The Book of Hope, by Hope Dargan
Ok. Here goes nothing. There are layers under the words, “I’m bi.” Here are some of mine.
Chapter 1: High School
In 2013, I remember picking a topic for the tenth grade social studies fair. Stonewall. Hmm. I didn't recognize that, so I chose it on a whim and ended up writing an essay on the Gay Civil Rights movement that made it to the state competition. In the essay, I predicted growing public acceptance and legalization of gay rights. My concluding sentence said in part, "Even though there are still barriers remaining, the gay rights movement will hopefully one day be remembered like the African-American civil rights movement."
I became aware shortly thereafter that that was not how general authorities viewed the topic. And wanting to be a good member that followed the prophet I decided to pray about this whole thing. Over the next couple of months it came up a few times at church and what people said made sense so I figured, "Hey, maybe that's my answer."
One time my seminary teacher was driving me and some other kids to school and somehow it came up. My seminary teacher explained, "Well, two gay people can live together but they can't be married so it's breaking the law of chastity." A guy in the back seat said, "Gays are disgusting." And then no one said anything.
I remember being at a sleepover and feeling like I wanted to cuddle the girl I was sharing a bed with. I hugged a pillow instead and thought nothing of it.
I remember sitting in class my senior year when it came up. I said, "Well I believe everyone has the right to choose what they do. As for me, I believe I'll be accountable to God for what I support in this life and since God gets to define marriage I have to support that." I then realized that the same history teacher that read my paper in tenth grade was listening and I felt ashamed for just a second. But then I thought, "Hey, Jews can't eat pork and Mormons can't be gay. We’re all just trying to do what God wants."
The summer before I went to college I started hanging out with this guy. He said he liked me and I said I needed time before I could respond. I was confused. I had never like "liked" someone before. I had heard there were supposed to be butterflies involved and I didn't feel any of that, but I did like spending time and talking with him. That was like "liking" someone, right? "Sure. One date before I go off to college." When we kissed it felt gross. Eww. Why would anyone want to do that?
Chapter 2: College
I had a crush on a guy my first semester of college and felt relieved. I thought, "Well at least I'm not broken."
The exclusion policy was leaked into the news my first semester of college after I had already started thinking about going on a mission. I remembered how hard it was growing up in the church and not being baptized until I was 14 for reasons outside of my control. I wouldn't wish that on anyone. And then I pushed those thoughts aside. I looked at the church website looking for some explanation and when that wasn’t good enough I read blog after blog until I could muster up the mental gymnastics to find a reason accept the policy.
I remember the next Sunday when the bishop asked people that were affected by the policy to meet in his office after sacrament meeting. A family member had left the church over this policy so I went. One by one people started coming out or expressing pain, talking about family members affected. I raised my hand and defended the policy with whatever reason I had found on a blog. And I regret that to this day.
Chapter 3: Mission
I remember starting my mission thinking that the hardest part was the sacrifice it took to go in the first place. Four months later I couldn't remember the last day I hadn't cried. I remember the missionary psychologist who called me and told me I had depression. After trying exercise and vitamin D and fish oil one day she asked me, "Do you want to stay on your mission?"
"Will you take medication?"
I remember walking down the street with my companion thinking how much easier it would be if a bus hit me. I remember wondering when the day was going to come that I was going to crack and not be able to do it anymore. I remember begging God to give me some of the power of the atonement, help me feel some support, give me some strength to make it through a day without falling asleep or crying during studies. I felt nothing yet I kept going.
I remember the first time I felt something. Except it was for another missionary. A sister missionary to be exact, because that’s my kind of luck. But at least that caused something finally to click. Oh. Cue the next meeting with the missionary psychologist.
"I think I'm bi."
She didn't skip a beat. "Oh well that’s ok. You see there is a wide ranging spectrum between being exclusively attracted to the opposite sex or to the same sex and it’s normal to fall somewhere in between."
