VOICES OF HOPE
One Man’s Journey Back to Wholeness
Since the beginning of my Facebook tenure, the little box in the “About Me” section has contained the phrase, “I have exactly the life I’ve always wanted.” From time to time, people have asked me what that means. What I would tell most of them is that I had a career that fulfilled me every day, a faith that sustained me through the trials of life, a circle of friends that enriched my life in countless ways, a wife whose unconditional love enabled me to go through life’s challenges, and children and grandchildren that brought me joy and pride. At the half-century point in my life, I felt that I did indeed “have it all” in every sense of the word, and anyone who knew me assumed that I did so as well. But what very few people knew was that what “having it all” really meant was that I had triumphed over the burden of a secret that I had harbored for years, a secret that got heavier and more difficult to bear with each passing year–my secret struggle to overcome the effects of sexual abuse and to resolve issues related to same-sex attraction.
Shame Takes Root
My struggle began in earnest when, from the ages of 14 through 18, I was regularly and repeatedly sexually abused for almost five years by a prominent local businessman, whose estate I tended in the small Midwestern town in which I grew up. What began as a violent act of rape in an outbuilding on the estate gradually turned into weekly events that continued hundreds of times during the next five years. My mother’s job was to manage his estate. To protect her reputation against his threats of firing her for the dishonesty that he had so artfully described if I didn’t comply with his wishes, I, at first, reluctantly went along.
As time passed he became less violent. I eventually became less combative and more resigned that this was inevitable, and we slipped into a familiar routine, which, for all practical purposes, he assumed that I enjoyed because I stopped protesting. One time, shortly after my 17th birthday, he said, “Don’t pretend you don’t like this as much as I do. You can’t wait to do this. You know why? Because you’re queer. Why do you think you haven’t told anyone about this after all these years? Because you don’t want it to stop. You like it, don’t you? Just like I knew you would. Say it. Say you like it.’”
At the time, I didn’t really know what the term “queer” meant exactly. I just knew one thing; it was something bad, and I certainly didn’t want to be one. With the sting of his taunting words ringing in my ears, I jerked away from him and ran out the door of his underground bomb shelter that had become “the place” and continued up the steps, across the yard and into my truck that was parked in his driveway.
I locked the door and sat there panting for a few minutes. Then, before I knew it, I started to sob uncontrollably. “I could have stopped this at any time,” I thought to myself. “I could have told my mom or my minister, or a policeman what was going on. All of these years? All of these times? It must have happened over 250 times. Why hadn’t I ever told anyone?”
Suddenly, this little voice in my head whispered, “Maybe he’s right.”
I stopped crying and sat up. “IS he right?” I thought to myself. “He must be right. Why else would I have put up with this all of these years, all of these times? That’s it. I must be queer. There’s no other explanation.”
I sat there in my truck staring straight ahead. All of a sudden, the world as I knew it instantly changed. I felt different, damaged…and not just damaged, but damaged beyond repair. In the weeks that followed, I became dangerously hermitic—staying in my room for hours and listening to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” I started avoiding my school buddies. I stopped going on dates and became sullen and reclusive. My parents grew concerned about my solitude and about the emergence of what would now be diagnosed as OCD. I rearranged the furniture in my room every weekend and became a clean fanatic.
During the summer before my 18th birthday, I decided that I had had enough. I was going to quit my job, even though I desperately needed the money to start college that fall. I finished the lawn. As I was putting the mower away, I saw him standing on the patio, tapping his watch—his standard signal that it was “time.”
Summoning all of the courage that I had in my little 5’8”, 120 pound body, I turned my back toward him for the first time in almost five years, walked toward my truck, got in and drove away. It was the last time I ever saw him.
One week later, he told me that he had fired my mother. He told me that some sterling silver flatware was missing and that she was the only one who could possibly have taken it. At the time I felt weak and ashamed. I didn’t have the courage to tell her what had really happened––that it was all my fault that she had been fired and that, more than anyone, I knew she was innocent. Out of my love for her, I wanted to spare her any feelings of guilt that she was in any way responsible for what had happened to me.
That five-year physical relationship with him had created an overwhelming sense of confusion about my sexual orientation. Because I was young and had no other kind of sexual experience with anyone except what had happened with him, I allowed his label of “queer” to not only take root in my fertile young mind but to take control of it. Because he had said so, I had simply assumed that I was.
