Hermana Cencerrado and Elder Lee

By Esteban Cencerrado Lee-O’Neal

Friends while on their missions, Hermana Cencerrado and Elder Lee met in 1984 (on the left). She was a rebel and didn’t do what they told her. He immediately sensed her soaring free spirit and they became friends. She never knocked a door like they told her to do, and he knocked sometimes 500 doors a day, he did exactly what they told him to do. She was like a beacon to him, but he hid who he was from her. He loved to meet her on P-days and take “fashion modeling” photos, he made all of his male companions do it, too. They probably thought he was gay, and he was, but hiding it deep inside.

By the time she found him again in 2010, he had left the church, come out of the closet, divorced his wife of 16 years and had begun a long-term relationship with a man raising six kids together. His entire Mormon family loathed him and stopped speaking to him and his own kids. He was in the middle of rebuilding his life and support structures entirely.

The afternoon she messaged him on Facebook, he had already friended and then lost every single missionary companion he knew. They all shunned him once they saw who he really was in life. He stopped hiding and they all ran away. Except she didn’t, she saw who he was and she immediately told him that she loved him no matter who he was, and that they had to reacquaint again. He couldn’t believe his eyes, because she was truly a spark in his life.

The day he married his husband in 2011 in San Francisco (on the right), he legally changed his name to drop his own birth-given name with anchors to painful personal memories and a legacy of mormon violence (Lee, Hamblin), and took her last name as his middle name. Once they called each other “brother” and “sister” because of a strange religious practice. Now they call each other brother and sister by choice.

His new Spanish family intact and kind to him, Mari Fe and Esteban will travel to Madrid, Spain, in less than two weeks to revisit the areas they once traveled together 29 years ago. Except this time, they only strive to convert each other’s memories to a new space, a kinder place in their worlds.

Born Steven Hamblin Lee, Esteban lives with his husband and six kids in Lafayette, Colorado. He currently writes training materials for a national HMO specializing in Health Care Reform and enjoys getting all their kids together (it’s like herding cats), outdoor activities, and growing and blooming rare orchids. Esteban is finally comfortable in his own skin.