By Andrew-Paul Shakespere
I first realized I was gay when I was fourteen. Simply, all my friends were becoming increasingly interested in girls, and it just wasn't happening to me. After a period of curiosity as to why not, I figured it out.
In the early eighties, the explanation was scary. Homosexuality was legal, but so was discrimination. The public's attitude ranged from hostile to paranoid, with a widespread belief in a "gay conspiracy" to subvert society. "Fags" were dirty, pathetic and embarrassing — at best, hilarious; at worst, child molesters.
With no-one to turn to for support, I persuaded myself that I was "normal." Today, I'm amazed by my self-deceptive abilities: I could persuade myself that just about anything was what it didn't appear to be, and did so for years. Nevertheless, I always felt alienated, different to other people in an important way. Something else, I concluded, was due to just about anything, except the obvious.
I joined the LDS church in 1988, introduced by a work colleague. I can't deny that the church did me a lot of good in my first year: It gave me stability, inspiration and fulfillment, and I loved it deeply. Another new convert, Jerry, was called to fellowship me, and we struck a "particularly close friendship,” as I persuaded myself.
A few months later, Jerry and I went camping in the Swiss Alps. Although it was late summer, the nights at that altitude were unexpectedly cold, and we zipped our sleeping bags together to keep warm. This was first experience of sex. Each morning, I would awake full of guilt at, I was sure, having broken the law of chastity, but we were kids full of hormones, and each night, despite our agreements that it must never happen again, it always did.
The fling ended with our trip. Jerry moved away soon after, and I was so ashamed, I decided not to involve the bishop, but to repent privately. I told myself that this signified nothing; the prophets had said that homosexuality didn't exist; ordinary people just engaged in homosexual acts, and we had just been two dumb kids fooling around. No way would it happen again.
My mission was a trial. Generally, I did not get on with my companions, although I liked most of the better-looking ones! It was late one evening in my final month, my companion emerged from the shower wearing only a towel. He was a tall, strapping man, blessed with a physique to die for. As he stood before me, his towel fell off. Although we laughed at the incident, the quarter-second glimpse of that body, naked, full-frontal, was fixed in my mind, thrusting forward every few minutes, cascading testosterone into my blood stream.
I realized there was something about a man's body that really turned me on, and this could not be "normal.” No doubt about it: I was a "fag.” But I was also a proud Mormon and a missionary, and obviously, I could not be gay as well — I knew the teachings! While I might not be able to stop myself being homosexual, I thought, I could live how I wanted: Gay or not, I would live straight. And so, when I masturbated (which I did all through my mission, like pretty much everybody), I would fantasize that I was a woman being screwed by my companion. That way, it was heterosexual!
Ricks College followed my mission, here I formed another "particularly close friendship" with Nathan, a local Rexburg boy. We were inseparable, even sleeping together frequently, although nothing happened. Those missed opportunities sadden me today — Jerry was just sex, but Nathan would have been making love — but I think we were both too scared to admit our full feelings for one another, or to make the first move.
I had several girlfriends, and would become increasingly uncomfortable with each of them within a couple of weeks before dumping them abruptly and cruelly. One of them was Nathan's sister: She took my "Let's be friends” line at face value and after considerable effort on her part, we did become friends again, and remained firmly so, having cut out all romantic pretensions.
Nathan left to serve a mission. For the first time in my life, I knew the meaning of "heartbreak:" I genuinely felt that my heart had split in two. The torture was physical; doubled over on my knees, throwing up, I screamed "God help me” as I wondered how I would survive such torment. God's answer was Ben, a quiet but immensely kind man who visited me daily to hold me, hug me, pray with me, and let me bawl on his shoulder.
After his mission, two years later, Nathan spent one more night with me. I will never forget the moment he whispered: "If you were a woman, I'd marry you,” or the knowledge that at that moment, I would have sacrificed my mother to have been female.
Without Nathan, my whole perception of life altered: Rexburg, which once I'd thought of as a pleasant, sleepy town, was now a scrubby backwater. BYU, which followed, I hated, and even church attendance became a recurring nightmarish exercise in tedium. When I prayed, I doubted God listened or cared, and as more girlfriends came and went, I cursed Him: Testing faith was one thing, but there was something inhuman about an omnipotent god who refused to grant the thing you desired more than anything else, and for no obvious reason.
The breach came the last Sunday of Mach 1994, when I remembered it was fast-and-testimony meeting. In despair at the thought of enduring dozens of silly co-eds bursting into tears and making fools of themselves, I made the decision not to go. I haven't gone since.
Lamann was a German who I'd known since Ricks College. He'd always been wild, so I'd mostly stayed away from him. But that fall, when he returned from his summer break in Phoenix as a drug-addicted hedonist who grew marijuana in his bedroom in the BYU German house, we indulged together. My last year at BYU, we danced and gambled, drank by the gallon, took drugs by the pound, and had huge amounts of sex, both with each other and with anyone else available. And no, I never used a condom, and arrived in Wales whith a raging dose of the clap.
Prifysgol Cymru, Coleg Caerdydd (University of Wales, Cardiff Campus) was a breath of fresh air following the pressure cooker of BYU's and Provo society. Wales was a small, pretty country in Europe, filled with an astounding range of nationalities, religions and cultures who all got along in an atmosphere of mutual respect and tolerance. If anything, it was cool to be gay, and homophobia was despised as a base bigotry no better than racism.
I arrived in August 1995, and by November, I was ready to announce my sexuality to the world. For some reason, a religious leader seemed an appropriate place to start, but who? I knew the LDS bishop would have nothing to say that I was interested in hearing, so instead, I approached the university's Anglican chaplain. He sat me down in an armchair, served tea, and took a seat on the sofa opposite: "What did you want to say?”
Knees trembling, palms sweating, teacup rattling, I stammered it out. He nodded and asked if I was sure, then blew me out of the water: "I think being gay is a great blessing from God.”
He told me that he had once been called to run a home for disturbed children, and where he had met a lot of people from the caring professions. Of the men, the majority had been gay, and he had formed an impression that something about gay men made them more able to care for others than most straight men. "The gospel is all about love,” he said, "nothing which helps someone love his neighbour can be bad.”
Encouraged and excited, I ran home and came out to my roommates, who were surprised but supportive. Then I came out to friends: I didn't lose a single friend, and I made a few extra. I never came out to my mother: One day suddenly, she asked me a question on the phone which made it obvious she knew. And although I remembered my parents, when I was young, making frequent homophobic comments, that all changed — even homosexuality wasn't coming between them and their little boy!
I never went back to America. I graduated, got a job with a huge European blue chip in Wales, and met a new Nathan; not a believer, but a decent, moral man who thinks the world of me, and I of him.
Looking back, I don't hate the LDS church. I might even consider going back, if it changed. The general authorities are, I'm sure, sincere and well-intentioned, but misguided. But if you were locked in a cozy world where you never met anyone for weeks on end who didn't have a temple recommend, wouldn't you develop a slanted view of the world?
One thing I have never done is reveal the secrets of the temple. I promised I wouldn't, and I respect LDS sensitivities enough that I never will.
As I conclude, the sun is setting, huge and orange, glinting off the waters of the beautiful Cardiff Bay. I know that God exists. Jesus Christ died for my sins. And Nathan's too, although he doesn't know that.
I can't describe how much I love them all.