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’ve 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 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 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.
20 Apr, 2013
Just read your story. I had no idea the extent of what you went through, but from what you said to me after a blessing you gave me and what I had felt in my heart that you had been through some sort of abuse and because of that you had a special place in my heart. Just know that you are simply amazing and such a great example to me and I truly feel blessed that I know you who is an example to me of Christ-like love. Although your story was hard to read for me (as is any story of abuse), I feel it will definitely help many people.
20 Apr, 2013
A pretty eye-opening and intensely personal account of past tragedy but with strength at the forefront. I already admired you and your compassion, kindness and drive to constantly help others, but my appreciation only increased after reading that. Thank you for sharing it — I doubt it was easy by any stretch. This is a very sensitive issue and one that I've been increasingly a champion for in regards to reaching out and caring for those who are in that position. I've been happy to see the strides the Church is making to address that recently. The more voices the better, I say.
20 Apr, 2013
Your story touched my heart. You seem to explain your journey in such an authentic way. May you know how blessed I am to hear you be so vulnerable. Thank you!”
20 Apr, 2013
“Thank you so much for being there for people like me who do not have the courage to speak for ourselves!”
20 Apr, 2013
“Thank you for your courage to share. I wish I had the guts to do the same. I can relate to you on so many levels. I love you!”
20 Apr, 2013
“Thanks, Kerry. I've already looked at Voice(s) of Hope. It's awesome. I'm really grateful for such inspired resources.”
20 Apr, 2013
Your essay was deeply moving. You are a great example of faith and of strength. I admire you a lot for what you have gone through and how you have gone through it. I have family members and close friends who have struggled with same-sex attraction. I have some idea of the years of anguish and the wrenching struggle that it can be especially for those who choose not to act on their feelings. Voice(s) of Hope is a wonderful title for your project. Yours and others truly are voices that give hope-- Hope that change and peace are possible through Jesus Christ and his atonement. God bless you.
20 Apr, 2013
Kerry! What an amazing story! How courageous of you to share that, and what a great thing you have done with Voice(s) of hope. Of course, I was already aware of it - we have the book as well.”
23 Apr, 2013
Booooom!!!! That is the sound of my mind being blown :). After reading your incredible, candid story I have so much I want to say to you. I am overwhelmed by what an incredible person you are, and by the Christ like compassion you extend. You have demonstrated an overwhelming capacity for forgiveness and kindness. I am in awe of what a brave person you are to do what you are doing now and to have dealt with what you have had to deal with in your life and not only survived, but flourished as a wonderful father, husband, church leader and exeemplar of Christian service to others.
24 Apr, 2013
Wow, Kerry! Your transparency is both courageous and admirable. Thank you for sharing your journey. It was beautifully written, and so honest, and so filled with hope. My gratitude extends to your wife and family. I am so glad you listened to the voice of the Lord telling you she was the one you were going to marry. Warmest regards to you both.
24 Apr, 2013
Kerry, I am so, so happy for you and very grateful for what you've shared. Courageous. Very courageous.
In my house, I have a piece of artwork which you gave me. It's a framed old-timey map of Africa burned on to leathery piece of bark. You gave it to me as a remembrance of the good times we had together while teaching so many West Africans in D.C. Over the years it's origin comes up from time to time. I tell my kids I got it while on my mission from a really awesome guy. I have never felt that more keenly that I do today. Awesome, good brother. You are really awesome. Miss you lots.
30 Apr, 2013
I have always admired your happiness, optimism, and complete selflessness. Knowing what you went through early in your life makes me respect you, and admire those traits in you, even more. Time and again, I have seen you carefully consider, pray about, and do everything in your power to address issues in other people's lives. Your willingness to share your story in the hope that it might help somebody else is yet another example of why I have such great respect for you.
5 May, 2013
What you've shared here is remarkable. I was both humbled and uplifted by it. THANK YOU for having the courage and the heart to share it. It has given me, and many others, the inspiration and strength to one day share our story. The very last paragraph sums up my experience in the healing process.
19 May, 2013
I read your essay. It brought tears to my eyes, and made me laugh, too! Your story is beautiful. The part where you read Ty's article is very close to how I felt. your story is very different than mine, but the inner turmoil is much the same. All our reasons are unique, just as our paths are. Your story is not one that I will ever forget. There is so much honest strength in it, in you. I cannot begin to describe what this means to me, along with Voices of Hope. I think you can understand that.
21 May, 2013
Kerry, I am very thankful for the gospel of Jesus Christ and its healing power. What an inspiring testimony. I knew you in those early DC years and I'm astonished and amazed by how you managed what none of us knew and yet what we did know was an amazing interesting very funny guy. Your strength, integrity and clarity are magnificent. I pray Gods richest blessings on you through time and eternity. You will teach what few can.
