Coming Out to My Parents

I was so proud of how the trial went, and my new resolve that I wanted to contact my parents and make a clean breast of everything. I felt that the lie was finally over, and I wanted to confess everything. They didn’t take it so well. My father was angry, he saw what he thought was my future with all its potential going down the drain. At first, my mother was crying. My father said: “See, you’ve broken your mother’s heart.” That and that alone almost did it. I came within a hair of turning my back on this new lifestyle and returning to my old ways. If he wanted to use a wedge or a hammer against me, that was it.

But, I didn’t back down. The next day and I asked my parents if they wanted me to come to church with them. My mother said: “I don’t care.” And, she said it with such indifference that I couldn’t believe she was my own mother. It was like hearing it from a total stranger. I did go to church, expecting to hear a little of the “peace of the Gospel”. That was what I longed for and needed to hear. Instead we were treated to a lecture by their bishop on ward politics.

I live my life by the Spirit. I make my own decisions, but I always run them by the Holy Ghost. For me the light bulb is either on or it’s off. So tangible it is for me. But on that occasion and for the next several years I got nothing. Just the one assurance that I was on the right path and everything was going to work itself out. I realize now, that I had to make my own decisions and “study it out in my own mind”, as the Lord told Oliver Cowdery, and then ask God if it be right.

Excommunication — Trial by Love, Trial by Fire

Shortly after moving out of the house, I was excommunicated from the church and my wife filed for divorce. After comparing notes with other guys, about their trials, I learned that my trial was far different than most. I really dressed up for my trial and approached the whole thing with the utmost respect and dignity. No screaming. No fighting. No recriminations. No pleading. I had made my peace with God and was determined to take whatever I had coming. I even reached the point in my own mind, and I think we all have to do this, where I was even ready to defy God, if necessary.

The words of the following scripture in Mosiah came to my mind:

2:37. I say unto you, that the man that doeth this, the same cometh out in open rebellion against God; therefore he listeth to obey the evil spirit, and becometh an enemy to all righteousness; therefore, the Lord has no place in him, for he dwelleth not in unholy temples.

2:38. Therefore if that man repenteth not, and remaineth and dieth an enemy to God, the demands of divine justice do awaken his immortal soul to a lively sense of his own guilt, which doth cause him to shrink from the presence of the Lord, and doth fill his breast with guilt, and pain, and anguish, which is like an unquenchable fire, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever.

2:39. And now I say unto you, that mercy hath no claim on that man; therefore his final doom is to endure a never-ending torment.

2:40. O, all ye old men, and also ye young men, and you little children who can understand my words, for I have spoken plainly unto you that ye might understand, I pray that ye should awake to a remembrance of the awful situation of those that have fallen into transgression.

2:41. And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it.

I didn’t really know at this time how God felt about any of this, but I was prepared to stand before Him and not shrink from His presence, but say: “This is my choice. I know it’s right for me. If you don’t like it, then send me away, and I will take whatever punishment you see fit to give me.” Now remember, this was before I ever sought the mind and will of God of this matter. But, I had made a choice, and I made that startling realization that for the first time in my life, I actually made a choice on my own behalf, and not to please somebody else.

It felt so good to breathe free air that all the pain and hardship up to that point was worth it.

Going into the trial, I didn’t really care whether they excommunicated me or not. I knew I made the right choice for me, and I was fully prepared to walk away from the church or continue with an active and faithful membership. During the trial before the Stake President and High Council, my bishop spoke on my behalf. They asked my wife if she had anything to say. To my great surprise and amazement, she spoke on my behalf and told them what a good church member I had been. Even the night before, we went home teaching together, and I was talking a man out of leaving the church. I had totally forgotten about that incident, but she didn’t.

