I want to share with you one of the most formative moments of my adolescent life, recorded in the MSN Instant Messenger conversation below. But first, some context.
Seven years ago, when this IM conversation took place, I was an intensely religious—and guilt-ridden—Mormon boy struggling to overcome masturbation and homosexual ‘feelings’. A friend of mine also had a ‘problem’ with masturbation (like virtually all boys), so he and I entered into a pact to help each other. Inspired by the Seinfeld episode “The Contest”, we competed for who could abstain the longest.
In the spring of 2003, my friend and I scheduled bishop interviews to obtain our patriarchal blessings. We hoped it’d be the spiritual boost we needed to keep the Law of Chastity. His bishop found him worthy for a patriarchal blessing, and mine found me unworthy. The difference: I confessed my sins and my friend did not. (I cannot blame a 14-year-old boy for not wanting to divulge deeply personal things to an adult outside his family. Still, it’s frustrating that the church rewards people for lying, and punishes those who are honest and repentant. So much for a bishop’s ‘gift of discernment’.)
Shortly after I got home from the bishop’s office, I got online to tell my friend about the interview. I relayed to him my bishop’s message that masturbation is a grievous sin and a significant cause of homosexuality. Here is part of that conversation:
Me: I … I don’t know what to say. I knew I wasn’t ready. I knew it. And there is no point trying to fool God, so I didn’t try. I went to confess.
But you know the scary thing? This [masturbation] is a real serious deal. Nothing we can’t fix, I promise.
Friend: Good. How is it serious?
Me: Trust me, it is a big deal in God’s eyes. But I am not worried; I have felt his love, and I know you have too. He is wanting to help us—he actually trusts us that we can overcome this. You’re a strong kid, you’ll do it.
Friend: Thank you, but how serious are we talkin [sic]?
Me: Well, you definitely can’t go on a mission if you suffer from this. It is physical abuse to yourself, and it leads to unpure [sic] thoughts and a whole ton of other messes.
Friend: After what question did you bring it [masturbation] up?
Me: After the Word of Wisdom.
Friend: I would just have a hard time saying the word.
Me: I did, but I prayed for the strength.
Friend: I am soo [sic] proud. You are the man of the hour.
Me: Thank you.
Friend: So you actually couldn’t get it [the patriarchal blessing]?
Me: Nope. I knew it, and that’s why I was nervous.
Friend: Then I surely don’t feel right!
Me: I’d talk to your bishop, but that is up to you.
I thought I was a very spiritual person, and I am, but I need to conquer this. I’m greatful [sic] for the chance I had to talk to him about it.
Friend: My parents is what I fear.
Me: Don’t worry, they know what we are going through. I just barely talked about it with my mom. It’s all good.
Friend: Your parents are different.
Me: I come from a sexual family, sorry to say. I got it from both parents.
Friend: Sorry if that is gross.
Me: It’s ok.
Friend: But do you think you have totally conquered it?
Me: I hate to think about it. It’s only been a month. I go back in another month for a check-up. Pray for me, please.
Friend: I will. No worries on that.
Me: You want to know why I can’t help you?
Friend: Yes, please.
Me: Going through that with a friend is a major lead to homosexuality. I don’t want to get into that mess, and I’m sure you don’t either.
Friend: No way, but we would never do that. Ew.
Me: Maybe not with each other, but it is best we stop. The bishop knows his stuff. He told me of all the guilt with doing “it.” These guys have been there and done that.
Friend: So he did it? Wow.
Me: We aren’t evil, you know that.
Friend: Yes, and it feels good to know.
Me: I feel so bad though. I want to help you, but I don’t want to become gay. Really, I don’t.
Friend: Me neither, but I wouldn’t do that.
Me: Go gay?
Me: Don’t say that. Sorry, but no. I hope [that you never go gay]. They made it sound so … awful and strong. It must be serious.
Friend: So I can’t even tell you how I’m doing [regarding masturbation]?
Me: I don’t know.
Friend: Wow, that’s gonna [sic] be hard not to have anyone to help me.
Me: I know, I feel the same. I’ll email my bishop. I want you to be able to tell me, but I don’t know if you could. I don’t want to be gay. I’ve flirted with that line and it scares me.
Friend: But did you tell your bishop that we were meant to help each other?
Me: I’ll talk to him.
Friend: It’s all good. I think I can do this now. The battle is mostly in my hands.
Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
Well, just know I don’t mean to joke about it. It is serious, but don’t be scared. WE KNOW GOD IS WITH US. Really, we both have cried in prayer. For our age, do you know how awesome that is?
Friend: It is. I’m sure we are the “cream of the crop.”
Me: Yes. And we have been blessed.
Friend: We will both serve the Lord to a great extent one day, I hope.
You can see why I’ve held on to this conversation all these years. It is a revealing biographical snapshot of who I was. I hardly recognize my pious and self-righteous 15-year-old self!
This conversation also represents the earliest awareness of my bisexuality when I wrote: “I don’t want to be gay. I’ve flirted with that line and it scares me.” Those two sentences evoke some painful memories—memories of countless prayers for change that ultimately fell on deaf (well, non-existent) ears.
I am not mentioning any of this to elicit your pity. I am now, and was then, a thick-skinned and emotionally stable person. Additionally, I have always had supportive friends and family. So while my experience as a gay Mormon youth wasn’t easy, it was tolerable and I don’t regret it. I feel I was made stronger by the experience.
That said, this post isn’t about me, or even about the plight of gay Mormon youth more generally. Revisiting my old IM conversation instead just reminded me of how wrong it is that bishops enjoy the respect and authority that they do in the LDS community.
Don’t get me wrong—the majority of bishops are sincere and well-intentioned guys (my bishop included). But that’s often all they are. They are not scientists. They are not therapists. They should not counsel people (let alone children!) on sexuality or any other matter outside their knowledge. And that so many Mormons would sooner see their bishop than seek professional help may partly explain Utah’s poor mental health.