As an LGBT ex-Mormon, I couldn't help but feel immediately drawn to this documentary, Latter-Day Glory. You can learn more about it here: http://www.latterdayglorymovie.com/
It's currently in post-production, and will hopefully be released sometime next year. Here's a brief synopsis:
Jonathon Levi Powell, celebrity hair and makeup stylist, and Terry Blas, comic book artist and illustrator, both grew up in the Church of Latter Day Saints. While on a roadtrip journey of discovery, they’ll meet with former and current members of the LDS community including celebrities .
Along the journey we’ll explore Terry’s life at home in Portland, OR with his partner Scott, and Jonathon’s life on the road living between New York City and Miami, with his partner Kai. We’ll interview Jonathon’s family, who have been extremely welcoming of his sexuality, and see his life growing up in Seattle. Jonathon will revisit, for the first time, the site of his mission trip in West Virginia and Terry will return to his site in The Bronx, NY. They’ll end the trip by catching a screening of “Book of Mormon” with a group of gay ex-Mormons discussing their futures and how it gets better. We’ll also go to the home of the LDS church in Salt Lake City, interviewing clergy and ex-gay Mormons while catching scenes from the gay nightlife in SLC. Both will look into the technicalities of having your name and records permanently removed from the church.
With the current rise of suicides in the gay LDS community, we’ll address the issue through stories from survivors and families that have lost children, family members and friends to this devastating epidemic and try to find solutions and outreach to end the suffering through interviews with politicians, activists and experts in this subject matter.
I was able to contact the Executive Producer, Brandon Deyette, and asked him how I could help with the project, since it's a matter close to my heart. He asked me to share the project and to also tell people about my own process of coming to learn that I was worthy of love despite what the church had told me.
And so, I've come here to do just that.
The truth is that I didn't love myself for a long time, and part of me still doesn't. Part of me still struggles with the feelings of complete unworthiness I embraced throughout my time as a Mormon. I have the most wonderful boyfriend in the world, the sweetest man I've ever known who treats me like I'm someone special. I don't know how much any of you are aware of our situation, so I'll act as if I'm telling the story for the first time. He's my favorite writer on the internet, the person who inspired me to get back into writing after nearly six years of avoiding it. He's a writer over at AwesomeDude and Codey's World, and some of you may be familiar with his work. He writes under the name "EleCivil", and if you haven't read his work, you should. I personally recommend Laika, We're going to come back to him in a little bit, but I want you to know where we're headed.
Plus, I can't stop talking about him, so there's that, too.
As a kid, the church pretty much consumed my life. Not by choice, mind you. In fact, I was rather resistant to the programming my family and community wanted to thrust upon me. I was always the kid who didn't do what he was supposed to do, who used his tithing money to buy ice cream on Sunday when I stayed home sick from church. But, that didn't stop my parents from trying their damndest to get me to conform. They were always preaching, always trying to convince me that I should behave as 'Heavenly Father would want me to behave'. It didn't stick, but the one thing that did stick was that if I didn't do as I was supposed to, I was sinning, and if I was sinning, I was bad.
I was ten(a couple months shy of eleven) when I first really noticed I saw things a bit differently than my peers. I'd already found myself in a number of exploratory situations with some of my male friends by that point, but at that age I had a best friend who made me acknowledge a few things. I won't go into details for obvious reasons, what with this being a public place and all, but after some physical exploration we ended up in a ridiculous fight over him wanting to go further and me stopping him. Part of me stopped him because I knew I wasn't ready, but there was also that nagging thought at the back of my mind that what I was doing was wrong. I heard my parents saying something about how only men and women who were married were supposed to do the things he wanted to do with me, and so I resisted those advances.
The argument was extremely brief, and he walked away from me in anger. I decided to go home and think about it, then planned to come back and talk it over with him later, but as soon as I made it home I was grounded. My parents wouldn't let me go anywhere or do anything for three weeks (I'd ditched scouts to hang out with my best friend and also didn't tell my sister where I was for over four hours). By the time I had a chance to talk to him, he either wouldn't or couldn't talk to me. My memory is a bit fuzzy about how it ended, but he moved back in with his dad (He'd been living with his grandfather), and left the neighborhood, without me ever having a chance to have that conversation with him.