As I entered college in the mid-’70s, everyone around me was sexually active. Although I dated frequently, I never seemed to connect with anyone in anything but a superficial way. In hindsight, the accompanying sense of shame that lingered. Lies, such as, “If they only knew what I’d done, what I was, then I was sure they wouldn’t like me.” manifested themselves into the preemptive strike of rejecting them first before they could reject me.
After my first lonely year at a college of knowing absolutely no one, I changed my second year and threw myself into school and extracurricular campus activities, joining a fraternity and a wide variety of other organizations. I became “Superman” in my desire for acceptance and recognition as well as to stay SO busy that there would be no time to think about the “secret.” In spite of being a well-known campus leader, being looked at as one of the most popular guys on campus, and being a top student within the rigorous College of Architecture and Planning, I was lonely as I struggled to balance my public life with who I felt myself to be inside. I knew hundreds, if not thousands of people on campus—yet I felt that I really didn’t have one real friend.
A Coincidence of Eternal Magnitude
After graduation I moved to Washington DC and began working for a large architectural firm where I met a man who was to have a profound impact on my life. He was the most brilliant and interesting man that I had ever known. He was smart, handsome, funny, athletic and immensely well-liked by everyone around him. I adored him and, even though he was several levels of management above my direct supervisor, we became friends. He was sincerely interested in me as a person, thought that I could do absolutely anything and began involving me in various aspects of his personal life with his wife and seven kids. He became less like a boss and more like the type of dad that I’d always wanted to have.
I grew up with a critical, hot-tempered father who put his own interests of hunting and fishing with his buddies above spending time with me. For most of my life, I had yearned for his love and affection that never seemed to come. Even though it’s been almost 50 years, I still remember vividly when I was six, and my mother asked my dad to take me with him and a buddy fishing one night.
“You never do anything with him,” she said, “Why don’t you take him just this one time?”
No,” my father said, “He’ll just be in the way”. However, my mom succeeded in badgering him to take me anyway. It was rainy and cold, and the fish weren’t biting. As I huddled in my wet clothes on the bottom of the hard aluminum fishing boat and tried to keep warm under a wet wool blanket, I guess my father and his friend must have thought that I was asleep, his friend nodded my way and asked, “Pansy?” I could sense the disappointment in my father’s voice as he said, without hesitating, “About half.”
To this day, my father does not know that I heard that exchange, but something inside me died that day. I would never have much of a relationship with my dad after that, and our subsequent visits would always be strained and awkward.
Now, with my new work friend, I felt truly loved by a man for the first time. He was always excited to see me and asked my advice on every decision he made. He gave me responsibilities far beyond someone with my position and skills, which made me feel valued and important. When I later found out he was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I was stunned. He just didn’t fit the stereotype of what I thought at the time was some type of a Satanic cult. Yet, his example and his love for and patience with me during those early months motivated me to sit down for my first missionary discussion that would later lead to my conversion and baptism.
The week after my baptism, the bishop of the singles ward, a retired director of the FBI in his seventies, said that because I had just turned 30, I needed to get married and now because I was, as Brigham Young phrased it, “a menace to society.” As I told him about some of my problems, he said that all of my sexual “frustrations” (as he called them) would be resolved if I would just find a wife.
“Just remember,” he admonished, “The Prophet says that there is no reason why any two people committed to gospel principles can’t be happy.” He gave me a deadline of six months to find that second person.
As I thought about what to do next, I grew increasingly troubled. When I joined the Church, it was my hope and plan that when the missionaries promised that I would be a new man with my baptism, that the old man (with the feelings that I didn’t want of secret shame from the sexual abuse and the sexual attraction for older men) would go away. They didn’t. Not at all.
About six weeks later, when the initial baptism euphoria wore off, I discovered that those same thoughts, attractions and weaknesses were creeping back and consuming me again, which created feelings of hopelessness and despair. This was my last option and, if it wasn’t working, I had run out of options.
As I spent more and more time with my friend, I realized that I had never had a friend like that before—one who knew me as well as he did and loved me as much as he did. A side effect of the abuse is that I had not been willing to get remotely close to ANY guys. He was the first adult male I had EVER trusted enough to let down my guard with at all. As our friendship deepened, I felt myself growing to love him in a way that I had never loved anyone before.
While it was indeed a physical attraction at first, it was not really a sexual one in nature but more like a connection in my chest that sort of yearned to just be with him all the time because of how I felt about myself when I was with him. I missed him on the weekends when we weren’t at work. Because I had given up all of my wild, partying friends when I joined the Church, he and I eventually started hanging out all the time—sometimes together and sometimes the three of us (me, him and his wife). I realized that my feelings for him had grown to an unhealthy level—I didn’t just love him anymore, it was like I was in love with him.