"Oh. Ok. Well I have bigger fish to fry like this whole depression thing and I want the whole Mormon dream to y’know marry a guy in the temple and live happily ever after anyway so I guess it doesn't really matter."
And so we never spoke of it again. After a year on the mish things got better. At the end of my mission I bore my testimony "The mission has not been the best time in my life but it has been the best time for my life." And then I came home.
Chapter 4: Coming Out
I remember my first semester back, feeling good, ready to put the past and past feelings behind me. And it only took a month before I had a crush on my TA. I thought I could simply avoid her to avoid the feels. Simply pushing people away made the feelings go away, right?
It took about six months later and watching "Love, Simon" until it finally sunk in. I went from tacit acknowledgement of "I'm bi." To recognizing "Oh. I'm bi. And I can’t push it away." Trying to shove this elephant into a closet was hurting the part of me that held my core values of openness and honesty. I was acting weird, didn’t feel like I was being myself, and I was fitting to burst from the internal pressure. And so last fall I decided to start coming out. To family. To friends. Slowly. One person at a time.
For me saying the words “I’m bi” isn't hard. It's what comes next that I can never predict- the response that can either leave me feeling like a million bucks or broken in an instant.
The best times were when they immediately said, "I love you." And wanted to listen to me and asked, "How can I support you? How are you doing? Um I don't know anything about this please explain to me what this means? How did you know?"
The mediocre times were when they said, "I love you and support you no matter what." And I’m left sitting there wondering what the ‘what’ is. Or when they went silent. Or when they jumped into a story about how their best friend's cousin is gay and it suddenly becomes about them.
The bad times are when they bore testimony of their truth instead of asking for mine. I heard, "That's ok you can marry a woman." When I definitely was not ready to hear that. And "I believe that God can change physical attraction if it's His will." When I definitely do not believe that. And "I know that any amount of sacrifice in this life is worth it for eternal life." Is there ever a right time to ever say that?
Chapter 5: Friction
At first I thought I could have it all. I could recognize my sexuality and follow church leaders without question and fit squarely (or straightly?) within the Good Mormon Box ™. But I didn't know how. So I started reading every Mormon LGBT thing I could get my hands on. And I started learning the stories of queer Mormons. And it was like reading my worst nightmare over and over and over again.
Lines of other people's stories swirl around my head and pop up sometimes as if they are scripture mastery. "My mother once told me, ‘I'd rather have a dead son than a gay son.’" "Straight single Mormons pray every day to find someone they love. Gay Mormons pray every day that they don't." "I prayed and read my scriptures and went to the temple begging God to change me. And He didn't." "I bargained with God that I would serve my mission faithfully if He would take these feelings away. And I came back only to discover that not only was I not changed those feelings were stronger than ever." Over and over again. And almost all the stories ended the same way-- 'I served God faithfully hoping I would change until I couldn't hope or try or fight anymore. And then I left the church and am so much happier now that I can finally be who I am.'
I then went to mormonandgay.org and the church websites and read everything. And I got sad. The term same-sex attraction never really jived with me. People used the term like it was a condition, a disease, a mental illness. Love is not a disease.
And all of this was swirling inside of me and I was begging God for clarity. And I guess it came when I held a girl and she held me and I just sat there with all the feelings for a few minutes. And I didn't push them away. And what surprised me was that it felt right. Afterwards I was waiting for some kind of guilt to come from God scolding me for giving into temptation or whatever but there was nothing. It didn't feel wrong. It felt right.
When I asked a church leader why it was wrong, I was told, “Children have the right to be raised by their biological parents.” I have an adopted sibling. Do they not have a right to be a part of my family? When I asked what specifically was wrong, I was told “You can hold hands or hug but not hug a girl. If you kiss a girl that would affect your worthiness.” Oh. More than ever seeing couples kiss made me sick.
