Choosing Love or the Mormon Church, Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Like our previous reader Jon, this next reader Joshua struggled between his sexuality and his church. But he, unlike Jon, left one of those things behind:

I grew up very, very Mormon. My parents are devout people, and raised me to be devout as well. I loved the Mormon Church and believed in its teachings. On some level I always knew I was queer but I lied to everyone about it, including myself.

Towards the end of high school I fell in love with my best friend, who was also very devoutly Mormon. I refused to acknowledge to myself what was going on; I don’t think I put it into words, not even in my own mind. I convinced myself that these feelings meant that God didn’t want me back after I died. I felt a sense of doom, feeling that there was no possible way my life would work out in any sort of positive way.

I kept my sexual orientation under wraps and left to serve as a Mormon missionary at age 19. After I came home two years later and started to think seriously about the rest of my life, I finally began to acknowledge the truth.

I went through much of the coming out process while I was studying at the church-owned Brigham Young University. Eventually I started dating guys—something that would have gotten me expelled if discovered—and I realized that I needed to make a decision between the church and the other life that was available to me. I agonized over this decision for months.

One night, I was in the church building and found myself alone in the chapel. I had been dating someone for a few weeks and realized that I did not believe what I was doing was wrong—I just couldn’t believe that anymore. Being with him made me feel love and peace, not guilt and shame. I knelt down in the chapel to pray and asked God one last time if he was there and if the church was where I was supposed to be.

I sat quietly for a long time, yet felt nothing. I realized then and there that I no longer believed. I stood up in tears and ran my hand along the pews, touching hymn books, as I walked to the door. I turned around and looked back at the empty chapel, seeing everything I had grown up knowing and loving, and grieved.

That grief lasted for a long time. I knew what I was doing was right, but I still grieved for the part of my life that I was leaving behind. It was like that part of me died.

But a different part of me flourished for the first time. My relationship at the time ended, but shortly after, I started dating the man who is now my husband. He also came from a very Mormon family. Together we started to build a life. I dropped out of BYU and we got an apartment together, and last year we got married. Our relationships with our families have become complicated, but we’re making it work.

I now consider myself agnostic. I still identify with Mormonism as my heritage—it will always be where I come from—but I am no longer a member of that or any church. I’ve found that I am living a happy and fulfilling life without religion.

Our next reader, Nick Beckstead, made a similar choice:

My gayness definitely shaped my decision to no longer be a part of the Mormon church. For years I beat myself over my own identity. I struggled with reconciling the idea of being married to a woman but being attracted to men. (The church’s usual antidote to homosexuality is heterosexual marriage, which seems like an unfair burden to both partners.) How could that kind of partnership possibly be fulfilling? It wasn’t for me.

As I approached 25, I slowly became less and less attached to the church and its teachings. Then a remarkable thing happened: I began to be at peace with myself. Reconciling my sexual identity to my sense of self and abandoning the faith that I’d spent two years proselytizing in the Philippines lifted a giant burden off of my shoulders.

I stopped attending church some time in my 26th year. I excused my absence to some people as church no longer “being for me,” and for others, I came out as a proud, young gay man.  

The gift of gayness is realizing that, as RuPaul has put it, we are God in drag. Religion, politics, institutions are all a construct; they aren’t real and don’t matter. But what does matter is finding our true selves and sharing ourselves with those that love us.