24 May, 2013
wow. thank you for trusting the world with this. it is all of you. it is heartbreaking. it is empowering. thank you.
2 Jun, 2013
Wow! This story is amazing. Thank you for your honesty and openness. Thank you for having the courage to share such personal thoughts with the world. I wanted similar things to you but was convinced I could never have them and had let myself believe that living a gay lifestyle was the only way I could be truly happy. When that did not make me happy, I felt like I had run out of options as well. Your story gives me hope that, even if I don't know what the future holds, if I return to my faith, I can at least find peace...and that will be good enough for me. Thanks again for sharing your story.
2 Jun, 2013
This story is the most amazing thing that I have ever read. I have to confess, that it made be cry a few times as I have felt exactly the same as you have and wondered if I could ever feel "normal" as well. I'm not near where you are yet but I can see where I want to end up and I'm taking it day by day, trying to make positive changes that will help me get to where I want to be. Knowing that people like you have been there and can make it gives me the hope to keep trying when I feel discouraged and alone. Thank you for having the courage to be a Voice of Hope. Maybe someday, I can be one.
2 Jun, 2013
Kerry, I have always admired your goodness, your willingness to do anything you could to help other people whether you knew them or not, your example of Christ-like service and your love of the gospel. I, and all of the missionaries that served with you through the years respected you more than you knew. After reading your story, I feel like I failed you by not considering that you might be having a tough time. I hope you'll forgive me that you had to go through this alone. That being said, words can't express how much more I admire, love and respect you now that I know the man you truly are.
2 Jun, 2013
Wow. Thank you so much for sharing your story. While it was sad and brought a tear to my eyes several times, it was really good and inspiring. I am so sorry for all those hardships that have affected your life. While I have never had to endure through those hardships, I discovered my ssa just over a year ago. I was extremely confused and didn't know why this was happening. Thank you for sharing your story and setting a great example. I wish someday I could have the strength to post mine on here. Thanks!
2 Jun, 2013
I just read your story on the Voices page. Can I just say I'm sorry you ever had to go thought those pains but thank you for setting a great example and sharing your story.
2 Jun, 2013
I re-read your story again. More carefully. Word by word. Again I am amazed! Perhaps you instinctively already know this, but you are one of the strongest men I have come to know!
3 Jun, 2013
I read your story today. To say that I had no idea of the struggles you had experienced throughout your life is the understatement of the century. It is amazing to me that someone who has been an example to so many for so long could experience such private pain and sorrow, yet manage to always put the needs of others first. You always inspired me, Kerry, and, frankly, intimidated me as well with your energy, effort and enthusiasm for everything in life you did. Now, you simply amaze me. Thank you for sharing this part of your life with us. Your honesty and candor will help many people.
3 Jun, 2013
My bishop talked about how awesome the Voices of Hope project today in PEC and encouraged us to go look at it. Imagine my surprise to see your story there after all these years. I feel awful that you had to go through this all by yourself. Looking back, I was probably a jerk then about this subject and didn't make it any easier for you to talk about. Please forgive me for being such a bad friend. I'm glad that you finally found peace and happiness in your life. I'll never forget your many kindnesses to me and my wife when we first moved to DC. I hope our paths cross again, my brother.
3 Jun, 2013
I sobbed when I read this. So much of this could be my story. The abuse. The suicide attempt. The struggles to overcome SGA. No one knows what it's like -- the loneliness, the attempt to have this not consume my life. Like you, I'm married with kids and grandkids. I'm a stake president and don't have the strength and courage to open up like you did. I admire you more than you know and envy you for knowing you are loved for who you are.
4 Jun, 2013
Holy cow. I just finished your essay. Thank you for what you wrote. While we both have different stories, I connected a lot with what you wrote. I can't remember ever being abused but my heart resoundingly ached as I read what had happened to you.
6 Jun, 2013
Wow, what can I say. I just finished reading your essay on the Voices of Hope website last night. Thank you so much for sharing your story! My eyes didn't stay dry while I read. it has been great getting to interact with others who understand what I am going through and are also determined to live the gospel. I no longer feel that I am alone in all this. Hope now exists where not long ago only fear and doubt resided. Thank you for all you do for guys like me!
8 Jun, 2013
I've always looked up you as someone who was always an example of Christ-like love to everyone you met whether you knew them or not. For someone who bravely and secretly faced so many challenges through the years without ever complaining about it in anyway, my hat goes off to you. I didn't think it was possible to admire or respect you anymore than I did already. Reading your essay made me realize I was wrong.
9 Jun, 2013
I finally read your essay on Voices of Hope! Thank you for sharing. It's amazing, and I am glad you made it!
