by Rob Killian M.D., M.P.H.
I have a story to tell. I always imagined I would one day run off to Paris or some far away place, sit in the cafes and write this tale. I pictured the legal pads full of secret lives. I even had a chosen pen name, for I knew I could never use my real name. I always hoped that the longed for trip to this safe place would provide the space and time to finally figure it all out; that telling the story would clarify it not only for my readers, but for myself.
Time has changed those plans. Here I sit among piles of bills and the obligations of life, Paris still some far off dream. I never thought that I could discuss this openly. I never dreamed I would be proud. But it is now my story. It is a story full of passion and dreams. It is a story about living.
I grew up in Seattle, Washington, the oldest of five children. We were a fairly active and typical Mormon family. I was aware of being unique and different than other boys as I grew up. It was much more than being a Mormon youth in a non-Mormon community. I could not define that difference until I became a Deacon. I will always remember that Sunday when I sat in Deacon's quorum and listened to Bishop Folkman give his annual lecture on morality. I felt so grown up being with the boys listening to this talk on moral cleanliness. I remember his discussion about masturbation and not even knowing what that word or act was and then following his discourse into the issue of homosexuality. He used very depressive and degrading language when discussing sexuality and somehow in that discussion I realized he was talking about me. It was a distressing revelation. I could not understand how I was already a homosexual. What had I done to make myself that way? He had claimed that masturbation led to homosexuality. Yet, I had never had such a sexual experience.
Guilt was my immediate reaction. I searched my memory for the thing I must have done to deserve such a terrible fate. I felt unworthy. I felt confused. And I vowed to prove to Heavenly Father that I was not this horrible thing. I refused to believe it possible that I was such a thing. I was going to be the most worthy of His servants, the most diligent of my faith. Thus began an adolescence filled with church service and school activity. I was diligent in my early morning seminary attendance. I was a leader in my Priesthood quorums and scout troop.
I eventually learned about masturbation but was always distant with other boys my age as they discussed girls and sex. These things felt very foreign to me. I marveled at the easy way they fell into moral problems. I could not understand their fascination with the female body; their need to look at pornography or to make sex jokes, their incessant need to boast of kissing and feeling the bodies of their dates. It was an adolescence full of constant reminders of my separateness.
Many parents thought I was a dream date for their daughters. I was polite and an achiever. I remember being interviewed by one Mormon father before taking his daughter out on a date. He wanted me to promise not to attempt to get physical with her. I was surprised by his questions because I had no interest in kissing or holding hands or anything else of a physical nature. I marveled that he could not see this about me. I felt very isolated in my difference.
Looking back on my growing up now, I smile at my efforts to cover and bury any sexual feelings. I marvel that I was so unaware of myself. I was single minded in my desire to live a righteous life and prepare to serve a mission. The only college I considered was Brigham Young University. It was there I felt I could spend a year of mission preparation without jeopardizing a future academic career.
College was a great adventure for me, especially my freshman year in Provo. I was surrounded by dedicated young men preparing themselves for missions and our conversations were often about where we would serve, whose call was next to come, and what our friends were doing out in the mission field. I watched our personal world maps broaden as one more of our group went to preach the gospel in a new and far off location. It was an exciting time. I was the youngest and therefore the last of my group to go because I had come to Provo when I was only 17 years old. There was a lot of lonely times when the rest of them went off and left me waiting for my turn.
I had my first experience with a girlfriend that year, as well. I began dating a girl in my BYU ward and quickly became good friends with her. She was as dedicated as I was to getting me on a mission. She did not pressure me into holding hands or kissing or anything of that nature. I remember my own pressure, though, pressure to count the number of dates and then to hold her hand so that I would at least appear to be like the other boys. I only remember one kiss between us. She made a big deal of it. All I remember was anxiety that I was kissing her the "right" way.
The mission call to Seoul, South Korea was a surprise and exciting for me. I had always imagined, for some reason, that I would be going to Germany. The Orient was very foreign to me. This was going to be my trial and my proof to God that I was finally worthy of being blessed and forgiven for being a homosexual. Just being gay was enough to cause me feelings of shame and guilt. But I was proud to enter the mission field morally clean and ready to serve.
