Mormon from My Eyes: Eliott Davidson
Seeing the (Agnostic) Light
By Eliott Davidson
The first time I learned about homosexuality, outside of schoolyard taunts, came from my junior high Sex Ed seminars. The instructor kindly told us that we shouldn’t worry if we were attracted to guys instead of girls, that it was a phase common in adolescents, and it would pass as we matured. This news came as a relief to me, as I’d started growing worried about how I was fascinated with guys but had no interest in girls.
But as I progressed through high school my anxiety returned. Why wasn’t this phase passing? I was ashamed that I was apparently emotionally retarded.
I stayed in that pattern until my early college years, when I took another look at the church I’d grown up in but had never paid much attention to. I liked what I saw. The Mormon church said that men should marry women and have families, and that one of the church’s missions was to help people reach that goal. I figured I could use all the help I could get, so I immersed myself eagerly in Mormondom.
For men my age, that meant leaving home for two years to be a Mormon missionary. I liked the thought of this. A long break from all my troubles at home and school. A forced separation from my vices, like the computer that I blamed for keeping me in my guy-digging state. They assigned me to Italy, and off I went.
I was eager to do everything right and have my slate be completely clean, so I confessed to my mission president that I was plagued by these strange feelings toward other men; it was the first time I had ever mentioned them to anyone. I was shocked by how un-disgusted he was. Not to worry, he told me. Since I had never had sex, there was no problem at all. I had nothing to be ashamed of, and when I returned home, he’d fix me up with a therapist who could fix me.
I was a very happy man for the rest of my mission. For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel like a pervert for liking guys, and there were lots of guys around to like.
When I returned home, I wasted no time enrolling in therapy to turn myself straight. I lucked out in that the therapist I got only practiced the more innocuous forms of therapy, telling me that I hadn’t received love from my dad as a child and so sought it from men as an adult. But when I looked for the studies that had established these theories, I found out that, well, they didn’t exist. These were theories that someone made up because they were compatible with the scriptures and made sense to a lot of gay men. Most people, after all, feel distant from their dad at some point in their lives, so these theories were an easy sell.
Frustrated, I sought out the most esteemed therapist in the area. He was hesitant to take me on because of my eagerness to turn straight, which he said was a rare result. He told me he would only accept me if I was prepared for the outcome to be a lifetime of celibacy.
This was quite a difficult possibility to accept. Give away my hopes of finding romantic love for my entire life, all for the sake of obeying the church? My belief in the church was not strong enough to justify such a move. But luckily, the church preaches a simple solution for that sort of scenario: Pray to God asking if the church is true, and God will confirm to your heart that yes, it is.
So I began fervently praying for confirmation of the truth of the church, and that celibacy was what the Lord wanted for gay men. No answer. I prayed more. Emptiness. It may sound like a silly way to spend my time, but this sort of back-and-forth with God is one of the central tenets of Mormonism.
Troubled, I went to my bishop and told him that the Holy Spirit wasn’t speaking to me. His response was that surely either I wasn’t praying correctly or that I was sinning so grievously that I could no longer hear the Lord. I knew neither was the case and was further troubled by his dismissal of my experience. What is the use of asking the Lord something if the only acceptable answers are “Yes” or “Pray more...”?
After much more prayer, I finally had to accept that God wasn’t going to be sending me any revelations. To me, that meant that either the Mormon God didn’t exist, or that He wanted me to figure out for myself what was right. Either way, the path forward was clear. Judging from their ignorant comments about homosexuality, the leaders of the church did not understand what it was they condemned. Judging from my heart, these feelings were good and not evil. When I went to church, I left feeling spiritually spent, not strengthened.
Another of the central tenets of Mormonism is to never rely on others to dictate what your beliefs should be. So I decided that the most Mormon choice I could make would be to leave the church behind and follow my heart. It was one of the most liberating and exhilarating choices I’ve ever made, to finally feel like I owned my own beliefs instead of following someone else’s.
And I have never regretted that choice.
Top photo: iStock