France, November ’96, —Sometime in October I asked Elder French what was wrong. He tried to ignore the question. Then said he said he was sad because of some bad news about his Patriarch. In the LDS Church, a Patriarch is often an older man who is ordained and called to serve Church members in an entire region. He said the man had had a big influence on him. I didn’t know our Patriarch well but he loved his. And now he had apostatised. It was a shock for Elder French who was having his own crisis of faith.
4—Being LDS in France and in the closet
8—I started to really struggle: it wasn’t just with my sexual orientation. It was with friends and family who criticised the Church while opposition started to build there too.
It was hard to hear. I was feeling low and couldn’t cheer him up like Shawn would. The autumn, colourless, cold and wet, mirrored our feelings during our ‘split’ (when missionaries split so they can double up with other members, often to visit inactive members—as we call non-practising folk). Living dangerously wasn’t Elder French’s thing (and mine neither), so we skipped the last address on the list and got a big strawberry tart instead from that Pâtisserie that he loved.
We went to that bar we used to go before Shawn’s transfer and ate watching MTV. I missed Shawn. Elder Jefferson was gone now and I missed him too. I sat there in total silence, caught between the denial of sinful feelings that made me feel so unworthy, and the bittersweet memories of the sweet soldier that made me feel warm inside.
I looked at Elder French reaching out for another helping of tart in the empty bar. As the senior companion, he called the shots and we enjoyed those ‘splits’ together. His mission was almost over. Would he leave the Church? Another pang of loneliness hit me. Everyone was leaving.
I was caught between the denial of sinful feelings and the bittersweet memories
The Muslim friend who introduced me to The Book of Mormon in high school ¹ had just moved to America to work as an au pair. On her leaving night, an old classmate greeted me: “So, you’re a Mormon?” His tone was neutral; his smirk was not. Why did people felt the urge to tell the world? We exchanged a few words; he took off. “He was so aggressive,” said my Muslim friend. “Was he?” I hadn’t noticed. I was so used to it now—and to the fact that people mixed us with the Amish!
Almost 25 years later, I still meet people who blankly announce: “We can’t be friends!” because of my religion. Being older means that sort of reaction no longer makes me sad or mad. I would laugh if I was new to a class and the professor introduced me as “a Mormon Priest” (as it happened in Greek as the professor’s son had been a classmate who heard about it in the grapevine).
Religion had come between me and several friends. And the funny thing was that the same people who said joining “a cult” would drive me away from them are those who cut me out. Some friends’ reactions were quite amusing: two of them developed a new appreciation for the crucifix they received on their First Communion and wore them all the time now.
Thankfully, a few friends were open enough. Like Sam, who didn’t understand “this mad decision to join the LDS Church” but came to one Sacrament meeting to see for herself. She moved to Ireland soon afterwards. I missed her. Before leaving she made a few Tori Amos tapes for me, and I used Crucify for a lesson for Family Home Evening lesson. And how could I forget Katy? Even though she didn’t approve of religion in general, she always had my back.
I didn’t imagine back them that I’d found opposition in Church itself: a new and painful one for me.
It was in Katy’s country home that I received the testimony that changed the course of my life and made me join the Church. ² That was almost 18 months ago. How different things were now. I didn’t imagine back them that I’d found opposition in Church itself: a new and painful one for me.
Elder Young had ordained me to the Melchizedek Priesthood six months prior and was now an Assistant to the Mission President. I was so glad to see him again during one of his routine visits. We talked about his time in the ward, and then he said, “I’ve heard lots of rumours about you.” I panicked: “What rumours?” Did people know I had fallen for Elder Jefferson? No: I had taken the Elders to “bad places”, some Elders came to parties and I had invited girls for them. This was all news to me.
Three times a charm, is what people say, but I disliked Elder French’s new companion: a smug Hugh Grant lookalike (and I never liked the actor either). His friends from out of town often visited. They’d go out to the cinema and they stayed over at their apartment. I’d never joined them. And I didn’t have parties (with or without girls). All I did was go to a regular bar (after doing missionary work) where we had soft drinks and cheesecake (or brought our own tarts). I don’t think Elder Young believed me. I had chosen him to ordain me because he was the missionary I admired the most. And now I felt his contempt and saw disappointment in his eyes.
I decided not to partake of the Sacrament a few days later. When LDS members don’t feel worthy, they abstain from the Lord’s Supper. As if opposition from those attacking my religion wasn’t bad enough, I was now up against false rumours in the Church. I avoided Elder French in order to put a stop to it. Just when we needed each other more than ever.
That Sunday I got some backlash for the film I made with some members for the Halloween party at the meetinghouse—an excuse to attract neighbours and non-members and get them to take the missionary discussions. I’d skipped classes for a few weeks as we had to shoot scenes in the right order. We held up a dictaphone to the VHS camcorder for the soundtrack. Given the technology we used, I’m proud of the fun (and scary) film it turned out to be!
We invested so much time and effort into this project but some members had complained to the Bishop who now wanted a word. Dealing with rumours among missionaries in the entire mission field wasn’t enough. The Devil decided I had to put up with complaints from Church members about the film and also about the way I conducted Family Home Evening. Maybe because of the lesson based on Crucify? Looking back, I don’t think there was anything inappropriate. And it still hurts that those people were family to me.
I couldn’t share any of this with missionaries whom I avoided now. I could imagine Elder Jefferson’s disapproval. I couldn’t talk to my friends without painting a bad picture of the Church I loved. As for my best friends in the Church, they had their own lives now. Stéphane (who was baptised at about the same time as me) had received his endowment in the Swiss Temple (since we didn’t have one in France) and moved to another town after he got married. Sonia ³ was gone and married too. Rachel had gone ‘inactive’.
After my interview with the Bishop I walked home. The sound of the rain around me and on my black umbrella soothed me a little. I had to pull myself together before I walked through the door. I felt scrutinised since I joined the Church. If I ever said or did anything she disapproved of, my mother would guilt-trip me: “Is this the kind of behaviour your Mormons would approve of?” Lately she was either shouting or giving me the silent treatment for days.
“Ignore them. Stay where you are,” said my Muslim friend on her leaving night about those friends who mocked me. She had taken the missionary discussions shortly after I got baptised. A couple of months later, she recanted due to family pressure and because she wasn’t “fully converted.” I tried to find strength in her words. I wish I could talk to her now. Everyone I loved was leaving—missionaries, friends from school, Church members. It was hard to take.
I got home. Mother shouted at me for spending too much time away, “doing Mormon things.” Home wasn’t a place where I could relax or ever let my guard down. I couldn’t talk to anyone about my homosexual feelings, about those old friends who couldn’t accept my religion, about the issues I now had with Church members and missionaries. It was all getting too much. As my mother kept shouting, I locked myself in my room, got down on my knees and prayed, cried a little and wrote in my Journal.
³ Some names have been changed when authorisation was not or could not be granted.