By Justin Moore
(also published at his blog http://likelightthroughaprism.blogspot.ca/)
I discovered at a young age that I could be praised (mostly by my mother) for my artistic pursuits, and so I drew and sewed and cooked and played the piano with abandon. I knew, on some level, that as long as I was being praised, maybe people wouldn’t hate me as much when they eventually, inevitably, found out who and what I really was. In short, I did whatever I could to get praise and validation from wherever and whomever I could: At school, I was the class clown. I was in the advanced reading group. At home, I was praised by my parents and aunts and uncles for my talents in music and art and dance. (I started taking ballet lessons at age nine.) I started the process of effectively stuffing the shame of who I really was deep, deep down inside myself.
As I grew older, these behaviors became a way of life. But they felt like a shirt that you have to borrow from a friend when you spend the night because you forgot a clean one: it fits just fine, but you know the whole time you’re wearing it that it doesn’t really belong to you. Never mind that I had never really given any thought at all to what I would do if I didn’t have to worry about how I was going to be validated for it. Never mind that the validation I was receiving was never quite enough because I knew, on some level, that it was inauthentic. In junior high, I began to fall into myself somewhat. I had no real friends at school. I tried to wear the “right” clothes, to say the right things, but to no avail. I was, as the kids say, a total loser.
One night, probably in ninth grade, I lay in the dark, tears streaming from my eyes, and held my arms up to the ceiling, my fingers stretched as far as they would go. I begged God to take me away. I begged Him to let me come back to Him. I pleaded over and over and over, “Please let me not wake up tomorrow. Please let me not wake up tomorrow. Please take me away tonight…”
But I woke up. I always did.
Shame, this horrible, insidious, toxic thing, has power unlike any other thing I can think of. The shame of being gay worked its dirty fingers into every facet of my life. It changed the way I walked. It changed the way I talked. It shaped my social interactions. It made me terrified to be around people I didn’t know (e.g. people whom I didn’t know how to manipulate into validating me). It changed my interests. It ruined relationship after relationship once I got old enough to have a real relationship. In short, it consumed the past 25+ years of my life. Consumed.
My shame made me look in the mirror and see nothing but ugliness. My shame made me run away from people who liked me too much, believing that I was not worthy of love, and telling myself that something was very wrong with anyone who said he loved me. Like every good Mormon, I’ve kept a journal most of my life. What a sad thing to read so many entries in which I berated myself for every mistake, internalized every perceived slight against me, told myself over and over how stupid, ugly, selfish, rotten, and completely worthless I was.
I never knew what it was to love myself. But that was only in private.
In public, it was a different story altogether. I had to appear confident. I had to keep being funny. I had to speak out against all those whom I felt slighted me, whether it was my mom, my religion, strangers, or peers. Anyone who dared attempt to expose any of the cracks in my armor had to be verbally slashed to pieces. I came out of the closet when I was 18. I was stoic. I fought my mother for years about the legitimacy of my sexual orientation. But, ironically, on the inside I hated myself for being gay.
I told people that I didn’t go to gay bars because “I just don’t identify with most gay people.” I didn’t have many gay friends because “Their lifestyles are just too different from mine.” Someone I danced with when I was in a professional ballet company once accused me of harboring “internalized homophobia.” Although I fought that tooth and nail (oh man, I was seething inside!!), I realized about two months ago that he was absolutely 100% correct.
I wanted nothing less than to be associated with people who would expose me for what I really was. I accused gay people of being promiscuous and flighty, all the while dating numerous men and breaking up with them left and right. I made fun of “flamers” and “queens” for being effeminate when I knew very well that I wasn’t exactly the most masculine thing on the planet. Anything to pull any and all negative attention away from myself.
This story could go on and on, into much more minute detail. But I am going to wrap this up. It took my older brother passing away early this summer to put me on my present path of self-discovery and enlightenment that led me one night in bed to whisper something to myself that I had never, ever, in all my life said to myself: “I love you.”
Three weeks ago, for the first time in 18 years, I put my Sunday clothes on and attended sacrament meeting. I’m not sure where this journey will lead me, but I’m excited about the prospects. I know I’m still at the beginning of it, so I welcome you to join me as I learn and discover more about who I am, where I’ve come from, and who I am meant to be.
What a day I’ve had.
From my first sacrament meeting back at church, I wanted to have an opportunity to sit and talk with the bishop, one-on-one. I wanted him to know who I was, what I had been through, and why I had been absent from the church for so long. I also wanted to know if I would be welcomed at church, or if I would feel the same exclusion and judgment I had felt in my early years.
Last week, the bishop practically ran up to me after sacrament meeting and asked if it would be okay of the bishopric stopped by my house to visit. I said “Of course,” while also fearing what would be asked and said at this meeting. I asked for advice from the amazing people of Mormons Building Bridges, and I got so much love and support from them. It was especially nice because I got the advice from them that I was also feeling inside: I should keep things simple and save anything earth-shattering for my meeting with just the bishop.
