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.

 

The Youth of Zion — Trying Hard not to Falter

When I was 14 or 15, we had the chance to take a youth trip from Portland to the temple in Idaho Falls. This was our nearest temple, and I had always wanted to see a temple and go through one. I had developed an interest in designing cities and buildings. Once I designed a temple, floor plan and elevation. I even made a model. All of this from reading “Temples of the Most High”, and never actually being in a temple. On our trip, I was really excited to go and do baptisms for the dead. The D&C says that in the temple, the pure in heart shall see God. I fully expected to see God or an angel or experience some sort of manifestation, but I was to be disappointed. We had to sit in the chapel and wait for hours, and some of the kids started acting rowdy and irreverent. I couldn’t believe it. Also, walking around Idaho Falls, I kept telling people I had been to the temple. I was very excited, but their attitude was “Yeah, so what.” I couldn’t believe that people who lived right around the temple and saw it every day would have that attitude.

At he urging of my father, though it didn’t take much urging, I discovered my love for speaking in church. I could never talk to people 1:1, but get me up in front of an audience, and I had no fears at all. I could speak to any group of people on any subject for any length of time. People always liked my speeches. I gave a talk at Sacrament Meeting once, and after the meeting, the Bishop called me as a stake missionary on the spot. That is one thing I really miss now that I am no longer being in the church, but I have heard that now the topics are more cut and dried, you have little freedom to follow the Spirit, and you have less time to talk.

I wanted to receive my Patriarchal Blessing. I never met a patriarch in my life and never knew anybody who had received a Patriarchal Blessing except for some people in the ward. My dad dropped my off at the patriarch’s house in southeast Portland. He sat in the car and wouldn’t go in. In the blessing, the patriarch said several things I would never forget. He said my father was “honest and true”, and he said my mother was “blessed with spirituality”. He said I would travel far and wide teaching the gospel both through word and through music, and that I would “have a particular ability, in a humble and sweet way, to persuade others to a knowledge of the truth”. These were things I never thought about my parents before. I won’t tell you what I thought about my folks before that, but this blessing made me see them in a new light. After the blessing, the patriarch wanted to meet my dad. So, my dad came in out of the car and I sat in the car and waited.

Since receiving the Priesthood, and especially since receiving that blessing, I had always dreamt of going on a mission and teaching the Gospel. In fact, when the patriarch told me I would travel far and wide to teach the Gospel, something inside me just jumped. I felt like pregnant Elizabeth when she saw Mary, who was pregnant with the Christ, and “the babe leapt in her womb”. I don’t know what the Patriarch told my dad, but after that, before my dad even joined the church, he went around telling people that I was going to be an apostle some day.

I kept wishing my dad would join the church. Eventually, he took a job where he had to out of town for months at a time, training for a new job. He began to miss friends and family, and started looking for friendship in the church. Eventually, he was stationed in Seattle and had contact with some missionaries. He committed to baptism, and one weekend they followed him all 3 hours down to Portland, where he got baptized. I had just turned 18 and had been ordained a Priest, so I got to baptize him. However, in my interview with the bishop, I was so nervous and felt so guilty just for having “impure thoughts”, that he had to keep reassuring me not to be nervous. I was afraid he wasn’t going to let me baptize my dad. My dad and I never really connected in life except for a couple of points. (1) Scouting, (2) The church, after he got baptized and became an avid genealogist, (3) Taking up public speaking, (4) Joining the band, and (5) I helped him take a course on computer programming, and that set me off on a life-long interest.

My dad was very nervous and high-strung. Somehow, he managed to take the worst possible jobs for stress: air traffic controller and school bus driver. But, he managed to keep the skies safe, and the kids who rode on his bus just loved him.

I was a very good kid, growing up. I was quiet and shy, and always tried to obey the rules. I never told a lie because I had such a transparent personality, I knew people could see through me anyway. I had a very smart mouth and was usually very angry and very critical. My mother called me her “miracle boy” because of the blessing I had received and because I had done so well in church and school after that. My dad said that if there were ten boys, and they were handing out nine popsicles, John would always be the one to get no popsicle.

