10—MY LDS MISSION. MY MISSION NOW AS A GAY MORMON FUNDIE. FINDING MYSELF. FINDING MY PURPOSE.
Bordeaux, France—This is where I was called to serve a mission for the LDS Church. I wanted to serve. I wanted to give something back. I wanted to share what had been given to me by other missionaries.
Looking out the car window, I think about the many good missionaries I wanted to emulate. I had gone knocking on doors with them, and I had been there when they taught single women (since the rules required a chaperone to go with them). And I loved it! I was a convert, so I understood those who were taking their first steps, and I had a very strong testimony, and sharing it edified some investigators and always edified me too.
“What are you thinking about?” asks the colleague who came with me on this work trip.
—This city is where I was supposed to serve a mission for my Church. When I was younger.
—’Supposed to’? You mean you didn’t go?
—I didn’t. I wish I had gone and I am glad I did not go. It was the right choice I made but part of me will always regret not going.
I had met someone in Utah and I had learned of my gay mentor and my gay friends and I came back home to France a different person, or rather my own person. I was not going back in the closet, but I did not let go of my religion either.
France, September 15, ’98—Letter to my first boyfriend (in Utah) [not sure why I kept copies]:
“… For 3 years I have wanted to go [on my mission]. But being back home from Utah has changed my perspective. You are not responsible for this. This is my choice. Last year I worked different jobs to save money for my mission, but I did not take the Sunday job. [Because] I could not imagine telling investigators to keep the Sabbath holy if a Sunday job had paid for my mission. Now I cannot go teach the Law of Chastity and Temple marriage when I know I am gay, in love, and dreaming of spending my life with you.
“I haven’t lost faith in God. It’s actually because I believe that I don’t want to make a mockery of my religion. I don’t want to go through the temple [to make sacred rites, to be ‘washed’ and anointed and to receive the undergarments and secret signs and tokens] before going on my mission if I don’t intend to keep the covenants I’d make there. I won’t be going on my mission: I choose to be honest with God, with myself and with others instead.”
France, September 26, ’98—Letter to my best gay friend in Utah:
“… I reflected long and hard and very objectively. I once thought I could change and stop being gay. I tried so hard to change. But now I know I can’t and, more important, I don’t want to change anymore. [It’s not an abomination to be gay]. I believe in this Church but I also believe something is wrong. I feel at peace with my decision and, of course, I keep going to church. I don’t know where I am going, but I know God put me on this path, so I am going, trusting God (and myself for the first time).
“I feel like I grew up a lot in Utah this summer. And I feel like the Church has a lot to catch up on. I do not doubt God. It’s the leadership I am starting to question. Members say it’s the path to apostasy. I think the path to apostasy is when you turn your back on God. And I am not. I feel close to God, I can feel His spirit when I read my Scriptures and when I pray. And I also feel the Spirit when I attend church meetings. And I have no sense of guilt for my relationship with Terrence. ¹ Because it was real love and you cannot call Love a sin. And there were some limits I had set and did not cross. [I am not ashamed of being who I am anymore, and I don’t feel bad for what happened.]”
I feel the west in you. But I feel it falling apart too. Don’t say that you don’t. And if you could see me now…—Tori Amos, Northern Lad
France, Sunday, October 4, ’98—Letter to Terrence:
“Today was General Conference and they showed Temple Square, as usual. It made me think of when we went there together. And I decided to write [to you again. Even if you never write back.]
“Sometimes a voice inside my head tells me you no longer love me, that you’re seeing someone else. When I call the house, Lyle says you’re not there, that you’re working all the time. And you haven’t written. It’s hard to be far from you, but it’s not as bad [as it was] last month. Whenever I saw something I brought back from Utah, it was like a knife [was turning] in my head and in my heart. I couldn’t sleep [at night] and it wasn’t just the jet-lag. Sometimes I reached [out] to touch you [but] the bed was cold and empty. But nighttime is fine now: I learned to sleep without you beside me. Mornings are tougher. I wake up and immediately think: “another day without him”. Sometimes I dream of you and that makes me blue for the whole day.
“Today I was blue because I should have been watching the Conference in the MTC [the Missionary Training Center] in Preston, England. But I know I took the right decision. And if you leave me it won’t change anything. My Utah [gay] friends and you have made me change, progress and know myself better. I learned to be myself. I don’t think going would have been fair on my companions or the investigators. Because I don’t want to follow blindly. Yes, this is the true Church, but will the leaders even hear God when He tells them it’s OK to be gay?
