This essay appeared originally in the September 2011 issue of Q Review.
When I was excommunicated from the Mormon Church for being gay, my life changed overnight. Friends I’d known for years would see me and cross the chapel to avoid shaking my hand. Former missionaries I’d served with in Italy cut off all contact with me. It was as if I no longer existed.
It took me a while to realize that I was not seen simply as a fallen sinner, who might be due some pity or sympathy. I was instead seen as a traitor. The fact is that Mormons believe most of the world’s evil people will go to the Telestial Kingdom, the lowest degree of heaven. This specifically includes murderers and perhaps even people like Hitler. Only those who once had a testimony of the gospel, who had been touched by the Holy Ghost, and then denied the truth, were destined for Outer Darkness, where Satan lived.
As someone who had been through an LDS temple, been given sacred Mormon undergarments, and served a mission, I was one of those absolute apostates, someone worse than the author of the Holocaust.
Mormons are so afraid gays will destroy the world that they donated $20 million to Proposition 8 in California, to introduce discrimination into the state constitution. Sharon Slater, the Mormon president of the anti-gay group Family Watch International, even has ties to Martin Ssempa, Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” pastor.
Just why, though, am I worthy of such hatred rather than simply indifference?
Recently, a Facebook group was organized for the former missionaries who served in my mission. I am as nostalgic as the next guy, and despite the many difficulties I faced during those two years, and despite not even being a True Believer any more, I am grateful for the experience I had to serve.
Still, I found that the other members of the group only told warm, fuzzy, happy stories about those times. When I even casually suggested that it was not all completely rosy, there were murmurs. Additional happy, fuzzy stories appeared over the following days, and then I wrote a post mentioning a few more of the less than happy events. Two people wrote back to say they “disagreed” with me, but most people ignored me altogether. I’d written directly to several of my companions, and not a single one of them even answered. The Amish aren’t the only ones who practice shunning.
This recent incident fully illustrates my position in Mormon culture. Not one of the other missionaries seemed to remember the elder discovered with a suitcase full of porn, or the elder who saved money for his mission by being a loan shark, or the elder sent home early for hiring a prostitute. I’m bad for remembering these facts. I’m an awful person for repeating them. Mormons only want to show the good side of things. If you point out the unsavory truth of a situation, you are, well, a traitor.
That’s why being gay is so terrible. By stating a simple truth, I threaten Mormonism’s entire worldview.
I’ve been a writer for many years, and nine of the books I’ve published are Mormon short story collections. Once, years ago, one of my stories published in a Mormon magazine was nominated for a Whitney award sponsored by the Association for Mormon Letters. But none of my work since then even gets so much as a review. Why? Because they’ve discovered I’m no longer Mormon.
One of the eligibility requirements for AML is that only Mormon literature written by Mormons is worth considering. “The Book of Mormon” musical might win a Tony, but it will never win a Whitney. It doesn’t count.
In one of my stories, I tell of the night a fellow missionary tried to kill himself. Witnessing this was a powerful moment in my life, but the other missionaries from my mission don’t even want to acknowledge that it happened. I daresay this refusal to face the pain and suffering others around us are experiencing is probably one of the main reasons this elder felt suicidal in the first place.
My fellow Facebook missionaries don’t want to hear about my gay life with my Mormon husband. It makes them feel uncomfortable, and God knows, feeling discomfort is the ultimate evil.
Only I have to wonder, is being honest really such a terrible sin? I feel no dishonor in writing the truth. Frankly, I think it’s more interesting. It’s certainly more useful. And in the end, I think it’s the only way we will become better people. After all, I still believe the Mormon doctrine that demands we strive for perfection, and telling the truth about the Mormon experience is one way I can do that.
In his book, 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense, Michael Brooks points out how the dissonance between what we think we know and what we actually see can bring about great scientific discoveries. The same is true in the moral and spiritual world as well.
I still care about Mormons, and I wish they didn’t hate me so much. If being honest makes me a traitor, though, I take comfort in the fact that this makes God, who is the author of all truth, a traitor as well.