Once a week one of my good friends goes to the Farmington Juvenile Detention Center to teach a group of kids a class on writing. She gives them each a journal and then teaches them to write, at the same time doubling sometimes as a life coach. She does this because she cares. She believes. When almost everyone else in these kids' lives has given up on them, she is there. And she does this of her own volition. On her own time. On her own dime. She has sunk uncounted thousands into her kids, almost none of whom she will ever what effect, if any, she had on them.
She teaches them to write to cope, to deal, to emote and process. That's what I need to do right now. Writing has always been my therapy, my outlet, my way of living from the time I was 10 years old. Especially when I was first coming out. I practically bled on the pages I was penning. Page after page I would sort, reason, and process my emotions and thoughts until I could breathe again, eat again, live again.
Today I went with her to see the class. There were 13 kids, 9 boys and 4 girls. They ranged in ages from 13 to 18, and were in Juvenile Detention for everything from drug charges to sex offenses to assault charges.
I was incredibly nervous going in, psyching myself up for some ultra-sanitized no-nonsense, hardcore lock-down facility. But these were just kids. They circled up in chairs and smiled at me. These were kids who made mistakes or who had pasts that make mine look like a walk in the park. They've suffered, they hurt, and you could see it in their eyes. I was more a fly on the wall than anything, not really interacting other than a word here or there, a brief moment of locked eyes, the whisper of a smile.
The class today was on labels. Labels and the damage they can do. Each of these kids have already obtained the label "delinquent." Basically the lesson was to show them that they were in charge of which labels stick and which don't. Right now delinquent has already been stuck there, and it can technically be expunged, but with the right clearance, the right motive, and the right knowledge, really that will never go away. S always says this is her hardest class and I can see why. This class is designed to be a button-pusher, a trigger, a way to get people to think when nothing else will. So she made the claim that since I was new and didn't know any of them she was going to give them all nametags. That way I would be able to know who was in the class. She wrote and handed the first boy his nametag. "Pathetic," it read. S told them to put their nametags on in the center of their chests where everyone could see them. The next, "moron", "failure," "slut," "worthless," "unloveable," "freak," "jerk," "idiot," "creep," "reject," "lost cause." Then she gave me mine, which simply bore my name. They insisted she have one too, so S wrote herself a tag that read "Loving."
The discussion continued that labels can be very destructive and no matter how hard we want to say they don't affect us, that they don't matter... if they separate us from the larger group then they can end up destroying us. We talked about the worst things the kid shave ever been called, what they thought someone like me just walking in off the street would think about them, what kind of labels they would put on them. Then she continued by telling the story of someone very close to her who made a mistake, got labeled a sex offender, and how he has never -and will never- be able to escape that label. She told the kids they could rip up their nametags, or put them on their journals to remind themselves of this lesson, and how they get to be the ones who choose which labels stick and which ones don't. And how they are very close to having some bad ones stick that they really will regret later.
All in all the class was a very heavy-handed experience for me. My heart was literally breaking the whole time. From the very beginning, I just wanted to hold those kids, to tell them they would make it, to tell them that it would be okay, to apologize for all the pain and suffering they have witnessed when they are supposed to be children. I wanted to have words and answers to turn them around, to help them be free of their problems, to help them cope with the difficult, unfair hand that life has dealt them. Looking into so many of their eyes... I just kept seeing my broken little self. Granted, I struggle to equate myself to them. I never ended up in those places, I never suffered to the extent that some of them have... but my demons were just as real and defeating as theirs in my broken mind.
We talked a little bit about it after, but her busy schedule necessitated her to move on to the next task - studying for a midterm. When I got home I sat down at my computer to try and begin processing my internal weights. To make sense of what I was feeling. Of why that had impacted me so deeply.
I started a harmless FB conversation with a friend who is teaching English 150 at BYU and has a student who wants to write an issues paper about Mixed Orientation-Marriages (MOMs). She was looking for resources to give her student to assist her research. I pointed said friend in the direction of the MoHo Blogosphere Directory. Then highlighted a number of blogs written by gay men in marriages to give her student to draw from.