Memories are a funny thing. That memory twisted on me over the years. Little details changed and morphed to fit my evolving worldview. What I knew for certain was that this experience, this painful, unavoidable separation from my best friend (and someone who easily could have ended up as my first boyfriend), changed the way I saw things. The pain and unhappiness from the separation took on the form of a demon as I tried to rationalize why it had happened. During the next few years, as I went through puberty, I was preached to constantly about the evils of homosexuality, masturbation, pornography, and premarital sex, all of which I'd come to associate with my best friend and a number of boys since then. I knew what I'd felt back then, I tried to deny it but there was no use. I'd loved him as much as a ten-year-old could love another ten-year-old, and if those feelings were evil, then clearly I was evil.
The church hung over me like a shadow, and my earlier resistance to it shifted as I came to see myself as evil. Instead, I slowly came to latch onto the church as a lifeline, the only thing which could possibly rescue me from the darkness because, according to them, it was the only thing that could. I was depressed, suicidal, and wanted desperately to change who I was. I developed weight issues, something which I still struggle with. I developed an unhealthy addiction to pornography (Which, strangely, the Mormons are actually right that it can be addicting . . . I guess even a broken clock is right twice a day), and was looking for any way out I could find.
For a brief time, Buddhism offered a bit of stability to me, giving me a chance to get outside of my head by separating myself from desire, but whatever complex emotions I'd developed proved too strong, and as I approached the end of high school and missionary age (19 for the Mormons, for those who don't know), I nearly lost broke down completely. I was already evil, I knew that without a doubt. Nothing I'd done had changed anything, but now I was expected to serve a mission; I, the most evil person i knew, was expected to go out and preach a gospel I didn't fully believe because my family expected it of me. The only hope I had was that the mission would change me, that by doing this good thing I'd be able to free myself from my sexuality and finally be able to live a normal life.
I hoped God would heal me, so I would stop feeling that horrendous pain.
I served for two years in South Korea. I worked hard, but I slipped up time and time again. I couldn't get those thoughts out of my mind (Thankfully I never had a crush on any of my companions. that would've been a nightmare which probably would've killed me). By the end of my time as a missionary, I was every bit as attracted to men as I'd been before I left, only now I'd had two years of forced sexual repression to add onto the list of things affecting my mental state. When i came back I knew my days in the church were numbered; God had failed me, and I no longer believed.
Somehow I still made it almost a year until I learned that the Mormon church had spent tithing money, including money I'd contributed, during Proposition 8 in California. This was the final straw, the last nail in the 'Samuel's evil' coffin (There were other reasons I left the church, too, this was just the last). I was driving down the road with a friend of mine, and I remember narrowly avoiding an accident because the news had stunned me so terribly. I'd been raised on the claim(lie) that the church did not involve itself in politics(which I feel like an idiot for ever believing that). That Sunday I attended church for one of the last times, and I came home and told my parents I wasn't going to be attending anymore.
This story is already getting long, but I have to say that my parents' reactions were somewhat damaging to me, but not as damaging as I expected them to be. I expected to be thrown out of the house, to be disowned and told I was evil. They didn't do that, although my mother cried for a few months whenever she saw me and to this day still makes a point of mentioning how my disbelief hurts her. They both deny it, but I still feel disappointment and a bit of contempt whenever they look at me. One of the things I still struggle with is my relationship with them, and it's hard to see it any other way, especially since they now know about my sexuality, and, although they accept that I identify that way, I've never had the impression they fully accept me.
And that hurts, but it's not worth lying to myself over.
This is the part where things get better, but not before a little bit more of struggle.
After I left the church, things were hazy for awhile. There was a little bit of a high for awhile as I realized I'd finally stepped away from the chains which had bound me for so long. I started a new job, where I opened up to my coworkers about things I'd kept silent for years everywhere else, like my sexuality and a number of my political leanings. I finally told my three best friends about my sexual orientation (two of them pretty much already knew. Those three are the three reasons I survived high school and didn't kill myself, so thanks, guys!). They accepted me openly, and I had the beginnings of a support group. New job, great friends, and my heaviest secret now off my chest, I was able to start enjoying life.