That period was an extremely confusing time for me. There were a couple of weeks when I put myself into a forced cooling off period where I said to myself, “You know what? This is crazy! You have got to get over these feelings!” I knew that based on how I felt about him then, if he would have wanted to take that relationship to a physical level, I would not have stopped him. At the time, it just seemed like the next logical step in our friendship. I had never felt that before—and it scared me to death.
The sudden distance I created was puzzling to him because he thought he’d done something to offend me or hurt my feelings—especially since I told him I didn’t want to talk about it at all. I felt there was no way he could possibly understand if I were to explain to him what the problem really was. In my despair that the feeling of same-sex attraction had surfaced again after all that time, I left him a note on his car that read: “Life is a course we’re put here to pass. I’m failing too much—so I’m dropping the class.”
With that, I went home to my apartment and took a massive drug overdose. When I didn’t show up for work, my friend came to my apartment and when I didn’t answer the door, he convinced the building manager to let him in. The next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital. After it was clear I was out of harm’s way, he sat down on my bed, looked at me with pain in his eyes and simply said, “Tell me why you did this.”
Without looking at him, through tears, I haltingly explained that I wanted to change and to no longer have these feelings. I thought this (the Gospel) would make them go away and it hadn’t. I felt cheated and betrayed by God.
As he sat there and listened, my friend was extremely non-judgmental. I felt the Savior’s love emanating from him to me as he began, “Kerry, the Church isn’t like some kind of new car showroom for perfect people—it’s more like an auto-body repair shop where the scratches and dents of our lives are gradually worked out through applying the Atonement.”
He then asked me what I wanted most out of life, and I said, “To just be normal.” He responded, “Based on your definition of normal, what if that were to never happen? What would you THEN want most?” I said, “To be normal enough to have a wife and a family.”
He then quoted Elder Scott’s phrase, “Discipline is the ability to avoid giving up what you want most for what you think you want right now,” and said that, if that was what I really wanted, then the Lord would give me the righteous desires of my heart.
Over the next few days, I thought about that conversation a lot. I decided that, if He wouldn’t take the same-sex attraction away, what I wanted most was to somehow have a family of my own—not because it was the “normal” thing to do—but because I really wanted to be a husband and father.
I promised the Lord that, if He just would let me have that, I would not only give up everything that was counter to that for the rest of my life, but I would serve Him, as the scriptures admonished me, with my “heart, might, mind and strength.” Though I had not had any kind of voluntary same-sex experience at all, I also promised Him that I would never act on any of these attractions that I had in any way. When the time came, I wanted to feel worthy in every way to get married in the temple.
After I got better from the suicide attempt and with encouragement of a friend, I cautiously decided to try dating again a few months later. During that period, I realized that the reason I had never had any other consensual sexual experiences of any kind up to that point was due to the overwhelming revulsion at the thought of physical intimacy of any kind with anyone, which was residual damage from the abuse. Hugs alone were torture. Even kissing brought back memories of him trying to force his tongue into my mouth. The thought of anything else beyond that with anyone at all was almost incomprehensible.
Several months later, I was introduced to a petite blonde in the singles ward with sparkling blue eyes. We seemed to hit it off. After a church Halloween party, the buzz started to spread that not only were we a couple, we were, as everyone said, “the perfect couple.” After just a few more dates, the formality of a proposal followed shortly thereafter. A few weeks before the wedding, we were heading to North Carolina for an engagement party that was being thrown by her grandmother. On the way down, I struck up a conversation about what she wanted out of our life together. As she talked about being tan and having a flat stomach, I realized that she was shallow, selfish and didn’t share my goal of having a family of our own.
During that trip, I discovered that, although I was physically attracted to her, not only did I not love her enough to spend eternity with her, but I also didn’t like her enough to spend the rest of the weekend. We decided to break up before we even arrived at our engagement party and to just not tell anyone during the event. It was an awkward time, to be sure.
After calling off our engagement, I started to think that maybe it really wasn’t her—maybe it was me. I started to wonder if I was just too damaged to ever get married at all. I felt that maybe I could never outgrow the effects the abuse and the thoughts of same-sex attraction that surfaced when I least wanted or expected them to and that maybe I was just destined to be single the rest of my life. The thought of that made me feel sadder and lonelier than I had ever felt before. Then, one day, a few months later, I was sitting in a church meeting in my singles congregation when a woman strode to the pulpit and began to address the congregation in a fast and testimony sacrament meeting. I thought “Not only was she beautiful, but she seemed to be the most together person that I had ever seen in my life.” There was a strength and calmness about her that I envied. I decided that I wanted to get to know her better.
