Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Chapter One: On-line book preview

This is the first chapter of "They that be with us -- Understanding the connection between being gay and being Mormon"


Chapter One: At least I was paying attention  or  What made me different?

Julie:  I’ve heard it said by those who are homosexual that they knew there was something different about them at an early age. I mean to ask as many personal questions as I can be because I think it will help others. How did it all happen to you, Calvin?  What was different, and when did you notice that difference?

Calvin:  I tell people I had a normal childhood because for me it was normal. Singing to musicals and creating fashion shows and magic acts was normal. Pretending to be a nun from the Sound of Music with the fireplace hearth as a stage was normal. I didn’t know anyone else had it any other way.

I only realized that life in my home was a bit atypical when I associated with other boys at school, who, by the way, did not dress up like nuns in their free time. I was raised in south eastern Idaho where boys snowmobiled. They planted potatoes. They smacked each other around. They did not re-decorate their bedroom and gold leaf old furniture.

There was another difference between them as a group and me.  I was a Mormon. The LDS conservative culture felt completely intrinsic - even instinctual for me. I did what Mormons did. I knew all the well-loved and well used priesthood hymns and could list them in order of their popularity. I prayed, I read scriptures, I went to church
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I believed that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was true. I hadn’t had a startling or earth shattering chapel raising event that gave me that knowledge. My testimony came quietly day by day. (Way too quietly for my taste if I may add). I asked questions when I wanted to know something, but I never questioned. There was no need. My understanding of the Church was sound. The Church was true, the sky was blue, and Judy Garland was the greatest singer that ever lived. 

I was smarter then. It became way more complicated after puberty.

I knew about the practical function of the Church as well, probably more than many of my siblings or peers. Mine was not just an understanding of the church taken from books or filmstrips. I knew how it worked day to day - in the chapel and in the kitchen - because I payed attention to what people did, how they acted and what they said. 

Additionally, even though I was only nine and had yet to graduate from primary’s CTR class, I was hanging with the older righteous dudes in priesthood meeting - which kept me in tune and in sync with the culture and traditions of the priesthood and must have affected me for relative good. I was attending general priesthood meeting as a pre-priesthood-holder, tethered to my father’s side because (I have since found out) I could not be left at home due to the fact that I was a hellion.
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If I had had my druthers, I would have stayed at the home, watch Bewitched and painted my "I Dream of Jennie" bottle. But I had established a reputation as a trouble inducer/maker/reveler. My mother begged my father to take me anywhere for two hours to give her time to glue her hair back in.

It was while I was squished between guys twice my size in white shirts and black nylon socks who smelled of Brut -- or later on, Elisha -- (you will want to Google those) that I had my formal introduction to the “thou shalt not’s” as presented by LDS general authorities over the radio airwaves. In one of the first meetings, I remember the speakers asking us to respect women and girls. I nodded my head like the older guys around me and I vowed to do better. I had no idea what they were talking about.

Several priesthood meetings later I realized that the G.A.s weren’t talking about hitting girls, but about hitting on girls. The revered men from Crossroads of the West, in their subtle and genteel way, were talking about sex.

As I reflect back, the G.A.s didn’t really say the word “sex” right-out like they do today. They implied and we inferred, and some immature fool in the back that no one could identify giggled nervously. The effect was exactly what I imagine would have resulted from a gallon of chloroform being poured into the church’s swamp cooler.  I inhaled and then stopped breathing.
 
“Sex is for marriage” combined with “Respect woman and girls” was the sage advice I heard over the pulpit -- officially. Unofficially, sex seemed to be a whole different plate of potatoes.
 
Here is where it gets more complicated. My mother - the one pasting her hair back in - died, and my father remarried. This woman had also been married before and she brought with her a new family with new challenges - just as you would expect. However, stepmom’s ex-husband was a man who’d been excommunicated from the church for being homosexual. He lost his membership in the Church and was no longer with his family as a direct result of his being gay.

I, being semi-intelligent and having a library card, was quick to both do the research and put two and two together.  So, in my first real-life-math-story-problem, to be “homosexual” meant that a guy liked other guys, not girls. And the feelings that I had were for guys, not girls. I was, then, a homosexual. The LDS church - my church - excommunicated homosexuals.
 
No wonder I don’t like math.

Julie:  How could you realize your orientation so young? It must have been more than a sexual thing, because at nine most children aren’t thinking much about that stuff. I know I wasn’t.

Calvin:  It’s true that my body was not responding to sexual impulses at that point, which should have been my first clue that there are many layers to SGAttraction – not just sex.  At nine years of age my feeling’s and yearning’s had not sexualized. The feelings only became sexual when my body did at about age twelve or slightly before.

