Arlo was born with a severe hearing loss, but was mainstreamed in public schools and relies on a hearing aid and reading lips to communicate with others. 22 years ago, he met Kathy, a widow with a young son. They were married in the Oakland Temple, had two additional children, and currently live in the Salt Lake City area. Until recently, Arlo worked as a structural engineer. Kathy is a sign language interpreter, and they are running a business consulting firm together. Among other callings in the LDS Church, Arlo has served as an organist for many years. Today he enjoys writing, hiking short distances, and travelling long distances.
My favorite Book of Mormon story is about Alma and his people who were taken in bondage and were given heavy burdens to carry by their enemies, the Lamanites. Rather than freeing the people of Alma from bondage and removing their burdens, the Lord wisely succored them in their state of captivity and strengthened them so that they could “bear up their burdens with ease, and … submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord” (Mosiah 24:15). From this story we learn that the Lord's purpose in allowing us to face adversity is to make us stronger and more faithful. I love this story because it is my story as well.
The first time I saw Jay was at the end of recess in sixth grade. When I headed back into the school, he was leaning with his lanky frame against the classroom entrance, looking “cool” with his dark, wavy hair and a devil-may-care attitude. I felt an instant attraction to him. This was the first I remember feeling that I had some sort of attraction towards guys, the kind of feeling I was supposed to have for girls. In spite of Jay’s outward coolness, I found the courage to say “hi” to him. He surprised me with a friendly response, and over time we became best friends.
A year later, Jay transferred to a private school, but we remained friends. I valued our friendship as a welcome respite from the bullying and teasing I endured at school and church. We did everything together for the next few summers. We especially loved camping together high up in the Colorado Rockies, but he confused me by being alternately seductive and homophobic. After one hike over the Continental Divide, we stayed overnight at his uncle’s house and were assigned to the same bed. That night he tried to seduce me in earnest. I wanted so much to respond in kind, but something warned me that doing so would lead me down the path to an early and horrible death, so I didn’t. We would learn about AIDS three years later.
The bullying that I was experiencing rose to a fever pitch that fall. I had a difficult time connecting with other kids because I was hard-of-hearing. I could not easily join others in their conversations and spent much of my time alone in a crowd of kids. I was ostracized, slammed into walls, bashed over the head with trash cans, beaten, and taunted with homophobic slurs both at school and church. I didn’t understand what the fuss was all about. Despite the feelings I felt with Jay, I didn’t identify as a “faggot” (that was the word I heard most often). I only knew that people thought I was weird and hated me for it.
Not only did I have a difficult time with other kids my age, I was a huge disappointment to my father. He was a man's man: a welder, machinist, and avid hunter. My older brother took to hunting like a natural; I made too much noise, missed every shot, and mistook the deer bounding through the tall grass for rabbits. I hated the task of climbing around the giant press brakes in my Dad's shop and cleaning them. I would come home soaked from head to toe in grease and solvent. My sister loved welding; I was too afraid of the sparks to try. Worst of all, Dad heard the rumors at church and decided that Jay and I were too friendly with each other. Shortly before Christmas, I came home from school and found my mother waiting stiffly in the living room for me. At age 16, it was time for me to go live somewhere else.
I was glad to get away to a new life in Los Angeles with my aunt and uncle. A week after leaving Colorado, I got a package of cards from every youth in my old ward (an LDS congregation), saying nice things about me. After reading the first two, I threw the package out in disgust. The sentiments expressed did not seem sincere. I would later learn that all of the young men had been dis-fellowshipped, in part for the way they had treated me. I think the cards were a condition of reinstatement. My mother and younger brothers moved out to California a month later. Dad never joined us. Life was much less contentious in Los Angeles without Dad and the bullying at school and church, and I even had a "girlfriend". It didn’t occur to me that I was "supposed" to be sexually attracted to her. I just figured that my lack of sexual desires for women meant that I was really good at respecting them.