9 Jun, 2013
Thank you for your profound honesty. Not sure why, but the Google ad on my sidebar right now is for skydiving. Appropriate, in a way, for the amazing courage that I imagine it takes to jump into the world with your story. Free fall. Same earth as before, but a different kind of personal acceleration. I want to worship with a community that listens without judgment and welcomes the yearning heart, and Voices of Hope speaks directly to that potential. Most importantly, it is people like you who anchor this vision. Thank you, Kerry, for sharing something so deeply personal with us.
10 Jun, 2013
I want to tell you is that I think you are amazing! I am so sorry you had to endure what you did and am so impressed that you are such a faithful member of the Church, a great husband and dad after all you have been through. I admire you even more now. Thank you for sharing your story with me. You are doing a lot of good in the world with your web site and story. So keep going! There are many out there who need to see successful people pull through these terrible tragedies. You are a great example of resilience and faith!
12 Jun, 2013
Thank you for being strong enough to share your story and share many intimate details of it with us. You are so full of wisdom and you’re not afraid to beat around the bush which is what keeps so many from true healing. I wanted to say “Thank You” for reaching out to me when I first joined North Star. Had you not reached out to me and pulled me in I am almost positive that I would not have reached out to anyone, and I would still be feeling as much pain and loneliness as I was a few months ago. I don't know you very well, I've never met you but I have a great deal of love for you.
12 Jun, 2013
I just want you to know how much I respect you not only for all that you've overcome in your life to accomplish what you have but for the example you are to me and everyone that knows you of Christ-like service. I have never known you to refuse help to anyone who needed it whether you knew them or not. Some people in your shoes might be bitter or unhappy but you are always concerned about lifting up other people instead of worrying about your own problems.I admire and respect you more than you will ever know--as does everyone else I know who also knows you. You are the most amazing man I know.
14 Jun, 2013
I was abused when I was little. I never told anybody but it made me feel like you did - broken and ashamed. It has kept me from making friends my whole life. I'm tired of feeling this way and want to experience the kind of wholeness and peace you have found so I have decided to tell people. I hope my wife and kids are as understanding as yours were. Thanks for finding your courage so I could find mine. You have no idea how much better I feel just knowing I'm not going to have to carry this secret around with me much longer. I think my life is about to get a lot better. Thanks again for sharing
26 Jun, 2013
I loved your story; you're an excellent writer! Thank you! Maybe one day I'll be invited to share my story, and hopefully that opportunity is there for all who may have that desire to tell it. Although your story truly is amazingly inspiring, all (or a lot) of us also have a story - personal, unique, equally valuable, meaning and worth telling. Thanks Kerry!
28 Jun, 2013
Wow, One amazing person. We have more in cmomon than i had realized. I appreciate all that you have done and are doing for the SGA community. I look forward to our dicussion. Thanks for your presentaion last night. I was brought to tears and also now realize that there is hope.
4 Jul, 2013
I just finished reading your essay. Understand this: my respect, admiration and love for you didn't waiver, even for a second, as I read your story. You're still and will ever remain one of my dearest and most treasured friends. I cannot imagine what you have been through. I'm one of those who would've never dreamed that you'd experienced such things. I want to commend you for becoming the kind of person that you are today. There are so many people in this world who, for whatever reason, can't recover from trauma like this. Just when I thought you were done impressing me, there you go again.
6 Jul, 2013
You have always impressed me with your sincerity and your love for other people. Then, I read your story and was blown away that someone who had experienced these kinds of trials in their life could not only be as "normal" as you are but could dedicate their life helping as many different people in as many different ways as you have. You hardly even knew me yet were willing to help in so many ways. I don't think I know anyone on the planet that I admire and respect more than you. It was an honor meeting you in person.
8 Jul, 2013
I was at the presentation you gave in my ward on June 30. I went and read your story. Can I tell you that you are an amazing example of strength and courage? As you were sharing about telling your family, I felt you were looking right at me, knowing that I needed to tell mine about a similar "secret" I'd kept for nearly 30 years. I'm scared to death on how it will go but I wanted to thank you for giving me hope that I don't have to live with this fear and shame the rest of my life. Thank you for your honesty and willingness to step out and be a Voice of Hope to me. Maybe someday, I'll be one.
11 Jul, 2013
While our stories are somewhat different, I can relate to many of the feelings you identified in your essay. I'm taking a big leap of faith that, by not keeping my SSA a secret anymore, that I will be able to be happier and more authentic in my relationships. Right now, I'm sad and lonely and I think I just need to know who is in my camp and who isn't -- including my family. Thanks for being willing to put yourself out there like this. You give people like me strength that, somehow, my life can be better than it is right now.
16 Jul, 2013
I loved your bumble bee analogy. No one knows about my SSA. I have been too afraid to tell anyone because of what they might think about me. I never wanted to go live a gay lifestyle but didn't know I could have options. Thank you for showing me that not only is there an option I wasn't aware of but that lots of people are making that option work. I have felt more optimistic than I have in years.
