A Mormon Pioneer: Facing My Truths-My Own Story
By Frank G. Hull
I remember my baptism.
I was eight years old and one of the first to be baptised in our new baptismal font. Brother Ryan (name changed) baptised me. The chapel had just been completed. The Halifax branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was born. How befitting that my rebirth would happen at such an exciting time. Frank George Hull is now a Latter-day Saint. From that day forward I knew that I would now be accountable for all my sins, and that I would do my best to choose the right.
In primary class, my teacher gave me my “Choose The Right” ring. I was seven years old and I remember Sister Smithe’s (name changed) words, “Frankie, you are such a righteous little boy. You are a shining example to your mom and dad. I want you to have this C.T.R. ring. It will help you to remember to always choose the right.” Later in my life, Sister Smithe and I would become very close. I spent a lot of time during my summers at Brother and Sister Smithe’s house. My parents were often fighting. Home was a very unhappy place for me. The Church became my everything at an early age. Looking back, I now see that there was so much I did not understand at that time. I was a child and everything had an answer. Right and wrong was very clear.
I started speaking in Church at nine years old. I was the little boy with the strong testimony. Sundays were my escape from home. I wanted what everyone at Church had. A Mommy and Daddy who got married in the Temple for time and eternity. Family home evening on Monday nights. Daddy would give a lesson out of the Book of Mormon. No coffee, no cigarettes, no tea, no alcohol, and because this tranquility did not exist in my home life, I looked down on my parents: Dad for fighting and hitting Mom, Mom for getting drunk and hitting me. I figured that the Church was the answer for my family. As I got older I realised that it was not. The child in me was fading fast and at twelve years old, reality would hit. Little Frankie would be all grown up in just four short years.
The beginning of 1985 was an exciting time for me. My birthday was coming up on January second and I was going to be twelve years old. Brother Ryan would ordain me into the Aaronic Priesthood as a Deacon. All worthy Latter-day Saint boys of twelve years of age receive the Aaronic Priesthood. That same year I would also discover my crushes on men. Summertime came and I was going swimming almost every day at Sister Smithe’s apartment building. I was also spending a lot of time with the Missionaries. I had a secret crush on Elder Scott (named changed). Before I continue, let me explain what an Elder is. At eighteen years old, the Church ordains men into the Melchizedek Priesthood. You then have the title of Elder. At nineteen, you serve a Mission to teach and baptise others into the Church. Missionaries travel and live together in pairs. As a Deacon I could tract door to door with the missionaries to seek out new converts for the church.
I met a missionary who I became close to. His name was Elder Morris (named changed). I talked to him over the phone every night. I told him about my home life. He made promises to me. One promise that stands out clearly in my mind, was his promise to take me back to California after he was finished serving his mission for the Church. He told me not to talk to people about our phone calls. During one of our conversations, I asked Elder Morris if I could go dooring with him and his companion Elder Hanson (named changed). He went one step further and received my mother’s permission to stay with him for the month of August. I was so excited. I was going to be the youngest person ever to live with missionaries. Elder Morris told me not to tell anyone at church. I had no idea that my stay with the missionaries would take away my childhood, tear down my trust, and take away my faith in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
This is the first time I have ever written a record of my stay with the missionaries in so much detail. I feel like I am jumping of a high diving board with my eyes closed. So here it goes.
I remember looking through the picture window in the living room waiting for the missionaries to arrive. My suitcases were packed at the front door of the house. When the white K-car pulled up the driveway I felt this surge of excitement through my whole body. “Mom they’re here! They’re here!” I shouted. My mom gives me a kiss goodbye. She says, “Now be a good boy Frankie.” My mom was happy for me. She always trusted people from the Church. I think that she knew it made me happy. I think she also believed that the Church could provide for me in ways that she could not. My mother had joined the Church shortly after I was born, when she was sixteen or seventeen. She had always allowed members to take me in the past. So giving me up to the missionaries was no different then seeing me off to Brother Ryan or Sister Smithe’s home.
