Stories of LGBT teens growing up in LDS families often are heartbreaking accounts. All I can do is imagine the pain and of course understand their decision either to remain active in the Church or to end their membership and attack our religion. But as a convert, I cannot relate.
4—Being LDS in France and in the closet
5—LGBT kids growing up LDS face serious challenges. Because I chose to be LDS in a home where religion was not accepted, my own challenges were of a different nature.
Elder Oaks’ Conference speech caused an uproar among LGBT LDS members last Sunday. What happened? All Conference talks sound bland to me. I was reading the Journal of Discourses. Once considered ‘Scripture’ ¹ (and predating doctrinal changes), the Journal of Discourses has been disavowed by the modern LDS Church ² but remains popular with Mormon Fundamentalists of all stripes. Being a Mormon Fundamentalist is like loving the original movie while others are hooked to the series you don’t watch, so I had no idea what shocking thing Elder Oaks said.
It turned out to be a generic talk that reiterated standard doctrine. Accepting Church standard doctrine does not make us self-loathing. Accepting Church doctrine does not make us unworthy of God’s love and of His presence in our lives.
However, it is a sad reality that many teens take their own life because of the pressure to conform, unforgiving interpretation of doctrine and the rejection of loved ones. If anyone needed proof that being gay is not a choice, this had to be it. How on Earth could you choose to be anything that’s going to cause friends and family to reject you and create such a conflict inside that death seems to be the one option?
It is true that the Church has improved its relations with the LGBT community and is now working with organisations looking to prevent teen suicide among LGBT members of the Church. However, expecting a Church whose theology is built upon eternal families to adopt a pro-LGBT stand is naive. So I could not understand the uproar about Elder Oaks’s talk. Like I can’t understand how parents can throw out their own child for not conforming to their own standards, as essential and sacred those standards may be to them.
Accepting Church standard doctrine does not make us self-loathing. It does not make us unworthy of God’s love and of His presence in our life.
I suppose I cannot understand because my experience as a convert was completely different. I grew up in a French Atheist family. There was no acceptance of homosexuality but there also was no church to attend, no Scriptures to read, no expectations to meet whatsoever. In fact, there was a vacuum.
My Dad left for another woman when I was 7 and my mother never said much. It was a messy divorce. I didn’t have a good relationship with my Dad. My mother, passive and overwhelmed, never taught me or my sister what was right from wrong. To this day she cannot give us advice or communicate.
People didn’t approve of homosexuality. I knew that. And I knew from a very young age that I was a homosexual. That was a terrible realisation. As a result, and because of my personality and home circumstances, my head teemed with existential questions. No one was interested in answering those I dared to express. Some kids turn to cigarettes and drugs and hang out with the wrong crowd to assert their own individuality, but I never was a cool kid. So I became introspective and then the invisible boy turned to the invisible world. Was turning to religion an act of rebellion? Was it a call for help?
People often ask me how I could choose to become a Mormon. They look puzzled when I explain that being gay is one of the reasons. Being gay provoked this deep introspection and generated all those existential and metaphysical questions I had.
I think I was predestined to be religious. I remember how it annoyed my family when I decided to go to mass all alone aged 8. I was even told off when I brought up religion during my Communion lunch at the restaurant. My grandfather subsequently said I’d become a priest.
After deciding Catholicism wasn’t for me, the pangs of adolescence made me explore new avenues. When I was 19, I studied Mormonism and realised that my approach to the Bible and religion was very Mormon. My childhood interest in astronomy and Greek mythology—with embodied Gods—prepared me for the Mormon cosmology. It’s almost as if I was not only predestined to have religion but for the Mormon religion.
I remember that it was my father’s new wife who showed me how to hold a fork. The patriarchal and rigorously structured LDS Church appealed, unconsciously, to the fatherless child left to his own devices in his mother’s home.
My grandparents were a bit more involved and I was able to have discussions with my grandmother. I confided in her when I had a problem. She met with Elder Garant and Elder Larson. But she stopped after the first discussion.