“I am trying to get a job, in order to earn money and because I hate to left with nothing to do. And I want to get back to you. I want to see you in person, not just the picture in that frame sitting on my desk. You did treat me like dirt [sometimes, especially towards the end] but you always found a way to unhook the stars just to make me smile.
“Before [meeting] you, I wasn’t whole, I missed something in my life. I could say that you gave me my self. People here say that I’m been different since I came back. They don’t know about you or anything that happened, but they say there’s a joy and maturity coming out of me. I think it’s because I am coming out and because I have known Love.”
When I announced I was not going on my mission, my non-Mormon friends were pleased. Some Church members felt sorry for me, and tried to be supportive and make sure I was not leaving the Church. Others kept their distance. Some well-meaning members avoided the topic. Others would never shut up about it. A sister tried to guilt-trip me every Sunday. She once said to me: “I never told anyone, but I miscarried a baby boy who would have been your age now, and he would be going on his mission too.” She was hoping I would reconsider so she could see me go in his stead. Another member told me: “You have blood on your clothes!”, meaning I would be damned.
But I didn’t care (anymore) about what they said.
France, October 30, ’98—Journal [translated from French]:
“If I had to live this summer again I would not change a thing. I often thank God for the path he put me on. I believe that everything that happens and everyone that we encounter change the course of our lives. Life is all about learning and progressing. I am thankful for all the things that have happened to me, for all the people I have met.”
As for my first boyfriend… Well, the guy forgot who I was. But his breaking up with me (without ever telling me) did not change anything about my decision not go on. It left me miserably sad, but at the same time I felt at peace deep in my heart.
So, where did that leave me now? The man with whom it all started—my mentor, Logan, whom I had decided to visit before going on my mission, and with whom I was when I met my first boyfriend—asked me on the phone: “What are you going to do now?”
Before going to Utah I had written in my Journal: “Logan has changed my life. His successes and his nature have moved me. I felt I had to be up to the game et raise the bar in all areas in my life. I think very few people have had such an influence on me, and a positive one to boot.” His influence was real. He’s the kind of person that I wish any young man could meet and the kind of person I want to be for others. I knew I could trust his judgement and rely for his wisdom. He said I had to find my own path. “Don’t follow my path but find your own,” I can still hear him say. And I think I did. He said I would come to a point where I would decide my own values. “And find what your new mission is going to be.”
But for all these epiphanies I’m still lost—Hold On, Mary Beth Maziarz
Today is 10th anniversary of my re-baptism as a Mormon Fundamentalist!
Obviously, much occurred between my decision not to serve a mission for the LDS Church and my joining a Fundamentalist group of Independents on July 14, 2012, in Arizona. I will cover those events in the next series of posts, but for now let’s just say that I never went back in the closet, but that Love thing never really worked out for me, so I figured I could refocus.
But I did not want to go back to the LDS. The Church had changed too much. It is still changing too much. Maybe some of those changes might have suited the boy that I was, but they do not suit the man that I am.
What I found interesting when I re-read my Journal, in the parts that I quoted in this post, is that my criticism of the LDS leadership while retaining my faith in God, might have prepared the terrain for the study of ‘Fundamentalism’ or ‘the fullness of the Gospel’ as we call it.
Even back when I joined the Church in 1995, it was the more radical side of Mormonism that I loved. It was precisely because I was non-Trinitarian and didn’t want a religion ‘about Jesus’ that I didn’t join another Christian denomination but converted to Mormonism instead. If missionaries back in the day had introduced me to the LDS Church as it is now, I wouldn’t have joined!
The idea that the Church is true but that the leaders have erred came in 1998, because I knew they were wrong about who I was. They have changed their tune a lot since then, and are starting to understand that being gay is not a choice, and cannot be cured by marrying a woman or doing conversion therapy.
But back in 1998, I was not trying to justify my homosexuality by condemning the leaders of the Church. I never tried to find excuses to turn my back on the Church that I loved, but I tried to learn more about the doctrines and know the truth that I believed LDS leaders weren’t willing or able to find or communicate.
I was and will always remain a truth-seeker. This is my own personal mission.