I’m making it sound like this all took place over one conference weekend, but it didn’t. Some of these realizations were years in coming, and others I’m only just beginning to understand.
Nevertheless, before I ever had an image or a face to associate with sexual preference - before I understood what sexual leanings and inclinations were - I somehow knew that I preferred males. I’d had strong feelings of what I know now was homosexuality before I ever heard the word presented or defined.
 
I can’t say my life changed in those few days of discovery, though those days ended up being years long. Life continued as it always had. I went to school, I came home. I mowed the lawn on Saturdays and church was on Sunday and Tuesday.

“So kid, are there any cute girls in your class?”  a friend of my dad’s at church asked me.   No.
“I bet you are a real ladies man and have to beat them off with a stick!”  Not really.
“A tall kid like you!  Are you on the basketball team?  You like to shoot hoops, right?”   Nope.
“You like the Jazz?”  Vocal, yes, but instrumental drives me a little crazy..
“What are you, a fag?”  You’re not very compassionate but at least you’re paying attention.

What I do know is this. Femininity was my default; it was my home page. I had femininity in spades. In stereotypical personality traits, in obvious talents and abilities there was no question.  It was the masculine that I yearned for. I craved manliness. I wanted to emulate it. I wanted to be it.  I wanted to be touched in affection by another guy. I was even willing to get beat up or made fun of, or wrongfully used in order to have that attention.

Julie: Because of that you realized that you were gay?

Calvin: Good choice of words. Many would say that it was at this point that I decided to be gay, but being gay wasn’t a decision to make or not make (as those not-in-my-shoes often suggest).  It was an awareness, a discovery. There wasn’t a moment where I was presented with the option and made a choice - guys over girls.  There was no “today I am going to be gay” moment - the kind I have heard told by men wearing ties and holding degrees. If that were the case then there would have been an equal “today I am not going to be gay” moment.

Girls, as kind and well-meaning as they were, were never in the running.

Julie: Was it a relief then to understand what you were feeling?

Calvin:  You would think so, that being able to put a name to it would have helped. I suppose in a way it did. However I realized immediately what the label meant. I went from the apparent sexually ambiguous frying pan to a giant gay furnace fire that bellowed black toxic fumes.

Have you read any psychology articles from the eighties? I did. I actually read them in the eighties as a matter of fact. There was no Internet. There was the library. I was armed with a library card and I knew how to use it. Everything I read confirmed what I had heard. To be homosexual, as per a very thick book, was to be depraved and deviant.  I went from considering myself as a nice though somewhat unmanageable young man to someone who was deviant, derelict and a few other “d” words.
 
After that revelation there were moments of incredible panic. I was on the wrong road. I had always thought I was on the straight and narrow, but no.  Straight was the “straight and narrow”, and gay was not “the way”.
   
Julie:  It sounds like you were dealing with huge issues all by yourself. Couldn’t you have talked to someone like your bishop, your parents, or even a school counselor? Surely the late seventies and eighties weren’t all that pre-historic.

Calvin: You’d be surprised. The thought to talk to someone didn’t enter my mind. Counselors were people paid by other people to get to your secrets. I once had a counselor call me into his office at school (which had more to do with me falling asleep in the choir practice room every day for two weeks than it did trying to peg me down on my sexual preference). But the meeting was as clinical as it was brief. My problems were attributed to fallout from my mother’s death. He flippantly warned me not to masturbate, to stop sleeping in the practice room and then he dismissed me in order to take a personal call. I suppose I was then checked off of his list of things to do.

Church leaders as far as confidants were concerned were out as well.  I saw how the homosexual ex-husband I mentioned earlier had been treated by the Church, and heard how he was being spoken about in the circles of members of the Church. I met him on a few family occasions and thought he was a nice guy. I liked his shoes. What I knew of his experience taught me that I was going to have to work my way through being a homosexual Mormon all by myself because anyone finding out that I was gay was not an alternative. 
Gay was “not clean”. Gay was way-out in the deep end. Gay was the hands in the muddy water that pulled you away from the iron rod.

Julie: There are a lot of theories about why some people develop homosexual feelings and others don’t. I’ve heard it blamed on sexual abuse or being too connected to mom instead of dad. What do you think caused you to have these feelings?

Calvin:  I’ve read the theories, too. I find them both enlightening and confusing.  I myself fit snugly into many homosexual stereotypes and don’t come anywhere close to others. The latest theory is that if I was preceded by several boys having gone before me through the womb, then chances are that I would be a homosexual.  But I was the first boy, so…  

On top of it all, I didn’t know then and don’t know now which of my many problems were caused by a wacko adolescence and which of my many other problems were a direct result of homosexuality. I may never know. But that doesn’t mean I am powerless or picked on nor does it make me a second class Latter-day Saint either.

Julie: How did you balance your homosexual feelings with your belief in the teachings of the church?

