I was 12 years old when I found out what masturbation was. I did not find out from the internet (not a thing at that time). I did not get curious looking at dirty pictures or even from being told by friends what it was. I was told in graphic detail what it was by my bishop. It is important to understand that my 2nd through 4th grades were taught at home as were my two siblings in their respective grades. I was completely and utterly socially inept and masturbation was never part of my mind. For my 12 year-old interview to receive the priesthood, I was asked many questions about sex of all kinds. I had a general idea in my naivety what these things were. Then came the question. You know the question: “Do you masturbate?” My mind was racing trying to come up with an answer. After several moments the bishop could see the ignorance in my eyes. He then said “Matthew, do you know what masturbation is?” My stammering continued. He let me know that masturbation is when I pleasure myself. So again, I sat there dumbfounded. My mind could not grasp what he was explaining. After several more moments of confused stares at each other (I am sure he is thinking in his mind what an idiot I must be) he continues to explain in graphic detail how I can masturbate and how I should feel when I climax. Still not responding, he spoke again letting me know what a terrible bad thing it was and, without an answer from my stunned face, the conversation turned to the church approved pamphlet about my “little factory”. It is worth a read and a good laugh now, but at that time, I was utterly traumatized. I’m sure that my deer in the headlights look made the bishop happy and without saying a word, he let me know how proud he was that I did not masturbate. This is my first memory of an interview with the bishop and it gave me a feeling that would become common in my life: incapacitating anxiety.
To continue, you need to understand a little background on my family. My mother has always had an extreme type A personality. I remember constant fights my parents would have in the motor home we had in the driveway. As children, we would sit in the living room staring at our parents screaming at each other while we looked out the over-sized bay window in the living room that over-looked the driveway where they would think they were spewing hatred at each other in privacy. When I was in middle school, we went on a road trip to California from Colorado for the weekend. In the middle of the lonely Southern Utah desert, our Suburban rolled in the early hours of the morning. It was a blur. It was traumatic. My sister had 5 fractures in her vertebrae. I was not wearing a seat belt, and with my leg stuck under the seat in from of me, my body turned in the accident and I could feel my knee snap as that was the only point holding me into the vehicle. As you can imagine, my knee was torn apart as my spinning body was unable to keep up with the rotational speed of the Suburban rolling. I blacked out. When I came to, all I could hear was other family members calling out to see where my sister was. She had been thrown hundreds of feet from the back seat of the Suburban. I tried to stand up to find her, only to step on my leg and have it completely give way underneath me. Once crumpled in a pile on the inside-side pillar of the Suburban, which was now on its side, I could see the extent of my injuries. As I was finally dragged from the wreckage by some passers-by, I waited for what seemed like an eternity for the ambulance to come thinking my sister was killed as she was still being looked for. Once the ambulance came I was loaded and I found out my sister had been found and was alive. We were both put in the same ambulance. We spent the ride to the Cedar City hospital, sobbing, screaming in pain, and just trying to hold each others hands. I can still smell every terrifying scent from that night and ordeal. I am sobbing just thinking about it. 25 years later, I feel that it just happened yesterday.
It is an incredible story. That is the easy part of the story. We found out later that we were the ones spared from real injury. We would find out in the coming months, that my mother received a substantial un-diagnosed closed head injury. This would shape the rest of the lives for everyone in my family and so many others. Before the accident, my mother was the type that could be the Relief Society President, Young Women’s President while doing things for dozens of others while doing everything we needed at home. After the accident, she became my personal tormentor and something worse than the devil.
I was not the exclusive target. My brother and sister were tormented for years. My father was abused in ways I am unable to comprehend. Verbal abuse was the weapon of choice of my mother. We never knew when she would fly into a screaming fits for hours letting us know that we were pieces of garbage and we would hear over and over how much we did not love her. We were scared to ask her about anything and we knew that if we brought up anything that was out of step with her or the gospel of the Mormon church, we would be the enemy and would be diminished for days, weeks, or even years depending on the severity of the issue.
