I’ll never understand why my parents thought it was a good idea or allowed me to stay overnight with a 60 year old (approx.), single man who recently immigrated to the United States when I was about 7 or 8 years old, but they did. This man was someone my father was instrumental in bringing into the church (baptizing) when he was serving a mission in Europe. As such, there was seemingly an unspoken trust as my siblings and I were introduced and exposed to the miraculous conversion stories that accompanied their enduring friendship with strong ties to validating the goodness of the church and its gospel.
It was later at night on a solo overnight sleepover while we were watching T.V. side by side on a small couch that he told me he had something for me. He unzipped his trousers, opened the fly and told me to reach inside and tell me what I felt. Not quite understanding, and thinking he had something special for me I did as instructed. I remember being initially confused as I felt his “surprise” – as I had little to no context of the size and construct of a fully developed penis. He reassured me as he held my hand in place that it was ok to explore, encouraging me to squeeze and release as I felt penis enlarge in my tiny hand.
I can’t say that I had any discerning feeling of the time of it being “right” or “wrong”, only that I remained curious (albeit confused) but obedient also when he undid my pants and started touching me at the same time. As I recall, this type of fondling was as far as it went before he later tucked me into bed for the night. It was only many years later (long after I was an adult with children of my own) and at an opportune moment that my mother briefly and awkwardly inquired if anything happened to me with/by this acquaintance when I was a child. I simply said “yes”. She then commented that this upsets her and shared that my brother had a similar incident but was old enough to not let it happen. End of story – we’ve never spoken about it further.
This traumatic childhood episode triggered something in me that forever and continually weaved a strange web of emotions and behaviors as it pertained to both my sexual development and feelings about the church. I was a naturally obedient child, which boded well for an upbringing in the Mormon Church. You could say that I “went along to get along” and it worked out well as I advanced through all the traditional toll gates of priesthood, mission and marriage.
That said, I was in a continual state of confusion about questioning my sexuality because I soon developed a regular “habit” of masturbation at a fairly young age. I liked to touch myself (an assumed learned behavior from the trauma outlined earlier, so it seemed). I definitely knew I wasn’t attracted to men and had no gay tendencies (and REALLY liked girls) but didn’t have the sexual maturity or context at a young age to understand the nuances involved. Aligned with the standards and teachings of the church I was programmed to feel extreme guilt about doing so and kept my secrets under wraps. I remember very vividly that my “new year resolution” each year through around 20 years old was to discontinue this evil practice.
I resolved to solve this issue myself rather than confide in the bishop…as to do so would be extremely embarrassing – as the bishops of my youth were VERY close friends with my father and my father was often part of the bishopric! It didn’t mean they didn’t ask about the “Law of Chastity”, I just didn’t disclose that there was any problem.
When it was time for my mission interview, however, I didn’t feel right about going ahead without a completely clear conscience. As such, I reserved the “masturbation bombshell” for the Stake President – as I felt he was one step removed from being a true family friend so the embarrassment factor would be a bit tempered. I had expected an acknowledgement of having “confessed my sins”, a conversation around the importance of being chaste and a run down on how to obtain forgiveness with an admonishment to “sin no more”.
Instead I was met with more detailed questions about how, where and how often. Props? Pornography? Etc. I was then given an assignment to write a letter to him each week for the following three months to report on whether or not I was masturbating (as I was going away to school and unable to have regular in person interviews). You can rest assured each report sent back indicated that I had miraculously stopped masturbating…and I was on my way to the mission field!
Side Note: Props to my Mission President…who never asked such pointed questions in our interviews even though I once felt compelled to volunteer that I still had a problem masturbating on my mission. He awkwardly listened (I think it actually made him uncomfortable) then simply told me that was not something he needs to concern himself with as my Mission President, to keep focused on the mission work and that I was doing a great job. He later called me to be his Assistant to the President.
Additional Side Note: Years later while attending the temple with my father by my side I entered the room and immediately recognized my childhood abuser – in full temple garb. I felt a shock of paralyzing anxiety build up in me though I was able to keep my emotions concealed throughout. There is a part in the temple ceremony where a question is posed about needing to ensure a full spirit of unity and if anyone in the room holds any type of animosity toward anyone else in the room they should make it known and excuse themselves from proceeding. I remember that burning of conflicting feelings I had in wanting so badly to stand up and excuse myself – as it would be the “right” thing to do. However, not wanting to open a can of worms and have to explain myself or the situation to my Dad later on I simply bit my lip and remained silent. I point to that experience as an initial trigger to my becoming less active over the years as I grappled with the hypocrisy that runs rampant within the church.