After graduating from high school, I moved to Utah and went to night school at BYU, making the daily commute by bicycle from my sister’s home in Springville to Provo, six miles away. Gradually, I became aware that I was much more interested in guys than I was in girls. One Saturday, I looked into the bathroom mirror, and told myself that it was time to face reality. When I said the words for the first time, “I am gay”, I was startled by the loud slam of steel doors, as if I was suddenly locked in prison. My ears rang with the imagined noise. To me, being gay meant that I would not have the blessings of serving a mission, getting married, having kids, or going to heaven. Like the people of Alma in the Book of Mormon, I was in bondage, with no hope of escape.
I mourned the loss of my freedom and did a lot of crying.
Depressed and unable to focus on my studies. I dropped out of school and went home to Los Angeles. For awhile, I hung on to the hope that I could remain a faithful Latter-day Saint, and I moved into a household of several single LDS guys and attended services in a singles ward. In that ward, I loved being a home teacher. One of my assignments was a recent convert, and we became best friends. I visited “Matt” frequently and read the Book of Mormon to him. I tried to get him to read, too, but he preferred to listen to my voice. No other person had ever liked my deaf accent, and I loved him for that.
One day, I jogged over to Matt’s apartment. After the reading was done, he put an arm around me and asked me to take my shirt off. My heart started banging like an out-of-balance washing machine. It hurt! I told him that it was not appropriate for two guys to “be that way” together. I also didn’t tell him how much I wanted it. I tried to continue visiting Matt, but he absolutely broke my heart by disappearing. He didn’t say goodbye--nothing. With him gone, I felt an inexorable pull towards the gay ghetto in West Hollywood. I justified the first visit with needing a really good haircut, and I laughed at the mannerisms and antics of the weird faeries in the salon. I envied them, too.
I vividly remember the first time I walked into one of the gay dance clubs on Santa Monica Boulevard. The place was sardine packed, and as I pushed my way into the handsome crowd, I became instantly drunk from the feel of male bodies against mine. It was as if I had been starving all my life and was given food for the very first time. I didn’t know how desperately hungry I was until I took that first bite.
Eventually, I moved to San Diego, and by then I had completely stopped going to church. I got involved with Act Up!, a group of activists demanding funding for AIDS research and assistance. I worked for Neil Good’s campaign to become the first openly gay councilman in San Diego, and I volunteered for security duty for the gay pride festival. I became a political cartoonist, and my work was published weekly in gay newspapers from San Diego to the District of Columbia.
With all that I was doing, I should have been a proud and happy gay man. I wasn’t. The more I chased happiness, the worse I felt. I didn’t care much for the sexual side of the gay life. What I really wanted was a guy who cared about me as much as I would care for him. I never found him. A couple of guys proposed marriage, but I didn’t feel right about them. The relationships I fought for, I lost, every time. By the time my mother found me and took me home, I was 26, broke, alone, living in a rundown flop-house, and starting to feel suicidal due to the crushing loneliness. I was beginning to understand the truth of the assertion in the Book of Mormon that “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). However, I didn’t see how I would be able to find happiness without having a man in my life. Was I consigned to a life of misery, unable to have what I wanted?
A Mighty Change of Heart
My mother had moved to Modesto, 70 miles east of San Francisco, so that’s where she brought me. At first, I hated the town that went to sleep every night and closed down on Sundays, but eventually I came to appreciate its quietness. I found work, first at the local Pizza Hut, then as a bookkeeper for an alfalfa farm on the Delta. I began attending church again at the young single-adults branch (a small ward). I braced myself for the excommunication that I was sure would come. Instead, President Robinson, the branch president, saw that I was humbly trying to figure out my life, and supported me in my efforts. Because he understood that the Savior's plan of happiness allows every person the freedom to choose, he allowed me to make my own choices without attempting to compel me to choose the right. Given that space, I became willing and able to consider the right choice.
At first, I tried to maintain my gay identity. I continued to publish cartoons in gay newspapers, but they were too cash-strapped to pay me, so I quit. I met and hung out with some other gay Mormons, but when they got involved with a new organization called Exodus, I refused their invitations to join them. Exodus was a Christian organization that believed at the time that gay men can "go straight". I worried that they would teach me to hate myself and I was having none of that. I had gone through that before, and I didn't want to go back there again. I went to an Affirmation meeting in San Francisco. Affirmation is an advocacy organization for gay Latter-Day Saints. I found it incredibly depressing, listening to the men gripe about how awful the LDS church was in the way they were treated. I never went back.
