29 June 2011

Where Are They

Several friends have recently told me of numerous e-mails they’ve each gotten from schoolmates or mission companions who’ve essentially come out in those e-mails, either explicitly or implicitly by asking questions that only a closeted person would think of. It’s startling, really, how many. Active, faithful Mormon guys. And these are only the ones I’ve heard of. Obviously there’s got to be more.

Statistics I’ve seen from various sources say that between 1% and 10% of any given population will be gay. In 2007, 80% of all Mormon missionaries were young single elders. I’ll assume that proportion is still current. As of the April 2011 General Conference statistical report, there were 52,225 missionaries serving at the end of 2010.

Combining these statistics suggests that somewhere between 400 and 4100 of the LDS missionaries now serving are gay. And these are just the guys (I couldn’t find statistics for how many single female missionaries were serving). They will come home and, if they’re strong enough, start looking for people like my friends who are out and who can answer questions about how to reconcile who they are with what they’ve been taught.

I admit, I envy these guys. Things still aren’t where they should be, but they’re a lot easier now. When I returned from my mission, before the days of widespread acceptance of civil unions, growing acceptance of marriage equality, and the openness that now prevails, I intuitively understood that coming out of the closet was unthinkable. So I did what I was told was my only hope for happiness: stifled and tried to kill off that part of myself, got married to a beautiful girl who did not deserve what ended up happening, and learned to be a very good actor.

Imagine living your life as if you were on a stage 24/7. Every waking moment having to monitor your own actions, words, nuances, thoughts, even the way you move and dress, for fear of tipping someone off to who you really are because if they found out, you’d be at risk of losing everything. That’s what it was like. Exhausting. Ultimately the marriage ended and that made it possible for me to get off the stage.

So now I’m hearing all these stories about gay Mormon guys popping up right and left. Some more traditional types think it’s an “epidemic” of people who have “decided” to be gay. That’s silly, of course; it’s well-settled that nobody “decides” to be gay. Or straight, for that matter. You just are what you are. All we’re seeing is more gay people who are comfortable de-cloaking and being at ease with who they are. And that’s a good thing.

But it makes me wonder, too. According to everything I’ve read, the proportion of gay people in any given population has always been fairly constant. That means back when I was a missionary, and just afterward when I was at college, there were hundreds of gay guys serving and at school with me too. Yet I look around me and see how many in my demographic there aren’t as compared to, say, the missionary age guys, and I ask myself “Where are they? Surely they’re somewhere. Where?”

The only thing I can think of is they’ve already drifted away from the LDS church, or they did what I did and are still there, but padlocked in a basement below the closet door. Married, with kids, working jobs and in the church, set in careers and being husbands and fathers and doing all that normal Mormon stuff. And probably just suffering in silence. Still on stage, like I was. Perhaps they’ve already given up any thought or hope that things could or should be different. Too invested in marriages and kids and reputations and careers now, fearing it’d cost more to disentangle than they’d recoup by coming out and being true to who they really are.

Some of them may be content with that. Some may still be suffering, perhaps even agonizing, over the what if’s. Some may have gotten so numb from the suffocating that they can’t imagine ever changing things. On auto-pilot. It’s easy to do in the Mormon church, where virtually every aspect of your life can be dictated for you, if you let it.

It was tough when my marriage ended. It’s still difficult sometimes. I feel awful for what happened to both of us because I, trying to be the faithful priesthood holder, trusted the “inspired” counsel of leaders who obviously didn’t know what the hell they were talking about.

That’s past. Now I’m able to build a new more authentic life. And it’s been great, wonderful, exhilarating. I can’t imagine going back on stage. Nothing would be worth carrying that burden again.

But I look around at my demographic on the road of life, a ways ahead of those friends who are getting all the e-mails. And there are far fewer of us I can see on the road at this stage than at theirs. I know there must be just as many of us in the world. But it looks like most of them are still cloaked. And if they’re still cloaked at this stage, chances are that’s where they’ll stay.

If they freely choose that, then okay, that’s their prerogative. But I freely chose it too, and I know how I ended up feeling. And how I feel now. So my heart breaks for those of them who are staying silent and invisible out of duty, or fear, or inertia, or apathy. Because I know how they’re feeling and what they’re missing. I wish there were some way I could find them and say “I know. I understand. I’ve been there. It can get better if you want it to. It’s really not as scary as you think. There are so many of us waiting to welcome you.”

Everyone has to decide what's best for their own life, of course. But I think Professor Dumbledore was right: “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”


kuri said...

The number of gay Mormon men is probably actually higher than average, since the more older brothers one has, the more likely one is to be gay, and many Mormons have large families.

Anonymous said...

Just happened to me last night at a gay mixer... I met a really nice guy about my age, 46, who I enjoyed talking to. He explained that his partner was in Spain and that he'd be joining him soon (bummer for me, but still a really nice guy to have as a friend). Through the course of our interesting conversation it surfaced that both his partner and I were ex-Mormons, returned missionaries....yada, yada, yada. This happens to me all the time. But it's almost always in the third person...someone's partner, or close friend... not the person I'm actually interacting with.

I certainly don't lead with the ex-Mormon thing, but if you talk to me for more than 15 min you're going to ask about my family (I have 4 kids) and why.... I went through a period where I tried to hide it...but it's who I am so take it or leave it. I suppose some gay men stay in that ashamed to be ex-mo space and don't share that.

Mike said...

There is no shame in being a gay ex-mormon. I believe you can be a stronger person because of it.

Mormons raise the sons to be loving young men, who are kind and compassionate to others around them. Of course that's not everyone.

Mormon men are taught to be monogamous, and for some of us married mohos we can find a way to make it work. For those whose pain is too great to remain in a straight relationship and decide to leave such a marriage and the religion they were raised with, I would like to believe that those same principles would be applied towards a gay relationship.

In any event these gay mormons would make great spouses and boyfriends when still applying basic gospel priciples in their lives. Plus some of us will have children of our own which would be quite impossible without the paths we have taken. This adds tremendous value to a man, in my opinion.

However these men are also conflicted and are victims of their fear and their feelings of unworthiness. I wonder what the statistics are for divorced gay mormon dads who can't bear to be a part of their religion and the image of what mormon families should be like. Of course we love our wives as well, what of that? And what of our children? How many are able to keep custody of our kids and get to have the kind of relationship with them we want after a divorce?

In any event we are men of worth and great talent. I think we would be considered to be great catches in the eyes of sane gay men in the world, don't you think?

Meh, what's the point of considering the possibilities unless we do not render ourselves available for such possibilities?