Today’s guest post is written by Brittan Messerly. Opinions shared on guest posts may not completely reflect the positions of the blog’s author.
Brittan Messerly is the author of of Mindfully Messy. She is a lesbian, a Buddhist, and a “Digital Nomad on hiatus” until international travel is safe again.
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE LDS CHURCH
During the past 3 months of isolation, I’ve been in deep meditative states and intensive therapy sessions.
My goal was simple: examine the sources of pain, anger, and psychological childhood trauma that’s deeply tied to my sense of identity and negatively impacting my everyday life. There were many peaks and valleys throughout this process and probably more to come after I send this letter.
A peak was when, for the first time in my life, I kissed a girl without feeling crushing amounts of guilt and shame afterwards. A valley was when I had a breakdown and yelled at my best friend: “I wish I was straight. I don’t want to be a lesbian, I don’t want this. Why don’t I like men? Why couldn’t I control this? Please, God, make me straight.”
Before going any further, it’s important to be on the same page about a few things. Firstly, this letter is not meant to blame the LDS church, leaders, or members, for my traumas or mental disorders. Secondly, every human develops differently and may experience sexual or romantic attraction at various levels of intensity. For example, I may have had biological predispositions and/or other environmental factors that cause Bipolar Depression and Borderline Personality Disorder; meaning they would have developed with or without being raised in an intensely homophobic society.
Regardless, Borderline PD does have a strong link to repeated psychological trauma during childhood. A recent study showed people with Borderline PD are 3 times more likely to experience childhood trauma than people with other mental health problems and 13 times more likely than people who don’t have a mental illness. Personally, my psychiatrist has diagnosed both of my disorders as rooted in repeated psychological and homophobia-related childhood trauma. Therefore a large part of the mental anguish I experienced for >20 years was directly tied to LDS church teachings’ regarding homosexual thoughts, feelings, and actions. That cannot be ignored.
Same-Gender Attraction | 1995 Conference Talk by Elder Dallin H. Oaks
Power status in the church organization: As an apostle, Dallin H. Oaks leads LDS members using inspiration from God. Elder Oaks’ conference talks are viewed as sacred as scripture.
- “We should distinguish between (1) homosexual “thoughts and feelings” (which should be resisted and redirected), and (2) “homosexual behavior” (which is a serious sin). […] All of us have some feelings we did not choose, but the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us that we still have the power to resist and reform our feelings (as needed) and to assure that they do not lead us to entertain inappropriate thoughts or to engage in sinful behavior.”
- “The struggles of those who are troubled by same-sex attraction are not unique. There are many kinds of temptations, sexual and otherwise. The duty to resist sin applies to all of them. […] The gospel applies on the same basis to everyone. Its central truth is our Savior’s atonement and resurrection, that we might have immortality and eternal life.”
- “Church leaders and members cannot avoid their responsibility to teach correct principles and righteous behavior (on all subjects), even if this causes discomfort to some.”
Official LDS Church Policies | Accessed: June 2020
- “Physical intimacy between husband and wife is beautiful and sacred. It is ordained of God for the creation of children and for the expression of love within marriage. […] Those who find themselves struggling with sexual temptations, including feelings of same-gender attraction, should not give in to those temptations. People can choose to avoid such behavior and receive the Lord’s help as they pray for strength and work to overcome the problem.”
- “If members feel same-gender attraction but do not engage in any homosexual behavior, leaders should support & encourage them in their resolve to live the law of chastity & to control unrighteous thoughts.”
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN,
My earliest childhood was full of love and support from my LDS family and community of Humboldt County, CA. Humboldt was not a particularly safe area; thus LDS members were a strong united community who helped and served those who needed it most. From ages 0-4,both of my parents, my older siblings, church friends, and any religious leaders/teacher I interacted with only gave me feelings of love and belonging.
However, a moment occurred in my CTR (“Choose the Right”) church class that rocked my place within my family and community.