I began praying again, asking Heavenly Father to help me figure out the direction I should go with my life. This time, my questions were genuine, real, and searching. What I had tried before wasn't making me happy, and I recognized the possibility that it was because I had insisted on doing things my way. In my prayers, I told Heavenly Father that I was willing to put my trust in Him and do things His way, even if I did not like the answers that came back from Him. I got the impression that the answers to my questions were in San Francisco, so with President Robinson’s blessing, I began attending the Bay View Ward in San Francisco.
The first Sunday, one of the men stood up and asked if anyone could give him a ride home. He lived in the city, but the transit routes were inconvenient for him. I volunteered to take him home. Ray was the Elder’s Quorum president (a leader of the men in the ward), and, darn it, straight. In spite of that, we became friends, and I spent many Sunday afternoons at his flat on Nob Hill. I envied his Victorian apartment with a commanding view of the city. Ray treated me with a brand of kindness, respect, and love that I had rarely experienced. His gentle treatment was the key that unlocked the door to my heart, and caused a paradigm shift in my understanding of what it means to be a man. I felt a closeness with him that I'd never experienced before. This was what I needed!
Some time later, I noticed a cute guy at church that had a particularly radiant glow about him. I asked a friend about him, and was told that he was gay. I was impressed! It was clear to me that he had a relationship with the Savior, and he was gay! I had to get to know him and find out how he did it. I wanted that glow. I wanted to have the spirit like he did, and I wanted him to be my boyfriend. I approached “Mitch” and secured an invitation to his place that evening along with a promise that he would tell me his story. With dreams of having my cake and eating it too dancing in my head, I was never so excited to get to know someone as I was then!
I met with Mitch in his apartment that night, and he told me his story. Like me, he was invited to leave his home as a young teenager, but, unlike me, he had no one to take care of him. He gravitated to the Bay area and sold his body to survive. Often, he was given drugs as well as cash, and he became an addict. During one of his drug-induced hazes, he asked God if being gay was okay. Because of the life he was living, he held little hope for a divine response, but God answered him. He was told, kindly but firmly, that homosexuality was not in keeping with God’s plan of happiness for his children. It took Mitch five years to accept that his experience was indeed a message from God and not a drug-induced hallucination. As Mitch related his story, the spirit filled the small room and bore witness to me of the truth of what he was telling me. Mitch went on to teach me how I was not getting my need for brotherhood met, and that when I learned to relate to men in a healthier way, my sexual attraction to men would diminish. He told me that after I learned to relate to men in healthy ways, I might even begin to feel something for women.
I drove the seventy miles home that night, elated that I finally had the answer I had been seeking for so long. It didn’t matter that the answer was exactly what I had been dreading. It was not God’s will that I have a man as a partner. What mattered was that God had spoken and I had heard Him. I shed tears of joy and sang hymns as I drove home. I felt a calm assurance that I would be okay, and that I would find a way through this challenge that Heavenly Father had given me.
A New Life
I attended services at the Bay View Ward many more Sundays, and Mitch and Ray both took the time to teach me how to interact with men in a way that was healthier and met my needs better. Over time, however, I spent less time in the San Francisco ward and became more active in the Modesto singles branch. There, I was asked to serve as an organist. I could play the piano, but the organ was intimidating. As I practiced playing hymns on the organ over and over until I could play them well, the music became an important salve for my soul.
A few years later, I started taking classes at Modesto Junior College. In the previous eight years, I had started and flunked out of five schools, but this time I was on medication that helped me to stay focused on my studies and complete the term. By this point in my life, I was feeling the blessing of having some of my burdens lightened. That compulsion that cruelly pulled me in a direction I didn't want to go was much less intense. I was beginning to develop male friendships. After the meeting with Mitch, I never set foot in a gay bar or dated guys again. I no longer felt an overwhelming need to go there. Men will never quit being attractive to me, but I was getting my needs met and was interacting with men in healthier ways. I settled in to my new life and accepted that I would be celibate for the rest of my life. It turns out, though, that Heavenly Father had other plans for me.
