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Jenn’s Essay: “Thy Faith Hath Made Thee Whole”
My parents lived as faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They worked hard to provide for their family’s needs and raised me and my sister in the gospel. They expected us to attend church on Sunday, participate in the Young Women organization, go to seminary, and fulfill our church callings. I dutifully performed the outward actions that met their expectations. But inside I was lost.
I was molested at a young age. I knew that what had happened was bad. I could not ignore the feeling that I must be a bad person. That thought intensified in my early teens. I developed an addiction to masturbation to cope with my negative feelings about myself. It became my way of escaping from my perceptions about myself and my world. I saw the world as a dark, dangerous place, where people were a threat and I was a sinner.
I disguised my inner turmoil with a fake smile. I attended church meetings and early morning seminary, got straight A’s in school, played sports, and joined the school choir and drama group. Yet, I still felt like a failure. I had bad thoughts. I did bad things. I lied. I figured that I was going to hell. I knew I should talk to my bishop, but I couldn’t gather the courage to do it. I rationalized that I was just disobedient and unrepentant by nature, and so the Atonement wasn’t for me. I didn’t deserve it. I wasn’t worthy of it. I just pretended to be the good Mormon girl. I wanted to stop pretending.
I thought that if I could just get away from everyone that I knew, I could take off the fake mask and be me. When I got an opportunity to go to Especially for Youth (EFY) in Provo, I felt ecstatic. I could go away, have fun for a week, and be whomever I wanted to be. So I went to EFY to rebel. I ditched the classes and hung out with a questionable group of kids. Then, one afternoon, a counselor caught me ditching and led me into a class taught by Barbara Jones.
The class had already begun, and the only available seats were in the first few rows, so I took the walk of shame to sit down. I don’t know why I listened to her speak; I didn’t want to be in the class. Her story, however, interested me and I could feel the spirit as she spoke. The longer I attentively sat there, the more I experienced this sense of heat surrounding my body. My face became suddenly flush, my hands were sweating, even my eyes felt warm. This sensation increased until I felt hot enough as though I might be on fire. At the apex of this experience, Sister Jones said something to the effect of, “I’m sorry for stopping my talk, but I feel impressed by the Spirit to share a part of my story I don’t normally share. One night my husband, who was abusive toward me, had me in the bathroom in our house. I was on the floor and he was standing over me holding a shotgun aimed at my head. I cried out to God in desperation and swore that if he would allow me to live I would find him and worship him all my life. As I cried out, I heard a voice in my head say, ‘Barbara, I am here.’ I testify to you that God is real and that if any of you here are questioning that, then go back to your dorm room today, lock the door, and kneel down and pray to know the truth. I know he will answer your prayer.”
As I walked out of that classroom, I couldn’t feel my feet touch the ground; I could hardly speak at all. All of the EFY participants went to the mess hall to eat, but I had no appetite. Instead, I went back to my room. I had to know for myself if God was real. If he wasn’t real, I was off the hook and all that shame and guilt I carried would be gone. I would be free of the rules and commandments. However, if he was real, then I had to repent and God would expect me to be obedient no matter what the natural man in me wanted to do. As I knelt down, I sensed the presence of the Holy Ghost which felt like a fire surrounding me. I asked a simple question, “Heavenly Father, are you really there?” I heard a voice reply, “Jennifer, I am here.” I could not deny it. I knew there is a God, that he is my father and that his son, Jesus Christ, is my elder brother. I am a daughter of God. The Holy Ghost witnessed these truths to me.
I often pondered about this experience over the next few years. Although I didn’t change my behavior right away, this experience helped me to believe that my Heavenly Father knew me and understood what I experienced. It didn’t change the fact that I was stubborn and hardheaded. It took three years after my EFY experience before I walked into my bishop’s office, ready to start the repentance process. I knew there was a God, but I hedged up the way of my healing. I rationalized that I was okay, that God could change me without anyone else involved. I could and would do this on my own, I reasoned. If I prayed, read my scriptures, attended church, and served others I believed God would forgive me. I wanted to avoid the whole confession part. I thought that the bishop would require me to tell my parents or that I would experience some form of discipline. Because of my fears, for almost an entire year all I did was cry. I continued my behaviors on a daily basis and cried each day as I prayed to be forgiven. I believed that I was the worst human being God had ever created because of my disobedience and pride. Negative thoughts grew and expanded inside of me until darkness seemed to engulf me.
I felt like I couldn’t take the conflict and pain anymore. I decided that everyone was better off without me and that my life was useless. I had no reason to live. One day, while I was home alone, I got my father’s gun. As I put the barrel of the gun in my mouth, I heard a familiar voice in my head say, “This won’t change anything.” I felt the Holy Ghost surround me again and I knew that the words were true. I chose to endure another day. However, I continued to struggle and feel depressed. A few months after this event, I mustered up the courage to speak with my bishop. Once the repentance process got underway, the darkness began to lift and I felt my burdens become lighter. As I worked through the repentance process the depression and anxiety gradually subsided, and I began to feel a sense of relief.
