Being gay on my mission wasnít my main problemóalthough it became the problem that the leaders wanted to deal with. The problem was converting people to Mormonism, changing their life-styles, extracting them from their support systems, and then realizing that it actually made their lives worse. That was the problem nobody wanted to talk about. And that was the rock my faith foundered on.
In my family, I grew up believing that everybody would be faced with an Abrahamic trialóthat God would ask us to make some kind of ultimate sacrifice on the altar of faith. My mother had Multiple Sclerosis. That was her trial, but she chose to have five children anyway, even though each pregnancy exacerbated her symptoms. You endured your trial. That was the test of your faith. Our family was very focused on her illness. We would fast for her as a family, and she would get priesthood blessings. She was very insulted by the idea that her illness was because she had done anything wrong. Rather, she felt that she had chosen it in the preexistence. She identified with Saturdayís Warrior and played the soundtrack over and over.
My parents were converts who joined the Church in the Midwest and then moved to Orange County, in California. Mother was pregnant with me, her third child, at the time. They were sealed in the Logan Temple a year later. I had basically a very happy and independent childhood. I did everything I could to be a good kidópartly for my motherís sake but also because I was genuinely interested in spiritual things. Even the games I made up to play with my younger brothers had an element of religion, mythology, and fantasy. Thatís what I wanted to read about. That was the kind of life I wanted to live.
The Mormon community was concerned about maintaining identity; and if you were Mormon, there were a lot of identifying activities. I did early-morning seminary, Scouts, MIA every Wednesday, and of course, church every Sunday. The Mormon students even had a bench at high school that was called "the Mormon bench," a place to hang out at lunch time and check in with the other Mormon kids. My mother read a lot of inspirational books published by Deseret Book, and so did I. I read every biography of a church person I could find. I studied the scriptures and kept a scripture-reading journal. I felt, after the impact of several spiritually intense experiences, a strong belief in the existence of deity.
I realized that I was gay at some point during childhood, but my identity was really clear by the time I was in my teens. I hadnít been reading anythingónothing medical, scholarly, or even popular. I just knew. It never entered my mind that there was anything I could do about it. I just set it off as a special problem, my trial to endure, even though it tormented me. I accepted it as my Abrahamic trial.
In high school, I didnít date. I had a lot of friends who were girls and we did a lot of things together, but most people recognized I was gay. It helped that this was the eighties, so I didnít have to deal with the massive ignorance and denial of gays even ten years earlier. There was quite an active body of openly gay teens, whom I knew fairly well from fine arts. Being gay was a topic that came up in conversationónot in a mean, threatening way. So I never went through a phase of denying that I was gay or hoping desperately that I wasnít gay. It was just a given. The only question was how I would live my life as a gay Mormon. It never occurred to me that I wouldnít keep all of the church rules, including no masturbation and no fornication.
I donít know if my parents suspected anything. It certainly never came up as a topic while I was a teenager. Because of my motherís health problems, all of us children grew up with a great deal of independence. My parents expected that weíd be active and committed Latter-day Saints; but beyond that, they didnít get involved much in our lives. Our hobbies, part-time jobs, school classes, and extracurricular activities were totally our own choice.
We had to take care of each other a lot and even take care of our parents to some extent. My mother needed a lot of help, of course, and she was gone a lot for hospitalizations and treatments. She had been diagnosed with MS at age eighteen. By the time I started high school she was in a wheelchair. By the time I graduated, she was bedfast.
Father was a mechanical engineer who moved into computer systems. He had a lively intellectual curiosity and read a lot. I remember that we had Charles Darwinís books in the house and that he read the classics to usóHomer, Dickens, and so forth. He wrote down everything in his Daytimerówe kids laughed about thatóand when we had a family council, someone kept minutes and we followed parliamentary procedure. My father was organized and rational, but he compensated for my motherís illness by developing his interests in art, reading, and culture. He was always swamped with medical bills. He took good care of my mother; but in a lot of ways, they stopped having a marriage as she slowly got worse and worse.
My older sister was responsible and organized. She mothered my mother. Sheís an amazing woman. She put herself through law school, supported her husband through long stretches of unemployment and underemployment while he was dealing with depression stemming from incidents in his own unfortunate childhood. Perhaps she considered this all to be her own Abrahamic sacrifice; I know that she thought it was what she should do to be a good person and to have a good family life.