It was a basement apartment in Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia that would become my temporary home. I was picked up on a P-Day. Preparation Day for the missionaries, which was every Monday. On that day, missionaries have to prepare for the week, do housework, discuss new converts, make lesson plans and send in statistical data for the Church. I remember the musty smell. The entrance was on the side of the house and Elder Morris assisted me down the cement stairs. His companion Elder Hanson followed behind with my suitcases. The entranceway was through the kitchen. The small living room was off to the side. There was a separate bedroom with two single beds, two dressers, and a small bathroom with a bathtub, shower and of course a toilet. After supper, we went over our plans for the next day. There was a challenge. How was I going to walk the long distances? Walking door to door would be difficult for me because I have cerebral palsy. We had that white K-car, but missionary work was mainly knocking on doors finding new converts. I could walk short distances, but missionaries walk long distances. Elder Morris decided that he and Elder Handson cold take turns carrying me on their shoulder.
I enjoyed the days in the hot summer sun. Most people would welcome us with refreshments. We’d introduce them to the Church in the hopes that eventually they’d be baptised. (There were two baptisms during my stay with the missionaries). My first week with the missionaries was wonderful. I slept on the couch in the living room. We were in by 10pm, to bed by 10:30pm and had to arise by 6:30am. Elder Morris would often drop Elder Hanson off at home and take me to McDonald’s or Dairy Queen for a treat. We had many long talks. I told him things like, “I don’t want to go home,” and “I wish you could be my dad.”
Everything to me was fun and best of all it was better than home. Elder Morris represented everything I wanted. I thought: He’ll take me away from home. I’ll live in California with him. He’ll get married in the temple with a nice Latter-day Saint girl. We’ll be the family I always wanted. I remember it started at the end of my first week with the missionaries. Saturday night we went on a split. Elder Hanson with Elder Scott and Elder Morris was with me. We had an appointment that finished early. Elder Morris and I went back to the apartment alone. Elder Morris was complimenting me on my work, saying, “You are such a good little missionary.”
I remember telling him that I was not such a good missionary. I had a secret. Tears were in eyes, as I confessed myself to Elder Morris. Finally, after beating around the bush, I just said it directly. “I think I like Elder Scott. I have these feelings.” I thought for sure that he would be mad at me. I would never use the word “gay.” That was a bad word and the thought that I might be gay was terrifying to me. Elder Morris led the conversation from there. He asked me questions that were very difficult to answer. Two questions that stand out in my mind clearly were, “Have your privates ever got bigger down there?” and “Have you ever had dreams about Elder Scott?” After I answered yes to these questions I knew he understood exactly what I was talking about. He knew that I was scared. I told him that I felt alone. He assured me that I was not alone. He invited me to sleep in the same bed with him that night. We shared his bed for the rest of my stay. To this day I still feel some guilt for accepting his offer to share his bed.
My memories of my nights in the same bed with Elder Morris come back to me in flashes. He’d cuddle me in the night. If he placed my body on top of his I knew that, this meant he’d be touching me sexually. He’d place his hands on my backside. He’d stimulate my genitals from behind. Sometimes he would kiss me. I kept quiet. Sometimes when he’d take down my pyjama pants I’d shake my head no. To this day, I wonder if Elder Hanson knew what going on in the very same room that he was sleeping in.
August passed. I’d never speak of the abuse. Or so I thought. Late September of 1985 I went swimming at Sister Smithe’s indoor pool. The missionaries from Sackville also went swimming. Elder Hanson was the first to leave the pool to go up upstairs to the apartment. Sister Smithe, Elder Morris and I remained. We were playing and having fun together. When it was time for us to leave Sister Smithe witnessed Elder Morris touching my backside as we entered the male change room. While driving me home that evening she asked me a direct question. “Does Elder Morris touch you in your privates?” I was trembling and I just nodded my head yes. The following Sunday, I was brought into the Bishop’s office. Soon after, I met with the Mission President. The main concern of the Church leaders was to keep me quiet. I was told not to tell my parents or anyone else. Elder Morris was transferred away. That was the last I saw of him. The Church always taught us to obey our leaders. And I was going to do the right thing. Later in my life, I realized that doing the right thing for me would be more important then doing the right thing for the Church.