Calvin:  I don’t know that I did until my late thirties. There was no balance or equilibrium.  Sometimes I leaned one way, and the next month I leaned another. I didn’t know how to balance, or if I should even try to. When I was involved with one, the only way to survive was to ignore the existence of the other, and I got really good at flipping back and forth.
Let me be clearer. I put my baptismal document, my primary awards for memorizing the Articles of Faith, my ordination to the priesthood certificate and many other records in a scrap book so I could later appreciate that I had done things the Church way and that I had indeed chosen right. I went to my meetings and attended seminary during the week. I went on a mission and worked as hard as tall skinny guys can. I came home and dated some really nice Ricks College girls without a thought to marry any of them. I hung out with theatre people. I went to BYU, worked professionally as an actor and singer, and started getting a name in the arts. Then suddenly I went directly off the deep end.

The deep end, incidentally, can be exactly as muddy, filthy and… well, deep, as the implication in 1st Nephi.  “…and the depths thereof are the depths of hell… that they perish and are lost.” It was not where I wanted to be.

Julie:  What brought you back to the church?

Calvin:  My decision was ultimately between living as an actively gay man (homosexualy-active, male partner, no church), or as an actively Mormon man (Church, not homosexualy  active). When it came time to do or die, I didn’t want to die the way I had been living. I ultimately went with my heart, and my heart was firmly planted not only in the gospel of Jesus Christ, but in His church - even when my body was off being promiscuous.

I left Church activity briefly because of the priesthood. Being gay and not having the priesthood was painful to consider, and I knew I could not have pre-marital sex and hold the priesthood. Living a gay life meant that the priesthood would be something I couldn’t touch. When I came back to church activity it was because I wanted the blessings of the priesthood and to know that I was obeying my Father in Heaven more than I wanted to live a gay lifestyle.

I wanted the Melchizedek priesthood more than I wanted to have sex.

Today I am still as much a part of Mormon-land as I ever was back in south eastern Idaho in the 80’s - even with a documented past that is not ready for the Ensign. While I may not be the best to articulate the plots or plight of either LDS men or homosexuals, I know my way around the proverbial block. I know both sides of the street.

Julie:  You’re married and have a family now, right?

Calvin:  Yes, both. I made the decision to marry, and I found someone who was more forgiving than I could have ever imagined.  As a husband and a father there are some things I do well, and other things I don’t do so well. I have strengths and weakness like anyone else I suppose.  Of course my wife knows about my sojourn, and so have my previous bishops. Our new bishop doesn’t have any reason to know thanks to the question “Is there anything you need to clear up that you haven’t already taken care of?” Marriage has been good to me and we will touch on that later.

Julie:  I’ve got my parent hat on for this question. What could your parent’s have done to make the road easier? Short of tying my son Sean up in the basement for the duration of his life, I’m constantly trying to think of ways to help him without infringing on his agency.

Calvin:  A good half of this book is my response to that question - what could those in positions of authority have done to make it easier - bishops, parents, friends, etc.  Frankly, good parenting is good parenting.  One should do all the things that one knows how to do and has been doing for years; Talking, loving, praying, teaching kids how to be responsible, being proud of who you are and who they are. I didn't get that.  Looking back at what I want through, I see that I just wanted to scream for help, and when I didn't get it I ended up screaming at everything.

Part of Heavenly Fathers answer to me, as I see now, was that I needed to gain strength by helping myself. Could I have made the changes I made if I hadn’t figured a few things out on my own? I don’t think so. There were things I had to discover for myself.

Had my parents or any youth leader pulled me aside and spoken to me about homosexuality I may have just died on the spot, and I definitely would have slunk out of the building and cried in shame or disappeared into denial. But after the drama was over I may have thrived.
 
I will say this to parents; Regardless of your situation, please watch what you say. I became aware of my parents distaste for homosexuals at the same time I became aware that I was one. It’s very tough to come back to your child after years of distaste and disapproval and have any credibility as a parent.

Julie:  Thank you for being so open.

Calvin:  Thanks for asking.


Next: Chapter 2

5 comments:

  1. So who is Julie?

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  2. Julie is a pseudonym of a friend of mine from a previous LDS Ward I was a member of. The preface describes how we meet. She has a son who is gay, and she writes from that perspective. Neither of us is a "professional". We are just members of the LDS church trying to live as we think we should. Thanks for reading

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  3. I love your remark, "I wanted the Melchizedek priesthood more than I wanted to have sex." That's not to say that there's no desire for the latter of the two options, but I think there are many in the gay community that put sex on a pedestal, refusing to acknowledge that there can be, and are, things of greater value. I know for a fact that my soul could not subsist on sexual intimacy when it craves something so much deeper and meaningful--emotional intimacy.

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  4. Thank you so much for your comment.

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  5. Very relatable. Just an FYI, there are a few typos in there. (Sorry, horrible side effect of graduate school writing.)

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