My older brother wasnít into making Abrahamic sacrifices. He was the "family rebel." Whatever he did wrong, I was going to do right. Going on a mission was part of it. I dreaded going on a mission, never wanted it, and never looked forward to itóbut never considered not going. I also spent a lot of time taking care of my two younger brothers.
I had skipped from kindergarten to second grade, so I graduated from high school at sixteen. I wanted to go on my mission then. I think I hoped and probably anticipated that Iíd stop being gay, but I also wanted to serve my mission as soon as possible. It seemed like something I had to do before I could get on with the rest of my life. I was very disappointed when my bishop told me I had to wait until I was nineteen. I was accepted at the University of CaliforniaóIrvine, but my father had a new job in Denver and they didnít want me so far away from home. I was ready and anxious to get away from home, but I could see their point.
We compromised on Brigham Young University. I threw myself into dorm life, made new friends, played intramural basketball, participated actively in my ward, including my family home evening group, enjoyed my classes, and did quite well academically. I was very caught up in the romance of college life and wanted to be a professional academic. I was aware of other gay men, but I also had a sort of girlfriend; she asked me to the Preference Ball; and when I needed a date, I would ask her out. She also dated another gay man in our dorm. It was a pleasant arrangement, and we knew there was no question of getting involved. I never had to explain my social life to anyone, because everyone knew I was waiting to go on my mission.
Because my sister was getting married in the Los Angeles Temple, I was ordained an elder at age eighteen and endowed. Then I spent my second year back at Brigham Young University, doing everything with the returned missionaries in the eldersí quorums.
I turned in my papers for my mission just as soon as I could. I was sure I would go to a Spanish-speaking mission because Iíd taken Spanish for years in both high school and college; but when the envelope came and I was called to the California Anaheim Mission, I was very disappointed. I knew it wasnít going to work out. Many members of my extended family and my sister lived there, and the whole area was very familiar. I asked the bishop to have my call changed and was switched to the Spanish-speaking mission in San Francisco. But almost as soon as I received notification of the change, the Spanish program there was terminated. The Missionary Department asked me to call; and when I did, the person I talked to asked, "Where would you like to go?" Iíd already wondered a little bit about "inspired" calls, since I was pretty sure God knew I didnít need to go back to Anaheim, and that question shook me up a little bit more. The Arizona Phoenix Mission was my third assignment.
I entered the Missionary Training Center in June 1985. It was a horrible experience. My parents were in Iowa where my mother was undergoing experimental therapy involving spinal taps and allergens. When parents were allowed to embrace their children for the last time, I was the only person in the hall who stood alone. Iím basically a very private person and being packed into that claustrophobic building with all of those people and being monitored twenty-four hours a day was very difficult to endure. We endured many, many lectures from our tubby bishop about the evils of leaving personal sins unconfessed. One by one, the elders slipped out of language class over the next few days. They came back relieved, but with swollen eyes. Elder Beardsley had three interviews. "They wanted details," he later told me. "Dates and times. Who was there. Numbers of times." I alone out of my district of eight did not take the long walk down the corridor to see the bishop. After our missions, Elder Beardsley came out to me in a Provo cafe.
I worked hard. I sang in a chorus. I wrote cheerful letters to my family and recorded insights about the scriptures I studied in my journal. My only rebellion was that I wore polo shirts which I could not keep pressed, pink ties, and penny loafers. The tubby bishop whispered hoarsely, "Elder Corcoran, put away the argyle socks; I have never encountered a successful missionary who wears argyle socks." My companion wore dark socks and mailman shoes. I slipped away from him when I could, a couple of times to hike in the mountains, several times to hide in the chapel, finding emotional relief in a dramatic rendition of Beethovenís "Sonata Pathetique."
When I reached the mission field, my trainer was a happy-go-lucky, competent, straightforward individual, who really fit my image of what a missionary should be. He knew all the ropes and didnít create any illusions that missionary life would be something else. I learned adaptation from him, how the system worked, and two strategies for being a successful missionary.
The first way was to make myself valuable to the system. In a way, it was cynical and mercenary, a way of dealing with the orders, the pressure, and the strict regimentation. In my third month when I was with my third companion, I made a conscious decision that we were going to do things to get us noticed. One of those things was meet mission goalsófor instance, placing our quota of copies of the Book of Mormon, teaching the right number of discussions, and working the right number of hours. My companion and I saw eye to eye on the program. We found out that our next-door neighbors were dealing drugs; but recalling his wild pre-mission days, he smirked, "Reality is for people who canít handle drugs." We placed 100 copies of the Book of Mormon in one week, became mission legends, and were named "companionship of the month."
