Protect LDS Children: My Story, Trevor Cobb, March 25, 2018
Around 1992-1993, when I was a deacon in Olney, Maryland, my mom caught me looking at a Playboy in the bathroom. Since I was 7-8 years old I had been riding my bike with the Mormon neighbor boy, _______, who was four years my senior up to the bookstore in town and stealing porno mags, but this was the first time I had been caught. My mom cried and reacted like I had betrayed her and her entire gender. She scheduled an appointment for me with our Mormon Bishop at the time, _______ for the following Sunday.
The Olney Ward was not very large. We rarely even needed to open the first section of the “overflow” into the cultural hall on Sundays. This meant that there were few Aaronic priesthood holders around, and we were all pretty crucial in administering the sacrament each week. ______ without any seeming hesitation, and because I was called to repentance into his office, not coming of my own accord, immediately and indefinitely deemed my unworthy of not just using my priesthood but also of partaking of the Sacrament, or participating in church functions such as offering public prayers. This led to me remaining seated with my family each Sunday and having to turn away all of the repeated attempts from the other 12-17-year olds who would without fail approach me before Sacrament meeting started, or sometimes even after if they were still short, to remind me that I was needed to help pass the Sacrament.
All of my friends knew that I wasn’t able to pass the sacrament starting at age 12. They also saw that I wasn’t eating the bread or drinking the water either when it was passed to me. This continued until age 17 when I was finally found “worthy” to be ordained to the office of Priest and given leave to partake of the sacrament again, and use the Priesthood. By then the damage was done, and I had earned a solid reputation, and was the subject of the Ward gossip mills sufficient that incoming families with teenage daughters all had talkings-to in order to warn them off from “that Cobb boy.” I know this because I married my high school sweetheart, and she was one of the teenage girls that moved into the Ward whose parents were warned about me almost immediately after landing there.
What’s fun about being prohibited from taking the sacrament as a Mormon is that it is pretty much only sexual sin that can land you in that boat on an indefinite basis. If you violate the Word of Wisdom, the standard practice from what I’ve seen is that most Bishops or Stake Presidents will have you take it on a week to week basis. Smoke a cig that week? Abstain that week only. Shoot some heroin? Wait until the following week and show the Lord that you can be strong. Abuse yourself by masturbating or defile womanhood by looking at a naked female body? Slow down there skipper, let’s have you hold off for at least a few months and see how things go from there. This meant that everyone in the Olney Ward that was even slightly observant, could see that I was refusing the requests to pass the sacrament over months and years, and that I was not preparing the sacrament with the other 14-15 year olds when that time came, and that I was not blessing the sacrament with the other 16 year olds when that time came. The only thing that can knock someone out for the count like that: “immorality.” And thus I was branded with my own scarlet letter.
Behind closed doors, starting from my very first meeting at age 12 with ______, I was asked about my involvement not only with pornography, but also with masturbation. ______ wanted to know about the frequency of its occurrence and expected me to keep him on speed dial during the week to let him know when I had “slipped up.” This included dialing him at his job at Marriott HQ in Bethesda, MD and having his assistant put me on hold to transfer me through to him, to tell him that I had just masturbated to be able to unburden myself from the guilt that I apparently was supposed to feel each time this happened. His office number was 301-380-____ if I’m not mistaken.
_____ also frequently wanted to know details about the kind of porn I had looked at. I remember that making me very uncomfortable at the time. As part of my “restitution” I had to go to each kid I had shared a porno mag with in 6th grade and meet with them and their parents and apologize for having compromised my integrity for stealing the magazines, and for not accurately representing what a good Mormon boy should be. _____ was also my home teaching companion for years, and I’m not quite sure why he would have taken me on as a project like that.
Eventually at some point in my adolescence _____ was called to be the Seneca Maryland Stake President and my father was called to be the Bishop of the Olney Ward. For obvious reasons, I transferred my spiritual care up the food chain from the Bishop level and continued to see _____ for all of my continuing repentance needs. ____ asked me to read the Miracle of Forgiveness by Spencer W. Kimball in which I learned that masturbation would turn me gay and could lead to other sexual deviancy like bestiality. _____ was also the one that my first serious girlfriend went to for her own repentance after breaking up with me thinking that she was the reason I couldn’t use my priesthood since 15-year-old me was sneaking out of my house and into her room at night to make out, and touch her body, and her mine. He called me to repentance (and my parents to join) for this particular set of transgressions.