18 Jul, 2013
Just read your complete story. Amazing. What a burden to carry for so many years. And what a transformation has and continues to occur in your life. Thanks for sharing. These VOICES OF HOPE are really helping us all to grow. Thanks again.
18 Jul, 2013
Your story captured me from beginning to end. I can't imagine how hard it must have been to kept that all a secret for so long. I wept openly at several parts of your story. I admire your courage and strength and am grateful you have found happiness and peace later in life. You are an inspiration to thousands of people. Thanks for stepping out.
21 Jul, 2013
Kerry! This story was amazing. I would have never guessed that someone like you had ever gone through something like this. You are loved and admired by SO MANY PEOPLE. That you overcame all of these trials to be the person that you are leaves me speechless. I love and respect you so much more than I did before. Your Voices of Hope project is amazing and I have many friends that it will help. Thank you for your compassion, your honesty and your example to all of us. I join a long list of people who considers myself lucky and blessed to be a part of your life.
22 Jul, 2013
So, uh, Harding...WOW. I guess I've missed a lot in the last 25 years, huh? So, dude...I just want to say that I think it is awesome that you are doing this. I feel bad that I sucked so much as a friend when you were just starting to deal with it. If I had known, maybe things could have been different or better but then, I guess the Lord knows what He is doing and you wouldn't be the man you are today without going through everything you did. I just wanna say that I'm proud of you and that I love you. Keep the faith and stay awesome.
22 Jul, 2013
Your story was, quite simply, inspiring. By the way, as a side note, you are an incredible writer (I would have felt remiss if I had left that out). My respect for you increased as the paragraphs progressed. I'm sorry that those terrible things happened, and am simultaneously uplifted to see how you overcame various struggles. And another side note, the website was fantastic--you have truly done a great job. I think it is a great idea, and undoubtedly will assist others in need of help or guidance.
23 Jul, 2013
As someone whose husband just acknowledged his own same-sex attraction after 18 years of marriage, I struggled to find resources this week that would give me hope that the life we have together isn't over. While my husband stated he has no desire to ever act on these attractions, he has been feeling dishonest with me and God by keeping them a secret. We both wept as we read your story together last night. Do you have any idea the kind of good you are doing by having the courage to step forward? It can't have been easy this late in life. You are obviously very accomplished by now. Thank you!
23 Jul, 2013
Thank you for taking the time to write your story. I connected with a lot of the things you mentioned. I haven't told very many people about my SGA because I don't think they would understand as much but I hate feeling like I'm two different people. I just want these feelings to go away. Will they? I don't want to be this miserable for the rest of my life. Sometimes, like you, I just think it would be easier to die and not have to worry about what people think of me.
24 Jul, 2013
I don't know what words I can write to explain how thankful I am to you for writing your story. You see, my own story is eerily similar to yours. I was able to work through (not around) the abuse and have started to feel peace. The SSA may never go away, but you know what? That's okay. My relationship with Heavenly Father is all that really matters. If I strive to do His will and feel His love, I'm confident that I will eventually find the plan that He has for my life. I just wanted you to know that I deeply appreciated your voice of hope. What a powerful insight! Anyways, thanks again!
25 Jul, 2013
I stumbled upon the Voices of Hope site through a post on my news feed, having absolutely NO idea that you had anything to do with this or that your story would be part of this project. I'm speechless. All the times you came to our house, I thought you were one of the Mormons who had always had the perfect life and didn't know what it was like to have any problems. Boy, was I wrong!!! Your honesty inspires me. Your strength encourages me. Your desire to serve your fellowman in this way humbles me to be more selfless in my endeavors. Thank you for letting me be a part of your life.
1 Aug, 2013
Thank you for sharing this. I could relate to so many things you talked about. I have recently decided to disclose this part of myself to my family and it hasn't gone so well. I'm taking this one day at a time but am feeling so much happier that it's not this terrible secret that I live in fear of people finding out about. I'm so grateful to have discovered this Voices of Hope project. I shared it with my bishop and he was wondering why no one had told him about this sooner. I am grateful that the Church is taking such a leadership role in bringing this issue to the forefront like this.
5 Oct, 2013
I read your essay on Voices of Hope. I can feel the spirit's influence touching me when I read stories like yours and that feeling is beyond value. There is so much encouragement and strength derived from transparency and experience-based truth. I feel it and am thankful for the examples of faith, like you, who can bring that feeling to help others.
7 Oct, 2013
Thanks Brother Harding for sharing your story! I felt the Spirit so strongly as I read your words and know that Heavenly Farher has inspired you to share so that you can inspire others and be a light to those who struggle with SSA. I appreciate your candor and admire your example. Thanks!
9 Oct, 2013
Your essay is very powerful and made me bawl for a while. The power of telling our stories in a vulnerable way increases empathy like nothing else.
