Thursday, May 15, 2014

Welcome to the Gay MTC!

Remember this? Don't cry, Elder! Photo Credit
It’s Wednesday (or it was a few hours ago), which means that earlier this afternoon, thousands of missionaries and their families flooded 900 East in Provo to get ice cream at the BYU Creamery, take last minute family pictures in front of the temple, hug, cry, fuss over luggage or suit coats or ties or collars, and say a bittersweet goodbye before the newly set apart elders and sisters rolled their suitcases through the sliding doors of the MTC. Maybe you were there, too, itching in your new suit with the rest of them and wondering what’s in store. 
Don't be deceived by the smiling faces. They're nervous, too. Photo Credit
            You are probably swimming through many of the same emotions as your new companion. If you’re like I was, you’re feeling overwhelmed and emotionally exhausted. You’re feeling confident (maybe a little too confident) and inadequate at the same time. You’re feeling excited but nervous for the next several weeks of learning and the next two years of teaching. Maybe you’re already feeling a bit discouraged or homesick. You might be feeling annoyed with your new companion, or lucky to have a companion you click with. You’re likely feeling a little lost, navigating the covered hallways from 1M to 18M (I don’t think I ever really knew my way around the MTC). And you might also be feeling a little lost emotionally, spiritually, and socially, wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into and whether you can handle it.
            But if you’re like me, you’re feeling something that most of your district isn’t feeling. Different. Worried. Confused. Extremely and entirely alone. Because in the deepest corner of your heart, you hold tightly to a secret. You’re gay. Or lesbian, or bisexual, or queer, or questioning. Anyway, you’re you, and you’re not straight. If you’re like me, you haven’t yet admitted this out loud or even written it in your journal. I hadn’t even allowed myself to entertain the thought that I might be bisexual. I hadn’t even come out to myself, much less anyone else. I knew that I liked boys, but I also knew that I liked girls, so I thought that if I tried really hard, prayed really hard, and worked really hard on my mission, God would make me straight. Perhaps you’ve had similar thoughts. Maybe this is one of the reasons you decided to go on a mission in the first place. Or maybe not. Either way, you have a heavier cross to bear for the next two years than most of the missionaries in your zone and on your dorm floor.
See? No cross to bear. Or at least a much lighter one. #StraightPeople. Photo Credit
Not only are you gay and Mormon, but you’re a gay missionary facing 24 months of relationships you don’t choose, ignorant and insensitive missionaries who crack gay jokes at district meetings and tell gay missionary horror stories on exchanges, and the very real possibility of falling in love with a companion. It can be hard to lock your heart when you’re with someone 24/7 and even Oprah acknowledged that Mormon missionaries are some of the hottest men around. You might agree with Oprah and catch yourself turning your head to get a longer glance at some of the elders about that. There’s no need to feel guilty about that—I did it, too.
Elder Archuleta would have turned my head. Photo Credit
            No matter how your first-day experience shaped up, you are starting to realize that you have a long, hard 18 to 24 months ahead of you. And that’s okay. Your MTC instructors are there, not just to teach you and your district how to teach the lessons, but to reassure you that it really is possible to not only survive a mission, but succeed. Likewise, we here at the Gay MTC are all about helping you to see that you, as an LGBT missionary, can both make it through your mission and make something amazing out of it.
We’re here because we’re gay, we’ve served missions, and we want to keep serving by sharing our experiences and advice with you. We want your mission to be a successful one (as in a healthy and happy mission that you are proud of, baptismal statistics don’t matter). If you are a gay missionary or future missionary, we hope that you’ll think of us as your honorary—and fabulous—MTC teachers and that you’ll find in our posts at least a few rays of sunshine to brighten what can be an otherwise dim and difficult path to walk. If you are a parent of a gay missionary, a mission president, mission leader, or run-of-the-mill member who cares, we hope that this blog will help you better understand the needs and concerns of LGBT missionaries and inspire you to reach out with compassion in support of the gay elders and sisters in your families, wards, and missions.

"Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations." Photo Credit
I remember the day I entered the MTC very well. In particular, I recall looking at the faces of the hundreds of missionaries around me, and realizing that I didn’t recognize a single face. Though I ran into old friends and made many new ones later on, I first knew that I wasn’t alone when a senior sister helped me clip on my black nametag for the first time. It was a bit tricky to put on (just as the process of taking Christ’s name upon us is not easy), but wearing the name of Christ and feeling his love and companionship so intimately was a remarkable experience. The iconic black nametag is symbolic of a missionary’s call to carry the incomparable love of Christ to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.  The success of this work is represented by the diversity of flags that wave in front of the Provo MTC. But there’s one flag that is conspicuously missing: our flag. So come on in and wave it with us. You’re not alone. We’re here with you, and so is the Savior. 
Photo Credit


  1. This is really important. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    I identify with a lot of this. My own isolation in the MTC and the mission more generally wasn't about sexual identity, but there is something very general about how our culture encourages us to put on a happy face. I'm more and more convinced that those masks conceal a lot of lonely people who just need to know that they aren't alone in their loneliness.

    There is something paradoxical about the way that we pride ourselves on being a peculiar people but seem to then think that there is only one true way to be peculiar. Thanks for doing your part to make the tent a little bigger.

  2. Okay, firstly, thank you for speaking for a seemingly unspoken group. It is important for missionaries to feel like they can be accepted whatever their unique situation in life. That sort of acceptance of self is key to having the Spirit. But I want to make a request as you journey down this path. Please don’t encourage, or make it okay for missionaries to talk openly about, or act on, ANY of their romantic feelings. It is not. I know there will be some who think I’m totally ridiculous for suggesting this, but as a missionary - in all leadership assignments, a Stake Mission Prep Teacher, and MTC Teacher - it was something I felt really strongly about. As a missionary I felt it was totally inappropriate and distracting for a straight missionary to:
    -specifically seek out cute girls on the street
    -talk about cute girls in the ward or mission
    -ramble on about girls they were writing at home

    I had no problem with them thinking about these things, as obviously they did, and obviously I did. But talking about it just makes it so much more distracting from the real work. These were my rules, and there should not be a separate set of rules for gay missionaries. I think that would make it a whole lot easier for everyone.