The only thing I did that could be interpreted as being “gay”, was that I was always trying to be neat and organized and dress well. I was punctual and conscientious. I like to watch cooking shows on TV and was always complaining that we didn’t live up to the style we saw on TV and in the movies. My TV idol was Dobie Gillis. I wanted to dress in the Ivy League style, just like him. My parents wanted all us boys to learn how to cook. As the oldest, I did a lot of the cooking. I used to make breakfast on Saturday mornings for my brothers and bake birthday cakes, etc. It was great training for outdoor camping, college, and cooking in the mission field. In the mission field, we had one elder who used to cook with wine and smell up the kitchen at the chapel. But, my specialty was good old home cooking using recipes my mom sent me. American pancakes were a huge hit in Sweden, the land of Swedish pancakes. I used to sell them at church bazaars to raise money.

Who Wrote the Book of Love? — Seeking Knowledge

I wanted to get some information about my feelings, so I went to the huge downtown Multnomah County Library in Portland, one of my favorite hangouts. I found, to my dismay, that all the books about homosexuality were locked behind the librarian’s desk, to protect their precious knowledge from inquiring minds like mine. How did I know to look up books on “homosexuality”, when I didn’t even think I was gay? I wanted information on sex of all kinds. I wanted information, and to be quite honest, some stimulation. But, at the same time the church talked about “virtue”, “purity”, and “chastity” in very vague terms. I had no idea what they were talking about, but the message I got was that if I ever lost my “virginity”, the world would end, and I would be cast off into outer darkness. From the books that I did find on the open shelves, I was able to glean that most boys do go through a stage of same-sex attraction and idol worship, or even masturbate together, but this was just a stage that boys went through. I thought that maybe if I was “righteous” enough, these feelings would go away.

I later learned two very important lessons:

(1) You cannot ask God to change you. You have to change yourself. God respects and even treasures your free agency. He will not interfere with your life choices. What God will do is put you in situations where you are forced to develop the necessary character attributes you pray for.

(2) It is futile to ask God to “fix” something in you that isn’t broken. God can’t even put you in situations that force you to fix something that isn’t a problem, or that other people consider a problem. However, God will put you in situations that force you to get to know yourself better, and to develop healthy attitudes about yourself, and develop traits you never even knew you had. For example, this “gay” thing eventually ceased to be a problem for me. I was no longer disturbed by it, neither was I obsessed with it. I came to accept it as but one of the many facets of my personality. And, speaking of personality, I had always considered myself a hateful, angry person, but I soon learned that I had a great deal of love to offer, and people responded to that love. This realization completely turned my life around.

I didn’t have any idea about sex, and never had any form or sex or masturbation. I was really a virgin. I didn’t know what I would do with a man if I were alone with one anyway. In fact, I had no idea what sex even was. The first time I ever heard about sex in any kind of detail was from a couple of straight boys, on a Boy Scout camping trip, no less! To me, it’s laughable that parents want to protect their sons from the gay “predators”. It was these straight guys who put the idea in my head, and the thought was utterly revolting, as it is to many, when they hear it for the first time at a very young age.

I overheard somebody at high school, (it could have been one of these same hot football guys in my Physics class), laughing about some magazines they found at Rich’s Cigar Stand in downtown Portland. They said they were like Playboy, only they had pictures of naked men. They called them “Playgirl”, even though there was no Playgirl magazine at the time. My German teacher also mentioned there were some German magazines down at Rich’s Cigar Stand, so I decided to go down and check them out for myself. I bought a German magazine called Stern. It was like Life magazine. Then I checked out the adult magazines. Back in those days, they didn’t hide the adult magazines in some smelly back room. They put them all together in a big rack, right by the entrance — gay magazines in one section, and straight magazines in another section. When I picked up a gay magazine, I started to tremble; my hands shook; and my mouth went dry. Yes, I was interested, but I never bought any of those magazines. But, I would drop by and look at the magazines again, whenever I was downtown.