9 Oct, 2013
Kerry-- I have SO much respect for you. I knew that you were leading this project, but never knew that you yourself were one of the "Voices" of hope. It takes courage to share what you have shared. Your story is a shining example of our Savior's love for each of us-- despite our situations. You are very strong, and I am in awe of the way you are using your strength to bless others. Thank you for sharing that with me, and for allowing me and others to see the Lord's hand in your life in such a powerful way. God bless you and your wonderful wife and family for being such good people. Wow. Thank you is all I can say.
4 Nov, 2013
Kerry, you are a miracle. Yours is a very powerful voice for hope. Enduring that much abuse, and those many painful years of suffering its aftereffects, and yet still turning out to be the good man that you are has impacted my testimony of the Atonement. You are a fantastic example to me. Thank you for your exquisite testimony and love...I will be forever indebted for this. I am certain that Heavenly Father beams with pride and joy every time He thinks of His son Kerry Harding. My heart is full.
4 Nov, 2013
Beautiful, Kerry. Absolutely heart wrenching and beautiful.
10 Nov, 2013
What a beautiful and inspired project! Congratulations for not only your role in spearheading it, but your touching testimony posted therein. It was a moving account of a tragic period in a great man’s life. We love and appreciate your friendship and are grateful for the countless individuals who will be touched by your talented efforts in this site.
3 Dec, 2013
Kerry - I now better understand your compassion for others. Your anguish of the past has created the foundation upon which you have built a bridge for others to cross to find personalized healing and peace. I don't have words to describe my respect for your valiant efforts and indelible personality. And your wife likewise.
12 Dec, 2013
I am so sorry! All I can do is cry -I am speechless - how could I have been so blind to the despair you felt during those years? My heart is so heavy with grief knowing that I was there and wasn't able to help you. You certainly did hide this terrible secret well. You were and are remarkable Kerry.
I pray that what satan intended for evil, God will triumph in your behalf. You are the strong leader you are today because of what you have endured and learned from this secret of your life. what courage God has given you to reach out to others with a message of Hope for those who call on his name and believe he is able to deliver us. I will pray that god will continue to give you the strength and wisdom to continue in this mission of helping others.
25 Dec, 2013
I stumbled across your entry on the Voices of Hope website tonight. The current debate on same-sex marriage in our country has caused me to want to do some research to learn more about same-sex attraction, and Voices of Hope was a website I found this morning. You never really know what people have gone through, do you? Thank you for your courage to share your experiences to help others. I know from my visit to DC earlier this year that you are one of the kindest and most selfless individuals I have met.I remember you mentioning the Voices of Hope website...I just didn't realize how personal the project was for you. I'm just saying thanks for being genuine and a friend. I don't struggle with SSA, but your story touched me, and I wanted to say thanks.
6 Jan, 2014
Today, I had the chance to go look at your Voices of Hope project. To my surprise, there, I discovered your own essay. As I read through it, I was stunned. No one, including me, would have ever guessed you would have experienced so many trials and traumas in your life. Your faith, hope and love for all of God's children radiates from you to everyone around you. Your selfless love in trying to help everyone in your path is a legend in your ward. While I don't experience same-sex attraction personally, I have many who are close to me who do and I know all too well how they have struggled to resolve how a loving God would not be willing to take this way from them after much fasting and prayer. It is admirable and even enviable, how you have learned to harness something that could have made your life miserable in order to help thousands and potentially, even millions of people down the road. Yours is testimony of the power of perseverance and choice in creating the life you want.
6 Jan, 2014
As a member of your ward, it was all I could do not to cry with you today as your bore your testimony of your struggles with same-sex attraction and how they had helped you to better understand the Atonement in real and practical ways. I was stunned to hear that someone who is as admired, respected and loved as you are could also deal with something I still feel is a source of shame and anger. I wasn't able to sleep much last night as I thought about that maybe it is time for me to share this part of myself with others. If you can do it and come out okay, maybe I can too. Your essay was amazing and gave me hope. I was never abused but have felt many of the other feelings of despair you identified. Some day, maybe I will have the courage to talk with you personally about my life and to seek your help and advice. Until then, thank you for being an example and for bringing my attention to this project. In just one day, you, personally, have changed my life forever.
6 Jan, 2014
I was a visitor in your ward yesterday and heard your testimony about the Voices of Hope project. How could I have never heard of this before now? What an amazing project! As someone who has spent most of his life in church leadership, what I wouldn't have give to have a resource like this to refer all of those broken young men who have come into my office and cried with despair and self-loathing. You are doing a good thing, Bro. Harding. Your project will make a difference in thousands of lives. Thank you for your vision and selflessness in putting aside your own pride and fear to do some good in your little corner of the vineyard.
