Chapter 12 – Come, All Ye Sons of God

And when your grief is o’er and ended your affliction,
Your spirits then will soar to await the Resurrection;
And then his presence you’ll enjoy,
In heav’nly bliss your time employ,
A thousand years in Zion to praise the Lamb.
“Come, All Ye Sons of God”, verse 4, LDS Hymns, lyrics by Thomas Davenport

 

Church is meant to be a sanctuary. It should be a consecrated place where we all feel safe from the troubles of the world. Latter-day Saints also expected to look out and protect one another from the pain and abuses inflicted by others. Unfortunately, my family’s place of worship was a place where my peers had another opportunity to cause extra stress in my life.

 

When an LDS boy turns 12, he leaves childhood behind and begins transitioning into manhood. The most important step the young men take is to accept the responsibility and authority of the Aaronic Priesthood and being ordained a Deacon. The boys are assigned a Quorum with an adult leader, but they are also guided by a presidency of four peers around their own age.

 

In January 1981, it was my turn to leave Primary and become  a Deacon in the Mormon church. My hope was that I could once again find safety among other boys who were doing their best to follow God’s commandments. The first cold Sunday morning I arrived at the church building with my father, I was dropped off at the building’s kitchen that also served as our classroom and met the other boys who made up the quorum.

 

There were fourteen of us leaning back in metal folding chairs around the perimeter of the kitchen. Kurt Monson, who was two grades ahead of me in school, started out the meeting by making a few announcements about Wednesday’s Boy Scout service project and who was going to pass the sacrament later in the day. He recognized me as the newest member of the quorum, welcomed me to the ranks, and then invited me to say the opening prayer.

 

After the prayer, the bishop of our congregation entered the room, and he took over the rest of the meeting.

 

“Good morning, brethren,” Bishop Calder said. “As many of you know, Brother Monson has served diligently as our Deacon’s Quorum president for a little over a year now. We are so grateful for his faithful service, but it is time for us to make some changes as he advances to the office of Teacher today.”

 

The boys in our room started looking around to see if any expressions would give away who would take  over as our new leader. Bishop Calder named the other boys who served with Kurt in the presidency and released them from their callings. We all raised our hands offering our approval of their service and waited for the announcement of their replacements.

 

“One of the joys of being a bishop is the opportunity to interview young men when it is time to extend a calling,” Bishop Calder said as he cleared a crack in his voice. “It is so rewarding to hear of your love of the gospel and witnessing your willingness to serve one another. The young man the Lord has called to serve are your new president exemplifies the best in all of us, and he also happens to be the newest member of our quorum–“

 

All eyes turned on me, and I was just as surprised as everyone else by the announcement. I thought the bishop was supposed to interview me first. I  was not ready to lead this group of boys. The bishop noticed the reactions in the room and laughed.

 

“Excuse me,” he said and cleared his throat again. “I guess I should say one of the newest members of the quorum. It’s proposed that we call Brother Nickolas Shepherd as president…”

 

I forget what was said after that. All that mattered was that Nick Shepard, my tormentor, was now responsible for my well being in church. Surely this was a cruel joke. God one not call someone who was so mean to be his servant. I looked around as the other boys raised their hands in approval of the callings. I wondering what would happen if I objected, but I raised my hand with the others and accepted Nick as my new leader.

 

The bishop then called on all of the boys who were released to speak, followed by our new leaders. Each boy said similar things–that it’s a joy to serve one another. Nick was the last one to speak, and he did seem a little bit humbled by his new calling.

 

“I will do my best in this calling,” he said looking around the room. His eyes stopped on me, and he swallowed hard. “I am also happy to see Colin join us in the quorum. This is going to be fun.”
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Chapter 11 – I walk alone

I wasn’t the most popular kid in school. In fact, I knew early on that I would be the type of child that most had to tolerate instead of choosing to include me in their activities. I wasn’t the last one picked for teams, but I was usually near the end of the selections. The way we divided teams during sports activities always caused anxiety; I hated the rejection. By the time sixth grade arrived, however, I had gotten used to the process. I quietly accepted the rejection.

It was also in sixth grade when one of my classmates, Nick, had decided to increase my misery levels during school hours. I didn’t realize it then, but my reactions to his teasing during recess were exactly what he wanted. He knew I hid in the bathroom and cried after our recent recess incident, and he liked it. I was to become the targeted victim in a plan to increase his popularity at school.

