I discovered it like most boys do I suppose. It wasn't long after that I also discovered the church for myself, if that makes any sense, and quickly became an unreasonable zealot about it. When you throw being gay into the mix - I started a long cycle of shame and self-loathing that lasted from my early teens through my mission into my mid-20's.
Here's how I'm going to do this: Instead of trying to sew together a blog-post that flows from one idea to the next, I'm going to be lazy and give you little snatches of thought, opinion, and personal experiences without any effort to come to any earth-shattering conclusion.
- One of my mission companions was a real douche-bag about sticking to the smallest rules and regulations of being a missionary; to the point that we even lost a potential baptism because he thought it more important to leave in the middle of a baptismal discussion than be a few minutes late getting home at the end of the day.
....but I digress....
We were at a member's home for a dinner appointment. They sat us down in the living room while they finished making dinner. On the table they had a number of magazines, one of which was a Victoria Secret catalogue. I thought that was quite amusing, leaving such a magazine out with the missionaries over; so I picked it up, flipped through a couple pages and put it back down on the table, literally - 5 seconds. Elder Douchebag looked shocked and wispered sharply, "What are you doing?!!"
"Nothing," I said.
I didn't hear anything about it until our next interviews with the mission president a few weeks later. My companion told the mission president about the incident in his interview, and when it was my turn to get interviewed by the mission president I had literally no inkling what I was walking into. The mission president yelled at me, called me a liar, tied the magazine to my issues with masturbation (apparently completely forgetting my conversations with him months earlier about having same-sex attraction), and told me he wanted me to write him an essay explaining exactly what I was going to do to fix this problem. Disgusted, he ended the interview.
I took it to heart and wrote him the essay, delivering it to him during the next interviews. He asked if he could use the essay to help other missionaries who also struggled with masturbation. "Of course," I said.
Over the next series of months he gave me reports during our interviews about how many copies of my essay he gave out during his travels to the different mission zones. I remember once he said, "26 just last week."
That was my first revelation that almost everybody masturbates.
When I came home, and as I continued to struggle with being gay, I sought help on websites like www.lds-ssa.org. They made a request for articles, so I gave them a copy of the essay and they published it. The site is down now, but Google still has it cached and you can read the article (if you want) at this link:
- I've had many bishops over the years, especially as an "on the move" college student who rarely stayed in any one place more than a year. By the last few years of my activity in the church I had stopped mentioning masturbation to them; but before then my experience with bishops' reactions ranged from "forget about it" to "lets talk about disfellowship". Everybody knows different bishops can have wildly differing opinions and policies about various subjects. And as every anomaly about the church, believers tweak their own belief systems to accommodate it. For me, it was by no means the only reason, but I would be lying if I didn't say it was one of the reasons I left the church.
- While in college at BYU-Idaho I decided that my research paper for my English class would be on sexual addiction, specifically about the role guilt plays in keeping people in their addictions and the irony within Mormonism (and other conservative groups) that the guilt intended to stop people from these addictions actually keeps them in the cycle. I had a fantastic idea to set up a table in the Manwaring Student Center and ask willing students to anonymously fill out a questionnaire. The questionnaire would ask them something like how frequently they masturbated and how they felt it ranked in relation to other sins, something like that. At the last minute I decided to run my idea past my teacher. He put the kibosh on it, of course. Instead, I decided to take my questionnaire to the support group for.....[ahem], "Compulsive Behaviors" I was going to on campus every week. Almost everyone there filled one out. Overwhelmingly, people seemed to think their masturbating made them as bad, or almost as bad as murderers in the eyes of God.
Gradually through my mid-20's I decided to stop feeling bad about masturbating. Soon after, I decided to stop feeling bad about being gay. I'm sure most active members in the church would recognize something like a "path to apostasy" in that progression, and they would be right.
The truth is leaving the church saved my life and has made me whole. No regrets.