That lasted until my new job ended, and I got sucked into nine months of unemployment, where I started to question if I was being cursed for my sins. I didn't want to believe that, but everything went wrong so quickly, and less than a year after I left the church, it was hard not to think that way. During this time, I went a little crazy to say the least. I was struggling to understand, to find meaning in my existence. I remembered my best friend from when I was ten, and I went to his grandfather's house since he still lived in my neighborhood. I learned my former best friend drove for a trucking company and in my warped way of thinking I latched onto that concept like the pseudo-lifeline of the church I'd latched onto before. I decided to become a commercial truck driver and join the same company.
First of all, I should never drive a semi . . . I get anxiety behind the wheel of anything larger than a minivan. But, I borrowed some money and somehow managed to get my CDL anyway. Then I went down to Phoenix for my orientation and new career as a truck driver for the company I'd had my sights set on for months.
Of course, once I was down there, I had a complete nervous breakdown because it was the wrong move for the wrong reasons. Once again, I was running from myself, from the darkness which had shrouded me since I'd first admitted my sexuality. By leaving my support network behind at home, I came face to face with my complete loneliness and had nowhere left to go to hide from it. A complete stranger, who I only know as Jim, helped me in that moment. We were sharing a hotel room while we both waited to be assigned to trucks. He's the first person who set me back on the right track when he taught me the most important lesson he knew.
If you spend your whole life doing something wrong for you, you'll spend your whole life unhappy, and that's the worst way to spend it.
I came back home with Jim's words fresh on my mind. I saw a counselor at my father's expense a few months later, and he gave me the next piece of the puzzle. I related everything I saw wrong with my life, how I 'should be in college', or how I 'should be doing something with my life', and he stopped me and said, "I want you to stop and notice how many times you've said the word 'should', and I want you to try something. For the next week, until we meet again, I want you to replace the word 'should' with 'could', and see what happens."
It was like a switch was turned on which hadn't been flipped for years. I began to see everything as a possibility, not an absolute. I came to see that there wasn't just one way to make it through life, that my truth didn't have to be, and in fact would never be, the exact same as any other person's truth. I'd crashed as I left the church and confronted the reality of what I'd seen as a wasted life, but I started to see it as what it was: a clean slate with a nearly infinite range of possibility.
A couple of years into my healing, I rediscovered some of the LGBT fiction I'd come to love as a teenager, one of the few things which had helped me realize I wasn't alone in my way of thinking during my darkest moments. And, after some time reading through a number of different stories, I discovered a story titled "Lives In Periphery", an unfinished(still . . . get to writing, my love! ) story which spoke to me in ways I can't completely describe, at least not in the time I have left to write this story. I emailed the author, telling him it made me want to write again, and he emailed me back encouraging me.
And I rediscovered writing.
Fast forward three years to the time of writing this, I've taken journey after journey as I've dealt with unresolved emotions through the written word. I've come to accept my sexuality, to accept my uniqueness, and to love those aspects of myself for what they are. I came to love the LGBT community, and truly feel like I was a part of it. I've made friends who've become family, and made connections which have changed my life completely.
And seven, almost eight, weeks ago, the author who encouraged me to write emailed me to tell me he'd loved my most recently completed novel so much he read it in one night. We started talking, and haven't stopped yet. It's the same conversation, it just pauses for sleeping and work . . . those pauses are the most unfortunate thing in the world.
Sometimes, the darkness still gets me. Sometimes I still feel like I'm unworthy of acceptance or love. I used to have to pick myself up out of that, and I'm grateful I have someone else, my dearest love, who is now always beside me when i need him most.
So, one last word for anyone reading this.
It does get better. It gets better when you learn that your truth is your own, and no one else's. It gets better when you realize that life is full of possibility. It gets better when you realize that you are fine just the way you are, and nothing is wrong with you for feeling the way you do.
The world needs you, and you are loved.