I struggled with the language and the work in Korea, but I loved the people. I felt like a real servant of Christ. It was a time of personal growth and a broadening of world views. I marveled at the humanity of the people. I marveled at their traditions and history. I marveled at their belief that there were "many roads to Seoul" when I would teach there was only one path to God--the straight and narrow path of Mormonism. I marveled at their love for their families and their ancestors. I was grateful to live among them.
When I arrived back home from Korea I was met by my girlfriend. I thought this was my blessing for service and God would definitely cure me. I was worthy, if anyone was ever worthy of such a blessing. Or, so I thought. The engagement came quickly and then came the months of fear as the date of the wedding came closer. I was frightened by my lack of emotional response to her. I was confused and my whole future looked bleak. I ran from the engagement and broke it off just two months before the wedding. It was a shock to both of our families. I threw myself into school and dated rarely, and only then group dates. Looking back now, it seems that I was running from any kind of sexual awakening.
My studies began to be affected in my second year of running. I was not this wise back then. I just remember being confused as to the whole situation and felt I was on the "wrong track" with my choice of majors and class load. I finally dropped out and signed up with an internship program through BYU that would send me to Washington, DC for a semester. Deep down I knew I needed some space to figure things out. Part of my confusion was the continued subtle sexual urges for other men, which I defined as admiration for the male body and my desire to have a better looking physique. I could not understand why I was still troubled by these feelings, why God had not taken them away. I prayed daily, served in my BYU ward, and went beyond the mark asked of me in every religious duty. I prayed often, fasted frequently and read the scriptures diligently. I loved the Gospel.
I headed to Washington, DC with a group of BYU students on the Washington Fellowship program. I got a position working for a Congressman who served on the Foreign Relations and Education Committees. I also met a fellow BYU student named Steve, and we became fast friends and spent most of our free time together. He was so different from the other boys I had grown up with. He read the same books as I did, hated sports as I did, loved music and theater and politics like I did.
After arriving in D.C. curiosity about homosexuality began to grow. I thought I had never met a gay person. I thought I was the only Mormon with feelings like mine. Then one night, six weeks after arriving in Washington, I had to work late at the office and missed dinner back at the apartment where I was staying. So I took the metro to a spot renowned as the "gay" neighborhood, Dupont Circle. I wanted to see what gay people looked like, but found nothing out of the ordinary. I ate a sandwich at a bagel shop and then returned, disappointed, to the metro station to await my train back to Virginia and my apartment.
It was late evening and the wait for a train was a long one. There was only one other person waiting and he came over and struck up a conversation with me. It quickly became obvious that he was interested in me and I realized that he must be a homosexual. He worked in a position of responsibility in the Reagan administration and was friendly and very good looking. I was instantly attracted to him. We talked for about twenty minutes and then rode the train together. We were both headed for the bus stop at the Pentagon to pick up the connecting buses to our apartments. When we got to the Pentagon he invited me to come see his apartment and I was shocked that all I wanted at that moment was to go home with him.
It took every ounce of reason to make an excuse about needing to go home myself. I cried as I watched his bus pull away. The tears were angry ones for I couldn't believe that I would be so easily tempted. I could not believe how I wanted to throw away eternity and to go home with this man. I assumed he wanted to have sex, but I did not even know what that meant between two men. I just wanted to hold and touch him, and I wanted to be held. I had never had that experience, even while dating my fiancé. I had never been held. For the first time I realized I was missing out and felt empty. I felt completely alone in the world.
I made it back to my apartment and went straight to bed. My roommates were already asleep. I lay awake the whole night muffling the tears with my pillow. It was a torment to recognize this empty longing inside of myself. The next day I was a mess at work. I explained to my co-workers that I had not slept well and could not talk about it. I called my friend, Steve, and asked him to meet me after work. I realized I needed to talk to someone about what had happened. Steve listened patiently and then shocked me with his own story about having similar feelings and curiosities. We talked for hours that night and vowed to assist each other become the leaders and examples the church meant us to be.
The weeks went by and Steve and I became inseparable. I remember one long weekend when we spontaneously decided to go to Charleston, South Carolina to discover the places in that city made famous by a book we had both read. It was a great trip and we drove back along the Atlantic coast and spent our last night in a small hotel on the beach at Myrtle Beach. That night HBO was showing "Making Love," a movie about a married man, a physician, who recognizes his homosexuality and leaves his wife for another man.
