By Bob Wood
“In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.” ~ Buddha
I came into the church an openly gay man and left the church an openly gay man. The church couldn’t fix what wasn’t broken. I spent a lifetime running and fearing the truth, hoping for a miracle that wasn’t meant to be. But, when push came to shove, it was truth that saved me. “I am gay.” In my wildest dreams, I never imaged these are words coming from my mouth, let alone being confessed to my wife of sixteen years. But there it was—after 46 years I finally spoke my truth out loud. Doing so meant the world, as our family knew it, would never be the same. But the healing meant for us all had finally begun.
My homosexuality was cause of great shame and self-hatred all my life. I took a few steps out of the closet while in college and even had a boyfriend for a short while, only to step back in out of extreme fear and the inability to reconcile my religious beliefs. Around the same time in the late eighties I joined the LDS church and fell in love with the gospel and the idea the gay could be fixed. I followed the council of church leaders and did everything I was told to fix the gay–prayer, service, scriptures, the temple, faith, and therapy (reparative). With 100% conviction, I believed I would be healed of this affliction.
I was advised to marry with the promise the gay would fade, so I did. The first five years of our marriage were exciting and full of hope which overshadowed my orientation somewhat. However as time went by, the gay didn’t fade, it actually grew and with each passing year, paralyzing fear replaced the hope—an agonizing experience. By the tenth year of marriage, I recognized it was never going away and entered a dark and lonely existence. A couple months prior to finally coming out to my wife, I was unhealthy and extremely overweight. I internalized my misery rather than facing the truth or acting on it. I ate to subdue the pain and feelings of unworthiness because I could not change who I was. My wife did not know the truth until the day I told her. She was left helpless in only knowing I was very sad. The one piece of council I regret following the most was never telling her I was gay. With that, I robbed her of her agency.
At sixteen years of marriage and on a hopeless night in September of 2011, I was suicidal. Thoughts of ending my life had plagued me for years. The loneliness of my battle had taken its toll. Embracing my evil gay side in the slightest way was not an option. Sadly I considered the Lord would accept me if I took my life, rather than embracing the gay. That night with a bottle of pills in hand, I said a little prayer out of desperation and asked for help in finding a way out of my imprisonment. At the same time I stumbled upon a national news article about an LDS Church leadership post for an openly gay Mormon. “OPENLY GAY MORMON!!” Those three words changed my life in an instant. Never had I imagined an openly gay person in the Mormon faith—I had 100% isolated myself from the idea. My eyes were glued to the story and testimony of my friend Mitch Mayne. A man of courage, who loves the Savior, and with the support of his church leaders, serves in church leadership calling as his authentic self, a gay man. His story and the spirit of hope prompted me to not pray for the gay to go away, but for the first time in my life, to ask to just be who I am…a gay man. The answer was an unmistakably loving and firm YES! This was a very spiritual and beautiful experience I cannot deny. Instantly, I was released from the lie I had been living. The burden was gone. Suddenly the word Gay was not a bad word; it was beautiful and it was me.
With the burden gone, I lost 120 lbs within six months. The truth had set me free spiritually and physically. The strength that came to me was overpowering and along with it was the undeniable truth of who I am. Not broken or sick, but whole, just as my Father Heaven had created me to be.
Telling my wife was excruciatingly painful for both of us. The moment the words passed from my mouth, I knew it meant the end of our beautiful marriage. She is a strong woman and it was she who consoled and held me while I sobbed. Ours is a tender love story of two people in an impossible situation. We love each other incredibly, but are unable to love each other fully and yet care enough for one another to let go. Together we both recognized this is the Savior’s story, not ours. We trust Him and although we had to make extremely difficult decisions, in the end what was most important is treating each other and our children with gentle kindness. We also wanted to teach our children by example to not fear the truth, but to live their lives honestly, even if it is not popular. Shame should never dictate who they are or how they live their lives. Nearly two years after my coming out our divorce is final.
I am encouraged by the LDS church’s efforts to no longer council LGBT members to marry. I am also encouraged with their new website, Mormons and Gays, where an Apostle of the Lord states being gay is not a choice. Unfortunately, this website and message of love and acceptance for LGBT brothers and sisters is relativity unknown and rarely taught in wards. There is seldom a day that goes by that I don’t personally hear a form of hate, fear, and rejection from the mouth of a straight, faithful member of the church.
There is so much work to be done to educate and promote the Savior’s love for all. Hundreds of mixed orientation marriages exist, just like mine, where LGBT members were counseled to marry and now face difficult and lonely journeys. They face an uphill battle with a 90% marriage failure rate, often unable to reach out, not only in fear of losing their families, but fear of losing their community of faith, and worse, the bullying of their innocent children. Horrifically, weekly suicides of LGBT children plague Utah, yet go relatively unnoticed by the general population. It is unbelievable but true that many LDS families often feel they need to choose between their gay child and the church, leading to a disproportionate amount of at-risk and homeless gay LDS youth. I am hopeful the LDS church and membership continue to become aware and access The Family Acceptance Project, which helps save lives by assisting LDS families and wards in keeping gay loved ones safe, without compromising religious beliefs.
Because of the church and especially the gospel of Jesus Christ, my testimony and faith have substantially grown, for which I am extremely grateful. Was this journey of marriage a mistake? Absolutely not! We remain a strong family…worthy, eternal, and as valuable as any family in or out of the church. My former wife and I remain genuinely the best of friends. We love each other and support one another in our personal lives and in the continued nurturing of our family. Just like in the Buddha quote, we do our best to love gently and gracefully, letting go, even when painfully necessary. Would I recommend mixed orientation marriage to a young LGBT person? I would not. I’d encourage them to not make decisions based on homophobia and to live full authentic lives–honest and healthy, where the blessings of a family are equally possible even if they choose a same sex relationship. Live the truth!
Whether we are aware or not, all of us know a LGBT person who struggles alone. If that person is in a mixed orientation marriage, don’t question, just love them…both of them. Extend loving and welcoming arms to all our LGBT brothers and sisters. Invite these beautiful people into your hearts and homes, just as our Savior would. Navigating this personal hell is lonely. Love us for who we are and the decisions we must make. We all have difficult journeys in life and everyone requires love, compassion, and relationships shared with friends and loved ones. For some, LGBT stories may be difficult. Tell us that. Help us help you in these times as well.
Bob, an Ohio native, was raised United Methodist and converted to the LDS church in 1988 while attending Ohio State. A residential designer and father of four, he now lives in suburban Salt Lake City where he enjoys cycling, tormenting his kids endlessly, and taking long naps.