At some point in the conversation (unacknowledged to her), I realized that in regards to this issue, I am suddenly on the other side of the aisle. I, as a homosexual man, am the Juvenile Delinquent of Mormonism. Well-meaning people come along to talk to me, to teach me, to remind me that the choice is mine, that I choose where I go from here. But how many of those kids make it "on the outs?" How many them end up back in prison, just a number without a name for their choices? I'm sure that's all I am to many of my Mormon friends. They lament how lost I am, that I have decided to throw away everything that matters for gay things. There are people who say they still love me, but are they able to do that without judging me? I'm not so convinced.
I recounted in retrospect how frightening it is to watch these Mormon men who are by and large unhappy. They have wives who tell things like "go find your true love" because his inability to be physically intimate, clearly denotes she isn't his, though he maintains otherwise. Or that the relationship is "lopsided." "What do you do when you give it your best and that is not enough for either of you?" That was nearly me. "The physical, or lack thereof, is a big deal to my wife. I wish it didn't hurt her so badly. Sometimes it's really really good, but sometimes there is a long hiatus. I just can't seem to be there 100 percent of the time. I guess that's why it's called a mixed orientation marriage, sometimes the orientation just doesn't mix." I came so, so close to walking that road.
I spit the words to my friend:
"if the celestial kingdom is really everything it's cracked up to be
and the only way to get is to get sealed to someone in the temple and then remain faithful to them
and that's the core of your belief set
then you should be willing to do ANYTHING, RIGHT?!
My heart was aching, I was breaking, it was August 2009 again and I was sitting outside the temple taking stock of my life.
One of the people I baptized had just honorably returned from a mission and he wanted all of us missionaries involved in his conversion to come to the temple with him and do a session. Everyone came, including me. They all went in...
Because I was gay. And I was finally okay with that. But it made me a prisoner, instead of a free man. It made me someone with a label that I wanted desperately to expunge and do away with, but I couldn't because I was dancing to the wrong song, I was writing in the wrong journal, and I was walking endlessly in the wrong direction. I sat outside the temple looking up at the representation of the things I've lost and I thought and I cried and I realized that maybe I was making a terrible mistake. Maybe this gay thing wasn't me. I had struggled for a good two years to even be able to breathe those words about myself and not instantly hate everything about who I was, and I felt like I was finally moving toward a place of happiness. But then there were reminders like this one, that my life had altered onto a course that I had not chosen, and I wasn't sure how to get back the things I had lost.
It didn't matter that I had been out 3 years. It didn't matter that I had become intimate with men. What mattered was the Celestial Kingdom. That's the goal, the focus, the key to a successful life in the doctrine of my Church. They preach it week after week. Celestial Kingdom, only attainable through Temple Marriage to a Woman. The very thought of being intimate with a woman makes me sick to my stomach. But that doesn't matter, because in the Mormon world it's everything; the single goal, the steak dinner my Grandfather raved about every time he saw me. After all this time, after serving a mission, after holding various leadership roles and callings, after writing so many missionaries to encourage their journeys, after converting people to believe the things I did... there I was settling for a bowl of porridge because my feelings and emotions had become more important than my beliefs.
I knew in that moment I had lost my eternal perspective. I had started going the wrong way, and landed myself in Juvenile Detention. I needed to buck up, shirk labels, and turn around. I went home that day and asked OtR to date me, to marry me, to be with me forever. We were already living together in a studio apartment, we showered together (I made her cover up her gross parts), she was my best friend, my everything, she was the closest I had ever come to love in my whole life.
And if I was going to get out of Juvenile Detention and I was going to be a good person and I was going to make it and I was going to be okay again, then I needed to remember what my mission taught me, my parents taught me, the lessons at church taught me. Celestial Kingdom or bust. "With an eye single to the Glory of God." This only comes by marrying in the Temple, and is only possible with a Woman. Is that why so many MOMs exist? Because they've made the choice to sacrifice, no matter what the cost, for the greater good, and to achieve the possibility of true happiness in the next life? That's what all those kids in that room were searching for. A way out, and on to the next plane of existence/happiness.
I was unprepared to draw this parallel and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I mean, in all my years a gay man, I've never considered myself to be a Juvenile Delinquent, except when it comes to the way Mormons view me and judge me, for failing to obtain my Celestial goals. But when I look at it, it's shockingly clear. In order to conform to societal norms, to "be on the outs" with my peers who ascribe to this belief set, I have to make a choice. I can be myself and go to jail, or I can efface myself, sacrifice everything for God, and try and beat myself against the brick wall of unattainable Celestial Happiness. It brings me all the way back to walking the knife edge.