I was 4 years old when I discovered Heaven wasn’t for me. My church teacher made it painfully clear eternal life with my forever family was only possible with a marriage between a man and a woman. It was done in a harmless way, using a blue felt board with clouds representing Heaven and little felt figures. All of the couples were different races and shapes, but all pairs consisted of a man and a woman. As the lesson continued, I was heartbroken that someone like me was not included in God’s Perfect Plan of Salvation. This lesson was repeated numerous times with increasing intensity and clarity throughout my lifetime, but the most harmful damage to my early childhood psyche was at 4, 5, 6, and 7 years old. During these ages, I did not have my first real crush yet, let alone any sort of “temptation” the LDS church refers to as “homosexual feelings and thoughts.”
In 3rd grade (8/9 years old), I developed various school-girl crushes on female celebrities and random classmates I thought were cute, but would never dare approach. My attempts to “control unrighteous thoughts” consisted of resisting another 8-year-old girl’s hand on the playground. With regards to “homosexual behaviors,” when Tyler* gave me a red rose, I said thanks and promptly re-gifted it to Maya* when he wasn’t looking. Maya* smiled at me as she accepted the flower and I almost blurted out she was pretty. Luckily, my fear of eternal punishment stopped me in time and I just blushed, not meeting her gaze. At this point, I was a baptized member of the LDS church and therefore any sins I committed were breaking my holy contract with God. Homosexual behavior — including flirting and kissing — is listed under “serious transgressions.” Other actions listed under “serious transgressions” include murder, rape, and cheating on your spouse.
From ages 10-18, the “discomfort” I needed to deal with to overcome my sinful desires appeared in the form of overwhelming panic attacks. To put it simply, when someone in a leadership position “others” a group of people to his/her followers, it often causes feelings of superiority among the “in-group” over the “othered” members.
During church or seminary lessons my throat would start closing up whenever my teachers discussed the need to resist/redirect homosexual feelings and the sin of homosexual actions. I would hurriedly ask to use the restroom and instead lock myself in an empty classroom. Clinging to my throat as I tried to breathe, the sheer panic of the Holy Ghost whispering to my religious teacher that I suffered from same-sex attraction consumed my mind. To be clear: I never had anxiety or pain from lessons discussing sex only being allowed after marriage or anything else having to do with the law of chastity. I understood the purpose of those strict rules. I was fine with waiting until I met the right person and I was ready to commit to them. By this age, I realized other people believed gay people could get married. Feelings of disgust, refusal, and despair only came when it was repeatedly hammered into my mind that my eternal companion could not be a woman.
Moving to Utah at age 11 solidified my need to resist “temptation” for survival reasons. In Northern California, I was 1 of 3 LDS kids at our elementary school, so I had a significant escape from the LDS church’s cultural influence. Now, in a tiny suburb of Utah, I was surrounded by it. The influence of the church wasn’t only in my family and the local community, it was my entire world. Throughout the years following, I successfully resisted homosexual temptations and followed the LDS teachings of overcoming my desires with “persistent effort” and humble prayers. Forcing myself to be straight also had the added bonus of not having to deal with the homophobic harassment I saw inflicted on others who weren’t as talented at hiding their sexuality.
Entering middle school revealed repeated, explicit, homophobic actions by my peers, the only violent and physical bullying I ever witnessed in Utah. It also brought new challenges with my female friends I needed to manage in middle school and high school. For example, hiding while I changed in locker-rooms and avoiding my friends’ hugs. I was utterly consumed by the notion that something as insignificant as the length of time I hugged one of my friends would cause them to suddenly realize my secret and “out” me to the unforgiving world. By sheer dumb luck, I never developed a crush on any close friends, the one saving grace I clung to. In fact, I could hardly speak or make eye contact with the female classmates I was attracted to. I avoided them at all costs.