I have been a Mormon for 27 years: LDS for five, a ‘Mormon in the wilderness’ for a while, and ten years a gay Mormon Fundamentalist. If I could I’d do it all over again. But I might avoid some setbacks. And the boy who wrote in his Journal in 1998 would be disappointed in me for using the term “setbacks” and would prefer: “falling for someone and give yourself to Love”. It’s OK. I disagree with some of the stuff he wrote. But his English had much improved over the summer. And even if he was a bit naïve, he was wise, and he inspires me to be true to myself, to my God and to others. I also admire the incredible strength that he didn’t realise he possessed.
Over the last 10 years I have faced a lot of criticism for being a Fundamentalist, both from non-Mormons and Mormons of all stripes. To use a very recent example, when I posted that I needed ideas on how to celebrate this 10th anniversary, one gay follower commented (maybe helpfully): “Go out and get humped” while a Mormon follower commented (maybe helpfully too): “Do conversion therapy and become a real Mormon.”
My ‘mission statement’ for this blog is: “to dispel some myths, bring some understanding and offer support.” It looks like I am failing with the first two points. However, when people reach out to say that my blog has helped them overcome self-loathing, confusion or other negative feelings while at the same time reconciling them with God or reinforcing their testimony or making them keep God in their life despite their sexual orientation, I feel that I am more successful with the third point. And maybe that is my mission to others.
In a letter Logan wrote back then: “Now, my dear friend. Remember, honesty is like a pearl. It is rare, precious, and valuable. Yes, be true to yourself. By doing this you are true to the God inside you, but being true to everyone can be a bit messy. Something like thawing pearls to swines. A pig can not appreciate the fine qualities of your pearls of truth. Not every one wants to know the truth. You must choose carefully who will get the honor of beholding your truth. I think you will do what is right.”
In this blog I want to be as open as I can, even if some posts in this series have been a bit too graphic for some readers. Someone from the Salt Lake Tribune tweeted that “a patriarchal blessing has never sounded so sexy.” I am not sure what post he was referring to but that was not my intention.
I have been re-listening Tori’s From the Choirgirl Hotel. I had it on rotation that autumn of 1998! I had my own mission, regardless of the one the Church was giving me and what society expected of me. “I think you go too far when Pianos try to be guitars” she sang on Northern Lad. For me that line meant trying to be what you’re not instead of embracing your own talent. Tori was one way to get back to a place where I fully connected with myself.
When I saw her in Salt Lake City in 1998, Terrence bought me the concert programme. There was a story from Neil Gaiman new book called Stardust. He had written Tori in, making her a tree with red leaves.
“I can help you!” The hero of the story looked overhead for the woman speaking in the tree. But there was no woman, it was the tree speaking. “I didn’t always use to be a tree. I was a nymph. A cute one. But a bad prince chased me and I did an invocation to be saved and got turned into a tree.” The man said: “You are of no use to me. You can keep off the rain, but that’s it.” She lived before this existence as a tree, and she knew she could do more. More importantly, the Lord of the Forest had given her a revelation: “I had a dream. The Lord of the Forest would not have given me this important mission if he did not think I could handle it. Or if he did not love me…” There was bit of sadness in her, but there was hope and joy too. She may have preferred to be different; she may seem to be failing to fulfil her potential; but the Lord of the Forest had given her purpose, even though she would always remain a tree.
There is so much we don’t know. I have a part to play. I feel it. Even if I never was that cute a nymph myself. I want to teach the Gospel. “You already do” reminded me a Fundamentalist friend on FaceTime recently.
I have decided that tonight I’ll celebrate my 10th anniversary making calls to my Fundamentalist friends before making my favourite food and have my favourite drinks and watch a Mormon movie about a black female member in the day of Nauvoo. And I will take some time to reflect.
I was speaking to the Fundamentalist who re-baptised. I enumerated my successes and how I have magnified my priesthood. I also mentioned my setbacks and my slow progression. “I wonder what the next step is for me.” He instantly said, in French, as if inspired: “To receive your endowment.” My old Journal showed me how I was in a very similar situation with my mission back then.
My mentor wrote me a letter, back in 1998, in which he said: “I want you to be healthy, physically, spiritually and emotionally.” I was amazed to, because I always say those words when pray but had forgotten where I got them from.
Whether I go through the temple ceremonies or not will be decided through inspiration and Logan’s advice. And in 20 years will I look out a(n electric) car window and think that I still wish I had gone through the temple but glad I did not go? Or will I smile thinking of the day I received my endowment?
¹ Some names have been changed to preserve the privacy of the subjects