When they asked me to speak, I told them that I knew there were other men in the church in my same position. I never slept with them, but they needed to be on the lookout for them and help them. They divide up the panel of high councilmen into six who speak for you and six who speak against you. Three or four of those speaking for me did so. I do not remember what they said, but only ONE spoke against me from the other side. He was crying and pleading for them to let me remain in the church. He said I was a good man, and should not lose my membership. But, he said “rules are rules”. This told me that the Letter of the Law told him “yes”, but the Spirit of the Law told him “no”.

I was excused from the room while they took a vote, and then I was let back in. They had voted to excommunicate me. I can’t describe the feeling in the room at that time. I felt like I was at a funeral. There was a lot of crying. Every single one of the men on that board came up and embraced me. Every single one. There was one particular man who came up. I don’t remember seeing him before. He just seemed to come up out of nowhere. He was a frail, little, old man with white hair. When he hugged me, I never felt such love from another human being before in my life.

I still didn’t know how God felt about my sexuality. But I had the strongest feeling from the Spirit that what had taken place was right, and that I was on the right path. If you look back at the passage from Mosiah that I quoted earlier, I did not fit this description. (1) The Spirit was in me, and I knew it. I was not an “unholy temple”. (2) I did not feel the urge to shrink from God. Instead, I wanted to enter His presence with boldness and confidence, not in a spirit of guilt or rebellion.

Trial Separation

After our last move to Seattle, in 1979, I just couldn’t take it any longer. I moved out of the house provisionally to see whether I really wanted to break up and pursue a relationship with a man, or whether it was just a passing phase. At the same time, I was finally fulfilling an interest I had in bodybuilding. I was still in my mid-30’s and, never having done any sports, I was not particularly proud of my body. I discovered bodybuilding, however, and began to build up my muscles and take pride in my physical appearance. I also started running. It was the 80’s and everybody was into fitness. My employer sponsored free club memberships. For once, I felt the confidence I had been lacking, and realized that I could have an interest in sports and fitness, and that not all sports had to involve a team and a moving ball which I could not see.

With my new body and confidence, I had no trouble meeting men. It took some time for me to adjust from being a loner to having friends. Sure, some of these were superficial friends, but not all. It was at this time that I discovered several very important things:

(1) I was gay, but not all gays fit into the stereotypical mold. In fact most did not. And gays are very interesting people to talk to. They knew a lot of influential and interesting people. And, they are far from the sleazy image portrayed by the press. Most of them were forced out of their homes for one reason or another. They have used their talent, creativity, and resourcefulness to create lives for themselves. I went to a concert of the Seattle Men’s Chorus. A group of outstanding musicians. I could appreciate and identify with their skill and talent. They taught me that being gay was not dirty or disgusting. It’s not easy. It’s very challenging. If you do it right, it’s a lot of fun. If you do it wrong, as I have seen many do, it is lonely and depressing. I suppose it’s the same for all people, gay or straight, but, I have been to gay bars and straight bars. Gay bars are a lot more fun.

(2) I got out of my comfort zone, lost the anger, lost the poor self image, and realized that I did have a lot of love to give. This was something I never realized before. I considered myself an angry, hateful person, but that was by no means who I really was. Honesty, starting with yourself, is truly the first step on the road to happiness. And, when you live authentically, you are on the road to wholeness in body, heart, mind, and spirit. And, this is the definition of holiness.

(3) I wasn’t as much interested in having sex with men as I was in talking to them and sharing deep emotional, mental, and spiritual bonds. This was something I had longed for all my life, and I sensed that others longed for it, too. Sex is a powerful way to communicate, and an added extra to everything else, but if sex was the only basis for a relationship, or all there was to life was a series of one night stands, life was shallow, indeed.

(4) I also realized that I could let this get out of hand and take over my whole life. I couldn’t let that happen. I had a family to think of, bills and child support to pay, and I still had a career that I loved and wanted to pursue. I have seen many gay guys get trapped in what I call the “Peter Pan” syndrome. They never want to grow up. They just want to live the rest of their life in some fictional never land with other lost boys. I had too much to live for to fall into that kind of trap.