It started subtly. Nick made sure I could hear him whispering to other boys in class. Here’s how it usually went:

“Hey, did you know that Colin is gay?” he would say.

“What?”

“Colin, he’s a homosexual.”

“What’s that?”

“It means he likes boys.”

“Huh?”

“He doesn’t like girls; he likes boys!”

“Oh… you mean he’s a faggot?”

At that point there would be some snickering, and then I would get hit by a ball of crumpled paper. Of course, this was all done while Mrs. Frandsen wasn’t watching.

Nick never mentioned my secret—so secret that I still didn’t know it was true—to any of the girls in class. His gossip-mongering, however, lasted an entire week until all 17 boys in my class were informed of my deviant sexual preferences. As far as I knew, none of them bothered to stand up for me, but the worst part was I let it all happen. Some part of my upbringing—I’m not blaming anyone, mind you—something had told me that if I ignored the bullies, it would all stop.

Boy, was I wrong! Finally, the day that Nick had been hoping for arrived. Mrs. Frandsen was called out of the classroom, so we were all there without adult supervision. Nick had just what he wanted—a captive audience of 35 kids and the opportunity to say whatever he wanted. He motioned for his friend Brock to stand at the door and watch for Mrs. Frandsen, walked to the chalkboard, and began pacing the width of the room.

“Attention class, I have a very important matter to discuss with you today,” he said in his best attempt to sound like an adult.

Most of the boys laughed, and so did some of the girls.

“Settle down, kids. This is serious.”

“Sit down, Nick,” Kathy said.

“This concerns you, Kathy, so you better listen carefully.”

“Shut up, and sit down, Nick,” Kathy insisted. She stood up.

“Oh you’d want me to do that because you don’t want everybody to hear what I have to say. We all know you have a big crush on Colin, don’t we?”

Boys and girls laughed and whispered to each other. Kathy looked around for some support, but there wasn’t any. She looked at me with her sad, brown eyes and sunk back into her chair.

“Well,” Nick continued, “there’s a problem with you having a crush on Colin. He’ll never love you back And you know why, don’t you?”

I felt the blood rushing to my face, looked back at Kathy, and watched her sink lower into her seat. Some of the girls were whispering questions, and the boys were laughing.

“You know Colin’s secret, don’t you, Kathy. Well, it’s time everybody knew. You see, class, Colin will never love any girls because he’s a ho-mo-sex-u-al.”

He really let that last word last for an uncomfortably long time. The boys started laughing more, and girls started whispering amongst each other. “Is that true?” “Poor Kathy.” “That’s gross.”

“Let me tell you about homosexuals,” Nick continued. He was getting confident in his public speaking abilities. “Homo means the same, and sexual, well–”

“Cool it, Nick,” Brock said from the classroom door. “Mrs. Frandsen is coming back.”

The two boys returned to their desks and everybody did their best to look like they were busy working on their school work. I could feel people staring at me, and even though they tried hard to stifle them, an occasional boy or girl would let a giggle escape from deep within their gut. I didn’t dare turn and look and see if Kathy was suffering a similar level of discomfort.

Nobody spoke to me for the rest of the day, and they all made sure there was plenty of empty space around me at the lunch table. There’s usually a lot of movement in my class, but the students made sure to go out of their way to avoid my desk. Finally, when 3:15 arrived, all students rushed out the door. I pretended to search for something in my desk while everyone left. Is was easier than seeing their disapproving looks and mean laughter.

Kathy would probably be waiting for me in the hall. I looked at the hook where she usually hung her jacket in the hall, but she wasn’t there. I waited for ten minutes outside the girls’ restroom, but she never came out. For the first time since kindergarten, I walked home alone. I walked alone the rest of the school year.

Chapter 10 – Outed at Eleven

As we progressed to the upper grades of elementary school, recess increasingly became the time for boys to show off their athletic skills while the girls watched and gossiped on the sidelines. Occasionally, the girls would organize their own games, and a few would work their way into the boys’ competitions. I was never fortunate enough to be picked to play on any of the teams, so I spent most of my recess time with the sideline girls.

Late March meant that we were soon going to participate in the Presidential Physical Fitness Challenge. I wanted so badly to reach the top level this year–something that had never happened in the past. I did pretty well on most challenges, but it was the 40-yard dash that had always held me back. No matter how hard I tried, I was always about two seconds slower than the requirements.