I climbed up the mission ladder, first as a district leader and then as a zone leader. I wasnít really doing all of these things for glory and promotion. I was doing it for autonomy. With the reputation of being a "good" elder who was following the rules, I had more freedom, more respect. I didnít have to put up with people checking up on me. I never broke the rules or took advantage of my privileges, but I donít feel good about the calculation that entered into my performances.
The second strategy of success was a missionary was to truly love the investigators from my heart, something I had also learned from my trainer. These two ways of being a missionary werenít contradictory in terms of my behavior, but my motives were very different in each case. I would completely rework the discussions to meet an investigator at his or her point of greatest interest. I would work with them for ages, without putting pressure on them to commit to baptism until they were ready. We were supposed to issue the baptismal challenge during the third discussion, but I adapted that requirement according to what I perceived as their needs. I became very close to people and grew attached to each area I worked in and the ward members. (I was technically assigned to only one main area in Phoenix, consisting of a zone of Spanish-speaking elders and sisters.) I developed intense relationships with investigators, both as families and as individuals. The rapport sometimes was incredible. These were very spiritual experiences for me.
Because I loved these investigators so much and understood them as individuals on such a deep level, I began noticing that some very uncomfortable questions were surfacing. In one case, Rosa, a very strong and intelligent woman, had come up from University of Mexico City. Although she had a graduate degree, for some reason she had been forced to come to the United States and live under fairly poor circumstances. Her husband had joined the Church and really wanted her to be baptized too. She refused. They argued and argued about it, and we elders were brought in to convince her. We matched wits over Mormon claims to exclusive authority. I pursued every thread of reason I could seize and quoted scripture voluminously, but I listened to her and didnít pressure her. She was finally baptized, but surely it was because she loved her husband, not because she had a testimony. We gave her support and love, but she was asking a question that we couldnít even hear.
In another situation, Robert and Diane were a very respectable and hard-working couple. He was an attorney but he didnít really like law; what he enjoyed was remodeling roadside diners. Weíd help him with the work on our P-Days and really enjoyed spending the time together. They had us over every Wednesday night for six months, and invited us to family parties and get-togethers. At Christmas time, they gave each of us a hundred dollars. We felt really close to them. Theyíd had the discussions through twice and we showed them every filmstrip we had access to. They were very active in their own church (Congregational), and Iím not sure why they kept inviting us backóperhaps because they were so kind, perhaps because we were something of an oddity to them that they were trying to figure out. My companion finally insisted, "We should lay down the law on these people and either get them in the water or get out." I thought that was a terrible attitude to take and refused. But in my own way, I did something very similar. One night we showed them "Families Are Forever." Robert watched it all the way through and then asked, "So weíre not going to be a family in heaven unless we become Mormon?" I said, "Yes." I couldnít sleep that night when we went home. I was filled with confusion and remorse. They were wonderful people. They were good to us, good to each other, good to their children. If anyone deserved to be a family in heaven, they were way ahead of a lot of Mormons I knew. How could this be?
Another situation was Ruby. She was attending the Baptist Church when we met her, living alone without any family around. She was black and very spiritual. She lived in a tiny concrete house that the property tax people had inexplicably valued at tens of thousands of dollars. When we said we wanted to help her, she cried. We straightened it at the county recorderís, and she celebrated with gratitude and thanksgiving. She quickly accepted the gospel and was baptized. I was happy for her, but I felt very uneasy about the impact on her of becoming Mormon. The ward in whose boundaries she was living was very gentrified and upscale, not a very good match for her own social and economic situation. The ward members were disgustingly nice, horribly patronizing. I donít know if Ruby noticed. I had the impression that she was so genuinely good that she didnít.
A fourth situation that was very troubling was a Hispanic family. We would visit them one night, and the next night their priest and family would visit them. It was causing a lot of strain within the family since, of course, theyíd been Catholic for hundreds of years and it was as unthinkable for them that their kids would become Mormon as it would have been to my parents if Iíd announced that I was going to become Catholic. There was a lot of marital disharmony as well, and eventually they told us they were going to stay Catholic. Even though I felt sad about not having a relationship with them any more, I knew that they were making a good decision for their family; and that was very unsettling to me. Mormonism was true, so how could it be the right decision not to become a Mormon? It was another situation where reality just didnít match the mythology.