_____ eventually took a job in Florida and was replaced by ________ as the new Stake President. _____ also took me on as a project at some point. He was less pushy than _____, and it was very apparent that he cared about me and wanted to help get me back on track, and it was under his tenure that I did get ordained to the office of Priest at age 17, and become “worthy” to use the Priesthood again and received an ecclesiastical endorsement to attend a private LDS school in Virginia, and eventually receive a mission call to Argentina. But I was still a minor, talking to an adult male, about details surrounding my sex life, on a regular basis, under the impression that this was ok, and normal.
I remember as a 16-year-old with a newly minted driver license in my pocket, driving to work as a lifeguard in the rain, and feeling the 1989 Chevrolet Caprice Classic I was driving come sliding to a stop at a light, then having a minor panic attack when I realized that I had not called _____ or spoken with him about my latest “slip up” and fearing the possibility that I might be taken from the earth in a car accident without that confession happening first, and wondering what the status of my soul would be under those circumstances.
I remember the extreme weight gain that I experienced starting at age 12, that led to me becoming obese as a teenager, and eventually becoming 332 lbs at age 37, stemming from me turning to food and emotional eating to find comfort and a socially acceptable outlet for the hurt and pain I felt inside, and the self-loathing that was consuming me for not being worthy. I conflated my lack of spiritual worthiness with a lack of worth because it was a logical and easy conclusion to make.
I believe it was this aspect of my childhood that led me down the road toward emotional dependency and eventual relationship codependency. When a Mormon girl showed interest in me and that I had value to her when I was in 8th grade, my world came to life. When she broke up with me in High School because I wasn’t “worthy” it devastated me, because that was how I had also defined my own sense of worth for so long, and with her I had been able to externalize my sense of worth and put it instead onto the relationship. Then there she was throwing it back onto my worthiness and walking away from me and no longer finding sufficient value in me to stick around.
This led to a perfect storm in which I could acknowledge that:
– public perception of me amongst my “tribe” was at an all time low;
– my spiritual advisor’s opinion of me was at an all-time low because I had been concealing my late night rendezvous’s with a girl in her bed from him and he had to call me to repentance; and
– my parents’ opinion of me was at an all-time low because I was forced to disclose to them that I had been sneaking out.
My self-esteem went into the toilet even further which led to more porn and masturbation and eating as outlets. I fell into an even deeper depression, and lost the ability to get out of bed in the morning, and found that it was all I could do to survive my life to sleep most of the day to avoid my feelings. This was my introduction to suicidal ideations. I dropped out of high school after I lost credit from all of my classes half way through my junior year. And then another woman showed interest in me and found value in me despite how broken I was, and I again externalized my own sense of worth and put it all on that relationship, giving her the power to own and eventually break me.
This became the pattern and story of my life until very recently.
To go on my mission, ______ had to get special permission for me to enter the MTC because I slipped up and would not have been free from masturbation for 6 months prior. He had to call a general authority and report my masturbation timeline, who then had to consult with someone to get back to _____ and give us the greenlight. When I got out on my mission, every single interview I had with my mission president, _______, it was an open joke amongst the other missionaries that he would always ask each of us during our regular one on one interviews, “How is your personal life Elder? And by personal life, yes, I’m talking about masturbation.” Thus I continued to be beholden to a Mormon Priesthood leader in regards to my personal sex life as a teenager.
When my low self-esteem and huge issues with self-worth and major emotional damage over my own sexuality led me to jump into bed with a beautiful Argentine woman that showed a sliver of interest in me, and I lost my virginity on almost just a whim, I was overwhelmed with guilt and turned myself in to the Mission President and was called into an impromptu Disciplinary Council with him and one of his counselors who was a lawyer for the Church living in Buenos Aires. I don’t know the counselor’s name, but what will forever be burned into my brain is the feedback that he gave me, that I should never have come on a mission, and that I wasn’t ready and I had obviously not prepared well enough and had never repented or overcome my problems with sexual transgression.
Fast forward to age 33 when I was in another disciplinary council trying to be removed from formal probation and gain my Temple Recommend to take my new bride to the Temple to be sealed to her. I was in the High Council room of the Seneca Stake again, this time with _______ as the Stake President. ____ was the father of one of my childhood peers, and the home teacher of my parents for the number of years prior. I had been put on probation because I had slept with my wife prior to our marriage. And yet, despite eliminating the possibility for fornication by getting married, and remaining fully faithful to her after we got married, _____l still found it appropriate in front of a group of all of the men on the Seneca Stake High Council to ask me how I was doing with my prior problems surrounding masturbation.
But by that point, I had finally had enough and decided to start taking a stand for myself. My response was one that I’m still proud of to this day, “If I have learned anything from the LDS 12 step program for sex addiction, it’s that I can only focus on taking things one day at a time.” I wish that I had the balls to tell them what I should have, “That’s none of your business, and highly offensive that you would ask me or anyone details about their sex life.”