The movie profoundly affected me. Steve just went to sleep. I sat in my bed and, while watching him, began to realize that I was in love with this wonderful man peacefully sleeping in a bed two feet from where I sat. All I wanted then was to get into bed and hold him and tell him of this new found insight. I got up and went for a walk along the beach and cried and prayed and wondered what was wrong with me. I even remember running into the waves and letting the cold water pound against my legs. My spirit was spent.
I was scheduled to return to BYU shortly after that and, just before I was to leave, Steve ended our friendship abruptly and without explanation. I assumed he had realized I was getting too emotionally involved and wanted to end it before I did anything we would regret. I went back to Utah devastated and more alone than I had ever been in my life. I made it a point to meet with the Bishop shortly after I returned and confessed my sin of falling in love with another man. I asked for a blessing. He was impressed that I had remained morally clean and blessed me with the promise that if I married a worthy daughter of God in His temple I would be cured of my homosexual tendencies.
Thus began a valiant pursuit of the only girl I knew in Provo. Jolene and I had only dated a couple of times before I left for the East coast, but we had written throughout my stay in DC and had become close friends via letters. I began dating her and diligently worked on falling in love with her.
We were married in the Idaho Falls Temple three months after I returned to BYU.
Did I love Jolene? I fell in love with her over time. I was fascinated by her; I admired her and still think she is a very special woman. I am proud to have two sons with her. I miss her now. I miss her friendship and her concern. One of my true sins in life is the pain I have brought into hers. How innocent my intentions seem in retrospect, yet how devastating those intentions proved to be.
Jolene and I have often marveled when we have looked back on our courtship. We did not really date. We just got engaged. Everyone we knew was shocked. No one seemed to know that the possibility of marriage loomed for either of us. We just got engaged and then got married. Very little romance. It was almost like a business decision. Of course, I had ulterior motives...I wanted to prove to God that I was willing to be cured, to be made whole. I was worthy of marrying one of His daughters. I viewed Jolene as the perfect companion. She was ambitious in her own right. It was a surprise to me, but I began to anticipate having sex for the first time in my life. I was very naive about the sexual act. On our honeymoon I realized I had made a mistake. Being together was a struggle. I remember sex feeling unnatural and almost a chore. I managed, and we worked together to do it "correctly," but even that early I felt ashamed and fraudulent.
My gayness was harder to ignore and to hide once I had become sexually active. Everywhere I looked I found attractive men. I had to hide this from Jolene and from myself. I continued to try to convince myself that these were feelings of envy because I 'wanted to look like those men.' I soon tired of spontaneous sex and our sex life became infrequent, almost perfunctory.
Miles, our first son, was born in the third year of our marriage. We had both graduated from BYU and were living in Washington, DC, where I had taken a job with the National Security Agency. I had switched to pre-med after returning to BYU from Washington, DC and had taken the government job as a temporary measure while I applied to medical school. It was a good year while we awaited the birth of Miles. The anticipation was wonderful. The chance to live outside of Utah presented us with a great opportunity to serve in a struggling Maryland ward. For a time I served as the Executive Secretary to the Bishop and I was then called to be the Elder's Quorum President.
My plans went awry, however, when I was rejected by every medical school to which I had applied. I felt strongly about my call to medicine and was emotionally unprepared for the rejection. When I did not get into medical school, I began to doubt my spiritual nature; I began to doubt myself. I began to wonder what I was doing with my life. I was not meant to fail. I was a servant of my Heavenly Father, and after all that I had given up for Him, I felt like I had been betrayed. I hated my work. I hated working in a bureaucratic agency in the government. I hated living so poorly, just barely surviving in the cheapest apartment in Maryland. And now it seemed like I had no other options in life.
Jolene wanted to go back to graduate school. I wanted a change, and I wanted to go to medical school. We decided to move back across country and start over. I applied to a Respiratory Therapy training program at a hospital in Provo as I needed to make some money to live on while I continued my quest to enter medicine. I thought a job in medicine would help me gain admission to medical school.
