June 26th is now and forever “Gay Day”. It will be a landmark date in gay history. I’m very happy, content, vindicated and awestruck that I get to witness this moment.
I was especially touched by the comments after the ruling by the plaintiffs in the Pop 8 case. Top among their reasons for pursuing the case was the effect it would have on younger gay Americans. It is the little 12 year old gay kid in some tiny conservative town in Utah who benefits most from this case. Today he heard that the constitution has his back. Today he heard that there is nothing about him that warrants a future unequal to that of his straight brothers and sisters. Today that little boy learned that he can both be gay and also DO gay.
I’m fortunate to live at a crossroads in history where I’ve experienced this monumental change but also experienced life as that young boy in a terrifying realization that who I am fundamentally makes me a second class citizen, and evil, and filthy and selfish. That’s what my community and especially my religion led me to believe. For me, there was no comprehension that my feelings were defensible. The concept of “coming out” had no real concrete meaning to me. Acting on my homosexual urges alone seemed incomprehensible and terrifying. To think I could legally date, court, marry and raise a family in a manner that coincided with my internal compass just wasn’t a thought I processed.
Today, little boys and girls will at least be aware of a possibility. For them, there is a glimmer of hope and light that I didn’t experience. Oh, I’m not saying it is smooth sailing for any gay Mormon. The official LDS response to the Supreme Court rulings continues to reflect the ignorance that led to its support for Prop 8 in the first place. They’ll be stuck in the 1950’s for long while yet. I do get a little tickled that they doggedly declare, “the Church remains irrevocably committed to strengthening traditional marriage between a man and a woman.” I like the “irrevocably” part because one day their position will be revoked and go the way of other “eternal” practices and principles such as polygamy, the racial priesthood ban and the original temple ceremony.
Preceding the Supreme Court’s decision today Exodus International announced it was throwing in the towel, a nice contrast to this LDS statement digging both their heads and their heels in the sand.
Exodus impacted me as a young man every bit as much as the LDS church did. During the 80’s and 90’s, Exodus basically acted as the flagship for “Ex-Gay” and “Change is Possible” therapy. LDS counselors latched onto it with a vengeance!
My first tip-toe out of the closet came in 1990 the year I graduated from BYU. I knew something was wrong with me. I was frustrated that after a mission and years of faithful temple-worthy behavior I still battled urges for men. The little research I did in the library (who knows in what books! I was too chicken to check books out. I just sat in the library and read) told me that homosexuals were most likely men who had experienced sexual abuse and who were raised by domineering women and absent or passive fathers. Somehow this environmental cocktail led boys to lean towards homosexuality.
My problem was that the diagnosis fit me perfectly, so I was more likely than not to buy into the premise that there was a cure! I hoped with all my heart that there was and so one day I went to my bishop and requested a referral to LDS Social Services. To his credit, he gave me one without demanding much more information.
The day I met with an LDSSS counselor was pivotal time in my life. On the one hand, it was the first time I admitted to anyone that I was gay. It was the first time I began to deal with the sexual abuse I’d experienced. Wonderful and amazing! On the other hand, it set me on a tangential course to change and deny that natural gay part of my soul. The counselor gave me books and pamphlets by Exodus and its supporters such as Joe Dallas and Joseph Nicolosi. I sucked it up and bought into all of it. Over the course of the next several years I was led to believe that if I only established “normal” male relationships and participated in “normal” male activities (such as basketball and fixing cars) then I’d be cured. I could one day enjoy the benefits of heterosexual attractions and its side effects such as marriage, family and the Celestial Kingdom!
Again, my downfall was that I fit the stereotype. Also, to a certain extent I was able to pull it off. I WAS able to develop bonding moments with straight men. I WAS able to play sports without embarrassing myself too much. I WAS able to reconnect with my father and feel more “manly” as a result. In fact one of those close bonding straight male relationships ended up being with my soon-to-be brother-in-law. Feeling confident in the Exodus way and my own new-found masculine activities led me to date his sister and eventually marry her.
What I failed to recognize was that all this did nothing to diminish my gay thoughts, desires and feelings at quiet times, all alone, unencumbered by all the treatment behaviors. No, I was not attracted to my new best friend, my brother-in-law, and some of these new activities did give me increased confidence and expanded my character. But they didn’t change me or reduce my homosexuality…at all. My dreams, my instincts and my passions were always focused exclusively on men.
Still, I married “knowing” in a very Mormon way that I was cured. A straight LDS woman, four kids, extended family and friends became the collateral damage 10 years later for believing in the Exodus premise on the first place.
Today, that Exodus path will not be the only conceivable route for young gay men stuck in conservative religions and communities wherever they may be. They know now that there is another way, another possibility.
I really have no desire or immediate opportunity for marriage myself regardless of this ruling. My day tomorrow will be pretty much the same as it was yesterday. But my joy and my hope for my little 12 year old self on June 26th, 2013 is abundant.