Seek and Ye Shall Find
In what would have been a more appropriate tactic for a fifth grader than someone my age, I had the Relief Society President do some scouting for me. I found out that she was available and learned what her interests were, etc. I worked up the courage to ask her out the following Sunday. I purchased tickets to a play. Afterwards we went to dinner. As the dinner continued, we talked about everything under the sun––her divorce after only two years of marriage due to her husband’s emotional breakdown, her father’s distinguished military and political career, what it was like working at the World Bank, and her anguish at having to go off to work each day and leave her infant son from her previous marriage in her mother’s care. At about 1:30 am, the restaurant’s owner reluctantly came over and said, “I’m so sorry to disturb your lovely evening but we must close now.” We looked around, and we were the only people left in the restaurant.
As I dropped my date off at her house, she said, “I had a really good time. You can ask me out again if you want.” I bristled at the arrogance of that statement and I decided then and there that there would NOT be a second date. As I was walking back from her door to my car, I heard the Spirit’s voice clearly testify, “This is the woman you are going to marry.” I was stunned and thought to myself, “No way.” The Spirit then repeated, “This is the woman you are going to marry.” It seemed a little impatient that time.
After that, I started to think about whether or not I was emotionally ready for a commitment like this after the failure of my previous engagement. I knew one thing—I not only wanted this woman in my life—I wanted to be with her all the time. When I wasn’t with her, she was all I thought about. I had been “in love” before. This was different. I vowed to myself to do whatever it took to make things work. I proposed seven months later.
Shortly before the wedding, I was overcome with an overwhelming sense of panic as I realized that along with a wedding would come a honeymoon. I was about to go from a life currently devoid of almost all physical contact to the most intimate of human relationships. Although I had “read the book and seen the movies,” I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I was terrified. “What if I do it wrong?” “What if I can’t do it at all?” I wondered.
Thoughts of this began to consume me. Two days before the wedding, I was uncharacteristically irritable. My married friend, who was also my best man, put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye and said, “Harding, how are you feeling about your wedding?” I sighed, looked down at the floor, and mumbled, “I’m really worried about the sex part. She’s been married before, and I have no idea what I’m doing.”
He laughed a bit and then said, “Oh, sorry. You’re being serious. Well, let’s see here. What can I tell you? The mechanics of sex aren’t much of a mystery. Tab A goes into Slot B. It’s pretty simple stuff that’s been going on for thousands of years. But, the real important thing about sex? Let me put it this way—my wife’s orgasms are more important than my own.” I looked up with surprise at his candor, waiting for him to continue. “When I say that, what I mean is that the important thing about sex is not making sure your needs are met. It’s making sure her needs are met. If you never lose sight of that, you can’t fail at sex. ”
Many years later, a friend of mine shared a thought that would have been really useful to have had at the time: “The only thing that can prepare you for marriage IS marriage. NO one is ever fully ready—it’s only through the experience of marriage that we’re prepared and molded for it.”
In hindsight, had I trusted her enough to discuss any of the issues that so weighed on my mind, we could have appropriately dealt with many of the residual issues from the abuse and my fears about how the abuse and the same-sex attraction issues might affect all the different aspects of our relationship, so together, we could have least anticipated them.
However, all of my previous successes had stemmed from me being the kind of guy who could always accomplish anything I set my mind to. I assumed that my SSA was no different. I figured that, as smart as I was, I could fix this SSA thing all on my own—or at least keep it buried deep enough that it wouldn’t ever surface again, and no one would be the wiser.
After our wedding, we arrived via train for the first night of our honeymoon in a beautiful old hotel overlooking New York City’s Central Park. When we got to the room, even though I had practiced out a whole sequence of events in my head, the “first time” happened pretty quickly and not at all according to plan. In hindsight, I remember thinking how simple and effortless the whole thing had been compared to how much I had worried about it beforehand.
Together, sex and love with a woman was just so much more amazing than I thought it was going to be. As odd as it sounds, the verse about “the two shall become one flesh” popped into my head. I thought that that was exactly how it had felt at the time – and I wanted to feel that forever. As I would later jokingly say to a friend, “It was the best minute and a half of my life.”