6 Jan, 2014
Before I got to Washington DC, I had heard from many people at BYU about this legend named "Kerry Harding" who would do anything for anybody and made you feel like a million bucks just to be in his presence. I thought there was no way you could live up to the hype. I was wrong. You surpassed it! Somehow, everyone neglected to mention that, to get to that point in life, you have overcome a life filled with obstacles that would have destroyed most people. After reading your essay just now, frankly, I'm in awe of you. Your faith and perseverance is an inspiration to me. Whenever I feel my own life is overwhelming, I will think of you and realize, "I can live to fight another day." Thanks for your courage and your example. Truly, you're amazing.
7 Jan, 2014
Read your essay today. Thanks for your courage and example. It made me grateful for many things that I had taken for granted and gave me a lot to think about. God loves His children...he just shows it in different ways, depending on what their needs are.
8 Jan, 2014
Wow, Kerry. I had no idea of the struggles that you have had to overcome and the impact it must have had on your family. Thank you for sharing your story and pointing me to the website. As you may or may not have guessed, I have my own difficulties with SSA. Because of my educational background, I have been able to understand it from a physiological and evolutionary point of view (through the lens of the gospel), which to me has been very helpful in accepting the trials of the "natural man" as I move through this life. I've talked to several people about it but what you are doing is a great work. I think it's so important to bring this issue out into the light, where it can be evaluated for what it is--just another aspect of the human condition and the mortal experience--the backdrop for many who then exercise their agency as they see most appropriate. I do hope though to one day get married and have a family, but if not, I can accept that. Thank you again.
9 Jan, 2014
Thank you for sharing your story with me. We have been friends for a long time. And yet I had no idea about your past and struggles. Reading your honest and eloquent account filled my eyes with tears and my heart with the spirit. Thank you for your courage. I was reminded of how infrequently I speak to you or other close friends. And when we do, we tend to speak in order to a accomplish something in the church or help someone. Let's resolve to spend more time talking to each other about each other. Through your works and example you have touched more people than you will ever know. I count myself lucky to be one of the many.
14 Jan, 2014
It's hard to put this into words. I'm feeling overwhelmed,and grateful. I've been thinking about sharing my story for a while now. You helped to strengthen my courage to do so. It's a blessing in my life to get to know you. Thanks again.
25 Jan, 2014
You're story inspired me in ways that you will never understand. Thanks to you, I found the courage to tell my family, my friends and my ward about a secret I thought I would keep the rest of my life. I never thought I could feel this happy and free. I finally feel that I am worthy of God's love. My life is amazing now. I never thought I'd say that...but it is.
25 Jan, 2014
I don't know what to say. All this time I thought you had the perfect Mormon life. I can't believe how well you hid your pain all these years and how much you accomplished in spite of the adversity you faced. It makes me feel that I can have the life I want. You have always inspired me. Now, you're my hero. Thank you for starting Voices of Hope. It changed my life forever.
31 Jan, 2014
I am so glad to hear you have been finding a journey of healing after so many difficult years. Seeing the comments that followed your post, it seems clear that your story is helping others find hope too. Your story seems like such a great gift to the many who wonder and desperately hope that their future can be better than the confusion they may have today. It feels like reaching this point must have taken many steps of courage. It is easy to imagine the many people who will be grateful and many in the future who will be. It is gratifying to hear how far you have come.
14 Feb, 2014
I had mixed feelings of pride and admiration for you as I was reading your memoir. To some extent or another, everyone has demons to overcome in life. I have an immense respect for those that are able to face them head on in spite of the reasons and justifications to keep the status quo. I've always thought that the strength to definitively decide one's destiny is what separates the spiritual giants from those that strive for spiritual gigantism. I'm still striving. Your example is truly an inspiration to me as one that likes the status quo too much. Thank you for sharing your story. I am a better person for having read that.
4 Mar, 2014
My Brother, we Are Men of God Much Love, Gratitude and respect that you shared your truth YAY! You Rock Dude !!! We have much work to do for all that have not found their 'divine tool kit' to unlock their 'Divine Blueprints'.... So happy that you HAVE!!! Many blessings to you and yours and to ALL! This is what the Sacred Arts have always done and the WHAT the sacred/divine is all about... the purposeful Life and that one's path is in the Highest Good and Greatest Service to the Divine Plan, anchoring and bonding the Living God in ALL that is ALL. Thanks God I Love you God YAY! SO WE ARE united for the highest purposes of the brotherhood of man under the Fatherhood of God. Men of God, Women too have arisen in every age from every culture and religion to inspire creative achievement, the arts and sciences, government and the abundant Life! Best Future!