Through all of my trials and tribulations, I suppressed the feelings that I might be gay. My issues due to molestation and sexual addiction overshadowed this idea. I just pushed it out of my mind and told myself that Mormons aren’t gay anyway. I wasn’t even sure the word gay described me. I experienced wanting to be emotionally close to my best friend in a way I didn’t understand. I felt protective of her like a boyfriend might. I wanted to hold her hand, but I rationalized that many female friends on occasion held hands. I pushed the “Am I gay?” question to the back of my mind and left it in a dark corner to get dusty.
Toward the end of my senior year I was accepted to BYU. During my time in high school I had never been in a serious relationship. Any time a guy wanted to be more than friends, the thought of holding hands and kissing was a turn off. That summer I met Jeffrey, my husband to be. While dating we quickly became friends because of our shared interests: we liked the same books, enjoyed talking about any topic, and had fun with creative dates. Jeffrey never pressured me to kiss or hold hands. I should have realized something was different between the two of us. Most couples don’t have their first kiss over the temple altar. And when we did finally kiss something felt wrong, out of place, not quite right. At the time I couldn’t identify the reason for my uneasiness. I decided to move forward finding strength in our covenants and shared commitment. I thought marrying a great friend and companion was what every person wanted to do. The fact that a passionate spark wasn’t there didn’t even cross my mind. I thought we were above all that lovey dovey stuff I saw in other newlyweds.
Over time my uneasiness grew. I isolated myself and turned inward instead of talking about how I felt. About a year after our marriage, I had a miscarriage. Soon after, my dad died. I felt depressed again and I pulled away emotionally from everyone. My husband responded by pulling away, which led to a stalemate in our home.
I got pregnant again and gave birth to our son. Three years later, I gave birth to our daughter. After both pregnancies I suffered from postpartum depression. We stopped attending BYU, began raising two children, and struggled financially. Instead of looking to my husband for support through all the stress, I ostracized him. I figured that I could handle it on my own. A chasm started to grow that neither of us wanted to build a bridge across. A darkness hung over me, similar to when I was younger. I couldn’t seem to connect on the level that I should as a wife. Although we raised our children in the gospel, went to church, read our scriptures, and prayed together, ours was not a growing, maturing marital relationship.
The more emotionally distant I became in my marriage, the more I searched for female friendships. I preferred the connection with other women over the connection with Jeffrey. While working on a stake theater project I met a woman. We quickly became friends. I wanted to be around her all the time. I wanted something more from her, but couldn’t figure out what it was I wanted. As we became emotionally and spiritually closer, I started to feel something I had never felt before. A passion and excitement buzzed inside of me when I was near her. I felt intoxicated and the feelings grew the more we were together. Then one day, I read an article that described romantic love. My heart started to beat fast as I reread the article. I had never felt this feeling for anyone. I was falling in love.
This moment sparked the question for me again, “Am I gay?” I had thrown this question to the back of my mind since my teen years. I was Mormon after all, and Mormons aren’t gay. I was married, and married people aren’t gay. I reasoned that I could not be gay. But the feelings I experienced said otherwise. The feelings I had felt in the past for other friends said otherwise. I stayed in a state of denial for about five years. I didn’t want to be gay, so maybe I was just imagining these feelings. Maybe I was just lonely. The “what if?” scenario frightened me.
During this time, I began to look at my life and experiences from a new perspective. I saw my quirks make sense now. The fact that I felt shame in junior high for having my eyes linger too long in the locker room. The fact that being in a woman’s bedroom made me nervous, especially as a teenager with my best friend. The fact that I had a string of friendships in college that felt like boyfriend-girlfriend relationships. The fact that I had gay dreams all the time. The fact that having male relationships weren’t important to me. I told myself, “I think I am gay.”
How had I not known this about myself? I was already married for ten years with two kids. It took me five years to wrap my head around this idea because, again, Mormons aren’t gay.
I came out to God first. My kids were at school and Jeffrey was at work. If anyone knew the truth about me, it was going to be God. I had prayed and fasted before to know the answer to the question: “who am I?” I wondered if I was receiving part of the answer. I knelt down by my bed. Immediately, I felt that warm sensation wash over me. I knew the Holy Ghost had come to bear witness of the truth. I searched my thoughts and asked, “Father, am I gay?” Then, I heard a voice in my head ask me a question, “What do you think?” Tears rolled down my cheeks while a lump developed in my throat. I responded, “Father, I’m gay.” In my heart, I expected him to be disappointed and angry. I thought he might disown me. I felt too ashamed of my same-sex attractions. I felt guilty about my thoughts. I felt unworthy to be a daughter of God. I gained a little comfort that I wasn’t confused anymore about my sexuality. Then, I heard the words inside my mind, “It’s going to be okay. So what that you’re gay?” I laughed. I cried.