All of the initial fears that I had had about “performance anxiety” seemed for naught and, from my perspective, I thought things were pretty good in that arena. When we had been married for a few months, we decided to start trying to have a baby. Though I don’t actually remember much of the specific details, I vaguely remember charting ovulation cycles and temperature charts and knowing that one specific day that month was theoretically the peak time for fertilization.
Since we had gotten married, sex had been simply “nice” for lack of a better term, that night it transcended the physical and became more of a spiritual experience than anything I had ever encountered other than my own conversion to the gospel. I felt that Heavenly Father had been in that room with us and that, in partnership with Him, we had conceived a child at that exact moment. I had sensed His presence in a real, almost tangible way. I was absolutely certain of it. A few weeks later, the doctor confirmed that I was right. Several months later, when I finally held my first son in my arms, it was one of the first truly genuinely happy moments of my life.
As the subsequent years flew by, we got busier with the many challenges and struggles of raising a growing family of four sons. We juggled their needs with a demanding career, my evening MBA classes, and church leadership positions. I felt like the guy in the movie, Chariots of Fire, when his sister says, “You’re so busy running that you have no time for standing still.”
Though it is captured by hundreds of family photos, much of that period is a blur when I think back on it. Because I was so busy, memories of the abuse and thoughts related to same-sex attraction rarely surfaced then. It seemed to others—even to myself, that I had everything I had ever wanted—a beautiful wife, smart, athletic, and healthy children, more than enough money to cover my needs and live in comfort and the respect and admiration of colleagues and friends. Still, there was an uneasiness that I felt from time to time.
Sometimes, I had a sense that I was living someone else’s life—a life to which I was not entitled to have—and that, for some reason, I didn’t deserve it. Sometimes, though rarely, I felt I didn’t want this life at all—as good as it seemed—and I just couldn’t put my finger on what exactly it was that I was missing, even though I felt that I was truly “fixed.” It wasn’t until many years later, when it came to the residual effects of the abuse, that I realized that I wasn’t “fixed”—by a long shot. Later, a friend would advise me that working around something as devastating as sexual abuse was not remotely the same as working through it.
During our weekly Sunday night telephone chats, my mom said, “Oh, I’ve been meaning to tell you. I read that ___ (prominent local businessman) died this week. He’d been living in a nursing home and people said that, at the end of his life, he had lost his mind.”
For years, immediately following the day that I had the courage to end the abuse, I dreamed about his death. I fantasized that it would be by my own hand, from a variety of long, slow, painful ways. Thus, I was surprised by my reaction to my mother’s news. At first, I thought that the fact that I would be finally and completely free of the man whom I had initially blamed for damaging me beyond repair would be exhilarating. Then I realized that, truthfully, I had actually been free of him for a long time. I had not thought about him in years, and, even though the memories of those early experiences were still somehow indelibly printed into my brain, they were no longer at the forefront of every waking moment.
About this time, all of the Penn State abuse trials with football coach Jerry Sandusky was all over the media. Memories of my own abuse that I had long buried came flooding to the surface as Sandusky’s multiple victims came forward to testify after years of shame and silence. During this period, the residual effects of my abuse manifested itself in the most unexpected of ways. One time, I went to a local hardware store to pick up a lawn mower that I had taken in to have the blades sharpened. Hurrying to get it finished while I stood there waiting, the technician accidentally knocked over a bottle of Lawn Boy motor oil. As the dark blue liquid slowly spread out on the concrete floor, I had a flashback to that first time when the abuse first began nearly forty years ago in the garden shed on the man’s estate when he had used that same blue motor oil as a lubricant.
Overcome with a wave of revulsion as the memories of that day came flooding back, I threw up right there on the loading dock. I was embarrassed and bewildered by that response but never mentioned it to a soul. A few weeks later, I was helping a neighbor move her parents’ belongings out of the long-time family home in preparation for the house to be sold. I stepped into the basement of the 1960s house and saw dozens of the same square olive green metal cans of emergency water lining one wall. They were stenciled with the words, “Office of Civil Defense”, just like those that had been so neatly stacked in the center of that bomb shelter years ago back where much of the abuse had happened. Involuntarily again, I threw up all over her basement floor. I then felt the blood rush from my head and, for a second, I thought I was going to pass out. Looking at me with alarm, my concerned friend asked, “Are you okay?” “Sure,” I lied. “I’ll be fine.”