14 Mar, 2014
That was one of the most courageous and authentic life stories I have ever read. To be at the other end of the tunnel of healing is beautiful. After my daughter was molested.....etc, it took awhile but I then realized I had nothing to fear in this life that evil could throw at me. I saw her miraculously healed from an STD at age 9, to speaking at conferences in HS about her abuse. We can ALWAYS trust there is nothing God won't use for good in His Kingdom. Because it's Btown we have many conversations with college age at church, working through their SSA. Just had a speaker here that was incredible, proclaiming her own healing from an extended period of living out of her "false self". I feel like crying that it happened to you. To be totally honest racking my brain about who it was! Hopefully there is not a string of others having to reconcile it in their lives. Thank you so much with trusting me with your story. Authenticity is most valued quality in a friend, agai
14 Mar, 2014
Wow! I just read your account. What an incredible journey! My heart broke as I read the challenges you experienced growing up, and I am amazed at the choices you made to become an incredible father despite the obstacles you faced. Your challenges didn't define you; they refined you! It's hard to believe we almost lost you brother. I am so grateful that you chose to endure, and that you have seen the blessings of trusting our Heavenly Father. I wouldn't have believed you had experienced the abuse and neglect you did based on where you are now with your cheerful personality. It was a reminder for me that it can be hard to realize the struggles someone else is going through, but we need to be ready to uplift. It is through knowing despair that you have helped bring so many others hope. Thanks so much for sharing your story, Kerry.
25 Mar, 2014
Kerry, I read your story today on the Voices of Hope website. My heart is breaking for what you have been through. The sacrifices that you have made in your life are enormous and the good that you have been able to generate has exceeded that. I am grateful to have you in my life!
25 Mar, 2014
Kerry, I read your essay this afternoon. What an amazing and painful journey you have had. Thank you for sharing and thank you for your courage. I have often thought that there are many people that feel alone in the world. I have to believe that we have all felt this way in our lives. We want so much for others to reach out to us but we don't want to have to ask we just want others to sense our need. I have found that when I share my struggles with my wife it strengthens my marriage rather than weakens it. I have not always shared things with her because I did not want to burden her with my fears and struggles. I am getting better but it is not always easy! Thanks for your friendship. Life is a journey and it reveals who and what we are. We often learn more from from our failures and struggles then we ever learn from our success!
28 Mar, 2014
I read your story on Voices of Hope a few months ago. It was very touching. Thanks for being brave enough to share; it meant a lot to me.
30 Mar, 2014
Thank you for sharing something so personal. You are an amazing man who has influenced so many.
31 Mar, 2014
That night in January when you talked me out of taking my own life, you told me that you understood what I was going through. At the time, I thought you were just trying to be nice. It wasn't until a mutual friend referred me to your story today that I realized you really DID know what I was going through! I'm so grateful for your honesty here and for giving me hope that I could be happy whether or not I ever find anyone to marry me. How can I thank you for the example you have been to me? Thank you for listening, for caring, for going without sleep many nights to talk to me when I was sad, depressed, confused, or simply lonely. You help me make it through the toughest year of my life by helping me to learn to rely on the Spirit -- something which I had convinced myself I was unworthy to do. Someday, when I'm your age, I hope I will have the kind of amazing family and friends that you do. You are a lucky and blessed man and I am as well just for knowing you.
2 Apr, 2014
A friend directed me to the Voices of Hope site and I was stunned to find your essay there. I had absolutely no idea that this was something you had struggled with. Knowing of how highly respected you and your family are in the stakes in this region gave me hope that I can eventually find a similar level of normalcy in my own life some day. Thank you for being willing to step out and be a Voice of Hope. You've impacted my life more than you will ever know.
5 Apr, 2014
Thank you for your faith. I had a feeling you were a great leader in your church and that you were making a difference in the world around you. But to share your story just takes that all to a whole new level. Yes we do get what is best for us. As the "Stones" sang...you don't get what you want ...you get what you need. We both did. So pleased and proud to be able to see you be the successful man you are and pleased you shared the rest of the story.
9 Apr, 2014
I started reading and couldn't stop. I think I was reading double my normal rate by the end. I've always been impressed by your testimony, your seeking after truth, and your love for all of God's children. Reading this helped me understand where all of those characteristics stem from. Your experiences are devastating in many ways, yet you've done as our own Father in Heaven does, and turned the darkness into light. With His help we can overcome all things. Thank you for sharing your story. You're blessing everyone that gets a chance to know you, and/or read your story. Love you!
13 Apr, 2014
I think one of the biggest things I can say is thank you for opening up. I'm sorry you felt so alone for so long. I don't think this changes anything I think or feel about you in a way that would make me treat you differently. I don't feel incredibly different to you either except for greater love and respect for you now that I know more of your journey and the battles you've fought to get to where you are. I love that you're reaching out in a way that can help others as well. As I encounter others who face similar struggles, I hope it's ok that I share your story with them. There are so many people in desperate need of greater honesty and transparency to know that they aren't an island in their trials. I got a lot out of your story, and there's a lot I will try to do similarly in my own life, and I anticipate that I will soon encounter many others that will need to hear about your path as well.
