Knowing I was gay and knowing the people in church didn’t want me there, I still felt like I couldn’t give up Mormonism without condemning my soul forever. I tried to take my own life when I was fourteen because I felt my soul was not worth the cost of believing that anymore.
My earliest memory of toxic masculinity was also my earliest not-so-fond memory at the Mormon church. I was holding hands with one of my friends in Sacrament Meeting. An older man came up to us and said boys who hold hands will burn in Hell. I was six years old. When Matthew Shepard was murdered I remember hearing my family make jokes about it. From their reaction I knew to start burying parts of myself. I was nine.
We moved from town out to the family ranch and changed church wards in the process. Members showed up in their flannel, good jeans, and boots. There was this aggressive, conservative, toxic-man vibe that just terrified me. I came back to these confused childhood memories: If I act gay it’s wrong, and someone will kill me. I stopped going. I hated it more than I had ever hated going before. I still went to youth activities, but never again on a Sunday.
During middle school my family moved to Houston, so I tried attending church again. I had this almost Southern Baptist bishop. I don’t totally remember the talk, but I remember he said something about homosexuality being a sin. I don’t know if I would say I got the balls to ask or if I was just consumed by sheer terror so I felt compelled, but either way I went up to him after Sacrament Meeting to ask what happens if you have gay feelings. His response: If you choose to be gay, you should choose to no longer live in this world.
I pulled out a kitchen knife, brought it upstairs to my bathroom and decided - like the bishop said - it was Mormonism or death. It took me doing something so unthinkable to realize for the first time that I actually had other choices, Mormonism wasn’t the only option.
Without Mormonism, I think I would have tried things, let myself fail, opened up more and allowed myself to be vulnerable. I don’t think I would have hated myself. I fully believe that if I wasn’t raised Mormon I would not have attempted suicide. I think I would have been able to see who I actually was rather than being so focused on the way everyone else said I was supposed to be.
Religion is at its core a set of values. What you instill value in dictates your experience, for good or for bad. While I felt like I spent the first half of my life trying to unlearn a major part of who I am, I’ve gotten to spend the second half learning who I want to become.