The Convergence Begins
On May 2012, something happened that would bring all of these things to a head. I came home from running errands and, there, among the stack of mail, was a copy of LDS Living magazine whose cover featured a smiling young couple with one of the cutest little boys I had ever seen. There was something riveting about the man in the picture. I thought at the time that he looked kind. He looked happy. He looked genuinely good. As my eyes shifted to the accompanying headline, I remember literally feeling so shocked that I stopped breathing for a second as I read the words, “Living with Same-Sex Attraction: Our Story.” I dropped the mail in a heap onto the floor and immediately sat down to read the cover article.
As I worked my way deeper into the article, my heart started to beat really fast. Much of this man’s story was my story—but no one knew it. How could this man know so much of my story? I felt an immediate connection with the author, a man named Ty Mansfield. Though I had a ton of work to do, all of it was forgotten as I went to Google this man and see what I could learn.
To my surprise there were over two million hits for someone who, before that day, I had never heard of in my life. One of those links led me to the website for Deseret Book where I discovered that he had written a book called Voice(s) of Hope , which I not only had, but also had read the previous year and just hadn’t remembered that he was the author. I starting reading the reader reviews of Voice(s) of Hope which went on for pages. I stayed up almost that entire night and read them all. Near the very end of the reviews, written not long after the book was first published, I came upon this entry:
“As a 24 year-old who struggles with SSA personally, I know firsthand the pain, loneliness, self-hatred, and feelings of inadequacy that come with this trial. After reading Voice(s) of Hope, I now know that I’m not alone in this. Ty has truly been guided and directed in compiling this masterpiece that allows new venues of hope, peace, self-love, and competency. For the first time in my life deep, deep wounds are starting to heal. Although I know it’s just the beginning, and many, if not most, of my feelings of anger and inadequacy reside, it was this novel that has sprung me on the road to recovery. A sense of worth and purpose, although still a seed, has finally been instilled in my being, and for the first time, I have heard a Voice of Hope.”
It was signed by a young man at a nearby university whose name I recognized but wasn’t sure if it was the same person or another person with the same name. Through Facebook, I reached out to him with the following message, including the above referenced quote in its entirety.
“Taking a big leap here, would it be correct to assume this post was from you? If not, never mind the rest of this message. If so, let me say that reading it literally brought tears of sadness to my eyes. To think that, even for a second, someone who appears to be as kind, thoughtful, funny and a great brother as you do would ever feel “the pain, loneliness, self-hatred, and feelings of inadequacy that come with this trial” because of others is tragic. I hope that, as you continue along your life’s path, you will find a niche that brings you the same level of happiness, fit and fulfillment that Ty has found, regardless of your own personal circumstances.”
It took him three days to respond. I remember that, as a member of the bishopric at the time, I was actually sitting on the stand at sacrament meeting when I saw the notification on my phone that his message had come in. It was all I could do not to read it right then. After a busy day of Church meetings, a dinner party for ward members and a movie with my family, I finally had time to sit down and privately read his message:
“Big leap for sure, lucky for you it was a safe landing. First things first. Yes, that was me that posted that on Ty’s book. A year ago, when I wrote that review, I was in a very dark and lonely place. Yes, I do deal with SSA, although my story is very different than most. And most of my anger and feeling of self-hatred and inadequacy came from the sexual abuse I received as a child. Life has certainly not been easy. And, even though I have since ‘come to terms’ with who I am and have made progress in developing into the person I want to become, most of those feelings still reside, just in a different way I guess. It’s not so much that I hate myself anymore…I just hate what it is about me that I cannot change.”
As he poured out his heart to me, I saw his pain, his shame, and his loneliness. For most of his life, he had kept it all bottled up inside him until he was faced with one of two choices—either talk about it or end his life. As I felt his anguish, the Spirit prompted me to respond back, unloading the burdens of my own heart that had been locked up for decades in a jumbled stream-of-consciousness tale that began:
“I wondered at the time, if you DID write the review I asked about, would it change how I felt about you? Your reply did indeed change that. I went from casual interest because of shared connections to this overwhelming feeling of love that I can’t explain. Odd, I know. Maybe it was because the conversation went straight from superficial chatter to you trusting me with your innermost personal thoughts. Now, I am going to trust YOU with mine.”
With that as an introduction, that night, on May 20, 2012, I poured out my entire story to him in a private Facebook message that took most of the night to write. I eventually hit “Reply” and fell into a fitful sleep, exhausted. The next morning, I awoke early, nervous about what his response would be.
“What was I thinking?” I wondered to myself. I had kept this all a secret for almost four decades and I had just blurted it out to someone I hardly even knew. But, on the other hand, I felt this euphoric lightness—as if finally relieving myself of this secret burden after all these years had somehow caused a physical transformation. That exchange, and the subsequent conversations it inspired, would eventually lead to one of the most rewarding friendships of my life.