Finally what I felt and what I was told collided and threw my whole life upside down. Suddenly the battle in my head of black and white, good vs evil, sacrifice vs temptation, just became a whole lot of grey. I wanted to find a way to keep both my faith and sexuality but the friction was tearing me apart. And when I thought about the future it was hard for me to see how my desire for a family and keeping my faith would be compatible. And when I thought about the collective futures of my LGBTQ+ Mormon compatriots it seemed like a burden too big to bear alone.
And there were a few months at the start of this year where I was standing alone at the edge of this endless void of sadness and I prayed ‘God, just take me now.’ And I doubled down on church and prayer and scripture study and temple attendance and did all the Right Things ™. And felt nothing but alone and deep sadness. Was this the joy of what living the gospel was supposed to be? What a cruel joke. I imagined that causing pain to myself might extract the pain out of me like when you have food sickness and throw up and feel better afterwards. "To be or not to be?" no longer felt like a rhetorical question.
Chapter 6: Hope
It reached a point where I had to stop trying so hard to do and believe all the Right Things ™ and let go of the parts of my faith that were poisoning the other parts of me. I had to let go of the mental gymnastics that made the things that didn’t feel right sound right. And instead I just held onto the parts of faith I wanted to. Prayer. Church. And I reached out to people. Started therapy again. Slowly I came back from the edge of the void as I took small steps of faith and started gaining trust in my judgment and God’s guidance to lead me back to my own path of peace. And I stopped praying about the future and asking why and instead I just focused on the next step. Then ideas just started coming.
I had an idea that if I was feeling so alone I needed to shake some trees and find the other people like me. And so I decided to start an LGBTQ+ Mormon group for people who wanted to find support at the intersection faith and sexuality. I talked to everyone I could think of, including LGBT chaplains of other faiths, and spent two months devising a proposal to present to the stake presidency. I was told by the high councilors that pitched it that it received a quote "lukewarm" reaction. Instead of waiting for their approval, I just started the group in July with guidance from people in my stake who had started their own interest groups.
I then had an idea to go to the temple and the pride parade the next day and make a coming out post on social media. When I sat down to write the post words just flowed. And almost immediately I was overwhelmed with the positive response online. But then it took one, two, and then three Sundays before anyone mentioned the post at church.
This summer I went to a session at the temple and had an insight that eventually led to me writing a poem. Finally, a positive temple experience and a session where I didn’t fall asleep to boot. Next ward temple trip, as I sat in the temple cafeteria talking to someone, I hear out of the corner of my ear someone go on a rant and say something like "I see these art school kids walking by my apartment and it's like you can't even tell if there a boy or a girl. What are these creatures are they even human? What is even with these stupid they/them pronouns?" And I froze because I'm in the middle of another conversation and don’t know what to say but I also see four other people listening to that person that say next to nothing.
Then I had the opportunity to do a presentation and had the idea to do excerpts from this book Gay Rights and the Mormon Church and honestly I stressed about it for over a month. The week of the presentation I made a post on my ward page to invite people to come. Less than 30 minutes later it was deleted by someone to "avoid potential conflict" after somebody else made a complaint. And then after being very sad and very angry and making it clear that it was in fact a big deal and no it couldn’t wait till next weekend, I still couldn't get permission to post all the details. Instead, I had to get new wording approved to simply invite people to reach out to me for information. Sigh.
And during the presentation I read this story, my story, to a group of mostly strangers, some friends, and my parents. And after all this struggle out of all the friends in my ward that said they would come, a single person came. Sigh.
After I finished reading my story, a word I heard a lot in response was 'brave.' I don’t know about that. What I do know is that no matter what anyone says, at the end of the day us queer Mormons are still told, "Faith, family, sexuality- pick two." And until that changes there will still be that burden of pain. But I believe that with expressions of pain come expressions of hope. Hope that because I wish I could have read this a year ago somebody else today might find strength in their journey. Hope that in expressing pain, I both invite others and myself to consider that pain, to sit with it, and to ask ourselves what can we do “to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.” Hope that in processing my past, I can look towards a brighter future.
(Deep breath.) Ok. That’s my spiel. And there went nothing.