Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Bishop Made Me Do It

Those of you who read Elbow's blog may have already read this entry. He posted it as a guest entry on his blog today. Its my coming out to my parents story...

I sat in my empty house in Houston, TX shuffling through the white pages of the phone book. My dad was at work and my 6 siblings and my mom were all out of town on summer break. I was an 18 year-old pre-BYU student at the time; working at Dominos Pizza to save money for college. I was searching under the letter G for gay.

Gaylord, Gaynor.. wow. This is really ridiculous. Do I really think that I am going to find the words gay club………….713-come-out? Still I searched. What about H for homosexual.. hmm lets see. As I scanned the page something caught my eye. HATCH. That is all it said.

“You’ve reached the Houston Area Teen Coalition for Homosexuals. If you are interested in attending a meeting or speaking to someone please leave your name and phone number after the tone.”

The following day a man’s voice asked for Clark. “So, are you gay?” the man asked after some BRT’ing. A chaotic pause. “Yes,” I mustered. I had never met anyone who identified as gay before, and I was so stunned that a real actual gay person was talking to me on the phone.

My only other experience talking to a gay person on the phone was my version of phone sex. I was 16 years old and somehow had found a phone sex line that was not a 1-900 number but it was a long distance to somewhere in Indiana. I was like.. wow they must really have it going on in Indiana! Anyway, I just hoped my parents wouldn’t see the charges even though I was calling frequently asking men what it was like to be gay, and trying to figure out if I was gay. It was really hard to find someone who really wanted to talk, but occasionally I would find someone who was willing to talk to me. I remember feeling confused because I would ask these men if they were gay and many of them would say no. Eventually (of course) my parents found out, and that is a whole saga in itself. But I digress.

I attended my first HATCH meeting on a Sunday. I felt severely guilty about it. I remember attending church with my dad and then making some excuse as to where I was going that night. I felt at the time that going to a gay meeting on the Sabbath was far worse than gathering manna would have been for the Israelites, but on the other hand, my gay ox was definitely in the mire.

I still hadn’t officially told anyone in Houston that I was gay. Several months earlier I had had this moment where I stared into the mirror in my bathroom and looked deeply into my own eyes and said, “I’m gay.” I realized at the time that what I was doing was a little cheesy and overdramatic but I felt in that moment that it was warranted. I guess it could have always been more so.. I mean, I could have turned on “Close Every Door” from Joseph in the background, or worse yet, “I Will Survive.” So don’t judge.

I won’t share all the sordid details of my first gay “kiss” with someone from the group. (basically getting a tongue plunged into my adenoids after watching “Funny Girl” for the first time) But after a while I started hanging out with another guy in the group who was about my same age. We spent a lot of time together and our relationship was very sexually charged. One Sunday I attended a non-denominational church with him and his extremely homo-aware but homophobic mother. Later that day I took him to church with me. Over the sacrament hymn, the bishop eyed me in that “I totally have the gift of discernment right now” look. I stared back as if to say, “I’m ok with that.” After the meeting the ward clerk told me the bishop wanted to have a brief interview with me that evening. I obliged.

“Clark, how are you doing with masturbation?” the bishop asked. I had actually never really spoken to him about this issue, but ironically since I had started spending time with my new friend I had not really felt any need to masturbate. I told him that I was doing really well with it. He continued that he only asked because sometimes masturbation can lead to other sins: mutual masturbation and then even more serious acts, such as homosexuality. “Are you serious?” I dubiously inquired. “Do you really think that masturbation can actually cause homosexuality?” By this time I had already read SW Kimball’s Crime Against Nature chapter of The Miracle of Forgiveness, so I was well versed with this developmental theory. The bishop seemed a little thrown off balance by my response. He cautiously asked me if I disagreed with that idea. Hmm. Should I try to present a more truthful view of homosexuality to this kind man who has the best intentions for me (by telling him I know I am gay), or should I shrug off the topic and go my merry way? “Yes I disagree with that idea,” I finally blurted out. “I know masturbation doesn’t cause homosexuality because I realized I was gay long before I ever masturbated.” Now he seemed even more shocked. He clearly hadn’t expected me to be so forthright or so self-aware for that matter.