Jolene left for Utah one month before I was to leave. She went to find a place for us to live and to see her family. As soon as she left, I knew that it was time to explore my lifelong confusion and curiosity about being gay. I went back to the area in DC called Dupont Circle and asked people on the street where I could find a "gay bar." That was the only place I figured I would be able to find gay people. I had never been inside a bar before, but found several to explore. I was amazed. There were hundreds of men inside those places.
The second night I went to another place in Dupont Circle and was even asked to dance by one of the patrons. It was strange to be dancing with another man. This guy and I began to date and we met several times in the ensuing weeks. I even let him kiss me. It was such a natural and wonderful feeling to be kissed by him. He wanted to move our friendship beyond the dancing and talking, but I was too scared. I was married and a Mormon. I was also scared to death to show my ignorance, and innocence, not having ever had sex with a man. I probably was a real frustration to this guy. I do not even remember his name.
The time came quickly for my return to Utah and my reunion with my family. I remember driving back across America after having gotten only a glimpse of gay life. The drive took me three days since I twice turned around to head back towards Washington, DC. Once was on Father's Day, 1986. I was in Lincoln, Nebraska when I pulled off the freeway and called my father. He and I were not close, but I could think of no one else to talk to. I told him I was unhappy in my marriage and I did not want to stay with Jolene, that I had met someone in DC with whom I wanted to be. He told me to "do the right thing," but that it was okay if I did not stay married with Jolene. I did not mention that the "someone" was another man. I sat for quite some time in my car at that gas station in Lincoln, Nebraska before I started the engine and pulled back onto the freeway to head West.
I was very frustrated back in Utah. I found the relationship with Jolene stifling. My curiosity had only been made worse and I chastised myself for not finding out what sex with a man was like, for not getting "it" out of my system. I was unable to confide in anyone. I was even more confused. So I escaped. I took Miles to Seattle for a weekend to show him off to my side of the family.
Each night that I was in Seattle I would leave Miles to sleep with my parents and would sneak out and drive downtown to search for gay life. I drove around Seattle determined to find a gay bar. The last night in Seattle I finally went up to a guy at one of the bars and asked him to dance. It turned out he was from Salt Lake City, although he was not Mormon. We danced a little and then went for a drive. He invited me home and I went with him. It was so exciting but also nerve wracking to follow him to his apartment. But I was determined to go through with it. I was tired of the curiosity. And I thought it would finally put it all to rest for me. I expected it to be as empty as my sex with Jolene. I counted on it relieving the pressure. I did not even let myself consider the consequences. The curiosity itself was driving me crazy.
I was terribly wrong. We kissed and undressed each other. I found it wonderful just to touch, to linger with him. It felt natural. I was no longer "performing" but felt like a full participant for the very first time in my life. I wanted to sing, to cheer, to never let that feeling expire.
Many men describe their first homosexual experience as one that brought tears. It is common to hear of men having to hold other men while they cry during that first time. I understand that emotion. It is so shocking and wonderful. It is sad too, because it often comes with a realization that so much time has been wasted hating one's self, afraid of one's nature. A new awareness dawns. Now I could understand all that "boy" talk about sex and girls.
I smile now as I write this. I also mourn somewhere deep inside for that little boy in me who caught a glimpse of his true nature and turned and ran back into the arms of a church that hated him, that ran back to his own self-hatred and fraudulent life. I did not cry that night. I smiled and the grin could not have been wiped off. I tried all the way back to my parents' house to relax my facial muscles, to not give away any clue about what was happening inside me. But what a symphony was playing inside my head. I was screaming at myself, kicking myself for enjoying it so much. I was waiting for some hand to come out of the sky and smash my father's car, to drag me to hell where I belonged. I had a wife, a son, and responsibilities back in Utah.
Mom was waiting up for me when I got home. It was nearly 3 a.m. She had gotten up with Miles and discovered I was not home. She did not ask where I had been, but I could tell she suspected the worst. I offered no clue, and might have even said I had "just been driving around." I barely had time to fall asleep before I was off to the airport and my flight back to Utah. The absolute last thing I wanted to do was return home. I kept whispering in Miles' ear that I was sorry if the plane crashed, because it would be my fault. But rather than guilt and anguish, I could hear angels singing, cheering, in fact. I could not understand such music, such happiness.