I had to ask myself: Iím changing these peopleís lives, and for what? Are they getting better? In some cases, the answer was pretty clearly no. Then I asked, "Is making people Mormon so important that itís worth bringing this much misery into their lives?"
I was dealing with these questions on my own. There was no one I could talk to. I realize now what a pressured situation I was in as a missionary and that it probably would have been comparatively easy to cope with these problems if I hadnít been on a mission. It got to a point where, all of my waking hours, I was struggling with these questions.
I also felt alienated and very different because of my gayness. A lot of energy was going into dealing with sexual desire and temptation. Now I realize that most of the situation was just having nineteen-year-old hormones; but then, every twinge was a direct challenge to my personality, to my Mormonness, to my identity as a missionary. I received a lot of comfort from prayer and from reading the scriptures. I had the feeling that God loved me and accepted me and understood me.
But mission testimony meetings frequently seemed artificial to me. In sacrament meetings, we were frequently on display and required to play public roles. Because we were in a city with a temple, we missionaries were allowed to go occasionally, but the two sessions weíd been taken to in the MTC had had a really detrimental effect on my spiritual life. It wasnít uplifting. It was too strange, not rich. I didnít find God there. I felt kind of eerie about it, to tell you the truth. I made excuses when our district went to the Mesa Temple and usually volunteered to stay at the visitors center and talk to the people who came in there. I really struggled with the whole idea of salvation for the dead and the doctrine that innocent children who died before age eight were guaranteed salvation. But the whole point of mortality was to experience human life. How much life does a one year old or a three year old experience? How can you say that a couple of yearsówell, really a couple of minutes, one breath!ócan fulfill that need? If at least some level of experience isnít required for everybody, then how can it be demanded for anybody?
The crisis moment came when I had been on my mission for a year. I had just been made zone leader that week, and a young couple called us in terror and desperation at three oíclock in the morning. Their little boy had something wrong with his heart, a pediatric pulmonary disease. They had flown him in from Page, and he was in the intensive care unit at the hospital in Phoenix. The father met us in the empty hall, hysterical, raging. Just as we entered the ICU, the doctors were putting the jumpers to Danís little body. The nurses ushered the parents, my companion, and me into a waiting room until he was "stabilized." The parents begged me to bless him, to make him live. The Episcopalian chaplain joined us in a wheelchair, speaking soothingly of life and death.
After an hour, the nurse returned. "Make it quick." The mother grabbed my arm, "Make it good." In that moment, everything was on the line for me. I could feel my heart breaking because of their pain. I felt a desperate urgency to make contact with God, to make this miracle happen for them. I was an ambassador of Jesus Christ. I had the priesthood. I was worthy to exercise the priesthood. The parents were worthy of this blessing. Then a terrible fear of death, a fear of that unknown country, overwhelmed me, smothered me. My companion insisted on doing the anointing so I would have to do the sealing and pronounce the blessing. I didnít have the courage to tell Dan to "get up and walk." I copped out with "thy will be done." I was overwhelmed with pain, confusion, and guilt. He died at about eight oíclock that morning.
I simply had no framework in which to handle the death of this little boy. My mind knew that Danís soul was still alive, that God could comfort the parents, that they could still have hope and faith. But I couldnít feel any of it. I literally had no words of comfort or faith for this couple. I could barely function. Life looked so incredibly bleak that I had to drag myself around. I had grown up with my motherís disability and future death always present in my mind, just like part of the furniture, but her illness was almost normal compared to the grinding, meaningless futility of the finality of that one death. I would insist on driving home by a different route so that we wouldnít have to go anywhere near the hospital. I had never experienced separation from God in this way before. It felt horrifying and ridiculous at the same time. I didnít know how to approach the idea of redemption. Grace as a gift resonated so much more with me than the problem of trying to balance out justice and mercy as a legalistic issue.
I felt as if I were becoming schizophrenic. My faith was gone; but at the same time, I was still feeling moments of intense connection to God. Nothing I was doing could make them happen or prevent them happening. In a way, they became part of the insanity. I was still diligently going through the motions, using the structure of missionary life to keep my personality from disintegrating, but I had lost any kind of capacity for dealing with life with enthusiasm. I was struggling at rock bottom. I literally couldnít think of a way of dealing with the problem. The other missionaries knew I was having a hard time but just kind of stepped around my bizarre behavioróthe mood swings, the sadness, and the terrible lethargy. They didnít have a model for what I was experiencing any more than I did.