Coming out as Mormon is sometimes as hard as coming out as gay.
My aunt came to church with me once. She was authoritarian and outspoken. She had not taken too well to the news that I was now a Mormon. Sometimes coming out as a Mormon is as hard as coming out as gay. The missionaries encouraged me to visit her. We talked about the Church for a couple of hours. I spoke eloquently. I believe the Spirit helped me. I answered every question like I always have, without glossing things over, with honesty and openness. After all, I had been converted after reading not so nice books about Mormons! ³
I never believed there was anything to be ashamed of with the Gospel, even if I understand the need to sometimes adapt the message. I addressed all the points that bothered her—all the nonsense that people had put in her head. I was grateful to the missionaries for convincing me to visit her. I had the sense to see she was scared for me. Anger is so often caused by fear and hurt. As I was leaving she said she felt more comfortable around me. How sad she had felt otherwise.
But I suppose some things never change: Not too long ago she complained to my mother that I was “rather strange and so different”. Apparently it was because I sat in a chair reading the Scriptures one morning when I was visiting over the Christmas holidays. People sometimes complain that Churches like the LDS are responsible for family estrangement. No one ever stops to think that sometimes it’s not the Church but the families are responsible for that estrangement.
In those days my mother often made disparaging comments about my religion. And if I did or said anything she did not like, she would either blame the Church or accuse me of being a bad Mormon. I couldn’t win.
But I have to give her credit for coming along to Stake Conference when I received the Melchizedek Priesthood from Elder Young, one of our missionaries. He was a great example, gentle, non-judgemental but 100% devoted to the work and perfectly obedient. One female member had tears in her eyes after Elder Young ordained me. She took my mother’s hands and told her how proud she should be, how this would be a blessing for our family and many others. They both looked at me. I looked into my mother’s eyes and saw discomfort, confusion and displeasure.
There were times when my mother would be downright awful because of my religion. Fear has a funny way of bringing out the worst in people and she feared the Mormons would take me from her. When I talked about serving a mission she would get mad. So there is another example of my experience of the Church being diametrically different from men born in the Church whose parents would be mad if they decided not to serve a mission. When I was invited by the Mission President to serve a mini-mission for three months in our area, she became so angry that I backed down.
Yet there were times I thought she would change. One day the missionaries came to visit and shared a message about Jesus. My mother had tears in her eyes. And I could imagine the day we would all become members of the true Church of Christ. I believed it would happen. Even my sister was nice that evening, helping out carrying dishes and smiling. And my mother was talkative. Another time my Mother and my sister saw President Monson (who was not yet Church President) and Elder Holland at a Conference. Mother was touched but wouldn’t admit it. My sister felt the Spirit but did not know what it was. On times like this I felt we were close to a breakthrough.
I always felt that my mother should have felt grateful that the Church kept me out of trouble. When other kids slept off the alcohol after a night of debauchery, I was getting ready for church. Sometimes my non-Mormon friends would drive me to church, because they respected me and loved me. I’ll never forget that. My Mormon friends were also a good influence in my life and gave me much love. We once went on holiday to the south of France together. The best part was not feeling judged or scrutinised all the time like at home. And it was so nice to pray together.
A year after my baptism in the LDS Church my stressful home life was taking its toll and complicated my religious life. And my religious life was becoming complicated by the fact that I was young and gay. But just because we don’t fit the mould does not mean the mould has to be broken.
¹ “The Journal of Discourses deservedly ranks as one of the standard works of the Church, and every rightminded Saint will certainly welcome with joy every Number as it comes forth from the press as an additional reflector of ‘the light that shines from Zion’s hill.” (George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses (JoD) 8, Preface)
“When they are copied and approved by me they are as good as Scripture as is couched in this Bible, and if you want to read revelation read the sayings of him who knows the mind of God.” (Brigham Young, JoD 13:261)