That meeting with the three of them was fine. They asked about me and my life on a general level, about where I’m from, my family, my job, my interests, etc. The question was eventually and timidly broached, “So you told me a couple weeks ago that you hadn’t been to church since high school. Is there a reason for that?” I said that I would prefer to save the heavy stuff for my meeting, but told them that I had experienced a disconnect emotionally.
All week, I have been freaking out about what I was going to say at my meeting with the bishop. Last night, as I was thinking, it occurred to me that I should just read him my blog post from yesterday, as it pretty clearly spells out the essence of my “issues.” So I did this, reading only the parts I felt were most related to our discussion. After I finished, hands trembling, heart in my throat, legs bouncing, I added on and told him in detail about how, all my life, I had been told by the Church that I was evil, bad, an abomination, a sinner, unnatural, and that I would never, ever find happiness in this “lifestyle.” He listened intently, watching me and nodding his head when appropriate. I made reference to all the Mormon Stories podcasts I’ve been listening to recently, and the various blogs and articles I’ve been reading. I talked about how a whole new world has opened up that I never knew existed, a world wherein gay people were still active in the Church and actually happy to be there!
When I finished, he asked if I was familiar with the Church’s Mormonsandgays website. (Yes, I discovered that shortly after it launched. “Have you been on there recently?” he asked. I told him it had been a while, and then he told me that he goes on there “periodically” to see if there is anything new or different. This was, of course, a joyful shock that he took that kind of interest and initiative. I told him that I have been finding a lot of comfort going to the Affirmation website. He hadn’t heard of Affirmation, but he seemed interested in who they are and what they do.
He then reflected for a moment and asked, “So are you seeking a way to reconcile your sexuality to the Church, or are you looking for a way to reconcile living a gay lifestyle with also being active in the Church?” I responded, “That depends on how you define the word lifestyle.” He chuckled a little and then said that he meant being in a relationship and having sexual intercourse. We proceeded to have a conversation about how love and intimacy are necessary for all humans. I told him that what I will feel for my husband is no different than what anyone else feels, basically summarizing what Bryan Hendrickson said in his amazing essay on No More Strangers. I told him that I want all the same things everyone else wants, love and intimacy, companionship, children: A family. He nodded his head throughout, but not in that patronizing way that some get. He seemed genuinely interested and like he really wanted to understand what I was saying and feeling.
He made reference many times to the feelings of shame and self-loathing that so many gay people have. I could hear the empathy in his voice and in his body language. I knew that this was a man I could open up to and listen to and respect.
Never at any point in our conversation did he give any prescriptive rules or doctrines. He never once told me that I needed to change or be alone. He never referred to my sexuality as a “struggle,” nor did he make reference to “sin,” “sinfulness,” or “chastity.” Ultimately, he told me that God has a plan for each of us. Earlier in the conversation I had made reference to the section of Joseph Smith’s teachings that says, “Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive.” He brought us back to that point and told me that in addition to each of us having our own plans, there is still so much of what’s out there that we do not know, that we (as a people) aren’t ready to know. He didn’t say it, but I really felt like he was tiptoeing the line of saying that there was a definite possibility that the church doesn’t know everything there is to know about human sexuality. He reiterated that my path in life was between me and God, and that I should rely on personal revelation to dictate that path to me.
He asked if I would mind meeting with him again in two weeks. He asked that I do some scripture study and try to find parts of the scriptures that will help me answer some of the big questions I have about who I am inside and how that person relates to The Divine. He said he would do the same and that he was also wanting to know what was out there, how I interpret what I find, and what is actually said about this topic. Any ideas on where to start? I know there are some great scripture references that are often used to show God’s unconditional love, how He alone knows what is in our hearts, etc. I would greatly appreciate any help, as I have not actively read the scriptures since probably grade school.
At the end of the meeting he said, “I’m speaking not as a bishop here, but if you don’t have any plans with friends or family, I would like to invite you to our home for Thanksgiving. Really! You should join us if you’re free.” Wow.
When I got home, I called my mom, whom I knew would be waiting on tenterhooks to know how it all went. She texted that she was in church and I responded that she should call me when she got done. Well, my phone rang about 12 seconds later. I told her what happened, and I could hear her crying on the other end. Dang it, Mom!! She said that she was so happy that things had gone so well. Then she said something that blew me away. “So what is this Mormons Building Bridges group? Where are they at?” I told her about the group, as best as I could, and said that they are all over the place. “So,” she said, “is this something I could join then?” My heart almost exploded right then and there. “Of course, Mom, if you want to.”
Justin Moore has been many things, a ballet dancer, ballet teacher, and choreographer, a prep cook, a deck builder, a custom framer, a pianist (thought not a very good one), and a singer (even worse than the pianist gig). He is currently loving his job as a high school English teacher, even if it is in small-town rural Wisconsin. He recently started a blog that will chronicle his journey as a mid-30’s gay Mormon as he reconciles his past with his present with his future.