The Freedom of Authenticity
While my first real friend actually saved my life, Ty Mansfield taught me how to finally start living it by being authentic. It was a word I struggled to understand at first but has now become a guiding principle of my life.
Becoming more authentic is what led me, in a huge leap of faith and trust, to first confide my story to my family. Sitting on the grounds of the Salt Lake Temple on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the summer of 2012, I sat my wife down and told her everything from start to finish. Her eyes welled with tears, and she said, “I always knew there was something that kept this wall there between us. I’ve been waiting to have this talk for 25 years. I only wish you would have trusted me enough to tell me about this sooner so that you didn’t have to carry this burden all by yourself all these years.” When she said those words, I don’t think I’d ever loved anyone more than I loved her right then.
Though it seemed that she handled things well at first, a few days later, an avalanche of emotion overtook her. She felt rage at the injustice that the actions of just one evil man so many years ago could so fundamentally alter another person’s personality and life to the point that he had; and leave in its wake, a barrier to emotional intimacy that, for so long, she had internalized as her fault in some way. She cried for days. She cleaned. She purged extraneous possessions as a way to simplify her life. And then, she was ready to get back to the business of being matriarch to our family.
With that huge secret barrier now gone, for the first time in our entire marriage, I was free to be who I was without fear or shame of any kind and return to being the fun-loving guy that she fell in love with 27 years ago. I became noticeably happier, less stressed and more productive. Her regret that I didn’t trust her enough to let her carry this burden with me earlier in our marriage when we could have dealt with it together and moved on is one I share, but there’s nothing I can do about that now except to try to make it up to her.
As I look back on my life, I don’t think I was ready to acknowledge many of those issues even existed, let alone face resolving them. I intend to spend the rest of my life making up for lost time and to simply be the man I was created to be. Finally, I can say with all sincerity, that that’s good enough for me. Hopefully, it will be good enough for those who love and depend on me as well.
Becoming truly authentic led to an increased desire to share the story of my journey with others. As Ty and I talked about the competing emotions of desire and fear surrounding that effort, especially given my visibility in the religious and professional worlds, he likened the situation to the Savior beckoning to Peter to step out of the boat and come to him on the waves of a turbulent sea and then remarked, “The only thing that will keep you walking on water is to first step out on the water only to see and experience that a miracle is happening as you walk forward. I would suggest that the same is true for standing out and being a voice of hope. The only thing that builds faith is faith.”
Let me make one thing perfectly clear. I don’t have any professional training in overcoming the effects of sexual abuse and/or resolving issues of same-sex attraction. I’ve never been to a therapist. I don’t know the right questions to ask. I am just now starting to learn all of the right terms to use. At the beginning of this journey, I struggled to reconcile the perceived conflict between what I wanted out of life with who I thought I was, and held the mistaken belief that those two things were simply incompatible. It was a difficult, lonely period because I never reached out to anyone for help, support or advice. I don’t want one other person to ever have to go through that the same way as I did at the time.
The Wonder of Wholeness
At this point in my journey, everything I do know to be true I know from my own experiences during that time when the Lord shared countless personal lessons with me as my only true partner and friend. I discovered that the only way that someone who has experienced the kind of trauma that I have could have an enduring, happy, fulfilling life and lasting marriage was to first want, then seek, then get the kind of personal revelation where the Spirit testifies, “I will work in partnership with you to change your heart throughout the rest of your life if you are willing to stick it out for the long haul. It will be hard. It will take time. It will take effort. It will take sacrifice. It will take faith. But, I promise it will be worth it.”
Twenty-five years later I can say that it has been. I no longer feel the pull of same-sex attraction that I felt in my 20s. Perhaps that is because I am now the same age as the men I was once attracted to. Perhaps it is because now I better understand the emotional need for male connection that I was trying to fill through my relationships with other men at the time. In fact, most of the time, it feels like it’s not even there at all. Through my own subsequent research and study, I now know and understand what I was seeking and have been able to meet those needs in much more beneficial ways. My need to feel loved, valued and empowered has been filled through living the Gospel of Jesus Christ. My need to feel useful has been filled through serving my family, my ward community and my brothers who are at various stages of their own journey in coming to terms with what the aspect of same-sex attraction means in their own lives. I have established a small group of guy friends who know and I love me as I am and we enrich each others’ lives in countless ways.
