Time for the next installment of your favorite Gay Mormon Southpaw segment: Who Are You? The latest interviewee, Corbin Brodie, followed me on Twitter. We started chatting, and I learned that he recently published a book on growing up gay and Mormon. I love read other Mohos' stories and was immediately intrigued and wanted to include him in my little franchise. I'm happy to provide his answers to my short interview below. (And of course if you'd like to learn more about Corbin, please check out his book!) I'm amazed at the beautiful writing talent of all who have shared their stories. (And there are more to come!)
As always, if you're interested in sharing your story, contact me using the form on your right.
Here we go...
Q. Explain your correlation/involvement to the Moho blogging community.
A. It’s a new thing for me, as I’ve increasingly seen how much gay related issues have moved to centre ground in Mormon cultural dynamics, public discourse and public relations. This has been fascinating for me to see because when I was younger and still a member it would have been inconceivable that you could openly admit to being gay and Mormon and get any other reaction than horror from members. As someone who has been there, growing up gay and Mormon and struggling through it when it was impossible to even talk about it, I felt I had something to add to the conversation.
Q. What's life been like both gay and Mormon?
A. When I was a teenager it was a nightmare. In high school I’d see that other people could date, have boyfriends/girlfriends, talk about who they liked to parents or friends, experience the romance and magic of dancing together at high school or church dances, have a smooch, and enjoy the whole wonder of it, with all its fun and excitement and clumsiness and awkwardness and heartbreak.
Just the fact other kids could openly talk about their romantic feelings and experiences pained me because I couldn’t even do that. On top of it, there was this feeling that I had to be not just a good Mormon but an exemplary Mormon, to make up for how I was inside, and in order for God to “cure” me. It was only while on my mission in Japan that it dawned on me how ridiculous and cruel this all was and I finally accepted who I was. Since returning from my mission I’ve not had to struggle with being gay and Mormon because I stopped being Mormon. Even then I had all that lifetime of internal programming to get out of my system because Mormonism isn’t just a religion, it’s a culture, and that culture always remains a part of you.
Q. What's your current status with the church?
A. My belief in the Church completely collapsed halfway through my mission, although I stayed the whole two years for family and other reasons. When I got home I continued to attend church for a few months, to spare my mother’s feelings for a while, but then I stopped going and have never been back and haven’t missed it at all. It would be hard for me to convey how quietly molten with anger I was by the end of my mission, and how profoundly I resented what I felt I had been robbed of while a teenager and for those two years while trapped on a mission, two years which I felt could and should have been two of the most wonderful years of my life.
I have never bothered to officially resign from the Church and formally request my membership be cancelled, as many people have done, because whatever this institution had in its records seemed meaningless to me. I had Mormon friends “alarmed” that I’d left, who tried to “counsel” me and who were horrified that I was happily and actively gay without in any way feeling ashamed of it. I hardly knew how to respond to the condescension, blindness and arrogance in their attitudes and just ignored them completely.
Q. Are you out to friends and family?
A. I’m completely out to friends and family. I came out at one point to my brother but with my mother I simply lived openly the way I wanted to, without feeling I had to come out in any formal way. I felt I didn’t have to explain anything. There was a point not long after returning from Japan when I did come out to my straight male non-Mormon friends and although they were stunned to start with I never lost a single friend. They were great about it even though I was the only gay person they knew. If anything, the fact I was no longer hiding anything made our friendships all the more fun, open and interesting.
Q. What is your current status? (Single, in a relationship, etc.) Are you happy?
A. Until recently I’d been in a relationship for almost two years, but just before Christmas my boyfriend got offered an amazing job in the United States he couldn’t turn down so we had to call it a day (I live in the UK). So single at the moment but not planning to stay that way. I’ve had several long term boyfriends in my life who have all been some of the most beautiful human beings I’ve ever known. At the moment I’d say yes I’m happy, although I tend to think of happiness as something you experience here and there, not something you obtain and hold on to. I'd call myself very existentially satisfied.
Q. Who is your celebrity crush?
A. Ha ha, I find it hard to get truly attracted to someone unless I know them personally and have talked to them. The UK talk show host Graham Norton is someone I think is quite cute, funny, smart and charming.
Q. You mentioned you started losing your faith while serving a mission. What led you to the overall disbelief of the church?
A. It was a slow, gradual process made up of different elements. Being gay was not even the main issue. Unlike many people who leave the Church, I never thought about or wrestled over doctrine, Church history, Joseph Smith issues etc. For me it was simply that the Church utterly failed to give me any spiritual connection with the cosmos. On my mission I saw so much bullying, so much fakeness, so much dishonesty, so much corporate-style salesmanship, so much hypocrisy, so much fanaticism, such clear examples of people pretending they knew things they didn’t know, that the whole miasma of belief I’d been brainwashed with as a child collapsed. Once that happened the penny dropped for me intellectually. I was very interested in history and just immediately saw that it was all man-made, that it was all made up in the 19th century. I'm pretty sure I would have left the Church even if I had not been gay.
Q. What was your immediate reaction to the Handbook policy change on gay couples and kids?
A. It didn’t surprise me. Over recent years the Church has softened its rhetoric towards homosexuality but I see that as a pure public relations exercise. Underneath it, the hostility is still there. It’s obviously shocking that even non-gay Mormon children would be made to pay the price for this hostility. What amazes me is how the Church talks about love all the time but has to be taught about love by non-Mormon society. It’s an institution which claims to have privileged access to eternal truth and a higher form of love and knowledge, yet it’s always struggling to keep up with society at large.
