How many times, as a teenager, did I long to go back to the way things were before? Before friends talked about the opposite sex and started dating. Before it made me feel awkward not to date. Sometimes I was jealous of the girls. Friendships were easier when we were kids. And friendships were all I could have.
4—Being LDS in France and in the closet
7—This is about my relationships with men—straight and gay—and what same-sex attraction has been like for me since I was 5. And this is how I dealt with the feelings I had for a missionary.
I knew I was gay when I was 5 years-old. There was this boy with unruly blond hair and a mischievous smile that I liked. His name was Stéphane. I convinced my Dad to get his address from his Dad, so I could send a postcard during the summer break. I had no clue what sex was, of course, but I knew I wanted him to be my ‘boyfriend’. Children are innocent. So what to make of the fact that I remember him three decades later?
When I was 7 and 8, I kissed two classmates. Both are straight. I’m amazed how persuasive I was back then! I remember the boy whose parents rented the holiday house next to ours in the summer of ’83. We kissed in the garden. No one told me it was wrong. And I had no shame.
In middle school, that attraction for the same sex kept getting stronger. And I started feeling trapped. Friends infused in me the idea that it was bad, that something was wrong with me. It took away my confidence. The sociable, fun lad who loved doing presentations in front of the class turned into a quiet and awkward 12 year-old who sat in the back of the class. The one who put on shows and sang on a stage at a wedding disappeared. Gone. Replaced with this little guy full of self-doubt who blushed when someone looked him in the eye.
Friendships were easier when we were kids. And friendships were all I could have.
Being a teenager is hard for everyone: our bodies change and our minds must process constant power-surges. Being a grown-up is much easier: I know who I am, what I want and how to deal with things (most of the time). I don’t care if other people don’t like me or talk behind my back. But I remember when some classmates called me a ‘faggot’ and other names (that might sound nicer in French, since I’m told everything sounds nicer in French). When I heard those names I wanted to die.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, I had crushes, like we all did in school. But in my case it was hopeless. I knew it could never be. Other boys talked about sex and girls. It made them feel happy, proud and empowered. I couldn’t join in. It made me feel sad, ashamed and embarrassed. Middle school was the worst time in my life. I did not want to be ‘gay’! It made life Hell. And there was nothing I could do. Same-sex attraction is not a choice. I hated it! The only choice is how to deal with it, whether we give in or not. Have those straight folks who despise homosexuals chosen to be straight? Could they change if they tried? When I ask them they brush it aside saying it’s natural to be straight and that God would never want them to consider anything different.
You cannot choose which gender you’re attracted to. Or even who you’re attracted to. When I was 15, there was a classmate who made my day whenever he sat next to me in English or History. I hated school holidays because I wouldn’t see him for a week or two. We talked on the phone about school work. We never met outside school. He was straight, I was in the closet. The following year we were in separate classes. But my heart skipped a beat whenever I saw him smile in the corridor—for four years.
You can be gay and have male friends, though. There wasn’t anyone at university that I liked, for example, but I had some male friends. When I joined the Church, I loved Elder Larson and I loved Shawn, but never in a gay kind of way. It is not true that all gay men want to screw everything. And I hate it when women ask what I think of their man! They either feel threatened and suspicious if I say I find him attractive, or get hurt and mad if I say I don’t.
Attraction is a funny thing: You can be smitten with the very average-looking straight guy who doesn’t even like you as a friend, and never be attracted to the very handsome gay man who asks you on a second date. Sometimes I’ll say I find a man attractive and I’m told, “But he’s straight!”or “He’s married!” Some people assume that because you’re gay you simply need to find another gay person. “Oh, my husband’s brother is gay, I can arrange a date for you!” a co-worker once said, without knowing me or if we would like each other. I’m afraid it takes more than that indispensable feature! Like I have shared a bed with gay men and nothing ever happened—because we were just friends.
I had feelings for that Elder (and sexual thoughts too) but I was telling myself that one day I’d marry a nice Mormon girl and be happy.
Most missionaries I saw as friends too. I remember some very handsome missionaries to whom I was not attracted. We had some who were obviously gay too. And there were some I found very attractive. And there was Elder Jefferson. Elder French struggled with him. He was a challenge for me, but for other reasons. He was just your average guy. Not the handsomest, not the most charismatic nor the most charming. But I got it bad for him.
LDS members fast on the first Saturday of the month when they skip food and drink for 24 hours, eating after church on Sunday. They give the money saved to the needy, subdue the body to the spirit, humble themselves and feel hunger like the destitute do on a larger scale. Prayers are stronger when we fast. My Muslim friends said the same thing. I fasted and prayed to God for Elder Jefferson. I asked God to make him stay in our ward for as long as possible. I prayed to God to make me see him often. And I asked forgiveness for my thoughts…
One night Elder French and Elder Jefferson stopped by when my mother was away. I had the house to myself and got a few friends over. My friends were surprised to see the missionaries were nice and fun. People tend to think the Gospel is boring and lifeless when it’s everything but. More importantly, my best friends had just met the guy I had feelings for but I couldn’t say a thing.
Another night Elder Jefferson showed me pictures of himself in his military clothes. He showed me where his base was on the glossy US map on my bedroom wall. How I wanted to put my hand on his as he traced a route. I remember being at their apartment. Elder French was writing letters at their desk while I was reading on his bed. Elder Jefferson was also reading on his own bed. How I wanted to go to him and cuddle up next to him with the book I was reading! I wanted to be close to him and touch him. A few weeks later Elder Jefferson fell asleep on my bed at my mother’s house. I looked at him then walked out and shut the door to let him sleep in peace.
LDS members may fast whenever they feel the need to repent and/or to draw closer to God and receive some guidance. So, mid-September I fasted to get rid of those thoughts about Elder Jefferson and to repent. I did missionary work with the other team instead and I asked for a blessing (for comfort, with or without consecrated olive oil, I cannot recall, but with their hands on my head). One of the Elders said the customary, “by the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood….” then he said, “The Lord has seen and knows the good you do”, just like in Hebrew 6:10 that Jefferson had shared with me earlier that week. I felt lighter (for now). That night, still fasting, I wrote in my journal: “The power of the Priesthood is very real, and so is the power of Satan.”
I had feelings for that Elder (and sexual thoughts about him too), but I was telling myself that one day all would be well and I’d marry a nice Mormon girl, and be happy. I received my patriarchal blessing—a personal revelation from God to guide you through life on Earth, under the hands of a Priesthood holder set apart as a ‘Patriarch’. There was a part about marriage: If I remained faithful, I would one day “take a sister from the Church to be sealed for time and eternity in the temple.”
That part confused me. I wanted to do the right thing! I wanted to be faithful! I wanted to be worthy! I wanted to be a good Mormon! But how?! How could I when all I felt after Elder Jefferson eventually left was a painful feeling a loss? A loss that had to remain a secret. I asked for more blessings from the new team, I re-read my patriarchal blessing too. And I re-read the letters Jefferson sent. He was happy he had a friend. He never really gelled with his companions and people in general. I looked at the pictures he put in the envelopes. How could I ever marry a girl?