In short order I told him about my involvement in HATCH, my necking and petting with my new male friend, and everything else I had been hiding about my sexuality. I even told him about my first sexual experience a year earlier in a mall bathroom. It felt really good to share all these things with this good man, although he seemed very heavy as the details of my late adolescence poured out. His suggestions seemed normal to me: separate myself from my gay friend, don’t attend any more meetings, and prepare for my time at BYU. He told me that he had no wish to withdraw my ecclesiastical endorsement; he felt that I needed to attend BYU. But he did tell me that the things in which I was participating were serious and could keep me from attending BYU. His only other question was this: “When are you going to tell your parents?” I told him that I had no plan to break my parents’ hearts as I was sort of the golden boy in the family at that point. I told him I didn’t want to do that to them. He looked at me squarely. “As your priesthood leader I strongly council you to tell them as soon as you can.” He had said this so soberly that I felt very impressed that this was a really important piece of instruction. We ended the interview shortly after that.

Thirty minutes later I gathered my dad and my mom (now returned from family vacation). We sat down on their bed in the master bedroom and I told them I had something difficult to tell them. I have no idea what they expected. They were a lot more scared than I was in that moment. I was just riding on the strength of the bishop’s council. “I’m not sure if you already know this, but I have homosexual tendencies.” They both sat stunned. My mom spoke first: “I just don’t understand this. I have been with you every day of your life—I have raised you and I know every influence that you have ever been under. How could this have come into your life?” My dad just sat there looking sort of numb. I told them I didn’t want to tell them this, that the bishop had advised me, and that I was sorry if they felt disappointed. I felt really responsible to validate my parents in that moment. I didn’t want them to feel like bad parents, and I guess I innately knew that my mom especially might go there. I told them that this wasn’t their fault. “Well we can fly you to Utah tomorrow so you won’t see this boy anymore,” my mom suggested after I told them more of the details of my situation. I told her that I didn’t need to run away from anything and I would leave for BYU as we had planned. After a while my dad finally said, “Clark, we will always love you and I know that this is going to be ok.” He didn’t seem to be emotionally stirred, but just took it into stride. Thus we concluded our family council.

Later my dad explained to me that he felt a huge panic coming on after I told them about my “challenge”. He said he really started to feel lost and hopeless but then suddenly he felt the Spirit tell him that I would be alright. He calmed down. I had had terrible visions of my parents rejecting me, of my parents breaking down in tears, and many other night-marish things that could have occurred. I was extremely happy that it went as well as it did.

3 weeks later I was on a plane to Provo, Utah to start my first year of college.


Josh said...

I guess I am the first to welcome you--after Elbow, that is, not that I am in any position to welcome you. I enjoyed reading your first two posts and am glad that you are here to share them with us. By the way, I like your taste in architecture. Sainte Chapelle is my favorite example of French Gothic.

Oh, and Welcome!

J G-W said...

Nice post, great story! I kind of like that your bishop was the one who encouraged you to come out to your parents!

It's interesting... My mom had a very similar experience to the one you told about your dad. I made a special trip to visit my parents in Massachusetts to tell them I was gay. It was difficult, tears were shed. My parents wanted me to consider going into reparative therapy, and I made it clear that under no condition would I ever consider such a thing (knew of too many people messed up by it). But overall, coming out was a good experience. My parents said they were sorry I had struggled with this on my own for so long and almost committed suicide as a result of it. Overall, they were very loving.

But when my parents took me to the airport, my mother says the Holy Spirit was present in this incredibly powerful way, and it was there reassuring her that everything was going to be all right, I was going to be just fine, and she had no need to fear for me or be worried about me.

I have heard others share similar experiences...

MoHoHawaii said...

Welcome and thanks for the great posts!

gentlefriend said...

I am amazed at the mature and open way you responded to both your parents and the bishop. I am grateful for their caring responses to you. I wish that all those youth and young adults with SGA could have caring people around them like you have.

Abelard Enigma said...

I sat in my empty house ... shuffling through the white pages of the phone book. ... I was searching under the letter G for gay.

Oh, that brings back memories. I remember doing the same thing when I was 16.

Welcome to the Mormon queerosphere. I hope you don't mind, I added a link to your blog from my blog.