By the end of a week, I was barely holding things together. I was more and more detached from reality. I equated the Church with my spiritual life, and I knew that I just couldnít be a missionary any longer. Some measure of my desperation is that it seemed like a good idea to tell mission president that I was gay, had lost my faith, and was having a hard time being a missionary. On some level, I must have known that being gay was the question they didnít have an answer for because, frankly, it wasnít true. It hadnít been easy being gay and being a missionary, but Iíd coped with it for a year without ever breaking a rule. I wanted him to say, "Go home" because the mission experience had lost all meaning for me. I tried to talk about that part of it, but either I couldnít communicate the terrible bleakness or he just couldnít hear what I was saying.
He wasnít unkind or judgmental. In fact, bizarrely, he was interviewing me to be an assistant to the president in this same interview where I was telling him I couldnít stay on my mission. It would have been funny, under other circumstances, to see us talking past each other so completely.
I told him that I didnít want to go home early because it would be a disgrace and because my parents were having a very hard time. It had meant a lot to them that I was serving my mission on schedule." I was the older son. They expected my younger brothers to follow in my footsteps. They were trying desperately to keep me on my mission.
I was really asking for intellectual and spiritual help, and he was being very brisk and practical. I think he was trying to be reassuring. He said, "Iíve had other missionaries come to me with the same problem. Basically stop thinking about it, donít worry about it, and work hard. If you have any problem, weíll talk next week."
Well, I couldnít work hard. I couldnít do anything. My diary for that period is practically incoherent. My companion was no helpónot that a companion should have to deal with an emotional breakdown. But he was just pretending there was nothing out of the ordinary going on. I went back to the mission president a week later and he sent me to an LDS Social Services counselor in Phoenix. I visited him three times. It obviously wasnít going to work. After I convinced him that I wasnít acting out sexuallyówasnít engaging in any sexual behavior at allóhe basically didnít know what to do besides give me these pep talks about working hard.
The mission president was polite but basically eager to pass the problem on once he figured out that his brisk, practical approach wasnít going to fix the problem. He told me quite bluntly that he didnít want my problem to reflect on his performance as mission president. One afternoon I waited at the secretaryís desk while he spoke in his office to another missionary. There, next to a pile of letters to parents, was the phone pad. Written on the top note in the presidentís handwriting was "Corcoran, homosexual problems, re: SL transfer, Hinckley verification, call 1420 Mon." I ripped the sheet off the pad and stuck it in my breast pocket.
I donít know if my transfer to the Utah Salt Lake City Mission was an established procedure or not, and I canít remember if he asked me whether I thought it would be a good idea or whether he just told me that was what heíd decided. I didnít argue in either case. It was very fast. As soon as I packed, the mission president drove me to the airport, we flew to Salt Lake City together, he turned me over to the new mission president, and then he disappeared.
In retrospect, if I hadnít been so emotionally shattered, I would have just insisted on going straight home; but I didnít have the clarity of mind. I needed someone to say, "Youíre ready to go home. You can go," so that I didnít have to make the decision on my own. I knew I wasnít in any condition to make good decisions. I felt superstitious, almost, about being struck down for my audacity. All of my training and upbringing was telling me, "These are your leaders. They know better than you." I wrote obsessively in my diary, unable to describe what I was feeling except through the elaborate circumlocution of pretending I was Bunbury, an imaginary invalid in Oscar Wildeís play The Importance of Being Earnest whom the protagonist had invented so that he would have excuses to leave his responsibilities and have some unsupervised free time.
In Utah, I was assigned a companion. We didnít actually do missionary work, although we were supposed to. I was still in the absolute depths of depression, barely able to function. My companion was dating a girlfriend from Bountiful who would come and pick him up every day. Sometimes Iíd go with them, and weíd watch videos at her house. On Halloween, we rented costumes from the Salt Lake Theater and cruised State Street in our mission car. Two girls in a pick-up flagged us down and asked us to "go somewhere" with them. I refused. My companion got back in the car and gunned the motor angrily. "Lighten up!" he snapped at me. We reported bogus statistics on Saturday night and attended district development meetings.