I was sitting with Kathy and Tiffany; we were talking and watching a softball game. Corey Wood hit a fly ball far over the reach of the boys playing in the outfield. He casually tossed the bat behind him and started with a slight jog to first base. As he turned past each base, he picked up speed until he was sprinting towards home.

“He’s so fast,” Kathy said.

“I wish I could run like that,” I said, not thinking the others were listening.

“You can,” Kathy replied.

“What?”

“You can run as fast as Corey.”

“Nah.”

“Sure you can,” she gave me a small punch in the shoulder. “You just need to practice.”

We argued for a little while. Kathy insisted that if I practiced enough, I could get faster; I told her I didn’t believe her. She told me I need to believe in myself; I told her I believe that I am too slow. The truth is, I enjoyed her encouragement, and I kept arguing to keep her going.

“I can’t even do the 40-yard dash in less than 20 seconds.”

“Sure you can,” Kathy said. “It just takes practice.”

“But…”

“Why don’t you two go practice right now,” Tiffany interrupted our banter.

Kathy and I looked at each other and laughed.

“The start and finish lines are right over there,” Tiffany said, pointing to the blacktop area behind us. “You can race each other.”

line divider

“But we don’t have a stopwatch,” I yelled at Tiffany, as she turned around and faced us from the finish line.

“Doesn’t matter. You’re just practicing, right?”

“That’s right,” Kathy punched my shoulder again. “Just a practice. Let’s go.”

Kathy pulled her dark, black hair into a ponytail, placed her hands on the starting line in front of her, and put her feet in a racing start position. I awkwardly did the same.

“Ready!” Kathy yelled to Tiffany.

Tiffany raised both hands and yelled “Ready… set… go!”

She dropped her hands, Kathy started running, and I followed a split second behind her. I ran as fast as I could, but every time I thought I would catch up with Kathy, she would pick up speed just a little. I think she crossed the finish line a full two seconds before me.

“Nice race,” she said. “Let’s do it again.”

The look I gave her was meant to say no, but she just smiled and skipped back to the starting line. I felt obligated to follow. We assumed our starting positions, and Tiffany started our next race. Kathy was even faster this time, and Nick was waiting with Tiffany at the finish line. How did he get there so fast?

“Way to go, chump,” Nick said in between laughs. “Get beat by a girl often?”

“Shut up, Nick!” Kathy said.

“I’m not surprised, though. After all, you are just one of the girls.”

“Let’s go,” I said to Tiffany and Kathy. I hated confrontations, and it was easier for me to just walk away.

I started walking to the outside drinking fountain with my friends, and Nick followed. He continued laughing.

“Where you going?” he asked. “To paint your fingernails? That’s what girls do together.”

“Shut up,” Kathy said. She turned and stepped between my persecutor and me.

“He’ll never be your boyfriend, Kathy. You know why?”

“I don’t want him as a boyfriend!”

“Well, that’s good, because it will never happen because he likes boys.”

I froze. Did Nick really just say that? How did he know? I wasn’t really sure if I knew. I mean, I had noticed some strange habits when I watched a football or basketball game. In the past I paid attention to the games, but recently, I had started thinking about how muscular and handsome the athletes were. I told myself I was just admiring the types of physiques I would like for myself.

“I told you to shut up, Nick!” Kathy said. This time she slugged him in the shoulder.

“Let’s go,” I said. “It’s not worth it.”

“Just like a faggot to run away!” Nick shouted as we went through the doors to the school.

The three of us walked in silence until we reached the restrooms. We stopped. Tiffany and Kathy looked at each other, hoping to come up with something to say. I looked down, held out my hands, and pretended to inspect them.

“I need to wash my hands,” I said.

“Okay,” the two girls said in unison.

I surveyed the room once I entered to make sure I was alone, entered one of the three empty stalls, shut the door, and cried until recess ended.

 

Time for renewal

LDS General Conference Crowd Photography
LDS General Conference Crowd Photography (Photo credit: JeremyHall)

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven”

It has been several months since I have posted on here. In the time that I have been away, a few interesting developments have happened within the various LDS church organizations and people within the church. Here are some of my favorites.