I started getting “thoughts”, but I never acted on those thoughts. Still, I felt guilty for having them, and I tried all the “pray away the gay” stuff, like redoubling my efforts to be active in the church and fast and pray more, etc.

Leave it to Beaver(ton)

We were still living in a very small branch, but we were growing. Part of the Beaverton branch contained the West Hills of Portland, and some very wealthy and prominent people moved into what became the West Hills Ward. These people were prominent community leaders. One family had a number of boys my age. We studied in Sunday School together. They knew all the answers, but I didn’t. However, I wanted to be one who knew all the answers, so I studied with them, asked them questions. We used to go on seaside retreats together and discuss the deep things of the Spirit up through the night. These brothers were well-connected to some leading families of the church, and the brothers all grew up to be well-known church authors. I consider myself lucky to have known them.

As I approached the age of 12, they taught us in primary that we needed to prepare for the Aaronic Priesthood. I didn’t even know what it was, but my primary teacher gave me a list of interview questions I had to answer and a list of scriptures to study. I was used to the interview questions they ask you in the Boy Scouts for ranks and merit badges. You have to know your stuff backward and forward. I was ready to be grilled. I was very nervous going in to my interview, but I passed, and was ordained a Deacon. After that, something happened to me. It was from this point on that I became very interested in reading and learning the Gospel. Most of the Deacons were cutting up in Sacrament Meeting, but I sat bold upright and didn’t move a muscle. I was so taken by the Spirit, and more impressed than I’d never been in my life. The Priesthood was something very real, and holding it and fulfilling my calling became very important to me.

By this time, I was really starting to feel different. Before puberty, I was very interested in girls. I thought their pretend games of playing house or school, or putting on a backyard drama or circus, were far more interesting than the boys’ games of war and violence. I hung around the girls at school. I tried to dress nice for them and try to get their attention. Back then, it was a big deal for men to dress up, and we all tried to out-do each other. I went to school dances, but I was shy and didn’t drive a car, so that put me at some disadvantage. My parents sent me to dancing class, where you got to meet and dance with all kinds of young ladies and learned how to be polite, dress well, and treat the ladies like ladies. This was good, but I felt like I was going through the motions. My heart wasn’t in it, and I didn’t see the point of any of it. I figured that someday I would magically change and would be magically attracted to women, but my “girls are icky” phase that boys get in middle school began, but never went away.

I was active in the scouts from age 8 on up through boy scouts and explorers. Somewhere along that line, I developed an attraction for other boys. I wanted a deep physical, spiritual, and emotional connection, but I had no idea even what that specifically meant. I never did anything. I never said anything. I just remember day-dreaming over people I saw downtown or at school. I would fantasize about being with them doing what? I didn’t know what. There was no what. I didn’t know what to do, much less what “sex” was.

In scouting events, such as when we spent an event night at the YMCA, or spent the week as guides at the Seattle World’s fair, I remember fighting the urge to look at other guys in the shower. I didn’t do it, but it was a struggle. In the meantime, I never had sex of any kind. I checked the guys out in the shower at the high school gym class once. My interest was obvious, and I got teased about it a couple of times, but it was no big deal. I remember one really hot guy telling me and a friend from church that he was walking down the road and some guy wanted to pay him for letting him take pictures of him. He said he wouldn’t do it, and we both agreed that it was a bad idea. Another time, a couple of really hot football players in my Physics class started talking about going to the movies and some “queer” put his hand on one of their legs, and they beat the crap out of him.

I had seen pictures of gay men in magazines like Life and Look, but decided that couldn’t be me. I didn’t want to dress up like a women or act like a woman in any way. The media still persists in putting out these stereotypes, and the average person thinks that all gays are like this. These images only added to my confusion, frustration, and isolation. I literally thought I was going crazy. Some people have problems and externalize them, blaming society and the world at large. I was the type of person who internalized my problems. Everything that happened to me was my fault.