Time has not only erased the earlier feelings of damage and loss from the abuse, but almost healed my heart completely and fully in every possible way. There is now a consistent feeling of joy, happiness and purpose in my life. The confidence that I am the son of a loving Heavenly Father who guides and directs me throughout this long journey gives me the strength to live a life of dedicated service, focused on helping others however and whenever I can. It took a long time, but, I finally feel pure in heart, worthy to not only enter the Lord’s house but to someday return to His presence.
My relationship with my Heavenly Father has given me the confidence to actually feel like a “man of God” and claim all of the confidence and blessings that entails. I no longer feel inadequate, inferior or envious of any other men because I’m not tall, muscular, athletic, mechanical or any of the other perceived gaps between where they are and where I want to be. Where I want to be now, is exactly where I am. It’s a good place for me.
So, in hope that it will help even one person find happiness and peace in this life, here is my story; and it is my story. It will be different than anyone else’s and that doesn’t mean mine or theirs is wrong or incomplete in some way. Mine simply is what it is.
In recent months, as I have shared the story of my journey with other men who also experience same-sex attraction to varying degrees, a question continues to surface in various forms but whose gist is always this: Is there ever a sense of wistfulness about giving up the life you could have had for the one you ended up with? Do you ever feel that you ‘missed out’ on something by not pursuing the easier path?
As I have pondered those questions, they imply that I feel I have “settled” for something in some way or, if I don’t feel that way, that I at least should. My friend, Josh Weed, when asked a similar question, thoughtfully responded, “What it boils down to is, is having that worth giving up this?”
In my case, the “that” was some sort of same-sex physical relationship, which I never even wanted in the first place. The “this” is the years of pride, satisfaction and sense of accomplishment, in partnership with my wife, having raised four smart, talented, amazing sons, who are making their own unique impacts on the world and are now raising righteous families of their own. When I briefly considered those two things in the balance, hundreds of images of life with my family through the years flashed before my eyes.
There has been such a richness and a depth to those relationships that, accompanied by trying to practically apply the gospel within the walls of my own home (which I did not do nearly as good of a job as I could have), molded and shaped me into the man I am today and clarified my vision of the gaps between where I am and the man I ultimately want to become. But, more important than that, I can’t fathom not having anything in my life that I have today because of some choice that I might have made more than a quarter of a century ago.
In my home is a needlepoint sampler that contains the familiar verse, “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve, but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” That is what my life has been—a process driven by acknowledging hundreds of the Spirit’s small, quiet promptings along the way to make some choices and reject others. But, the quality of life that I have today is a direct result of that one big choice that I made more than a quarter of a century ago—to put the Lord first and to keep the promise that I made to Him to live the gospel as accurately and completely as He had asked.
The Lord was right. Keeping my promise has been hard and has taken time, but I can say without any hesitation whatsoever that it has been worth it. Has my life been easy? While to outsiders, it may seem to have been perfect, in reality, it hasn’t been. It was made harder by the fact that, for a long time, I kept this a secret from those I cared about most and who cared about me.
President Brigham Young once taught:
“We talk about our trials and troubles here in this life; but suppose that you could see yourselves thousands and millions of years after you have proved faithful to your religion during the few short years in this time, and have obtained eternal salvation and a crown of glory in the presence of God? Then look back upon your lives here, and see the losses, crosses, and disappointments, the sorrows; you would be constrained to exclaim, ‘but what of all that? Those things were but for a moment, and we are now here. We have been faithful during a few moments in our mortality, and now we enjoy eternal life and glory, with power to progress in all the boundless knowledge and through the countless stages of progression, enjoying the smiles and approbation of our Father and God, and of Jesus Christ our elder brother.’ ”
The world maintains that resolving same-sex attraction is impossible, and, in fact, you shouldn’t even try. In response to that, earlier this year, I bought a framed mounted bumble bee and gave it to my young college friend whose review of Voice(s) of Hope first started me on this incredible journey toward wholeness. The enclosed note card said:
“The laws of physics dictate that because of its weight, wingspan and aerodynamics, a bumble bee cannot fly but, because the bumblebee does not know that, it flies anyway.”
All I know is that, before I ever actually heard the term “same-sex attraction” and had the plethora of books, magazines, conferences, seminars and the Internet with 500,000+ blog posts about how to resolve it, the Spirit told me how to do so in very real, specific, and personal ways that has left me with a feeling of wholeness that makes me happier than I would have ever thought possible. I can’t say that those ways will work for everyone, or even anyone else for that matter—but my testimony that they worked for me is unshakeable. I simply know. I. Know.