(5) Even with all my problems, mistakes, and misadventures, I was happier than I had even been previously in my life.

Goin’ to the Temple and We’re Gonna Get Married

I didn’t really want to get married, but felt that it was one of the things you “just did”. I met a girl at BYU, and we were best friends and decided to get married. I told her I was attracted to guys, and she was sure she could change me. That didn’t work. This should be a warning to everybody: there is nothing magical about getting married to a woman in the temple that will change you. This is something the church really has to emphasize. Families should not have to go through this suffering. Husbands, wives, and children. Everybody is victimized by this evil notion. Nobody comes out a winner.

We had a beautiful temple ceremony. Before we were sealed, my parents were sealed for time and all eternity, and we five brothers were sealed to then. Then my finance and I were sealed to each other. Then, we were sealed again as proxies for my father’s dead parents.

To all outward appearances, we had an ideal marriage. We were active in the church. We both finished our Masters degrees at BYU and moved off to jobs in various cities around the country. But, on the inside, I was deeply unhappy and constantly angry. I was lying to myself. I threw my whole life into my work and was constantly trying to improve our financial lot and move into a larger, fancier house.

Swedish Culture Meets American Culture — Head On

In Sweden, we were starved for any kind of diversion. I used to enjoy reading the Swedish newspapers and expanding my vocabulary. I had a companion whom all the missionaries aptly named “Little Hitler”, who strongly objected to elders reading the newspapers. He also objected to my sitting down at the piano and composing music. If I couldn’t play a song he recognized, then he didn’t want to hear it. Hey, that’s the whole idea behind composing. Missionaries received a free copy of the Church News, a Sunday supplement to The Deseret News. Hungry for news from back home, I devoured it. But, once I was really taken aback by an article praising a California congressman named John Doolittle. He was an active Mormon from Sacramento, spearheading a campaign to deny gays their rights. I never considered myself gay at the time, but I couldn’t believe the church would praise anybody for wanting to take away peoples’ rights. I found out that this wasn’t going to be the first and only time.

Coming home from Sweden, I was shocked to find America immersed in hippie culture. In Europe, it was all about the Beatles and the Stones, and Twiggy. In Sweden, the top group was called the Hep Stars. It was started by one of the guys who eventually founded ABBA. In Europe, there is a big annual song contest where all the countries compete — Eurovision. One year, a Mormon family of brothers won both the Swedish and the European competition. The Osmond Brothers were also big in Sweden. They came over every year or so to perform outdoor concerts in parks around the country.

In America, it was a different story. Talk about culture shock. When I got back from Sweden, I was under a lot of pressure to get married. In fact, my parents had a girl picked out for me. She was waiting for me at the gate at the airport! I didn’t stand a chance!

Messing with the Missionary Man — Starting to Rebuild my Self-Image

I had another missionary companion, who was everything I tried to avoid in my life up till them. He was a popular football jock in school. He was popular and good with people. I hated being around people. But, we used to talk a lot and he helped me and answered a lot of questions I had about life. He was the first person I ever felt I could talk freely around. The mission president told me once that this elder was a “follower” and I was supposed to make him a “leader”. I always thought things the other way around, that he was the leader and I was the follower, but maybe the president saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. Every senior companion I had over me, and every junior companion that I trained rose to leadership in the mission. I feel proud to have known them all, and that perhaps I made even a tiny difference. I have profound respect for the LDS missionaries even to this day.

This missionary companion and I discussed attraction between men several time, and he told me about a gay man who was a church member from San Francisco who was sent up to Ogden to live with his family, and basically “dry out”. He told me about gay sex, and a little bit about the lifestyle that he had learned from this man. I don’t think this companion was gay, himself, because he constantly talked about his girl friend, and was devastated when she sent him a dear john letter. Nevertheless, there was something unspoken between us. We never talked about it, but there was something in the air. We used to wrestle out on the church lawn. The church was a house with a private back yard. We used to have special picnics together with other elders, and there were always this bond between us. Sometimes we fought, and the fights were the kind of fights that two lovers had.