After the car accident, the insurance company required that we see a mental health professional to talk about the accident. We needed to go for at least one visit, although they wanted us to go regularly. Before that visit, we were instructed for days by our mother about the evil these psychologists had in there hearts and that we would be in immense trouble if we were to reveal ANYTHING personal about the family, and most importantly, nothing about her. We did as instructed, kept our mouths shut, and after the one visit, life was back to the normal abuse. At the time I felt relieved by my silence. I should note that my father was just as abused as we were. Over the years, he stopped arguing like the rest of us and just tried to get over the yelling as quickly as possible. I understand why he just caved, but it was demoralizing for us. After the daily abuse from our mother, we would beg our father to help and put a stop to it. The reply we got in the mid 1990’s would be the same one we get today. “I know it’s hard, but……….”, just add whatever excuse of the day here. My father was unwilling to stop my mother because he just wanted it to stop as soon as possible.
You may ask what this has to do with my bishop at the time or interviews for that matter. Well, at this point, I knew that my father was unable / unwilling to protect us against the devil living in our home. After this went on for some time, one day I had been told over and over throughout the day after getting home from school that I was nothing but a piece of shit that could do nothing right. As I laid in my bed that night uncontrollably crying as I did most nights, it came to my mind that there was one person that could help me (I had prayed over and over for help, so I knew God was unable to do anything). I knew that the bishop was my advocate and that he could help. In the late hours of that night I called my bishop and for what seemed like the entire night (I’m sure it was 15 to 20 minutes), I laid everything out in a sobbing mess in a way only a teenager can utter. I begged for his help and comfort. Then came the damage my mother was never able to complete. All hope was taken from me. My bishop told me that she was my mother and that whatever happened was for my good, to always listen to my mother, and not involve him in this “issue”.
I was crushed. My soul had been deflated. Nobody could help me. I then did what I have done for the last couple decades: Smiled on the outside, but everything inside me went numb. It still hurt, but I did everything in my power to not feel. I learned how to stay at school for as long as I could. I never wanted to see my mother again, but she made sure to always be a painful part of my life.
Just a couple weeks after that I had my annual interview with the bishop where we talked about the usual. Nothing was asked about my mother. It did not matter. I learned how to just answer every question as I should so it would not get back to my mother. I had no relationship with the bishop. I was unable to confide in the bishop about anything. He was basically my father; he just wanted to make my mother happy so he would not need to deal with her. This is how I dealt with every other ecclesiastical interview I have had in my life. I should also point out that this same bishop is the one that guilted me into going on a mission at the age of 21 after my mother would not leave him alone about him getting me to go.
My heart and soul were gone after that. I never fought back to this “leader” that cared nothing about me. Not long after that, I went to high school and my friends did not line up with any of the kids at church. I would go to the parties with these friends, but I remained good in the eyes of the church. I was the designated driver. At these parties, I would see the bishops son and those of other leaders drink or have sex. When I would get to mutual on Tuesday night, I would be yelled and screamed at by the leaders. I would assume that they were told by the other youth my age doing whatever they wanted, that I was there. It did not matter that I was not doing any drinking or messing around. Of course they would be smiling over the shoulder of these leaders chastising me even though they were the ones doing what we were not supposed to be doing.
Fast forward. I am now 38 years old. I am married to the most amazing person in the world who would often get my short temper and un-loving comments. She is the one that has helped me understand who I am. She has lead me by the hand and shown me the unconditional love I never had at home growing up, or from my church leaders. I am now at a point in my life where I do not think about suicide on a daily basis. My wife went to law school a few years ago, and it was hard beyond words. I ended up being railroaded by my parents in the midst of having a brain tumor while helping them with a failing business. Some days I would just beg myself to just get through the next 60 seconds as they slowly ticked by. It seemed minutes would take years. I had no hope. But I knew that if I could get through another 60 seconds without killing myself, drugs in hand, that my wife would be able to get through law school and raise our children. That was the only thing I was needed for in this world; I had given up.
Last year as my wife was preparing to take the bar, I tried to find some peace. My dear wife helped me to understand that I did not have the opportunity to find out who I was. In this loving environment, I was able to find out that even though I was born as a male, I identify as a female. She is the one that helped me overcome the demons that were inflicted by my parents, bishop, and other leaders. Since the spring of 2017, I have had a number of struggles as I am transitioning to being female. I can only remember ONCE since then that I have thought about suicide. I went from trying to get from one minute to the next without killing myself to just being happy with me! I cannot go back in time, but I wish I would have had that support from my bishop when my parents were unwilling to do so.