I came away from that experience believing that God was by my side. I allowed myself a year to sort out my thoughts and feelings before I said anything to anyone. During that year, I felt like puberty had finally hit me. I had to find a new normal. I needed to understand this part of me. I began searching for information about female same-sex attraction. I looked for church resources, online support groups, books to read, and counseling options. I suffered from bouts of depression and anxiety. My intention to keep my same-sex attraction a secret grew, but a part of me wanted to be honest and open. I struggled to decide what I should do. One question kept plaguing my thoughts: was there an advantage in telling my husband the truth? As I pondered the answer to this question, I recalled the reasons I started this journey. I wanted to know who I was so I could change into someone better. I wanted to be an honest person. I wanted to be seen. I had to tell my husband the truth.
My husband took the news that I was gay extremely well. The revelation, to him, had no significant impact on our marriage. He figured that married men can be tempted by other women, but acting on the temptation is a sin, not the temptation itself. And same-sex attraction is just another temptation. I completely disagreed. The idea that being gay wouldn’t affect our marriage seemed naive. But I learned that he would stand by my side. After a life of hiding and wearing a mask, I enjoyed this newfound sense of freedom.
Being honest about my attractions opened a door to me. I have heard it said that if you hide one thing, you hide everything. Was the opposite also true? If you are honest about one thing, will you want to be honest about everything? I decided to take the risk and open up to more people. I remembered how my bishop had helped me as a teenager, so I told my bishop about my same-sex attraction. He invited me to attend the local addiction recovery program, to arrange counseling, and to meet with him weekly. His counsel and direction led me down the path I needed to go. He supported me as I opened up about being gay.
I also turned to the Lord for answers. With constant prayers, believing that God would answer them, I received the distinct impression that I needed friends. Halt. Female friends? The Lord had to be kidding. He knew that my hormones were going crazy, that my thoughts were hard to control. I didn’t understand female friendship at its core. My anxiety level increased just walking into the Relief Society room at church. I couldn’t do what God asked of me. I doubted that I had the ability to have healthy female friendships. Plus, how did I know whom I could trust with my secret? Then one afternoon, God extended a mercy toward me. I got a picture in my head of a sister in my ward. With that picture came the feeling that I could trust her. I wanted to have faith and trust that God was directing me because I was hungering for extra support. So, while spending a morning at the local swimming pool with my friend, Bekah, I told her I was gay. Her look of concern and empathetic words soothed my nerves and quelled my desire to hide. I discovered sympathy where I expected rejection. Soon, I felt safe to open up to others. As I extended my faith and trust again and again, I discovered that it became easier to talk about my same-sex attraction. Today, those first women I opened up to are some of my closest friends. They accepted me when I had a hard time loving and accepting myself.
I suppose that not every person who experiences same-sex attraction has a crisis of faith. But I felt like I was being torn in two separate directions. I wanted to obey LDS doctrine and the prophetic revelation I believed in, but I needed to be honest and authentic about being gay. I felt that I had to decide which was more important to me, being LDS or being gay. I pondered the words of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland about unbelief. I took his suggestion and stripped my belief system down to its foundation. I found two truths: one, I am a daughter of God; and two, the scriptures are the word of God. I started building on these truths.
With a few huge spiritual experiences and a hundred small ones, I made the decisions that felt honest and right to me. I chose to believe that God loved me no matter what. And to be authentic, I needed to stay an active, committed member of the LDS Church. I also needed to fully accept that I am gay. Part of me wanted to leave the Church and my family to live a gay lifestyle. Part of me also wanted to disbelieve in the scriptures and prophets. But inside, a truth had been planted and nourished long ago. It had taken root and grown into a large source of strength. As time passed, it became clear that I couldn’t choose who I was; that was in the past. But, I could choose who I wanted to become and act accordingly. I chose to not act on my attractions, feelings, and desires. I chose to keep my covenants. There are times I still doubt these decisions, but I move forward instead and focus on my foundation.
Currently, I have come out to all of my immediate family members, close friends, and ward members. Although I am open about my many challenges, I don’t consider being gay to be my primary defining characteristic. I can report that the level of shame and guilt I once experienced have been lowered. I am more confident. I now want to be the kind of person who keeps her commitments. For me, that means staying true to my temple and baptismal covenants, even if I’m gay.
Some people have asked, “Are you happy? And if so, how?” I respond, “Yes. Because my definition of happiness is simple: connection.” When I was involved in addiction I became isolated. I was miserable because I wasn’t connecting with God or anyone else. The more I opened myself up and connected with God, my husband, my children, my relatives, and my friends, the happier I became. I still have trials to get through. However, my heart is happy because I can authentically connect. Connection was the key to my reconciliation.
My testimony is simple. I know that there is a God, and that he loves me. He sent his son Jesus Christ to earth to become my Savior and Redeemer. I know that God answers my prayers. I know nothing is impossible if I let God into my life to help me. I know that he has put people in my life to help me through the darkest nights so I can make it through to the light of dawn. And, beyond that, he is standing by my side sending help from across the veil to encourage me as I press forward. I know this is true. My life experiences have proved it. I testify to these truths.