It was 1991 and I had just got my apartment in Richmond Hill Ontario. I was still an active member of the Church. I was now an Elder and a year away from going on my Mission. However I would never go. I had a close friend Brian. I told him about Elder Morris and in 1992 he helped me scribe a report to the R.C.M.P. The outcome was a warrant for Elder Morris’s arrest in Canada. The American authorities never forced him to come to Canada to face charges. During that year, I’d also come out as a gay man. In coming out, I realized that I would have to exile myself from the Church, and just like the Mormon Pioneers who travelled to Salt Lake City to escape persecution from the others, I had to escape persecution from them. I went to church court to be judged for excommunication. There were 12 church leaders in the room. This included the Stake president who is the leader for all the Churches in the local area. Before entering the court I met with the Stake President. I was told not to mention anything about the sexual abuse and the R.C.M.P report or he would stop the court. This angered me and I told him that I would tell the truth. I was determined not to let any church leader scare me into hiding. I told them that I was gay. I told them about my abuse. The court was not stopped and for the first time I saw the church leaders as human beings who make mistakes like all of us. I was equal to them. They decided not to excommunicate me. Instead I was sent to Church Social Services for help. I only attending two sessions. They wanted me to go through some kind of treatment. They were not specific. I prayed about this and I had a bad feeling. Something was not right. I heard of the torture other gay men had to go through in the past. Things like shock treatments to your genitals, or brainwashing using guilt. It was time for me get away while I still had some sense of who I really was. With no support system and my spiritual world in an upheaval, I discovered an organization by the name of Affirmation. I was reading a book I found at the library called, “Out of the Bishop’s closet.” The book had mentioned Affirmation Los Angeles, an organization for Gay Lesbian, BI and transgendered Latter-day Saints.
My first contact with Affirmation was when I was still active in the Church. I spoke with a man named Angel who really was my angel. Yes, Angel was his real name. (Years later, I found out that he died from an AIDS related illness). I was around twenty-one or twenty-two at the time. I was feeling suicidal. I needed help. I found the phone number for Affirmation through directory assistance in Los Angeles, California. Affirmation gave me the help I needed to see that I had the freedom to find my own spirituality. Not from the Church, the bible or the Book of Mormon but from within myself. I discovered that the wisdom and strength I needed to go on did not come from a book. I just had to look within me.
When I moved from Richmond Hill to Toronto I did not tell anyone at Church. And I have not looked back since. I moved downtown from the suburbs because I wanted to be closer to the gay community and wheeltrans (a transportation service for the disabled). However I still found myself missing the Church. About five years ago, in 1994, I met a man while I was dancing on my knees at a bar called Colby’s. He thought it strange to see a man on his knees dancing. At first he thought I was drunk. I assured him that I just couldn’t dance standing. To my surprise he didn’t ask me about my disability. He just said, “dance on my feet.” Later he walked me home (Well I drove in my electric scooter) and we took our time so we could talk. He told me he was HIV positive and I replied, “So, I have brain damage. Sounds like a good beginning to me.”
So began a new journey for me. Enrico Franchella, breaking every rule. Always shape shifting, changing, not fitting a mould. Loved for his courage, strength, his ability to see others and not through others. New journeys and new beginnings are never ending.
Remembering we aren’t here to see through each other, but here to see each other through. I was with him and stayed at the hospital by his side the whole time. There was a five-year waiting list to get into the subsidised housing in Toronto, and I needed to be close to Enrico to look after him. I prayed sincerely and received an apartment in two months. He passed away in my arms on May 16 at 11:30 PM, 1996. I wish I could have married him in the Temple. I still find that thought strange because gay marriage in a Latter-Saint Temple is considered sacrilegious, yet the thought is comforting because a Temple marriage is for “time and all eternity.”
