“It was the Fall of 2004 in Rexburg, Idaho–a little Mormon college town just north of Idaho Falls. I sat across from my Mormon bishop in a small, closet-like campus office with no windows–my heart racing, palms sweating, and thoughts frantically buzzing around my brain. I felt small and ashamed in this man’s presence, like I was a 5-year-old girl sitting across from Santa Claus, about ready to hear I’d not only be getting coal in my stocking that year, but he was permanently placing me on the naughty list and everyone in my life would know it.
Only I wasn’t 5. I was 19, and this man wasn’t Santa Claus. He was my ecclesiastical leader. He was the man who held spiritual authority and power over me, who held the keys to me being in good graces with God, with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and with Brigham Young University, Idaho, the Mormon college I attended.
‘What’s this about?’ I asked nervously, trying to cover up the fear in my voice with a tight smile. ‘Is this just a get-to-know-you interview?’ He hadn’t been my bishop for long. In fact, I don’t think we had ever really spoken up to that point.
‘I wish it were a get-to-know-you interview, Crystal. But no. This is much more serious.’
I shifted in my seat as my heart pounded loudly in my ears. I had spent my 19 years of life desperately striving for perfection–in school, in church, in my relationships, in my public and private actions, and in my thoughts–to avoid this exact scenario.
‘It’s come to my attention you and your roommate, Stacy, have been sleeping in the same bed. Is this true?’
I could feel the blood drain from my face.
‘Um, y-y-yes?’ I stuttered, more like a question than a statement. ‘Is that not okay? We’re best friends. I know other best friends who sleep in the same bed.’ I suddenly felt the need to defend myself–I knew where this conversation was headed.
‘Someone, I can’t say who, says you two have been acting like lesbians. That you’re awfully close for being just friends. Two women should not be sleeping in the same bed, Crystal.’
I stared at him blankly, tears springing to my eyes– a rush of humiliation and shame flooding my nervous system.
‘You could be expelled for this,’ his voice boomed and echoed in my brain. ‘I could send you to the dean, and you could be expelled.’ Expelled… expelled… expelled…. The word rattled around my brain over and over again. ‘Do you and Stacy have sexual feelings for each other?’ he demanded.
I was mortified. I knew the consequences of these types of feelings–homosexual feelings. Expulsion from my Mormon college was the least of the potential backlash I could face. I could be called into a disciplinary counsel comprised of men with spiritual authority over me, maybe even excommunicated from the church–the only community I’d ever known, the community I called home, the spiritual home to my family, my extended family, and generations extending back many years on both sides of my lineage.
‘No!’ I said forcefully, half shouting. ‘I mean, I can’t speak for Stacy, but I know I don’t have those feelings for her. We’re just best friends.’
I lied. I had just lied to the man who connected me to God–the man who acted on God’s behalf for my benefit. I had never dared lie to a bishop before; I had never felt the need to. But I had never been so terrified in my life–so I lied. I did have sexual feelings for Stacy. We had never kissed. We had never touched each other in any way besides hugging, playing with each other’s hair, and snuggling in bed. I didn’t even know if she had sexual or romantic feelings for me. But I did have sexual feelings for her, and I couldn’t begin to understand what they meant or how to deal with them in that moment, so I lied–both to save myself from the shame of probable expulsion and other potential spiritual consequences, and to keep myself from having to actually face the reality I was sexually attracted to, and falling in love with, a woman.
I’ve never been interrogated by the police before, but I imagine the feeling of this moment to be similar. Except this was a form of spiritual interrogation instead of legal–a questioning of my loyalty to God, my steadiness on the path of righteousness, and my dedication to the Mormon faith as a good, chaste, virtuous woman. I loved my Mormon faith; it was my entire identity, and up to that point in my life, I had been the epitome of the perfect Mormon girl. This moment of interrogation, however, was the beginning of the end of my ‘perfection.’ It was the beginning of a long internal battle of conflicting identities–my emerging gay identity and my Mormon identity–and the beginning of a slow unraveling of extreme faith and dedication to this heteropatriarchal religious entity that had owned me since birth.
As a kid, I loved everything about the church. I loved nestling in between my mom and dad next to my younger sister and brother in the pews on Sundays, eating snacks and coloring while listening to the adult speakers talk about God. I loved singing children’s hymns about following Jesus. I loved constantly seeing my Mormon friends who were more like aunts, uncles, and cousins, not only for 3 hours every Sunday, but at church potlucks, campouts, and other social gatherings. Mormons take care of each other–they swap baking ingredients, babysit each other’s kids for free, and bring each other meals when a family member is in the hospital. They’re constantly checking in on each other, making sure everyone’s needs are met. I was enchanted and nourished by this community magic throughout my entire childhood.
When I was 8 years old, my love of the church grew to include a deep and obsessive loyalty to the faith and tenants of its doctrine. Not only was I baptized an official member of the church at this age, but this is when its teachings became extremely tangible to me. My dad, having been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor 2 years prior, died 3 months before I turned 9 years old. The nuclear family is the central unit of the Mormon church. It’s what everything is based on. Even the theology is centered on the nuclear family, with a Heavenly Father (God) at the head, Heavenly Mother at his side, and humans as their children. One of the church’s most stressed and most appealing doctrines is that families can be together forever–tied together in the afterlife–if the family is sealed together by God’s authority–only found in Mormon men–and if everyone in the family clings to and upholds all of God’s laws in this life.
Suddenly, at age 8, I felt the weight of eternity on my shoulders. I had to be perfect–say my daily prayers, study the scriptures daily, wear modest clothing that wasn’t too tight or revealing, only consume wholesome media, never swear, never think unkind or bad thoughts, never drink coffee or alcohol, share the gospel with every stranger I met, do everything asked of me by church leaders, and never allow myself to feel impure feelings—a.k.a. sexual arousal—for anyone besides the man I’d one day marry. Otherwise, I would be the weak link breaking the tie of our forever family. If I wasn’t perfect, I would never see my dad again.