I even remember composing a letter to Elder Hinckley, then a member of the First Presidency. I wanted answers and wanted to offer myself as a source of information about the realities of this struggle; the struggle of being homosexual. I wanted help, because deep down I knew that this was real and nothing had taken these feelings away. I had tried for years to deny their presence. I had done everything asked of me. I had studied and prayed and served. I had married. I was now a father. If only Elder Hinckley could understand, maybe a real answer would come my way.
I felt a special affinity for Elder Hinckley. During one conference on my mission he had made his way through row after row of missionaries, shaking each of our hands. After he had passed me and moved on to other missionaries farther down my row, he had turned back and returned to me. He had taken my hand again and, looking me squarely in the eye, had told me that Father in Heaven loved and cherished me. He told me that God was proud of my service and my sacrifice. Now, all these years later, with the obligations of family and school and with my testimony burning bright, I wanted his reassurance and that special connection. I never sent the letter.
Being back in Utah was like being sent to prison. I kept making excuses to go to Salt Lake City. I even went to two different gay bars. It was easy to find gay men looking for a date; they were everywhere. I just had to open my eyes and they were there. I went home with two more men during that period. Again, nothing beyond heavy petting. But, it was wonderful and new.
At the end of this period (a week or two) I began thinking again. I realized I was going crazy with this double life and began fearing where it would lead me. Of course, I worried about AIDS. Worried about losing Miles forever. Worried about going to hell. So, I made an appointment with my Bishop in Provo. I met with him and it all spilled out. He acted like he was shocked. He was speechless and told me that he would probably have to call a church court, but he wanted a day to think about it and to discuss it with the Stake President.
His reaction shocked me to the depths of my soul. I could not have the whole world know about me. I could not be excommunicated. It all felt so very unfair. And, deep down, questions like: "How could this be wrong?" were forming. But I did not allow myself to ask them, even silently. Well, to be fair to Jolene, I went home from the Bishop and told her that something major had come up and we needed to talk. I told her that I never had any intention to hurt her, but that I had homosexual tendencies. I will never forget the look of horror on her face. The one true guilt I carry is that I damaged her self-esteem. Even if my intentions were innocent, no woman deserves such a trial.
She went back to the Bishop with me the next night. He could not believe I had confessed this to my wife, and thus felt like I was truly repentant. He made a deal with me. He would hold off on the church court if I would attend counseling with LDS Social Services and meet with him regularly. I was also not to take the Sacrament for a few months. I attacked repenting like everything else in my life--with complete sincerity, energy, fasting and prayer. I could not help begging God for the change He had denied me my whole life. I begged to be healed, to be able to love Jolene totally. I begged to be made a whole and true man. I had begged before.
LDS Social Services is my most repressed memory from this period. I carry great anger about their approach and the way they practice psychotherapy. I was assigned a graduate Ph.D. student in Psychology. He claimed to have never met a homosexual before. I did not even want to define myself as gay back then. He talked as if I knew what I was doing, as if I had chosen these feelings. He acted like being homosexual was just about the sex act itself. He reinforced my own self hatred. He asked me about my sexual fantasies. I had none. I had never allowed myself to think about sex that way. I had blocked anything beyond having a man look back at me. I did tell him about my dreams that came regularly. I often thought that if I was not dreaming of flying, I was dreaming of being held by a man or of holding a man. These were vivid dreams, the memory of which would haunt me for days after. I have never had a sexual dream about a woman. He talked of singing hymns, of fasting and praying. He talked of journal writing and avoiding temptation. He did not seem to realize that was exactly what I had been doing for the previous ten years. He had no other answers for me.
Well, to say the least, the counseling sessions were a great waste of time. Jolene refused to go to them, with the complaint that I was the one with the problem. Looking back now we both realize how much she shut herself off from me and from herself then. We now realize she needed an understanding ear and wisdom as much as I did. But we were afraid of the episode, too afraid to explore it wholly. My mother went with me to one of my sessions. I do not remember this well, but she did say that she had always sensed I had these tendencies, but that she had hoped I could overcome them. They were words that she would repeat to me seven years later when I told her I was a homosexual after the National Gay and Lesbian March on Washington in April, 1993.