In 1997 I went to my first Affirmation conference in Salt Lake City. I met lots of other Gay Latter-day Saints. We shared stories and I even talked to others who had also experienced sexual abuse. There were workshops on relationships, homophobia, and there was even a Gay group of students from Brigham Young University, a Latter-day Saint university in Provo, Utah. I felt like I was back home again and being with all those queer-Saints made me see that I could apply my value system to who I was. Being gay only forced me to become more open-minded. So being gay was a blessing. Meeting Gay and Lesbian couples excited me the most. Some had been together for more then 20 years. I figure that there was hope for myself to find a stable relationship. This is still a challenge to date. I even dated while I was at the conference. I met a man named Travis who took me to see the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. He was a gentleman. He showed me the same affections that straight couples show in public. He had his arm around me as we were sitting in our seats. An usher approached. I just told him that, “Everything is fine Elder. We are hoping the boys in the tenor section of the choir will notice.” In confronting that usher, I now realize how that moment was very healing for me. I had no quilt about my sexual orientation. The truth had set me free and in spite of my internal conflicts with the church I learned to except the Mormon in me and the Gay man in me.
My next challenge would be sex. Oh I am full of a lot of stories when it comes to sex. But the reality was that I never really enjoyed it. Becuase of my experience with sexual abuse and the church, I felt guilty and dirty and I found it hard to feel safe with any man. Not until I finally allowed myself to communicate my sexual needs and my fears with others. To my surprise good sex came during a very recent one-night stand. (He even told me that he had boyfriend, so say goodbye value system). It was not my ideal romance. He was not going to be my eternal husband. But he was a part of my first steps to healthy sex. The details are explicit. My sex life in the past consisted of blowing my partner off or jacking him off in a dark room at the bath house, theatre etc. They got off. I did not. When I got tired of this kind of sex. I just became a-sexual. My hand was safer.
I met Patrick like I did Enrico, on my knees. He told me he found me delicious. I asked him if he would assist me off my knees to my chair so we could chat. I found him extremely sexy. I wanted sex and said to him, “I don’t care if you have a boyfriend. I don’t want to know. I just want to have sex with you. I want to take you home and have sex.” He laughed and said. “YES.”
I am used to driving the twenty-minute drive to my home in my chair. It was cold so we tried to get a cab. Most would not take a wheelchair and no wheel chair taxis were running. So Patrick figured how to get my electric chair into the trunk of a regular cab. We made it home. It took an hour to get a cab willing to take us. He did not give up. Here is the hard part. I really got excited during our kissing and petting. I went into a spasm. I lost complete motor control. I could not talk or walk. He remained calm. He said, “If you are okay, give me a signal.” I looked at him and blinked. He managed to find my straws in the kitchen and got me some water. Then he just held me until it was over.
When I could talk, I proceeded to explain how my body works. He said he could already tell I had cerebral palsy. That it was okay. He understood. I told him that I had never cum with another man. He said, “Well, we are going to change that.” He was gentle and he started touching me again and kissing. When my legs would stiffen he massaged them. We kept kissing. Sometimes I would laugh in pleasure. But the moment that stands out in my mind was when I started cry after I had my orgasm. My biggest fear was spasming during sex and feeling safe. Now I know that it can be okay. I feel I also lucked out. Not very many gay men have knowledge of Cerebral Palsy like Patrick did. I feel that in the future I have to communicate with other partners before I have sex with them, and tell them what could happen if I spasm. I feel this is my next challenge. One I am sure I will learn to face. As for religion I feel that it is like cars. Everyone is driving a different model trying to get to the same place. I believe I am finding my peace of mind through being my own kind of beautiful. I know it sounds churchy. But that Mormon churchiness is just another part of me. I have learned to apply my belief system to myself. Heck, maybe that gay Mormon man is waiting for me somewhere out there. Heck, any healthy relationship will do. It all starts with me. I would not change a thing. Good or bad I have learned from each experience. I have earned my peace of mind and I plan to keep it. So it is okay to suffer. It is okay to hurt. Because through it all I have found some of my greatest joys.