It was also around this time I began to feel like there was something wrong with me. I could never quite name it; I just always felt like there was an evilness inside me, a reason to feel afraid of myself, to distrust myself, to be ashamed of myself. I’d toss and turn each night, racking my brain to come up with sins I had committed so I could confess them to my mom the next morning, and she could tell me if they were bad enough to confess them to my bishop in order to be forgiven.
At one point, when I was 9 years old, I approached my mom and sincerely asked, ‘Mom, what if I murdered someone in my sleep, and I just don’t remember it? I feel like I’ve done something really bad.’ My mom would do her best to calm my fears of myself and reassure me I was a good person, but I just knew there was evil inside me, and I was terrified it would come out and ruin my chances of seeing my dad again, no matter how perfect I behaved.
This supposed evilness did eventually come out–it started to bubble to the surface right there in that small windowless interrogation office where I began this story. I wish I could tell you that Stacy and I eventually expressed our love for each other. I wish I could say it didn’t take long for me to consciously acknowledge I was gay and to start the healing work of self-love and acceptance. But my identity roots were firmly and deeply planted in Mormon soil, and Mormon soil is not conducive to LGBTQ+ identities. When you’re conditioned to believe a unicorn is the devil from the time you are born, you end up being irrationally terrified of beautiful, unique, and fantastically magical unicorn creatures. This is what happened with me and my gayness–I was conditioned to believe my sexual orientation was evil, and this conditioning couldn’t be undone overnight.
That interrogation by my bishop at age 19 was not my last. There were more interrogations by more bishops, more shame to be felt, more pleading for forgiveness to be done. I filled the next 13 years of my life with a more concentrated effort to live the Mormon gospel as it was taught to me, to try to shove down what had bubbled up when I was 19. I served a full-time Mormon mission in Mississippi and Louisiana for 18 months, where I taught strangers about the Mormon gospel and doctrine. I attended the Mormon temple regularly. I dated countless men, desperately trying to attain the title of wife and eventual mother, as this was my purpose as a daughter of God, so I was taught. But no matter what I did, the gayness wouldn’t go away. And after years of sleepless nights, denial, suppression, countless tear-stricken pleas with God, and more intimate relationships with women, it all came to a head 4 years ago. My coming-out experience was in a faulty pressure cooker for 13 years and finally exploded in the spring of 2017.
I was driving home one evening after a particularly grueling therapy session–one in which I was trying to get to the bottom of my self-fear and shame–and the clash of my conflicting identities suddenly came crashing down on me. Anger and pain tore through my chest and ripped through my lips. ‘NOOOOO!!!’ I screamed repeatedly as I pounded my fists against the steering wheel of my car. In shrill screams and loud sobs, I wailed, ‘Either God did this to me – made me a pariah who will never get companionship in this life, never experience love, never experience family in the way that feels right to me! Either God punished me for no reason, with a punishment that goes against ALL he’s ever taught me I should do and be in this life, either God himself is a horrible monster OR the church is wrong about ALL OF IT! The church isn’t speaking for God! The church lies! The church is the monster!’
I screamed and I screamed as I drove. This was the moment of truth for me–when it all came crashing down. I knew I was gay, and either God did this to me, or the church was wrong and had made me hate and fear myself for no reason. The church I had trusted, the church that was my home, the church that held my family history, the church to which I had dedicated 32 years of my life–either that church was wrong, or God gave me an evil ‘disease’ that caused me to want to die on a continual basis because I would never get the chance to experience what he taught brings the fullness of joy in this life–marriage and family. God had given me a disease that eradicated even the mere hope for that kind of joy in this life.
In my heart of hearts, I knew the latter could not be true – this could not be an evil disease given to me by God. Somewhere inside of me, I knew by embracing my personal truth wholeheartedly, I could live a fuller, more vibrant, more colorful life. That by trusting myself, and becoming more genuine and authentic in my expressions, my desires, and in my relationships, I could actually become closer to God. So, about a week after this painful realization in my car, I began the process of coming out to my family and friends.
Coming out to my Mormon community wasn’t easy. Some people were supportive, and others were not. Many painful and tearful conversations were had–conversations in which I was made to feel unfaithful, selfish, and like I was following the devil. And while this was excruciatingly difficult, I continued to stay true to who I was–because I believed there was a brighter future for me. I had finally, after a lifetime of self-hatred and fear, dug to the source of my pain and mental distress. I was on the path to self-acceptance, self-love, and identity integration. I was headed towards freedom. Finally, for the first time in my life, I could feel a bit of relief, a glimmer of hope, and could imagine a life in which I didn’t have to just survive. I could live a life in which I could genuinely thrive and want to be alive.
I no longer attend the Mormon church, and my understanding of and relationship with God has shifted and expanded into something greater than it once was. The church wanted to keep me small, wanted me to conform to a cookie-cutter version of what it means to be human, put me in a box, and never let me leave – but I was dying inside that box. The church no longer aligns with my values or nourishes me in the ways I need for genuine growth and progression.
Over the past 4 years, I’ve built a new community of people – some from my past Mormon life who are proud of my current authentic self, and many from my new life as an active member of the LGBTQ+ community. Most importantly, though, I’ve found a sense of community and belonging in the natural world, just by being true to who I am. The peace and alignment I feel from trusting myself and embracing every part of me, is irreplaceable. I am finally safe and at home in my own body, mind, and soul.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Crystal Perry from Portland, Oregon. You can follow their journey on Instagram and her blog. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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