In early October of 1992, I was walking to class at the college when I got the distinct impression that I would be married soon. I was surprised because I was not dating and was not interested in any woman, but the feeling persisted. I took this impression as divine permission to begin dating, but I wasn't all that eager to date women. I still liked guys, and always would. Still, I had learned to trust those promptings, and was willing to let the Lord be at the helm of my life.
Later that month, my younger brother wanted to go to a Halloween dance with his girlfriend. He had a truck, but his license had been suspended for lack of insurance. He begged me to take them, and I did, but quite reluctantly. My plan was to drop them off at the dance and go somewhere else. I parked in the church parking lot and waited for my brother and his girlfriend to get out so I could leave. Instead, they started kissing each other passionately. I got out. I had no place to go, so I went in to the dance and leaned against a wall. I didn’t know anybody, and I didn’t want to be there. There was only one girl in the whole place who was attractive to me, and she appeared to be with another guy already. I didn’t feel like I belonged there.
The Spirit interrupted my little pity party to remind me of the impression that I felt earlier that month, and the thought formed in my mind: “How do you think you are going to get married if you don’t ask a girl to dance?!” My attention was drawn back to the girl I noticed earlier--her boyfriend had disappeared. I got the feeling I should ask her to dance, boyfriend or no. I went up to her and tapped her shoulder. When she turned around and I got the chance to see her up close, I was instantly drawn to her. I thought, “Okay, I could see myself dating this one!” Her name was Kathy, and we had a great time dancing. It didn’t bother me that the first thing she noticed about me was my hearing aid. She was an interpreter for the deaf and disappointed that I wasn't fluent in sign language. We spent the rest of the evening together.
When I asked Kathy for her phone number, she nervously told me that there was something I needed to know. She told me that she had been married before and had a two year-old son. “Huh”, I thought, “you think you have baggage?!” I liked her, but I was broke and so was my car. A few days after the dance, I decided I needed to call her and assure her that I liked her, but I couldn't afford to take her anywhere. No problem, she had free movie tickets, so she drove 30 miles to pick me up and take me to the theater. I should have gotten a clue that she was a little desperate, but, hey, I wasn't exactly a Casanova myself! She was not impressed that I was still in school (at age 30, I should have already graduated), and planned to get a bachelor's degree, which would take five more years, but she agreed to a second date anyway. By the end of our second date, I knew we were going to be serious. I had promised myself that the moment I got serious with a girl, that I would tell her about my past, before she got too emotionally involved.
So I told her. My advice? Wait a little longer.
I told her she could have all the time she needed to decide if she wanted to keep seeing me. I waited anxiously for four long days before she called me again. She said she'd decided to continue going out, and see where things led. I was elated! When we went out again, she brought her son along. We had a great time! He was adorable, and I loved him right away. To this day, she jokingly accuses me of only marrying her so I could get to be his daddy! In mid-December, she invited me to go with her and her parents to their cabin in the high Sierras. We had been dating for six weeks by then. In that cabin, with snow falling softly outside and a fire crackling in the fireplace, I proposed to her. By then we both knew that she would say yes. Her little boy was already calling me "Daddy". We were married six months later in the Oakland Temple.
The Married Life
I wish I could say that everything was smooth sailing after getting married. It was not. Kathy and I have had many difficult times in our marriage, thanks in no small part to a lifelong addiction to masturbation and pornography. As the years went on, my life spiraled out of control to the point where my addiction contributed to the loss of my job and nearly destroyed my family. I began once again to hate myself and God for letting me get "this way". Every effort I made to end those habits resulted in failure. I shocked and dismayed Kathy by cursing God. Despite my anger towards Him, the Lord blessed me with tender mercies that would help to turn my life around again.