From ages 14-16, the LDS church took controversial stances and spent large amounts of tithing money to fight against propositions for legalizing gay marriage. The ethics of this were debated amongst members and nonmembers alike. As I fought with LDS family members about this topic, I told myself I was only defending people because everyone deserved to have full medical and legal rights to protect their consensual committed unions. I kept telling myself my feelings for men would develop as I got older and continued to pray and ask for God’s help. I was sure I could ignore the strong romantic and sexual attraction that I had developed towards women by age 15. I didn’t even have innocent crushes on men, but I truly believed God would help me ignore my attraction to women and develop a successful relationship with a man. I focused on the positives: men have nice jawlines, impressive upper-body strength, and I could form emotional, intellectual, & platonic bonds to them. Romantic and sexual desires were sure to develop by adulthood!
Adulthood ended up bringing the freedom to finally give in to my homosexual sin of giving a girl a peck on the lips and the opportunity to distance myself from the LDS church. While my Buddhism beliefs grew, I still had LDS teachings in the back of my mind. There were many positive aspects of the church — both spiritually and culturally — that I did not want to lose. Plenty of Buddhists practice multiple religions or spiritual teachings, another factor that kept returning to the LDS church as a possibility.
At age 18, the church differentiated between same-sex thoughts and actions much more clearly, also bringing bisexuality into the framework. I decided I was bisexual and would try to “get the gay out of my system” in college. However, dating girls did not go as planned. The second I kissed one there was no going back. It was nothing like kissing a man. I’d kissed roughly 15 men at this point and never felt a single “spark.” When I kissed a woman for the first time everything in me came alive. However, my paranoia and self-hatred did not make acceptance of my same-sex attraction easy. Dating women caused deep guilt, shame, and ultimately, repentance of my homosexual actions.
Graduating with my Associate’s Degree and moving to Oregon, I decided to give the male sex another try. My strong relationships with LDS family members constantly kept the pressure in the back of my mind to attempt to find a man I could stomach marrying. I was ready to fully commit this time, conversion therapy let’s go! Note: If any men I dated are reading this, I’d like to apologize that I lied to you about being interested in you. I should not have strung you along for months when no romantic or sexual attraction was growing. It was wrong of me to lead you on just because I couldn’t accept the truth.
Until last year, I held out a shred of hope I could at least be naturally bisexual. That way I would still have the option of marrying a man and avoid actions that go against a core belief of the religion I was raised in. If I succeeded, I could have an eternal romantic companion, inherit the Kingdom of God, and live with my family forever. Acting on my attraction to women destroyed all hopes of that. For roughly 20 years of my life, I’ve knowingly hidden and tried to change a significant part of me.
That ends now.
Today, I am not only formally leaving the LDS church, but attempting to explain how/why even the most updated LDS teachings regarding homosexual feelings and actions may lead to serious childhood trauma for the very people they are trying to counsel. I leave the church, not as an act of rebellion, blame, or anger towards the religion that also taught me the importance of public service, strong family bonds, and loving thy neighbor.
Instead, I officially let the LDS church go so I can live a true life without intense shame, guilt,and finally end the internalized-homophobic trauma cycle of forcing myself to have an eternal companion who I’m not naturally sexually attracted to. Nothing was disgusting or immoral about my innocent childhood crushes on Shego, Raven Baxter, and Princess Jasmine. Nothing is disgusting or immoral about my consenting adult relationships with women.
I’m a lesbian. One day I will marry a woman.
Happy Pride 2020,
Brittanye Noelle Messerly
*All names have been changed*
**If you’re a member of the LDS church, this letter is not meant to separate me from you. In fact, I hope we will remain friends, but if anything I have revealed changes your opinion of me or our relationship, please don’t let me know. You are free to unfriend me and we can each follow our own lifestyle paths. I am (finally) happy with my sexuality and I wish you all the happiness with yours.**
Natasha Helfer Parker, LCMFT, CST, CSTS can be reached at natashaparker.org and runs an online practice, Symmetry Solutions, which focuses on helping families and individuals with faith concerns, sexuality and mental health. She hosts the Mormon Mental Health and Mormon Sex InfoPodcasts, is the current past president of the Mormon Mental Health Association and runs a sex education program, Sex Talk with Natasha. She has over 20 years of experience working with primarily an LDS/Mormon clientele.