What I remember happening was that I kept up with weekly visits to the therapist for about six months and then told the Bishop I was cured and had been helped and could now be a better husband and father. I was re-motivated to be a righteous member. I wanted so badly to be "normal" that I told myself that I was cured. I was, at least, cured of the desire to act out my homosexual tendencies. What really happened was that I taught myself how to go even further into the closet. I closed off another door to my soul and was ever on alert that I never again hurt Jolene with a misguided look or statement. The feelings, longings, desires remained the same. People tell me how angry I appeared in those days, always uptight, on edge, dark. I was also incredibly lonely and unhappy, and had this 'horrible' secret. I did not repeat my trips to Salt Lake.
I began mourning my love for Steve. I thought that somewhere in the world there was someone that would understand the pressures on me. I wanted Steve to come back, to let me tell him, for the first time, how much he meant to me. I wanted his help in overcoming myself. I wanted his friendship.
I was finally accepted to medical school after a couple more years of applying to gain entrance. During this period a second son was born to our family. Taylor, born on Valentine's Day, was as special as his older brother. He rounded out our family nicely.
I commuted to the University in Salt Lake City for the first two years of medical school and worked nights and weekends at Primary Children's Hospital as a respiratory therapist. I studied at home while my wife worked. I became quite involved in the student groups at school and took on leadership roles both in Utah and on the national level, eventually serving on the national board of trustees for the medical student association.
I used these leadership opportunities as an escape from all the roles and responsibilities in my life. For the weekends that I traveled I could just be me. I was an equal. There was no church or work or studying. I met up with incredible men and women from medical schools across the country. I also found many who were gay or lesbian and for the first time realized the diversity of the gay community. Gay life was not just found in bars and dark places. I began to realize that many of the stories of gay men and women paralleled my own.
This realization only served to depress me, however. I could no more join them and share my story as I could bring up the subject back home in Utah. I was beginning to hide from everyone. I began to wonder who I even was. As I entered the clinical years of my medical training I began to realize how sick I had become. I thought about suicide a lot. I thought of ways to kill myself. I began thinking I had no other real options. I was not worthy to live because I had not changed. My faith must not be strong enough. God must not hear my prayers. God did not love me.
My marriage was becoming a living hell. We shut ourselves off from each other, the only emotion between us being disappointment and judgment. I was not the Mormon she wanted, and although she did not know how to say this, I was not the man she wanted (She learned to say that with counseling during the final months of our marriage and I am proud of her for being able to do so). I felt trapped by her (although I knew intellectually that I had built my own traps). I felt trapped by my Mormonism. Sometime during the first or second year of medical school I stopped attending church for a few months, then attended with vigor in an attempt to regain my enthusiasm for it. It was a process I repeated a number of times.
With my medical school education I was also beginning to realize that I was gay. And, I mean, irreversibly homosexual. This was not just a tendency, but a fundamental orientation. Despite years of denial and prayer and fasting and married sex with a woman, I was not going to change. I had not chosen to be this, but was this.
I ended my third year of medical school with a rotation in the Psychiatry department. I was clinically depressed and the more I learned about Psychiatry the more scared I was for my own health. I was barely holding on to the desire to live and the only thing that kept me alive in those days was the fact that I could never hurt my boys by leaving them that way.
That period in medical training is also a high anxiety time because it is the time to choose a specialty. The pressure was relentless...and true to my nature, I began to rebel. I went to the Assistant Dean and told her that I was not ready to choose a specialty. I told her that I wanted some time off school and already had the option of pursuing a Master's Degree in Public Health. She is a Psychiatrist by training and her first words after my long winded discussion were: "Are you sad? Are you depressed?" I cried "NO!" But I knew deep down that she had diagnosed me correctly.
I gave myself one year to begin to get healthy and set out with a formed plan. First was my decision to stop going to church. I opted to remove that pressure. Not once had any of the promises of change and cure come to pass. Not once had my pleading in prayer made a difference in my sexual and emotional orientation. I had found only more confusion in church attendance. Second, I began attending Evergreen classes in Salt Lake City. Evergreen had gotten a large amount of publicity for their claim to be able to change sexual orientation. I believed I was worthy of trying one last time. Third, I remained in school and began my Master's work in Public Health. And fourth, I began exploring the different medical specialties in which I was interested while I was away from academics and in the real world of medicine.