Time for healing within the LDS church

Last fall the LDS church made a new website available to the public. The purpose was to share their views on gays within the church organization. Many people complained that it was not enough. Personally, I feel that it is a great first step in the official organization building bridges that have been damaged over the years.

Unfortunately, too many people who consider themselves faithful members of the church still have unkind and unfair views toward their gay family and friends. I see the website as an important move to help people realize that we have the same dreams and spiritual needs that everyone else has.

Time for the Boy Scouts of America

I posted a little bit about some of my experiences in the Cub Scouts, and I will post some stories about my time with the Boy Scouts. It’s exciting to see that the BSA is considering a change in its policy about gay scouts and scout leaders. The opinions I read on various articles about the topic are pretty divisive, but it’s a discussion that we need to have.

Time for gay Mormons to let people know who we are

A few months ago Jimmy posted a video coming out to his friends and family. I first discovered it from a Facebook post his sister Jolie posted. I have known Jolie for years through the small LDS film circuit, and I am impressed with her work and love shown towards her brother.

Within weeks, Jimmy’s video went viral, and I saw it mentioned on different news programs. Overall, I think the public response has been positive and supportive. I wish him the best.

Time for General Conference

Believe it or not, I look forward to General Conference every six months. I happen to know a lot of other gay and lesbian members and former members of the church who also pay attention to this weekend. We want to know what the leaders are going to say. We hope and pray that our issues of being bullied and feeling excluded will finally be addressed. We feel left out.

I am not sure what will be taught at this conference, but I know it will be a time of spiritual renewal for millions of people across the globe. Please remember many of those seeking spiritual renewal are your gay brothers and sisters.

Chapter Seven – I Want to Dance

I continued playing basketball for several weeks. Every Saturday morning we would practice as a team for about 30 minutes, and then we would play a game against one of the other teams in the gymnasium. I would spend most of the game sitting on the bench. Whenever I asked the coach when I got to play, he would tell me that he’s saving me as his secret weapon. .

By secret weapon, Coach Packer meant the only thing I was good for was to foul our opponents. Our last game arrived, and we were definitely outmatched. The boys on the other team all seemed at least one year older and six inches taller. They were more coordinated and were able to run and dribble the ball at the same time without any trouble. My teammates couldn’t.

Of course, for most of the game I was sitting on the bench watching my team getting humiliated by the more talented crew. Yet, for some reason I didn’t really care. I let my short, bare legs swing under the bench as I sang a song I heard my sisters play over and over. I may have had the lyrics wrong, but I didn’t care about that, either.

“Don’t go breaking my heart. Don’t, don’t, go breaking your heart!”

Finally, Coach Packer had heard enough of my singing and interrupted.

“I need you to do me a favor, buddy,” he said. “You see that boy over there? Number 12?”

He pointed to the tall, tan boy with dark brown hair dribbling the ball. Number 12 ran past three of the boys on my team, stopped, and shot the ball. He scored two points. His light brown eyes seemed to smile when he slapped hands with his teammate.

“He’s good,” I said.

“He’s too good,” my coach replied. “I need you to take him out. Next time he gets the ball, you foul him. Got it?”

I nodded my head. I couldn’t believe it. I was going to finally play in one of our games, and I was supposed to stop that cool player on the other team from scoring another basket. I replaced Danny in the lineup—he wasn’t much better a ball player, but at least he knew how to pass the ball—and the game resumed.

Nick received the ball and started dribbling to our basket. A blond boy with freckles on his arms almost stole the ball, so Nick tried to pass it to Brock. The tan boy with dark hair stepped forward and grabbed the ball. It was my turn; coach had told me to take him out.

I ran to the boy, but he moved fast and stepped around me. If I didn’t do something fast, he would make another basket. I did the only thing I could think of to stop him. I ran as fast as I could, lowered my shoulders, wrapped my arms around his waist, and knocked him to the floor.

Boys circled around us, and started encouraging us to fight. I didn’t want to fight, and it didn’t look like the other boy did either. We just stood up and looked at each other. Our coaches came onto the floor, and they both looked a little bit disappointed that they didn’t have a fight to break up.

“We can’t have that happening,” a referee yelled at my coach. “He’s out of the game.”

“He’s right, buddy,” Coach Packer said. He turned away from the referee, winked, and whispered, “but good job.”

We returned to the bench to watch the remaining 11 of the game. I started singing again, but that didn’t hold my interest for very long.

