I was something of a perfectionist as a child with a strong desire to please God and my family. My youthful guilt dwelled on typical experiences, amounting to no more than childhood disagreements and misunderstandings. One focus of my guilt, which went beyond the norm, was my theft of a pack of gum. My sister had wanted it. I didn’t even like gum. But, when my mother told my sister she couldn’t have it, I decided to sneak it off the store shelf and into my sister’s possession that evening. When I offered it to my sister, I earned myself a lecture about stealing and was told that it was wrong, but I was not offered a way to make it right. So, I silently chewed the revolting gum in a giant mouthful that evening in bed so as not to be wasteful with the stolen item.
I learned about masturbation quite by accident on a bumpy bus ride to school at the age of six. When I got old enough to learn the name for and social perception about what I was doing to relieve childhood stress, I stopped doing it and felt quite guilty about this common and normal developmental behavior.
Sub-sequential guilt was developed and spurred on by talks focusing on sexual immorality as akin to murder, which stuck with me for years. At the age of twelve, I went to talk to my bishop about my perceived guilt. Somehow, I had developed the notion that just talking with a bishop would fix anything I had done wrong. I felt so heavy about the stealing and masturbation and questioned myself about all of my actions, feeling weighed down by my perceived guilt. I tried to put my concerns into words, but I struggled as I tried to explain that I had done things and I didn’t know if talking about them with him would help. My bishop tried to help by asking, “Are we talking about masturbation?” All of my attempts to express what I was going through at that point turned into intense embarrassment and confusion, and I couldn’t bring myself to talk about it. My bishop likewise seemed quite embarrassed at my reaction to his question, and the interview ended
As a student at BYU, I was plagued with feelings of unworthiness because I fit into categories denounced frequently over the pulpit in sacrament meetings – a feminist, an intellectual, and sexually atypical in that I detested being around men who expressed any attraction to me. I finally gained enough courage to talk once again with a bishop about my supposedly “great sins” of childhood with the concern that I was under some great shame before God and somehow a bishop could fix that. My bishop listened to the first part of what I had to say, then he interrupted with a prolonged tirade of criticism and denouncement. I tried to listen and take in his words bravely but started to sob uncontrollably. When he stopped, tears had flooded my cheeks, my nose dripped with moist mucus, my vocal cords were tightly and painfully constricted, and I couldn’t speak. I felt sick, ashamed, lonely, and afraid. He told me to go and clean myself up in the restroom. When I came back, he told me to go to more activities with the ward and sent me home. I didn’t know if God forgave me or not, but I knew my bishop thought I was disgusting trash. I could never speak about it again with him.
At that point, I felt like I could never be forgiven. I carried the fear, guilt, shame, and feelings of worthlessness around with myself for 25 years through other bishops and stake presidents who told me I didn’t need to be forgiven and that it was probably just a normal behavior. I couldn’t feel safe and normal dating men. I felt unworthy of love.
My dear friend had a much more difficult story, and he is no longer here to tell it. His family and the LDS church rejected him because of his sexual behaviors. Finally, he rejected himself and died by suicide.
He accepted me as I was. He made me feel safe. He could love me. But I couldn’t love him. I didn’t want to be touched or kissed or close to anyone. I still don’t.