Growing up, I was not talked to about my sexuality in what I would consider a healthy way. I don’t fully blame my parents, because I was not an easy child to have serious or deep conversation with. I was the oldest and always felt it was my responsibility to be the example my family wanted me to be. For this reason, I found myself in the middle of a self-destructive cycle of projecting a perfect version of myself, and being talked about with high regard by my parents and neighbors. I was always the low-maintenance kid who made the right choices, the right friends, and who was headed for greatness. A mission was never not an option.
As I began getting “those” interviews into my teenage years, I found myself becoming nervous, as things like masturbation, a curiosity of my own sexuality, and increased interest in the girls around me had been increasing in relevance. So I had some dissonance building. I know I needed to be the righteous, valiant Priesthood Holder that everyone expected me to be, but I also had these inexplicable urges and interest in what I knew to be absolutely evil. This created a strong dichotomy inside, which has been extremely difficult to undo. I was a direct target of Satan. And more and more, as I grew up and found these issues only compounding in seriousness, I realized I was weaker than Satan. And being taught in church that light will always overcome darkness, my only conclusion was to believe that I was inherently flawed. I was a sinner and my only choice was to get myself help.
After talking about this with bishops over the years, it only made the guilt worse. Now I had a man looking at me every week who knew these intimate details of my life. I remember the first time I spoke about this with a bishop, he had a rule with me. Every week I broke the law of chastity, I had to refuse the sacrament when it was passed. I had to make a public spectacle of myself in front of my family members and friends who all trusted me and saw me as an example. I found so many ways to reason myself out of feeling guilty for this, but the better part of my teenage years were wrought with self-loathing for being such an inherent sinner and feeling more and more unworthy to marry in the temple, to serve a mission, and to raise my own family. I could not break this.
My mission proved challenging, but I was able to sink into what I can only describe as a sexually-numb state. I didn’t allow myself to think about sexuality. And when I did, the guilt was exponential. At one point I told my mission president about the issues I had been dealing with, and he downplayed them and told me that these things were common. He didn’t want to go into detail and just reassured me that these things were difficult for most men in the church, and I was no exception. For the first time, I felt like I wasn’t a freak for being unable to “bridle my passions” and commit myself to righteousness.
It took several more years of crafting clever responses in interviews, where I would steer the conversation away from being able to dig into my sexuality. I couldn’t answer those questions truthfully if they were asked directly. But if I was only asked, “are you keeping the law of chastity” then I would say “yes” and just assume their definition and mine were different. But as I began seriously dating my now wife, I found the guilt come back. I had over a decade of suppressed guilt and self-doubt, and now I was navigating serious territory. It took us years to be able to talk about this topic in a healthy way. I found my same justification permeating my relationship. When we would “sin” during our courtship, we would simply excuse ourselves by saying, “well that doesn’t have a name so we didn’t ‘do’ anything, technically.” But this made us both feel guilty.
Two years into my marriage I finally began to realize how normal my adolescence was. I spoke with people who had much more normal views of their own sexuality, and I found that the less I think and worry about these “sins” the less alluring they became. I started being able to treat my issues as non-issues, and I found my mental health and my marriage drastically improving. For the past few years I have been trying to re-wire my brain. I find myself judging others as I discover issues they have, and for feeling guilt when I do certain things or think certain thoughts. I know this is wrong and harmful, but these feelings are so deeply ingrained in me that I cannot undo them.
As a father, I will not treat my children’s sexuality with levity. I will not leave it to a bishop to discuss these serious issues with them, and I will CERTAINLY not let my children feel deep rooted, irreversible guilt for doing perfectly normal activities as they discover their own sexuality. I hope that in another decade I will be able to laugh at my upbringing and realize that it was a slight hiccup in an otherwise happy, healthy sex life. But for now, I deal with feelings of guilt, shame, and self-loathing on a nearly daily basis because of the questions my bishop asked me, the way he responded, and the years I spent hiding something totally normal from the people that loved me the most, and absorbing the feelings of trauma from being unable to avoid a perfectly normal part of development.