I was taking control and responsibility for my life and for my own education. As this year off neared an end, I returned to Washington, DC for a medical student convention. I met up with one of my best friends, a gay man from a school on the East coast. I told him all of my secrets and he and I spent the weekend together, culminating in my spending the night with him. It was the first time I had a sexual encounter with a man I knew and for whom I cared. It was also the first time I had been with a man who cared for me. He was gentle and wonderful. It was a miracle.
My friend counseled me to remain in my marriage and to have a boyfriend on the side. He warned me that the homophobia and prejudice of society was a frightening thing. Confronting them openly was not worth the loss of a family. But I was tired and fed up with dishonesty. I went home and the next day told Jolene that I wanted a divorce. I did not know any other way to start the discussion. She did not ask for an explanation; she just said that would be okay with her. She was very cold. It was a surprisingly easy conversation. I moved that night into our extra bedroom and slept well.
The next day I got paged at school with an urgent message to call home. Jolene had gone to work and had broken down and returned home. She had spent the day reading my journal where I had been pouring out my soul. She read of my suicidal thoughts. She read of my struggles and feelings. She learned of my despair. It was the first time she realized how deeply I was affected by being gay. It was her first glimpse into the struggles I had withheld from her. She wanted to talk to me, so I met her at a park near the University. We talked for hours. She begged me not to leave her right then. She wanted to try counseling together. She wanted to talk to the Bishop. I refused both options until I realized she needed it as much or more than I did. My only stipulation was that we avoid LDS Social Services.
We were led to a LDS man who was well respected in the community of Psychotherapists and Marriage Counselors and both saw him individually and as a couple. It was amazing how much relief I got just by talking about my struggles and actually thought that I could make the marriage work as long as I did not have to hide anymore of myself.
Jolene was smarter than me and soon realized that we should divorce. She realized how much her femininity had been damaged by the confession that I was gay. She had buried part of herself just as I had buried part of myself. It was that Spring and Summer of counseling that helped us get through the divorce so well. But it was still a terribly painful process and a lonely one as well. It was a choice between hurting a little or a lot. Our relationship was so dysfunctional and, with the option of suicide playing a role, I honestly believe it would have hurt us all more by staying in the
My biggest fear in accepting my gayness was that I would lose my sons. Being a father has been the best thing that has ever happened to me. Yet, also part of my guilt is the pain of knowing the boys have to grow up with divided loyalties. I was promised by my therapist that I would always be their father and would never lose that relationship. He assured me that coming out would not sever the ties between father and sons. He was right. We don't have a traditional family. But we do have each other. Miles and Taylor are being raised to celebrate the diversity of the world. They are being raised in love. They are learning to love others as their parents do.
Jolene and I have worked hard not to include our pain in their lives. We promised each other not to discuss our disappointment in each other with our sons. They deserve open and trusting relations with each of their parents. There have been times of some confusion. Miles, my oldest, was sure to tell his mother that men could marry men and women marry women after meeting some of my friends who are in long term gay relationships. And she had difficulty explaining that "we" did not believe that was a correct thing. Jolene and I are learning how to be co-parents in a time when we are also learning to rebuild our personal lives. It is an ongoing and challenging process. But the boys are loved and seem secure in that knowledge. They have handled our divorce without too much evidence of permanent trauma. They have a gay father. They have a wonderful mother. We love them dearly.
I cannot finish this story without writing about Steve. The story does not end in Washington, D.C. During my year off of medical school (nearly nine years later) I received a call from him. It was near Christmas time. He had just moved to Salt Lake City and wanted to see me. I could not believe it. Many old emotions kept me awake at nights. I reread my entire journal collection, trying to remember the time we spent together. I invited him to our house in West Jordan. He was the same old Steve that I remembered.
He had a lover, though. Four years after I had left Washington, DC, he met a man at work. It took us some time to re-establish our friendship, and time before we could discuss our shared memories. It turned out that I had not done anything wrong. He explained his disappearance with the fact that he had found himself falling in love with me, and rather than deal with it, he had ended the relationship. It was nice to finally tell him the things I had been unable to say to him all those years before. It was nice to see him settled and in love.
