When I was attending high school living in the northern California Sierra Nevada foothills small town of Placerville, I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (and became a "Mormon") at age 17. I think it was during my 1980 summer vacation between my junior and senior year. So why does this story begin with joining the Church?
I had struggled all my life with not wanting to be gay. In my pre-teen years, I certainly didn't even call myself "gay." I understood "gay" to mean everything my family and friends, and the media told me they believed it meant. And that was not "a pretty picture." I didn't identify with that negative image (I felt like an inherently "good" person, not the negative stereotype portrayed in the media when I was growing up in the 70's and 80's -- which is thankfully now starting to change a little), so I did my best to convince myself that I was not gay.
The Mormon Church was founded in the early 1800's by Joseph Smith. According to his accounts, he was a 15-year-old boy who was confused by all the many churches of his day, and wondered which, if any of them were true. He reported having received an answer to that question by receiving a vision that began to answer his questions, and eventually led to the establishment of the Mormon Church. I very much identified with his confusion, and his quest for answers.
I joined the Church (this realization didn't become obvious to me until many years afterwards) because not only did the Church "make sense" to me, but it seemed to offer an answer to my specific problem, which at the time, I was sure could be fixed or overcome somehow. As I studied Church literature and scriptures before I joined the Church, I interpreted what I learned about the Church to mean that if I were faithful, that God would cure me of my homosexuality. I hadn't really heard that message before -- that there was a cure -- before I joined the Church.
But that wasn't the only reason I joined the Church -- I really did have a belief that there was a God, and that this was His church, the one and only true church, the one with all the answers to life's many questions and problems. I really wanted -- needed -- to believe. So, with that understanding, I joined the Church, then later served as a church missionary for 18 months, and eventually got married in one of the Mormon temples (a marriage that is supposedly for "all time and eternity"). I believed that these were all steps in the road to recovery, as promised by the Church. I kept "my end of the bargain," so to speak. Oh, I didn't live a perfect "sin-free" life -- but no one does. If we were perfect, we wouldn't need Church, and commandments to follow, etc.
I believed in and counted on the various inspirational promises in the Mormon scriptures, such as:
"The Lord givith no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them."
Well, making a longer story short, suffice it to say that after 15 years plus of waiting for the promise to be fulfilled after doing everything the Church said I should do, it never came. Yes, there were times throughout my church activity when I thought I had overcome the homosexual feelings, but those were relatively short-lived. I know many gay Mormon men and women with similar stories.
Skipping ahead a bit, I came out to myself in May 1996. I finally realized that I was in fact gay, and could not keep those feelings hidden from myself or the rest of the world any longer. I was miserable living a lie. And besides, by this time in my life's experiences, I had come to realize that the stereotype of gay people was in fact not accurate. Over the years, I began to see that gay people were not "bad." My own homophobia had been overcome. It was indeed a slow, gradual process.
A few days later after coming out to myself, I told my wife (we'd been married for 7 years at that point). She was (and still is) a gem. She knew that something was wrong, but never knew for sure what it was, but had in fact suspected that this might be it. Fortunately my wife was not homophobic or bigoted, and has other family members who are gay who she's very supportive of, so she did not have "issue" with the homosexuality. We spent the next weeks and months talking a lot and deciding where to go from there. We separated very good friends about 6 months later. We still remain involved in each others' lives as we work together as single parents to co-parent our 6 year old daughter.
I have since joined and become involved in a group called "Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons." You can read about that at the national Affirmation website, or at the San Francisco Chapter's website, the website of which I am the caretaker. I enjoy Affirmation, because I believe in helping in any way I can in letting gay Mormons know that there are others of us out there, and that there is a life for us beyond the official anti-gay policies and beliefs of the Church.
If you should be interested, I have written some other thoughts on the
subject of being gay and Mormon, which are linked from the San Francisco chapter
website at: http://www.dcn.davis.ca.us/~sfaaron/vinck.htm
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