We had one investigator, an excommunicated former Mormon named Barbara, and I formed a strong bond with her. She was middle aged and had had a very rough life. Sheíd been on the circuit of lounge singers during the 1940s and 1950s, and had tried every variation of drug and alcohol abuse Iíd ever heard of and then some. She was also a sexual addict but was then on her fourth marriage, deeply involved in a twelve-step program, and trying to get back into the Church. We were supposed to teach her the missionary lessons again; but since my companion was off with his girlfriend, Iíd go over there alone. Weíd talk, eat lunch, play cards, and sing. I attended twelve-step meetings with her. We talked about the gospel, and she really helped me since she was someone who had lived without any kind of religious belief for a long time and was deciding that her life would be better with it. The twelve-step program made sense too. I think it was a reminder that a world existed outside my own dysfunction.
I thought that Iíd be able to talk to someone who would help me make sense out of my theological questions; but the only people I saw were an LDS Social Services counselor for maybe a dozen visits, and the mission president. I felt that both of them just jumped on the homosexuality issue as the explanation for everything. I wanted only to go home. They kept trying to get me to either admit Iíd been sexually immoral or get me to pull up my socks and finish my mission. There wasnít really any psychological counseling. The counselor thought that the way to "fix" me was to build my self-esteem as a masculine figure, so he kept saying things like, "Youíre so intelligent, youíre such a good person, youíve got so many things going for you." Well, okay, but all of it was beside the point. What did any of it mean?
And the mission president was really an awful person. I took an instant dislike to him. He couldnít open his mouth without talking about how close he was to various General Authorities and which General Authority he and his wife had just entertained. It was pretty obvious to me that he wanted to be a General Authority himself. I had the feeling that his chief concern about me was whether I was going to make him look good or bad. He kept telling me that I was destroying my future, that I had put my hand to the plow and then was turning back. But he never talked about it in spiritual terms. It was always in terms of my future Church career and what a black mark this would be. He threatened me with exposure in a bullying kind of way. I really wasnít prepared for that. My bishops had always been decent, even though Iíd never brought up being gay with any of them. My Arizona mission president was at least polite.
My parents were very concerned. They had been able to tell that I wasnít doing well before I left Arizona. I hadnít come out to them about my gayness, and I shrank from doing so now, partly because I didnít have the emotional energy that it would take and partly because being gay wasnít the crux of the issue. I wasnít leaving my mission because I was gay. I was leaving my mission because Iíd lost faith in God. There was a sort of cumbersome three-way conversation going. Iíd talk to my parents on the phone and tell them I wanted to come home. Theyíd call the mission president and say they wanted what was best for me. Heíd tell them I just needed to get things straightened out and finish my mission. Then heíd call me in and say, "Maybe your parents need to know the truth about you."
I donít know if he told them something or gave them some strong hints or what; but during one of the telephone calls, my mother said, "Iíll love you no matter what. Iíll love you if youíre an axe murderer. I donít want you to be unhappy. If youíre unhappy as a missionary, then you shouldnít have to be a missionary. But I just donít want to hear one thing and thatís that youíre gay." In retrospect, she may have had instructions from the mission president to say something like this so Iíd feel pushed into deciding to stay. I m just not sure.
In retrospect, I think she really knew. Mothers usually initiate the coming-out experience. She had the same kind of conversation with one of my younger brothers at age fourteen. He came out the next year, when he was fifteen. I never asked her directly. She was pretty sick at that time and died four years later in 1990, before we ever talked about it.
Finally after about a month and a half on some level, part of meóthe part that wanted to surviveófigured out that I should do whatever was necessary to get out of this environment. I was usually pretty passive during those interminable interviews with the mission president; but on this one occasion, he said in an accusing way, "The reason youíre gay is because youíre not obedient. I see you have an authority problem." I retorted, "If somebody told you you couldnít ever have sex with your wife, youíd have a authority problem, too." I was angryóangry at him, angry at the situation, angry at being forced to talk in those terms.