“Can I go wait for my dad with my sisters?” I asked my coach.

“Yeah, go ahead.”

The dancers were lined up in front of a long mirror in the back of the room. There were eleven dancers total—ten girls and one boy. The dance teacher was bent over a record player. She carefully placed the needle on the rotating turntable, stood up, counted backwards from five, and then faced the dancers.

“Do The Hustle,” the dancers all shouted as the music started.

The dancers moved to the right and left in unison. They stepped forward and then back, and they spun all at the right time. I could tell they were all having fun—especially the boy in the middle because I could see his big smile reflected in the mirror.

I wanted to do that. I wanted to dance. Until I saw the boy in that \class, I thought dancing was just for girls. When my dad came to pick us up, I told him I wanted to take a class like my sisters. He frowned a little but told me he would see what he could do.

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about my experience in dance classes, but let me say I was a little bit disappointed. Dad found the most masculine dance class there was and enrolled me. I think it was actually a martial arts class disguised as dance. We had three clumsy boys, and we learned a few moves and poses choreographed to the “Kung Fu” theme song.

It wasn’t nearly as fun as the dance class my sisters were in, and I soon lost interest.

Chapter Three – Boys Being Boys

Danny, Peter, and I got into a lot of trouble together the next eighteen months. One of our favorite activities was to play in the creek at the edge of the neighborhood. There we would search for frogs, snakes, or other wild creatures we could bring home as new pets. Our mothers didn’t like it when we brought home the animals, and we would be sent back to the creek to release them back into the wild.

That summer was a special one. It was the year that our nation was celebrating the Bicentennial. We had large parades and amazing fireworks displays in the park. We learned about the Revolutionary war and patriotism. We were told how much of a privilege it was to live in a country with so much freedom.

We also loved participating in the huge neighborhood games such as capture the flag, flag football, or baseball that would fill two or three front lawns with children playing together. When it got hot outside our games would turn into massive water fights—and nobody was safe from those battles.

A cool summer morning about a dozen boys had already gathered at my house to decide what we were going to play for the day. We argued for a while, but finally Peter’s older brother, Rick, suggested we play a new game that he learned about in school.

“Let’s play Smear the Queer,” he said.

The older kids all agreed, but Peter, Danny, and I had never heard of the game. It sounded a little dangerous.

“What we do,” Rob said, “is throw around the ball. If the ball is thrown to you, you have to catch it. If you drop it, you are queer, and we tackle you.”

“But if you are holding the ball, you are queer, too,” he added. “You have to pass the ball to somebody else before you get tackled.”

We threw the ball around for about thirty minutes. I would immediately pass the ball to somebody else before I got called a queer and tackled. The older boys enjoyed beating each other up and laughing about them being queer. It was sort of fun, as long as I wasn’t the one being beaten in the game.

The week before we all started Kindergarten, we decided that we wanted to build a clubhouse where the three of us could just get away. Danny said he had the perfect place behind his house, and so we gathered our tools and trekked to his place.

“Here’s where it will be,” he said as we looked over a big patch of dirt behind his garage.

“There aren’t any trees,” I said. “I want a tree house.”

“I have a better idea,” Danny said. “We can live underground. We can dig tunnels.”

That sounded like a great idea. We found what we could to start digging—one shovel, a hoe, and a rake. The ground was especially hard, and we weren’t making very much progress.

“We need a jackhammer,” Peter said.

“I have an idea,” Danny said.

He left and returned with a garden hose that was spraying water. The ground was getting softer as the dirt turned into mud. Our digging became more productive as our holes filled with water and became larger.

“We should all live here together when we are old,” Danny said.

“That would be so neat,” Peter agreed.

We decided we could make three big underground bedrooms connected by tunnels. It would be so great to live together forever with my best friends, but I thought there could be a problem.

“What happens when we get married?” I asked.

“I’m never going to marry a stupid girl,” Danny said. “I want to marry a boy. Boys are more fun.”

“Me, too,” Peter agreed.

That idea seemed a little strange to me at the time. After all, all of the married couples I knew about consisted of a man and a woman. My mom and dad. My grandparents. My aunts and uncles. Even my cousin who just got married.

“Can two boys get married?” I asked.

“Why not?” Peter said. “If they like each other, they should.”

“Yeah,” Danny added. “It’s a free country, isn’t it?”