I chose life. I chose health. I chose to live honestly. I do not remember choosing to be gay. I do not even remember choosing to whom to be sexually attracted. I doubt that anyone does. I do know that a very important saying in Mormonism is that "men should find joy in their creation." I believe that even more now that I have accepted myself for who I am. I am homosexual. I have been since my earliest recollections. I tried for years to change, to be cured, to be attracted to women. I had prayed earnestly, but been denied the change. I began to realize that all along God had been answering my prayers, but I had not wanted His answers. Being gay was His gift to me; I was to find joy in my creation. I was to stop hating myself.
I stopped going to Evergreen when one class was devoted to a video tape of the founder of Evergreen, a Catholic Psychotherapist. The purpose of the video was to explain the purpose and theory behind his treatment program. I had been going for several weeks by this time and had actually felt a bond developing with the other men in the group. But sitting there that night it became obvious that he was just another straight man full of hatred for homosexuality. His purpose was to teach us self-hatred. His theory was simplistic and without scientific merit. And he lied several times on the tape about the history of Psychiatry and the issue of homosexuality. I remember standing up and walking out the door, never to return. I was through with denying who I was. I was through with liars.
I have read extensively about Mormons and homosexuality. My story is not that unusual. Much "coming out" literature refers to the feeling of being unique. It is the feeling of being not quite human, but different, that allows many of us to put off our self-acceptance for as long as we do. It is the realization of our human-ness that allows us to finally learn to live, to breathe the air of honesty and freedom that so changes our lives. It is a tragedy that our church tells men and women like me that we are evil, that we can change, and that it is better to hide than to live honestly. Our brothers and sisters and sons and daughters are dying because of this lie.
It is a joy to be "out" and free of my self-imposed closets. I am now a participant in the dance of life. It is a joy to watch others learn to accept themselves, to see the true diversity of homosexuality openly accessible to our family, neighbors, co-workers, and friends.
The surprise of my journey from the closet has been the reclaiming of my spiritual self. I ran from all things Mormon and all things of a "religious" nature when I finally left the lies of my marriage and began building the foundations of a life of honesty. That mind set only lasted a few months. Four months after the divorce I was working in Washington, DC for a student rotation with the Health Care for the Homeless Project. I worked side by side with Evangelical Christians and Catholic Priests, Nuns, and others committed to bettering their communities. One of the physicians I worked with was a Mormon from Utah who donated one morning a week in one of the homeless shelter clinics. It was a joy to see religious belief in action. It was such a joy to discover humanity and hopes and dreams in the eyes and faces of the men and women living on the street. It was a powerful experience to recognize my own spiritual leanings during this time. It was life-affirming to be accepted by these people of religious faith as a worthy participant with them despite my being a homosexual.
I had run from my past, throwing away all remnants of my faith. I believed, to some degree, that if I was to explore this sexuality, I could no longer be a believer. But that too was a denial of who I am, a denial of part of myself. That month in Washington was also the 1993 National Gay and Lesbian March on Washington. I joined in. By the end of the weekend I was a proud and empowered participant. I had finally seen the broad diversity of homosexuals and their loved ones, their families. I realized that there were a million stories to tell and millions of brave and honest souls to connect with. I was part of a proud and honorable community.
Since those early days of breathing the air of honesty, I have actually turned around on the path and looked back at my Mormonism and my life. I have found a great joy in my heritage and my family. I have reclaimed my spirituality. I am a son and I am a father. I love my boys beyond measure and have begun to share my life with them again. They are strong and beautiful.
I do not apologize for telling this story. I do not apologize for the need I have to write and continue to tell the stories of my life. It is therapeutic and empowering for me. I have the courage to heal and to grow. I also want to leave an honest record. It is time to put to rest my fear of the unspoken.
To those of you reading from within the stilted air of fear and hiding I would say open the door and breathe, with me, this air of honesty. See how freedom feels. It is time to learn that you are a son or daughter of God. It is time to seek joy in your creation. It is time to join in the dance of life. It is time to love yourself.