Things dragged out for another few days. The next district development meeting was held at the grave site of President Spencer W. Kimball in Mount Olivet Cemetery. We read scriptures and sang, "We Thank Thee, 0 God, for a Prophet." It was no more surreal than the rest of what was happening; but for some reason, while I was singing, I found that I had made the decision. I was going to leave. I called the airline, made a reservation, and left a message on the mission presidentís answering machine, telling him heíd need to find a new companion for my companion. He gave in. He told me to get a refund on my ticket, had the mission secretary arrange my flight home, gave me a medical release, signed an ecclesiastical endorsement so that I could reenter BYU, had me speak in the mission home fireside with the other elders who were being released at the same time, and had me driven me to the airport. I gave a homecoming talk in my ward about my experiences with people of different cultural backgrounds. People understood that I had a "sort ofí medical release, but no one ever asked me about it. It was the last time I attended church in my parentsí ward.
I felt normal again almost immediatelyóprobably a combination of finally making my own decisions and getting home. By then it was December. My parents had agreed that I could come home but only if Iíd go straight back to BYU. Of course I agreed. I was getting ready to start the new semester in January and, a week before I left, I got a call from the admissions office saying Iíd have to put it off for six months because they had a policy forbidding missionaries who left their missions early to enroll before six months had elapsed. I worked part-time for my father and stopped wearing garments. That really hurt my mother. "What about your temple covenants?" she pleaded. I was sorry, but I couldnít live her rules anymore.
I enrolled at BYU in June, living off campus. Ironically, my life-style became much rowdier. I openly flaunted the rules, wore shorts and tank tops and sandals, got one ear pierced, and joined left-wing student organizations.
I also came out sexually. At a play on campus, I met Brent Pace, a son of George and Diane Pace, and we dated for awhile. His parents watched us closely, which made the whole situation tense. I think they had suspicions that Brent was gay but didnít really want to know. Having a sexual relationship was a completely new experience for me. I didnít feel exploited or abused, but we just werenít very compatible and the relationship didnít last long.
By fall I was sharing a house with graduate student in the theater department after he had separated from his wife. He was gay, but we were just roommates. Still, campus security was monitoring us. We rented a house together in Salt Lake City and commuted down to school. During winter semester, I got a message in one of my classes that the standards office was trying to get hold of me. At this point, I was halfway through the first semester of my junior year. When I went to the standards office, the interrogator said, "Youíre not to attend any more classes, and all of your teachers have been notified to that effect. Youíve been accused of being gay. What do you have to say about it?"
Naturally I asked, "Who told you and what exactly did they say?"
He answered, "Iím not at liberty to say anything."
Thatís how the conversation went. He kept pushing, but I wouldnít budge, so he ordered me to come back in a few days for another interview. At that interview, the message was basically, "You donít really belong here. Why donít you just leave?" Finally he bargained, "If youíll drop out, weíll refund your tuition and fees and the cost of your books and clean up your transcript so that it wonít show any unofficial withdrawals or incompletes." I agreed. I thought I would feel very upset, but I realized that Iíd already made the break and was feeling very detached emotionally. I never told my parents that Iíd been kicked out. I just told them that I decided to work full-time. My father never asked. My mother was the one who was most interested in the Church. After her death, he married a Mormon woman but she had strong issues about the position of women in the Church and might be regarded, euphemistically, as a "cultural" Mormon. So the religious issue just wasnít important any more.
I figured out later from the experiences of other people that the mission president had sent his report to BYU. I never finished school but established a career in Salt Lake City and am living in a committed, long-term (ten-year) relationship with a partner who is also a returned missionary. My whole family behaves as if we are just another married couple in the family.
Iím not sure why I put out the additional effort, but I resigned from the Church. Making a clean break seemed like the right thing to do. The bishop of the ward in whose boundaries I was living wanted to meet with me, but I refused. He sent me a letter informing me that he was going to hold a court. He didnít say why or what evidence, if any, he had. I donít know if he had any at all or if he was just trying to intimidate me. I didnít show up. It doesnít matter to me whether he held a court or just went ahead with the General Handbook of Instructions procedure for resignation.
I donít regret not being a member of the Church. For some people, leaving is an important rite of passage. It wasnít for me. I felt neither relief nor bitterness. But I miss having a spiritual community and have entertained the notion of formally joining another faith. Iíve investigated Unitarianism, for example; and have formed a sentimental attachment to High Anglicicism (through reading Eliot, Waugh and Auden). I wish I had more outlets for service. There are so many good things about Mormonism that Iím really attached to. Itís been an important part of my whole life. It was my familyís religious choice and my personal choice. People in the Church are my kind of people. They think seriously about the kinds of things that are serious issues for me. I would love to have a way to belong to the Church, but I just donít see how it can be possible.