Editor’s note: Recently Mormon Leaks, the website calling for transparency in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, exposed a document that showed how a senior leader feels about homosexuality. Elder L Tom Perry said you should shun people who are born gay and claimed exposing gay men to ‘manly’ things would ‘cure’ them. This has shocked some, and not exactly surprised others.
For one guy, who was born in raised in Utah, he is angry. With permission from the author, he reveals what it was like to serve as a closeted gay Mormon missionary in Thailand. He has since left the church, and is now happily married to his husband. He has asked to remain anonymous.
I served a mission in Thailand from 2009 to 2011. I loved my mission in a lot of ways. I experienced an entirely new culture and people. I grew to love Thailand and deeply respected Thai culture. I saw a lot of good things from my mission and I felt like I made a positive difference in people’s lives (even looking back as an ex Mormon who is very bitter towards the Church).
When I read Elder Perry’s remarks about shunning gay people who show affection at Church, his belief that people are not born gay, and his insistence that exposing young gay men (other LGBT people didn’t exist in his mind based on that answer…) to manly influences will cure their homosexuality is disgusting to everything I experienced on my mission.
A few days before moves meeting (transfers), I got the call that I would be training and I was a little shocked. I had been a good missionary, but I didn’t feel like I had been a great one. At the time, it felt like God was asking me to learn something. Hardship on my mission was the norm at that point. Before moving to this idyllic town in northeast Thailand, I was in a very difficult area. We struggled to find investigators, let alone a place to live since I had opened the area with a new companion. We never really taught anyone and I felt like a failure. My despair clearly came through in my letters home to my family, who worried about me after I had experienced so much stress that I developed gastritis and fainted in an elevator. I came out okay, but I felt defeated. It felt like I had had enough of my test. I worked so hard only to have Thai people tell me that every religion teaches us to be good and that I spoke such clear Thai.
My new area felt like a reprieve, a place to start again. I had a Thai companion for the first time and we got along. We had no investigators but I was used to that. Things seem to be getting better. The call about me training had me in a panic because I didn’t feel ready. I felt like I would fail this greenie like I did my first one.
It was a warm day, and I remember being exhausted from the trip from the rural northeastern town to the concrete jungle of Bangkok. I wondered who my companion would be. I looked at the group of new missionaries eager to see who might get to experience Thailand for the first time with me. A tall, thin, relatively in shape man with brown hair caught my eye. When the mission president announced that I was going to be with the man I had noticed, I gave him a big hug. I felt something that I hadn’t felt before, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
We celebrated Thanksgiving with a meal at Subway with some other missionaries and I taught my greenie his first word that he learned in country: ‘turkey ไก่งวง.’
We rode back on the bus and I was so excited to show him all that our area had to offer. But I also didn’t realize something else. I felt… uncomfortable with him. Not in a bad way but in a way that I had never noticed with any other peer before. When I touched him, hugged him, or talked to him, it felt almost forbidden. I remember we took a picture our first Sunday in front of the chapel and I put my arm around him. I felt intensely close to him.
As time passed, we grew close. I learned about him and his life and what he was like before the mission. He worked hard and I pushed him. Still in the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but shake my guilt. I gradually became aware that I was deeply attracted to him. After all those fruitless days in Bangkok with no investigators and plenty of despair, God decided to land this in my lap: I was realizing that I was indeed gay and that I was attracted to my companion.
The stress to not act on my feelings continued to mount. I was very tempted by him, not just because of a pure physical attraction but because of an emotional and spiritual one. He was so kind and so easy to talk to. He was sweet and thought of me as a dear friend. He surprised me on Christmas with presents even though I could barely function because I was so distracted by how much I was falling in love with him.
On Christmas Eve the pressure became a bit much and I cried and confessed to him that I had feelings about men that I couldn’t control. He sympathized and expressed that perhaps he could relate to those feelings. On Christmas, the attraction intensified, and I couldn’t bear the pain. I cried in his lap and expressed that I was so downtrodden.
We worked hard. We had investigators for the first time and we experienced success, despite the pit in my stomach every day. I didn’t understand it. How could I be so sinful by falling in love with my companion but still experience such tremendous success? We saw miracles even though I lusted after my handsome companion. Finally, one day it came to be too much. I sat at a chipped stone table, one like countless others I saw throughout Thailand, with him and confessed that my feelings for men were directed towards him. He was kind and understanding and told me that he predicted I would say that. Needless to say, the feelings did not stop. We had to set some ground rules and I made him promise that he would help me to be better and not fall into temptation.
Temptation came almost daily. There are many stories that I could tell about instances in which my overwhelming desire to be with him almost overcame me. He was more than just a best friend; I was experiencing romantic love for the first time. He was kind as I wept through my temptations, as I cried out to God to help me. When he left, a piece of my soul was torn out. Or so I thought. I told my mission president shortly before he left and he said to be careful, but he was relatively understanding. Nevertheless, I was defeated. I was gay. And Mormon. How could I reconcile my deep religious faith with my sexuality?
I made it through the rest of my mission, but I came home very broken. I was deeply Mormon and deeply gay and still very much wrestling with my love that I had for my companion. I worked to rebuild my life, but it was difficult. How could I be Mormon and gay? What would navigating that space look like?
And over the years that have passed, I have rebuilt myself but it’s been a long road to recover from dangerous messaging. I really did try, but the Church didn’t love me as I was, as I am.
And then Elder Perry’s words cut again. I didn’t choose to be gay, but he certainly chose to be a closed-minded man who can sit in a meeting full of straight men and say that ‘people don’t choose to be gay.’ I didn’t choose to be gay, but I certainly chose to serve a mission. I chose to sweat in the 100 degree heat every day and talk to Thai people about Mormonism while he got to sit in an office in Salt Lake earning a ‘modest’ stipend for his service. And he wants to tell me that after all that sacrifice, I CHOSE to be gay? Hell, no.
He said it was like every other temptation. If it was like every other temptation, then why did my hours of praying, my days upon days of tears and anger produce no results in diminishing my attractions? I tried to surround myself with good male role models, but then I found myself gayer than before.
Elder Perry, fuck you. I gave two years of my life to the Church and gave it my all after my mission only to have you spit on my sacrifice by mocking the presidential administration that paved the way for me to marry the love of my life. Fuck you, Elder Perry for telling me that surrounding myself with good male role models would make me straight. And fuck you for saying all of this while you profited off my sacrifice and the sacrifice of countless gay Mormons before me who served missions for the Church.