Kissing the Damned: How Coming Out Changed My Life
Queers can passionately embrace their sexuality and live successful, joyful and yes, even spiritual lives
by Troy Williams
The following is an excerpt from a talk given on Aug. 10 at the Sunstone Theological Symposium. The panel was titled, “Kissing the Damned: Embracing a Queer-Positive Sexuality in the Heart of Zion.” Troy Williams is the producer of RadioActive on KRCL 90.9 FM. Check out his blog at www.queergnosis.com.
We are here today to share stories of men and women who have come out of the Mormon tradition to embrace a queer-positive sexuality and world-view. Despite what the church and many other anti-gay activists preach, queers can passionately embrace their sexuality and live successful, joyful and yes, even spiritual lives.
Now, I was not always so confidant. I was once a timid kid filled with fear, self-loathing and sexual anxiety.
Freud was right on about sublimation: I grew up terrified of my sexuality. I returned from my mission and became Turbo-Mormon — and by that I mean a real freak. In order to prove my righteousness, I followed the teachings of then-prophet Ezra Taft Benson to the patriotic extreme and started volunteering for the Eagle Forum. Yes, it’s true. I, Troy Williams, that apostate super fag producer of liberal talk radio, used to hang with Gayle Ruzicka!
It’s funny where self-loathing will take you.
But you know, I couldn’t stomach the Eagle Forum long. The pinko-green feminist queen was just busting to emerge. But still I continued to sublimate my libido in other ways. I once fasted for five days to know if Mormonism’s claims were true. Five days without food! Who does that? I mean, true, that was way back before The Secret, and I didn’t know how else to attract my desires, but still. It was way over the top, but it worked. Every spiritual witness, every gut instinct kept screaming at me, “Get the hell out of the church! Your emotional and spiritual survival depends on it!”
And so I did.
I have felt gay desire since I was a little kid. And I have also felt a deep connection to that unseen presence that many people call “God.” These two strong impulses were entwined together. They co-existed in my childhood but were severed in adolescence.
I remember believing that I would die without ever knowing what it was like to fall in love. That scared me. I don’t care what the church says about life-long celibacy: You simply cannot mature and grow emotionally without physical and sexual intimacy. Prolonged sexual abstinence stunts your emotional growth. Repression messes with your mind. Sharing our bodies is vital to our psychological, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. And without the fulfillment of this primal, basic need, I had become a painful wreck of a human being.
And I thought, to hell with this! No more extremism. I want to experience love. And that’s when I met my first boyfriend. He was a tall, handsome, gentle guy who I met in college. We became friends and started hanging out — and then we started “hanging out” — which led to making out, which resulted in my first full-on sexual experience with a man, and at long last, my first love. I was 16 again for the first time.
I noticed something profoundly different about this guy. He didn’t have a religious background. His parents accepted him. He actually loved being gay and he never wanted to change. If there was a pill to make you straight, he wouldn’t take it. He saw being gay as a gift, and he taught me how to deeply love that which I feared so much.
The things within us that are the most terrifying are often the things that are the most powerful. Joseph Campbell said, “My definition of a devil is a god who has not been recognized. That is to say, it is a power in you to which you have not given expression, and you push it back. And then, like all repressed energy, it builds up and becomes completely dangerous.” And my inner demon was dangerous. But facing it, embracing it — loving it — was life-transforming. As Prospero says of Caliban, “This thing of darkness, I acknowledge mine.” Jesus says in the The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
And when I hear of gay kids committing suicide or married men having risky gay sex on the down low, I know that can be true.
The church requires gay people to live celibate lives to be included in full fellowship. They want docile and obedient eunuchs in their pews. With so many creative mavericks exiled from the fold, it’s no wonder LDS culture suffers. Mormon music, Mormon art, Mormon theology, even Mormon cuisine have all become painfully bland and uninspired. Is it any wonder why retention is such a massive problem? In the 21st Century, misogynistic, homophobic patriarchy is no longer inspiring.
I want a theology that demands social justice and a congregation that denounces war and rallies for peace. I desire a spirituality that takes me to the edge of life — that expands my capacity to love the outsider — and that celebrates the beauty of intimate queer sexuality. I desire a faith that can include and embrace all people.
LDS leaders describe homosexuality with pejorative terms like “affliction” or “inclination.” They are blind seers. I prefer adjectives like “gifted” and “blessed.” I now so love my life, and queer sexuality is indeed a blessing from God.
We must awaken our body and soul to this sensual-sexual-spiritual world. We must love the condemned while embracing our darkest secret fears. Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls sums it up in her queer anthem, “Fugitive”:
I’m harboring a fugitive, defector of a kind,
and she lives in my soul and drinks of my wine
and I’d give my last breath to keep us alive
… I stood without clothes, danced in the sand,
I was aching with freedom, kissing the damned,
I said, remember this is how it should be.