16 Apr, 2014
I had read your story before I first moved into your ward four months ago. Since then, I have watched you interact with the people around you -- rich, poor, old, young, black, white, gay, straight -- and I have to say that, never in my life have I seen someone who selflessly does so much for so many without expecting anything in return. To have experienced what you did would have made most people bitter and withdrawn but, not you. Instead, you have turned your trials into a tool for compassionate service and empathetic connection with everyone around you. I have learned much about dealing with the unexpected circumstances of life by simply observing your head-on energy and enthusiasm with which you tackle them. My wife and I are better people for having read your story and for having the chance to witness you in action. We will never forget you. Keep up the good work with Voices of Hope. Someday, it will have helped millions of people.
16 Apr, 2014
One of my friends told me about the Voices of Hope project last week and I spent most of the weekend watching videos. Then, as I was scrolling down the essays, I was stunned to see yours there. I'm sure you hear this a lot but I would have never guessed that you dealt with this. It made my own problems seem petty and insignificant. I never really understood same sex attraction before. Thank you for helping me to look at this issue with different eyes and a more compassionate heart. You're doing a good thing here...I hope you know that.
19 Apr, 2014
I appreciate your willingness to share some pretty vulnerable information. It is truly interesting to me the amount of peace you have found in your life through such awful events. This will sound judgmental-but it’s not- I am also amazed that you worked through those events without counseling. That goes to show the strength of the enabling power of the atonement in a person’s life in conjunction with the redemptive part. The therapist in me wants to speculate that if those awful events did not happen would you have still struggled with SSA? As I thought about that I think the answer does not matter a whole lot. The answer is, they did happen and this is how you have learned to heal. Anyway, there is no words that can describe how grateful I am for your story and all the stories on Voices of Hope. I have truly been educated and will continue to be by those strong voices of hope and healing as compared to the loud voices of equality and fairness.
18 Feb, 2015
I started reading this and could not stop. Kerry Harding, what you said about maybe just touching one person with this....while I didn't go through the abuse you did, in some inexplicable way, you have voiced everything I have ever wanted to voice about my attractions, my need for connection with other guys, and my desire above all to have an eternal family, a wife and children that I love. I still struggle reconciling it. To say reading this helped a lot is such an understatement. To say thank you does not suffice.
19 Feb, 2015
Wow! thank you Kerry for sharing your powerful story! I'm glad you've healed from the terrible abuse you'd experienced. Thanks for being a powerful voice of hope for many of us! Love and big hugs!
21 Feb, 2015
Kerry, this may sound strange, but I just love ya! That bio was such a pull at my heart strings! Your story's had many tragic moments but what came from that tragedy is who you are; you ARE the epitome of a true success story! Your outlook and positivity, wanting to help at least one person, and willingness to love is evidence of your plethora of Christlike attributes! Thank you!
12 Mar, 2015
Thank you for sharing your story. I was touched by your ability to strive for greatness. Being genuinely who you are, as defined by you and not letting other expectations control you is inspirational. I'm sad to hear about the trials you went through growing up. Sexual abuse is so difficult to understand and it is always exponentially damaging. Your desire to keep your covenants is fantastic. Thank you for being an example of strength to those who don't see a future of staying in the church and to keep their covenants.
28 Apr, 2015
OMG! Kerry thank you so much for sharing your story. Yours was more in detail then mine is but maybe someday I will be able to have the strength to share more because I didn't even scratch the surface in mine. I am in the process with my therapist working on it. Thank you for being in detail because it gives me a goal to work towards that I can say it all. I am in tears right now and again thanks for sharing what you did. You have more courage then I do right now.
10 May, 2015
Thank you SO much for creating the Voices of Hope project -- it has blessed my brother's life in significant ways. Thank you, thank you for reaching out. It's so important to be heard and feel loved in this world that can be so judgmental and cruel. You're right -- if only to help one person keep going, it's all worth it!
11 Jun, 2015
Thank you for sharing your story, Kerry. Wow. What a journey. Parts of this were difficult to read. You’ve experienced so much pain and I’m so very sorry for what you’ve had to endure. I don’t know if you’ve considered posting this somewhere, but it I’m sure it would be very helpful to others who have similar stories. Also, it is VERY well written.
26 Jun, 2015
Wow, this story was so powerful and touched me at my core. What a journey you have been through! It truly is a testament to God's faithfulness and love toward us all. While I am sorry of some of the recent things that have happened with you, you seem to find a quiet comfort in it all which is nothing short of amazing. I have really gotten on the fast track to knowing you and I thank you for taking the time to walk with me through my own journey. I do hope I can have a happy ending and have a peace that you exude. I am getting there step by step and day by day.