my quest for the true Church.
When I think about it, it would appear that nothing predisposed me to become a Mormon. After all, I was born in an Atheist family who rolled their eyes if I got books about religion from the library and said, “read on your own, I don’t want to hear about that stuff!” But I suppose my family’s complete indifference in matters of religion gave me the freedom to explore. That’s something children of religious parents may not be at liberty to do. Plus, being religious in an Atheist family was not exactly a rebellious act for me, but it was me finding my own path, no different from those kids who rebel against their parents’ religion and assert their own identity in the process.
Over the years, I got to see more ‘logical’ reasons for my joining the Church (that in no way invalidate or diminish the prime reason).
First, my parents never instilled in me any real values. I found those in books and in American TV shows—which were of much higher quality than French programmes. The eternal fight between Good and Evil set in a land of eternal sunshine, with smiling, friendly, good-looking people—and dramatic kick-ass baddies—gave me values and fascinated me. And quite often religion would be represented in those shows and movies, of a kind to I hadn’t been exposed to. I read about the American language, culture and history. Had my parents helped me find my ‘roots’ and given me French values, my worldview back then (and today) would have been quite different and I might not have considered Mormonism as an option.
Then, (as I think I mentioned before), there weren’t many kids in our neighbourhood, and I don’t recall my parents ever playing with me as a young child or involving me in discussions or decision-making as I grew older. So I spent a lot of time alone and grew up feeling invisible. I think I naturally turned to the invisible world. Whether it was magic, demons, vampires, ghosts, angels, God, Jesus, Greek mythology, spaceships and the universe. Except for vampires, I found that Mormonism encompassed most of my childhood interests.
When I was a child, my school teachers liked that I had a vivid imagination, that I was resourceful, creative and that I wrote stories that I shared with the class. However, they didn’t like that I read religious books or went to mass. One teacher even tried to dissuade me. I was 9. Later, when I was 17, a teacher wrote in red ink on one essay, “Stop looking at history through American lenses!” But because of the way I grew up, it did not matter what people said. Although very sensitive and desirous—and sometimes desperate—to be liked and accepted, I was an independent thinker. When I studied Mormonism, I never once reconsidered my decision when friends, family (and strangers) mocked me or warned me against the dangers of joining “a cult.”
As strange as it may seem, had I not been ‘different’, I might not have joined the Mormon Church
Finally—and it took me many years to realise this one—the absence of a father made a patriarchal denomination with strong structures appealing. I felt close to my Dad when I was a young kid, always following him around. But he went away. Now he’s a nice stranger that I used to hate. Meanwhile, I suppose Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith and the Prophets took his place as ‘father figures’.
Maybe there is one more (important) reason. As strange as it may seem, had I not been ‘different’, I might not have joined the Mormon Church. You see, being gay made me ponder existential questions from a very young age. I guess that is why I was top of the class in Philosophy with the friend who had shown me the Book of Mormon. There was absolutely no one I could confide in, for fear of being ridiculed and rejected, or worse.
Alone, I tried to make sense of my existence (and everyone else’s). Had I not been different (and ashamed of it), I might not have been as introspective and prone to extensive metaphysical considerations. It would appear that nothing predisposed me to become a Mormon, but I actually believe that just about everything predisposed me to become a Mormon.
And so one afternoon of August ’95, one of the missionaries carried out the baptismal interview ² (in place to check that investigators are indeed ready and that no issue need addressed before the big day).
“Do you believe that God is our Eternal Father?”; “Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Saviour and Redeemer of the world?”; “Do you believe the Church and gospel of Jesus Christ have been restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith?” A few more questions from the list and: “Have you ever had a homosexual relationship?”
I was very shy at the time and easily blushed. On that occasion, I did not. I had been gay since as far as I could remember but I never had any sexual relations with a male (or a female, for that matter). I’d dated a few girls and kissing them was OK, but I was utterly terrified at the idea of doing more. Some gay men can have intercourse with women—some told me they think about a man all the while and some said to me they can be aroused by a woman even if that does not compare to being with a man. But, and I often thought it was most unfortunate, I could never have sex with a woman, no matter how beautiful I may find her.
“You have been taught that membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints includes living gospel standards. What do you understand of the following standards? Are you willing to obey them? For example, the law of chastity, which prohibits any sexual relationship outside the bonds of a legal marriage between a man and a woman…”
The Church’s strict law of chastity would put a stop to the pressure of having sex. I had to remain celibate until marriage? That was perfect for me! Kissing it would be and nothing more. “It’s against my religion,” I’d explain.
And I did not want to be gay. I fantasised that someday I’d meet a nice Mormon girl and God would work out a miracle. But I don’t know if that qualifies as yet another reason for my joining the LDS Church.
4—Being LDS in France and in the closet starting August 16.