Anyone who has interacted with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender (LGBT) returned missionaries (RMs), or LGBT Mormons in general, is familiar with a very common narrative. The LGBT youth has a tough adolescence and fragments his or her identity through two simultaneous, driving, herculean efforts. The first of these is the denial of his or her emerging sexual attraction to the same or both sexes. The second is a very zealous adherence to church standards and practices, in the hopes of earning God’s favor and meriting a miraculous “healing.” The LGBT youth wants to fit heteronormative gender roles—in other words, wants to be straight—so much that he or she will fast, pray, and serve in church more earnestly than many of his or her peers. During a time of life when a person’s identity and personality begins to emerge and mature, an LGBT Mormon will often suppress his or her personality to very damaging effect, just to fit in.
Unfortunately, this pattern continues into the mission field. Indeed, missionary service is often the climax of this painful journey. In the gay missionary’s mind, all he or she has to do is work hard, obey mission rules, and return home honorably and at long last he or she will have proven him- or herself to God sufficiently to be blessed with relief from the seemingly crushing burden of being an LGBT Mormon. While this narrative may not match every LGBT missionary’s story, it certainly fits mine. I, like so many, didn’t realize that I didn’t need to be cured of my sexuality, I needed to heal from my inability to accept and love myself. I didn’t realize that God loved me just as I was—that he loves me just as I am. I didn’t realize that my attraction to men wasn’t a sign of my unworthiness or unrighteousness. It wasn’t a sin at all, it was simply a part of my identity that I hadn’t yet accepted.
Because of this, the mission field was often a lonely and discouraging place. I didn’t know if there were any other LGBT missionaries around me, and I was too afraid to confide in my companions, my mission leaders, or the members in my areas. I even found myself thinking that the difficulties and discouragement of my mission were God’s punishment to me for being bisexual. And above all, despite reason and experience telling me otherwise, my heart was convinced that if I worked hard enough, I would go home, move on from this “phase,” get married, and live a happy Mormon life, never needing to speak of my sexual orientation again.
A few weeks or months after returning home, LGBT RMs painfully discover that their sexuality has not changed. They may struggle with continued efforts to change for a while longer, but eventually they accept, willingly or un-, that their sexual orientation is a permanent part of their identity. For many, myself included, this realization comes at a great cost. I became extremely depressed to the point of suicide. I lost all hope for a happy, successful, and bright future. I felt worthless to my family, my church, and my society. I felt abandoned and betrayed by God and my faith was shaken to its foundations. I know I am not alone in having these feelings. This was also the moment when I began to come out to my family and close friends. I was blessed to have a supportive family and accepting friends, but many do not, which only adds to the emotional trauma they experience. This period of emotional vulnerability can lead many talented, bright, and promising young people to estrangement from family and faith, and risky behavior that they later regret. In the worst cases, the end result is suicide or self-harm.
Unfortunately, there is very little support available for this extremely vulnerable group of Mormon young people. My hope is that this blog can begin to fill that gap and offer the resources that LGBT missionaries, pre-missionaries, and returned missionaries need in order to cope with life as a gay missionary and to successfully launch from mission to post-mission life without the psychological turmoil that so many of us have gone through. My hope is that by helping to eliminate or minimize this emotional upheaval, we can nurture a generation of gay RMs who will be equipped to make more deliberate decisions regarding their future relationships and church activity, and who will have the desire and ability to serve within the LGBT Mormon community. My hope is for these wonderful, sincere, gay missionaries to know that they are not alone and to be able to serve happy and healthy missions.
Please help me in achieving these goals by sharing this blog with anyone you think could benefit—young people preparing to serve missions, missionaries currently in the field, RMs, and church leaders who could share this resource in their interviews with LGBT youth who wish to serve. Most of all, please join me in offering love, support, and prayers for those who are in need.