Finding Warmth and Love in Affirmation
"I have discovered that being gay is a massive blessing in my life – not only for myself, but also for those around me”
by Micah Bisson
This is the fourth in a series of articles featuring the voices of Affirmation. If you are interested in having your voice featured here, please contact Olin Thomas by visiting www.affirmation.org/contact/ex_dir.
Somehow, I've always known that I was different from others growing up in the church. I was baptized when I was 8 years old. Throughout school, I wouldn't look at the girls like my peers did. I can remember the feelings as early on as 6th grade, but didn't do about with it then. My biological parents separated when I was less than 2 years old, so adding the gay element to the existing issues wasn't a very good idea. I thought the best thing I could do was educate myself on the topic.
The internet didn't exist as we know it today, so resources about being gay were not as readily available. Early on I relied on the public library system to try to educate myself on sexuality. Fortunately the local library system would allow you to reserve a book, and they would mail it to you in a plain-white envelope, and you could return it in person in a drop-slot. After learning I wasn't the only one who as attracted to other guys, it turned into how to deal with this within the church, which only supported opposite-sex pairings. The only answer I could come up with was: concealment. I dived into church by way of music as early as age 9, serving as president of deacon's and teacher's quorum, and just not mentioning it to anyone.
In 1994, my family moved to Denver, Colorado due to a job transfer. Well, it wasn't exactly Denver – Enter Elizabeth, Colorado: 50 miles south-east of Denver's city/county line. 2,500 people in the town limits, about 400 students in the entire high school. Our class, at 140 or so was the largest that school had seen to-date. Half the vehicles in the parking lot were pickup trucks, owned by a variety of rural cowboy-type boys, whose primary interests included football, hunting, and girls. Surely no little queer was going to be welcome here. Elizabeth was (and still is) anything but liberal. I felt stranded, isolated, and very alone. I hated myself for being gay, and there was nothing I could do about it.
At the time, America Online was providing their way of getting online, so I found a way to subscribe. This was in the days of AOL version 2.0. The World-Wide Web was not an option, but at least I had a resource to learn more about being gay. This was extraordinarily helpful, since I now had an outlet to the gay community, despite it being the AOL-version of the gay community. This began my double life I would lead for a few years to come.
I didn't start driving until I was 18, so then I finally made it into Denver. I visited the local GLBT community center, including Rainbow Alley, a drop-in center for youth 24 and younger. I found some degree of acceptance there but a severe lack of understanding of what it meant to be a gay Mormon. I didn't return because I was looking for ways to deal with my spirituality and sexuality, which they couldn't fully help me with.
Church leaders pressured me to go on a mission. I knew enough about my orientation that spending 2 years with another guy my age would probably not be the best situation, so instead I joined the US Army. I went in as a piano player, and spent the next 2 years doing so. It also helped avoid the mission call. While I was active duty, I took a huge risk and went to my first gay bar with another active-duty soldier (who was also gay). By that time, I had accepted that I was gay and my time in the military was not going to last. I got out of the Army and stayed in the VA Beach area, kind of as a test-run of being out. I was still attending church, though. I would go out on Friday and Saturday nights, getting in somewhere around 2 AM. Sunday mornings I still played the organ for sacrament meeting. Leading this double life was really starting to take its toll on me. While I did not find support for being gay and Mormon, I did find the support from the few people I chose to reveal my secret to, which was enough at the time. One evening, I remember the branch president stating at a fireside that if "we [the attendees] left the branch and we were not married, they [the branch leadership] had not done their job." I was really put off by this attitude, and knowing they weren't going to marry me to the really cute singing boy in the branch, I knew this wasn't for me. A few months later, I packed up back to Colorado.
I was a changed individual after getting back. I had been out and liked it. I wasn't thrilled about returning to church, but did anyway.
The year 2002 was pivotal for me. A few months after returning to Colorado, I came out to my mom. She was the one to ask me, and I waited until she did so, because I know she'd be as ready to hear the answer "yes" as she ever would. She had a tough time at first, but got better with the idea over time. Sometime in the spring, I placed my first call to the Affirmation hotline. Ben Jarvis was the first person I could really talk to about being gay and Mormon because he actually got it! He encouraged me to attend Affirmation's annual conference, where I could meet others like me. After a few subsequent calls, I knew I had to. Later than summer, I went to Rock Springs, WY to perform in a summer stock musical theatre group. This is the point that I made the conscious choice to stop attending church. I think it was harder for my parents than it was for me – I had left mentally long ago, especially with the self-acceptance of my homosexuality. It kind of solidified the whole deal, and made it more of a reality. By that time, though, my parents were doing better, and helped me through it.
That summer I had the opportunity to visit Salt Lake City for the first time. Growing up, my family regularly watched Music and the Spoken Word. I had always been fascinated with the Tabernacle Organ, and it was a life dream to see that organ and play it some day. I had written numerous letters to one of the organists there, and was denied each time I wrote in. I finally traveled on a weekend I had off from the musical group, and I went to the Tabernacle for the first time on July 14th, 2002. I spoke to the organist performing the daily recitals. That afternoon, she invited me back, and at 2:14 PM, got to sit at the console of the massive Tabernacle Organ and played two numbers. I totally fulfilled a life dream there – a true miracle in my eyes. I was on top of the world, and even writing this article, I distinctly recall that elated feeling. The thing is, I had consciously made the decision to leave the church – yet I was still blessed with this amazing opportunity. I knew for absolute certainty that I was still able to receive blessings despite my decision to leave the church.
Through some encouragement from a friend in San Francisco, I made plans to go to Las Vegas, NV for my first Affirmation conference. My friend had attended his first conference the year prior, and suggested that I attend with him this year. I remember feeling like, "these are my people … this is where I belong." I can say with absolute certainty and truth. Since then, I have tried to get as involved with Affirmation as possible. I am happy to have served as the Denver Chapter Director since 2004, invited Affirmation to Denver for the annual conference in 2005, and I am now thrilled to be serving as the Youth committee chair this year. San Pedro will be my 7th consecutive conference. I make every effort to attend them all.
I have discovered that being gay is a massive blessing in my life – not only for myself, but also for those around me. It has been a tool for co-workers, friends and other acquaintances to learn that those around them are not what they expect, and that not all gays are like Jack McFarland (Will & Grace) or Brian Kinney (Queer as Folk).
Many churches and denominations have made very affirming statements that they accept all God's children in full fellowship regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Unfortunately, the LDS Church does not make such statements. We are here for people like who I was in 2001/2002. The church's anti-gay statements and actions have only increased Affirmation's need to exist. Many gay Mormons have come into our fold at some point in time, and Affirmation has served a critical role for many of us. I think that Affirmation is just as important to those who are not actively participating in Affirmation meetings as it is to those who attend regularly. We are here for those who are not ready to come out for fear of being cut off, denied blessings, or kicked out of their family's home. In 2008, Affirmation is positioning itself to be there for those who are rejected from the Mormon Mold, and need help and support.
I invite anyone who is feeling outcast, left out or abandoned by the church or their family to reach out to Affirmation. You will find warmth and love in our fold, just the way that you are created – a gay child of God.