It was only when non-Mormon society changed its prejudiced attitude towards black people that the Church belatedly abandoned its own bigotry. After years of terrible psychological and emotional abuse of young gay Mormons, it was only in recent decades when society became more accepting of gay people and gay equality that the Church suddenly changed its own tune and tried to – very clumsily – adopt a more “accepting” attitude. But no amount of rhetoric about love and acceptance can really disguise the hostility and callousness.
When Dallin H. Oaks was questioned the other day about the rash of suicides in the wake of the new handbook policy, he actually had the lack of tact to say that “Nobody is sadder about a case like that than I am”. As some people have responded, “really?” He’s sadder about it than the dead young person’s parents and friends and boyfriend or girlfriend? It utterly amazes me that anyone who is gay would remain Mormon, that they would just endure the breathtaking arrogance, that they would lose their own lives because of such condescension, that they would accept such humiliation and attack on their own dignity as full spectrum human beings.
Q. What are your thoughts on Mixed Orientation Marriages?
A. I don’t have a problem with them because, to me, people should be free to live their lives as they want to. If they aren’t hurting anyone, it’s all valid. Mixed orientation marriages, if they are about love and if the two people get a reward and spiritual satisfaction from it, are perfectly valid. I don’t understand it, but I accept it. Perhaps the only thing I’d have reservations about is if a gay person is in one for purely religious reasons, and wouldn’t be otherwise. But I still just think of it as none of my business.
Q. You've recently published your journal entries from the mission. Give a brief summary of what we'd find in your book.
A. My book is called The Gate and The Garden: The Apostate Journals of a Gay Mormon Missionary in Japan. It is literally the actual journals I kept on my mission, along with the short stories and poems I wrote at the same time, on that journey. I’ve changed names and where people are from and some incidental things to protect people’s privacy, and tidied up punctuation and some things like that, but otherwise it’s exactly what I wrote back then.
What the reader will find is a very detailed documentation of how a believing 19 year old Mormon boy went on his mission, secretly believing and hoping that God would cure him of his private homosexual feelings if only he did his best and trusted in faith. It documents how bit by bit, step by step, he lost his faith in Mormonism and accepted himself as gay wholeheartedly. The second half is all about how he struggled to keep these two things concealed while surviving the whole two years for family reasons.
It’s kind of strange that I’d been so affected by anti-gay hostility in the Church that even after I realized I didn’t believe a word of Mormonism any more, it took a while longer to be able to write about being a gay Mormon. I guess that says something right there. When I did it all came tumbling out in my journals, the whole experience of growing up gay in the Church, my feelings, my experiences. There must be so many young gay Mormons who have gone on missions and only in that crucible learned to be who they are that it surprises me I’m the first person – as far as I can tell – to actually publish journals describing that experience.
The book is about more than this though. It gives a real feel for what a two year mission can be like on the ground. It certainly gives a lot of information about being a missionary in Japan a few decades ago. It’s also about larger issues. It’s about crossing the bridge from childhood to adulthood. It’s about discovering the joy of being who you are, not who you are told you should be. It’s about being intellectually independent. It’s also about a kind of creative awakening, with the poems and short stories I wrote as a means of self-expression while on this whole journey. I certainly feel that gay Mormons or gay ex-Mormons or gay missionaries or gay Mormons thinking of going on missions will find a lot they can relate to and if the book helps anyone struggling with these issues I would feel so happy.
Q. Any advice you'd give to the younger Moho's still in the closet?
A. I suspect a lot of young gay Mormons who are keeping this secret about themselves are allowing other people to set the terms of how they think, how they live, how they exist as a human being. I’d suggest they start setting their own terms and flipping things the other way round. Instead of worrying that they will disappoint their family or Church members, they should allow themselves to feel disappointed that family and Church members have put them in such a position.
Instead of feeling that their gay feelings are some kind of selfishness, they should pause to consider the selfishness of people who tell them they can’t enjoy love and intimacy while themselves enjoying it. Instead of allowing other people to tell them what “spirituality” is, they should reach deep inside themselves and feel how much genuine spirit is there, and how it ties them to the universe, and experience that awareness honestly.
When you’re young you sometimes forget that one day you will be old. Young gay Mormons should ponder how they will feel at the end of their lives, if they’ve lived that life for other people and only too late realized they allowed those other people - just people, with their own blindness and selfishness – to take their life from them.
More than anything, young gay Mormons have every right to feel angry. Getting in touch with that anger - which is the voice of their own dignity - is, I think, the healthiest thing they can do, instead of letting that anger turn against them and destroy them.
Q. Anything else you'd like to add?
A. I just want to say I have never regretted leaving the Church and living my life fully as a gay person. Gay life isn’t all fun and roses; there’s as much pain and messed-up-ness there as elsewhere. Yet I’ve met some of the most amazing beautiful people and had some of the most fulfilling relationships.
And just living honestly and on my own terms has released so much energy for me to live richly and wholeheartedly. The value of living an authentic life and living it fully has been my pearl of great price. The older I’ve become and more experience I’ve had, the more it astonishes me I could ever have considered surrendering my life because other people told me to.