He shared the following poem with me. I thought deeply about it and applied it to myself. It took me many years thereafter to fully understand and follow this message:

The Man In The Glass
Peter Dale Wimbrow Sr.

When you get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you king for a day
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
And see what that man has to say.

For it isn’t your father, or mother, or wife
Whose judgment upon you must pass
The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the one staring back from the glass.

He’s the fellow to please – never mind all the rest
For he’s with you, clear to the end
And you’ve passed your most difficult, dangerous test
If the man in the glass is your friend.

You may be like Jack Horner and “chisel” a plum,
And think you’re a wonderful guy,
But the man in the glass says you’re only a bum
If you can’t look him straight in the eye.

You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years
And get pats on the back as you pass
But your final reward will be heartache and tears
If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.

There is a bond that exists between men who live, work, play, fight, or sacrifice as a group. This is why fraternal societies and brotherhoods were formed. This is the secret behind the Priesthood, from which all these societies derive. This is why football players unashamedly show public affection on the field. This is why missionary companions are close. This is why soldiers mourn over the loss of fallen comrades. Look up the lyrics to the song “My Buddy” and “Danny Boy”. Study the words. If they don’t bring a tear to your eye, then in my opinion, something is wrong with you. Have you ever sat by Priesthood quorums in the General Priesthood Meeting of Conference and not felt the power of the group when you are set in order? Scientists have discovered that besides sexual pheromones, men’s sweat contains pheromones that attract other men in a non-sexual way but makes them want to cooperate with one another. There is nothing sexual about this, but our society has conflated this natural male “teamwork” attraction with sexual attraction, suppressed it, and labeled it “homoerotic”.

 

This is not to exclude women. There is also a gender bond that exclusive to women. I would label these two things “brotherhood” and “sisterhood”. They are not the same. They serve different purposes, but they are equally necessary and equally powerful. In my opinion, the church lost a great deal of its vitality when they absorbed the Relief Society and Priesthood quorums into the mainstream of the church, instead of expanding and enhancing their roles. Somebody has lost the vision.

The old African proverb was right. It DOES take a village. But the “village” consisted of one large extended family of parents, grand-parents, aunts and uncles. There was an organization along family and gender lines. Some of this we would consider sexist and patriarchal by our standards, but it enabled primitive peoples to survive intact for thousands of years. Some of us who grew up in small towns in earlier days know something about this. We had cousins to play with, aunts and uncles to teach us, and grandparents to give us love and the wisdom that only comes with age. We don’t have that now. Our families are scattered all over the country.

I See a Goal — Sweden or Bust

I prepared for my mission for years. I found out our bishop, who lived right up the street, had a treasure trove of church books. I used to go up to his house every chance I got and read his books. I’m talking old classics by people like John Taylor, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and the Pratt brothers, early church presidents, to name a few. He also had a book of Swedish grammar. Where he got that, I’ll never know. My dad wanted me to take German in high school, but my grandfather came from Sweden, and I always had an interest in that culture, so I read that Swedish book every chance I got and I even checked some Swedish language tapes out of the library. Finally, I got my call to Sweden. It was easy for me to learn the language, having read the books and listened to the tapes, and studied German. I also had Swedish and Norwegian neighbors, so I took advantage of their knowledge. I have always had a good ear for languages. In Sweden, I wanted to learn other European languages so I could communicate with our investigators who came to Sweden from other countries.