I almost did it. OtR and I planned our wedding. I was going to go for it. I was going to make the choice of family, culture, and future over present. I wanted to be rid of my Delinquent label so badly, that I was almost willing to do whatever it took. It would be hard, and I WOULD BE MISERABLE, but it would be worth it.
That's what I had been told for years and years. "No one ever said it would be easy, just that it would be worth it." Right? How many times have you heard that anecdote?
But then I couldn't do it. I couldn't hack it. I ended up right back where I started, all the case files open, exposed; everyone knowing what I was. Labeled forever. Reject. Sinner. Outcast. Homosexual. Freak. Delinquent.
These are not things I can shrug aside, even when well-meaning Mormons come to me and try and support me. They try and console me, buoy me up, and tell me that it will be okay. My FB friend asks me if I felt that way not in regards to my path and having lost everything. My initial reaction was no...
But I've been avoiding these feelings the entire time, ever since I made my break with OtR. Because it was the only way to survive. I do. I do still feel that way. How can you not? When you had everything and lost it? That will always be there no matter where you go, no matter what you call yourself, that labeling can never be undone. This is why I have distanced myself from Mormonism. Why I have unfriended almost every Mormon friend I've ever had. Why I don't consider myself a part of that organization anymore. Because I can't.
The pain runs so deep, it transcends flesh and blood. The scars that my belief system has inflicted upon me are ones that won't heal. Because as long as it reigns supreme, I am wrong. Everything about me is wrong. I have lost the prize, I have given up everything that matters, and for what? So that I can be happy now?
Interestingly enough, the answer is yes. So that I can be happy. The gospel is preached as a Gospel of Happiness, and when I told my Bishop that I would be happier outside the Church,he scoffed. But to me that's more important. Maybe I'm just not strong enough to look far enough ahead to see the Celestial future, but I can't dwell on that, or I'm going to go looking for a gun again. I haven't felt this way in YEARS. I mean, literally, YEARS. Because it was killing me. I can't even count the nights I spent crying, being at war with myself, trying to find a way to break out of the doors and locks and cells and prison bars. I escaped. By redefining EVERYTHING.
But now, today, it's all come back. The only way to not have that kind of weight absolutely obliterate you is to move away from it. That's why the ones who don't kill themselves leave. Yes, there are a few that stay, but I don't know how they do it. The sadness is a deep, dark chasm that never ends. Juvenile Detention is the end of the road... and suddenly the sadness I saw in all of their eyes, the results of their pain and suffering... it became 10x harder to deal with. These kids are lost, they are struggling, and they don't know where to go next, or how to break the cycle. When their lives had run the way they have, do they really have the resources and knowledge to make it once they get out?
I don't have answers, solutions, or inspirational words. I just have emotions, and a keyboard. And knowledge. Before the end of our post-conversation, my friend pointed out how much she loved to use the quote by Viktor Frankl:
Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.
And, ultimately, that's what I have done. I still don't know how to efface the walls and chains that other Mormons paint onto me, I don't know how to escape being a Delinquent in their eyes, so I do the only thing I know how to do. Turn what people would use against me into an asset, a badge of honor that I will wear proudly. I wear a bracelet proclaiming to the world that I am Gay. And that I'm okay with that. It took a lot of pain, suffering, and re-envisioning to get there, but I'm there now, and I don't regret any of it.
I don't dwell on Mormons. I don't dwell on their ideals and their goals. And least of all do I allow them to paint me into spaces that are damning. They can take their judging and their measuring, and their belief that I have failed elsewhere.
I did not choose to be gay. I chose to leave the Mormon Church because the unattainability of its most important goals was going to kill me. I chose to not marry OtR because I have a right to be in love, and I wasn't.
I choose to remain a Delinquent in the eyes of Mormons and the Church because I have re-aligned my world view to goals that are reachable, positive, and don't require me to lie continually about who I am in order to strive for some future goal that I can't even see. If I'm wrong about that in the end, so be it. I made the choice and I do not balk at the consequences that come with it. I will be a Delinquent in the eyes of Mormons because they mislabel me. I am happy, I am healthy, I am no longer at war with myself, and I have found my place.