Where is Heaven?
February 5, 2017
by Kevin Rex
My family sang “Where is Heaven” in Sacrament Meeting one Sunday in 1977 after Sis. Sawyer, Ward Music Chairwoman, asked us to perform. Sis. Nielsen stumbled through accompanying us, one of very few pianists in the ward. Some of you older LGBTQ folks may remember the song; it was one of Janice Kapp Perry’s first. We had recently moved from Elko, Nevada, to Richfield, Utah. I was 13 and our new Richfield First Ward was lacking in musical talent. I played piano, and I played the organ, having learned from my Aunt Ruth, Mom’s older sister, how properly to play it as compared to the piano, and the Bishop called me to be organist immediately. I played for Priesthood Meeting in the morning, then for Sunday School Opening Exercises, and then, in the late evening, for Sacrament Meeting. This was back in the days when Mormon Sundays were meeting all day. That’d be enough to de-convert many of today’s Millennials, I think, meetings all day long, plus weekday meetings, too! By the way, if you want the TLDR version of this whole story it’s this: I was a Mormon musical that had a 40 year run on Mormon Broadway and then fell flat on its face for being politically incorrect from a Mormon’s perspective. When I grew up, it was not okay to be gay and not act on it; you had to hide being gay, utterly hide. I eventually lost all faith in God, and only the gay love of a gay man who loved me brought me back to God.
Music was one of few ways to express the deeply-rooted effeminate mannerisms and feelings I had. I’d been born with them, much to the chagrin of Elder Packer’s “why would Heavenly Father do that to anyone” attitude. My grandma Rex taught me how to enjoy playing the piano, even though I didn’t take paid lessons from her; she bounced up and down on the long, upholstered piano bench that served her Upright Grand piano that she inherited from her mother. She had played piano in the “Roaring 20’s” for various dance bands in her rural town of Evanston, Wyoming; that’s where she learned to bounce while playing. On the other side of my family, my mom’s side, music was as much a part of life as was cooking and eating food. Aunt Ruth, my first organ instructor, was a music teacher, after all. My second organ instructor was the town’s confirmed bachelor, probably gay, too, who was also a mortician. It was fun to learn from him while sitting next to him on the organ bench. Even though I hid it well, inside I knew my “gaydar” was working. Fast forward to my adulthood, after moving from a ward to avoid having to be in the bishopric any more, and after begging to be released from the high council, I think the Stake President realized I was best suited as an organist. Music became such an intimate part of my spirituality that it was the last string that kept me woven into Mormonism until I finally unraveled it, unleashing a flood of emotions by the unraveling. I held onto that last ward organist position for another year after I came out gay at age 49.
I was angry when I left Mormonism at age 50. That’s not quite a strong enough description; I was angrier than angry. Tumultuously angry. Is that a word, tumultuously? So many decades of keeping my emotions, especially sexual and romantic emotions, at bay, with almost perfect self-control—Practically Perfect Mary Poppins is who I was—as I followed stalwart LDS examples like Boyd K. Packer and Bruce R. McConkie, had led me finally into an overwhelming emotional hell. It’s interesting to look back at my closeted self and realize how I only ever allowed my emotions to come out during deeply spiritual experiences at Church or church-related activities; there is where I’d cry. Other than that crying, I compartmentalized my emotions in my mind and went on pretending to be a straight boy, straight man, never questioning any of the Mormon church’s claims; only believing that by being perfectly Mormon, I would be cured from being gay.
Imagine a grown man, professionally successful, an intimate part of “straight” Mormon culture and religion for 49 years, raising 5 children, and now having grand-children, coming out gay to his wife and family. We had lived in the same LDS Stake for 20 years, and I was known by most members in the area as a high councilman, bishopric member, loyal, stalwart, and straight man who also played the organ and piano. Always a benefit, playing organ and piano, but the “true” straight man was a member of Church hierarchy and that’s where I’d tried to be. I never had told anyone I was gay. No one. I was too ashamed. I hated myself and didn’t even realize it; it was the “internalized homophobia” that the psychological world named it. I was carefully taught by Mormon leaders from my era that being gay was so grave a sin as to be just one step below murder. So, I pretended I wasn’t gay. And, except for music, I wasn’t gay.
After two visits to psychiatric hospitals—suicide watch, ya know—and 4 years of weekly therapy (I’m 53 now), I have learned how to deal with anger. Mostly. I went through a period of hating God, then simply not believing in Him or Her. I figured if gays didn’t exist in so many religions, or if they were such an evil thing, then God certainly wasn’t to be found in any religion. Then, while trying to recover from my emotional pain, and learning to love myself, you know, that not-so-familiar part of the 2nd great commandment (Thou shalt love thy neighbor AS THYSELF), I became friends with, and then fell in love with, a gay man who knows what miracles, spirituality, and the Divine really are all about. He, too, had gone through Mormonism, but left the Church early in life, just after high school, with the support of his parents who weren’t all that “into” Mormonism as converts, but who were loving enough to know that being gay was okay.
As I journeyed through the brightest light of my life, marching in Gay Pride Parades, joining the “liberals” at rallies and meetings, and being free from the dark closet, I honestly never thought I’d need God again. I hated Him for a while. I didn’t give Him much thought after a while, too. I enjoyed being gay. Society was accepting gays, finally. I had courage. Finally. This was before Trump’s world, mind you. When I met my husband in 2016, though, through various Affirmation connections, I was re-introduced to miracles again. I began to realize I missed spirituality. I had found many pieces of myself by coming out of the closet, but one piece still was disconnected: My spirit and its connection to the Divine. In my new husband’s own words, here’s just one of the miracles that have helped me believe in God again.
“When I met four of Kevin’s five children, and seven of his nine grandchildren, and saw the great love they all have for each other, and then experienced the beautiful way in which they welcomed me with such open arms, my heart was and still is deeply moved. Then, when Kevin shared that many years back when there were some struggles being experienced in his family, and he had a dream with the numbers 17 and 43, and he had no idea what it meant . . . thinking maybe it was lottery numbers that he should play, but of course never could or would because a good Mormon boy just doesn’t do that . . . lol! Well, when he realized what my home address is, 17430 . . . I can’t help but think that all this was being set up long before on another plane. And that is what it has felt like. There have been just so many precious things that have happened that we feel are more than coincidence and that have drawn our hearts and souls together so closely, that we are both most grateful to have been brought together and look forward to sharing the beautiful adventure of life together.”
A dream. That’s right, a dream. I had a dream, a vision, just like Joseph Smith, just like Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. And, finally, just like those Joseph’s did, I’ve realized that God knew what was happening all along, and She or He, or Both, or Them, or Divine Love & Energy, they sent me the dream energy that has helped me begin building myself again so that I feel human, whole, complete, spirit and all. Meditation through a practice of breathing from an Indian Guru, and meeting this Guru in person, has brought and continues to bring miracles to me, including peace of mind. I recall the Doctrine and Covenants, Sec. 59 (yes, I used to memorize scriptures and I always won at Seminary Scripture Chase), where I was promised “peace in this world”. It never came through Mormonism; it came directly from the Divine in another way, yet so very natural. Through the love of a gay man who loved me.
At a recent Affirmation Conference in Portland (2017), there was so much Mormonism present that I couldn’t quite take it all in, but the music at the conference, jazzed up Mormon hymns, well . . . those I could feel deeply. I realized my foundation of music is firm, firm enough to hold me up, the whole me, as I journey through this life with my gay husband of my gay dreams. God is in His Holy Temple, again, which temple ye are. There is God.