Back in those days, we didn’t have an MTC or “Mission control”, as they call it in that Broadway play. We had a week in the mission home in Salt Lake City, and then 2 1/2 years in the country learning the language and serving the mission. I was shocked, again, to see how casually most of the elders treated their mission home experience. Cherry bombs in the showers! Sitting at the feet of the general authorities. Spending a Q&A session the Salt Lake Temple with Harold B. Lee. For me the highlight was getting set apart by my all-time favorite general authority, LeGrand Richards. There were several of us in the room, and after each setting apart, he would shake our hand and say: “Whaddya you know? Another Mormon missionary!” I listened to all the prayers, and he said almost the same thing in each prayer, but I noticed that he said something different in mine. He said: “… Heavenly Father please reward him for all his sacrifices for Thee, and may this blessing follow him into the eternal worlds, this Thy true servant.” On no other blessing did he say “true servant”. I will never forget this, and will always try to live up to this and be a true servant of our Heavenly Father.

Sweden is a very open and permissive society, but LDS missionaries were allowed very little exposure to it, except for the occasional couple that we taught and you found out they were not married, or the occasional women who answered the door topless, or the man who answered the door bottomless. We were not allowed to see any Swedish movies — American movies only. No Swedish beaches. But, we all took advantage of the public baths. These aren’t like the gay baths in America. Over there, everybody goes to them. They are a community meeting place. And unlike, the wimpy American spas and locker rooms, there is no paranoid modesty. When you go into the sauna, you don’t even bring in a towel to wrap yourself, much less sit on. If you do, they consider you a sissy. People aren’t shy, and they don’t flaunt it, either. It’s all rather matter-of-fact. The baths are all men or all women. They either have separate facilities, or use alternate days. But, even on men-only days, they still have elderly female attendants. My football-player companion from Utah literally freaked out when he saw an old women, dressed like a temple worker in her white dress, white shoes, and white stockings, weaving in amongst the naked male bodies, picking up soiled towels. The openness and lack of pretension didn’t bother me at all. In fact, I was quite comfortable with it, and I wish that Americans were so self-righteous and up-tight. There were two occasions when men tried to seduce me in the baths. I didn’t want to admit to myself that I actually enjoyed the attention, but following the story of Joseph, I ran out. I savored the fantasies, later on.

My companion and I met a man in Sturebadet in Stockholm. This was and still is a famous public bath house and gathering place. The mission president thought that only gays hung out at public baths, even though the missionaries were allowed to go to them because many of our apartments didn’t have showers. The mission president told us to make sure the man wasn’t gay. He said that gays are attracted to the church because they feel the Spirit, but we can’t teach or baptize them.

This was the OFFICIAL word of the highest ranking Mormon Church authority in the entire country. This man insisted that when he entered a room, the congregation must arise and remain standing until he was seated. At dinner, nobody was allowed to eat until he began, and when he finished, we all had to hand back our plates, finished or not. He lived like a little king. When his tour of duty ended, a new mission president came in, and he was just wonderful. He inspired me in so many ways, as we will read later on.

Anyway, back to the first mission president. If gays felt the Spirit, doesn’t that mean that they were being directed by God to join the church, and that the Spirit would either help them repent, or maybe God saw no problem with their sexuality? I think of Peter, in the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 10, who was prejudiced against taking the Gospel to the gentiles until God gave him a vision and told him not to call anything unclean that God had made clean. Then, Peter saw that the gentiles received the Holy Ghost, so he took the Gospel to them.

We are in a similar situation, today. But those who claim to bear the mantle of Peter, have yet to experience the vision and receive the insight that Peter of old received. Have we learned nothing in 2000 years?

You develop a very close relationship with your companion, and once, I told one of my companions that I had daydreams about men once in a while. He went back and told the mission president. This was the new mission president. The new mission president felt that it was just a bad experience and to put it all behind me. We never discussed it again. Another time, when I was worried about living up to all the damnable mission rules and following all their stupid contests and campaigns, he told me to just relax and forget about the contests because I was already self motivated. Instead, I should spend time meditating and let the “peace of the Gospel” settle over me. That was the first time in my life I ever thought of the Gospel being “peaceful”. Gospel is supposed to be “good news”, but for most of us it is anything but. I took his advice and began to see success after that.