About eight years ago, I began feeling numbness and pain in my feet. Over time, the pain increased until I could not walk more than a few steps at a time. I limped painfully and frequently stumbled. Even standing still, I needed help to keep from falling. I was diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy, a degenerative nerve disorder, and was told there was no cure. I was given handicapped plates and began using a wheelchair on especially bad days. The doctors put me on painkillers, and as time went on, the dosage and number of pain meds increased. The medications had terrible side effects; the worst was that they completely killed my libido. Sexual intimacy with Kathy became a chore that left us both in tears. The beauty that came of this trial was that I lost the habit of masturbating. Eventually, we found herbal medicines that healed my feet and legs, and gradually I weaned myself from the painkillers. I can walk longer distances now and my libido has returned, but the habit that had chained me for decades is gone.
The other blessing is the result of an experience at a men’s retreat. In a cabin overlooking Bear Lake, I worked with other men like me to help each other through our challenges. While we were working intensely with one of the men, I suddenly became aware of a holy presence in the room. I couldn't see Him, but I felt that the Savior was there, kneeling with us! The feeling that the Lord had blessed us with His presence replaced my rage and anger towards Him with the sweet knowledge that He loves me unconditionally, as I am. It became much easier to love Him back by obeying His commandments. Today I am well into recovery, and my marriage and the intimate relationship between my wife and me is thriving. Today, I am happy and at peace.
The people of Alma had learned to lift one another up and were strengthened by the Lord; they were able to bear their burdens with ease, submitting with good cheer to the will of God. How grateful I am that I have been strengthened by the kindness of good men and the knowledge that I am loved by my Heavenly Father! By the grace of Christ my burdens have been lightened, and now I can bear them with ease. I have learned to turn my will over to God, because, surprise, surprise, His plan for me is always better than my own! I have been humbled because of the weaknesses which God has given me (see Ether 12:27), and in my humility, the Lord has honored His promise: “Be thou humble, and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand and give thee answer to thy prayers.” (Doctrine and Covenants 112:10)
I am so grateful for my life with Kathy. We have three children, including her once two year-old who is now a returned missionary. A year ago I sat with joy in the Salt Lake Temple and watched my daughter marry the love of her life. Once, my youngest son and I watched a television show together that featured a gay couple. I asked my son if he was glad that I made the choice to walk away from that life many years ago. He was glad, and so am I! I found the happiness I had been searching for, and I would not trade marriage or fatherhood for anything in this world. The same-sex attraction that I continue to experience is but a small burden that I can truly bear with good cheer as I move forward in my life.
As a couple, Kathy and I hope to serve as church service missionaries to the deaf community, and on top of that, for me to serve as a beacon of hope to gay Latter-day Saints. Whether that happens or not, I take comfort in the knowledge that Heavenly Father has a beautiful plan laid out for me. Today, my work is to trust Him and let Him take me where He will.
I know without question that Jesus is indeed The Christ. He has taken upon Himself all of the pains of the world--not just our sins and shortcomings, but our infirmities and heartaches as well. He loves us exactly as we are, in our imperfections. He knows our potential and because He loves us and wants us to experience a fullness of joy, He has invited us to follow Him and obey His commandments. If we will but humble ourselves and put our hands in His, we can, each and every one of us, rise to His expectations. Through the power of the Atonement we can be made clean and return to Heavenly Father’s presence. Of this I testify, in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.
5 Aug, 2014
Well someone has to be the first I guess. Thank you for sharing your story. There is a lot I can relate to. I was molested as a child and gang-raped. This is how it started with me. I'm not going to lie and say the feelings are gone, because they are not. I still have an attraction to guys, but it isn't for sex, it is more for having that closeness with someone that knows how you feel. I'm married, 40 years to my beautiful wife. I'm a father and a grandfather of 6. My wife knows of my past and she knows the struggles I have had with it. I was never one for the gay bar scene. I'm also LDS, a convert of over 35 years. My wife and I were sealed in the Chicago Temple along with our children to us. I know your story, so much is an echo of mine, although I never went to California. Thank you for sharing it. Thank you for letting me know that I can continue to rise above this. I've overcome many challenges in my 60 years. I'm severely visua
8 Aug, 2014
Beautiful story, beautiful testimony. Thank you for sharing and touching my life.
12 Aug, 2014
William, thank you for your encouragement, and also your example of faith! Steve, thank you for your words of encouragement.
16 Aug, 2014
Love this Arlo! So great to hear more of your story. I love drawing on the strength of others. So glad to know you better!!