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From my Beach House, Built on Sand

Updated: Apr 5, 2019

I was raised a faithful Mormon in Salt Lake City, Utah. Seminary, temple work, garments, all of it. During my master's degree work in mental health counseling, I interned at BYU-Hawaii's Counseling Center while juggling a faith crisis. I had moved to Hawaii from California, where I heard bishops read letters and explain how to coordinate with phone bankers, planned protests, and direct members to pick up “Yes on Prop 8” bumper stickers and lawn signs in the foyer. I had argued with co-workers about religious liberty, and fully believed it was the will of God that “same-sex attraction” be viewed as a trial to overcome rather than a “lifestyle” to be embraced, and that it was important for laws to protect the rights of people with these views. My graduate education at Liberty University supported this, and only provided me learning materials about reparative therapy. I even remember watching a video as part of a class, featuring a woman being interviewed about her successful treatment in overcoming her “tendencies” through faith, which included making sure she was never alone with another woman.


Part of my choice to intern at BYU Hawaii was to fight against my growing panic and questions about the truth claims of the church that were easily refuted by historical documents scanned into the internet archives. I wanted to put myself in a gospel-oriented environment to heal my wounded testimony. This obviously didn’t work. As a counseling intern at BYU-Hawaii, I was invited to a workshop provided by LDS Social Services, which was broadcast to the BYU-H Counseling Center staff online, so I assume it was also broadcast to BYU Provo and BYU Idaho Counseling Center staff. I took copious notes and kept the handouts on this workshop titled “Providing Psychological Care to Those with Unwanted Homosexual Attractions: Respecting Diversity and Client Self-Determination.” Luckily I never encountered a client who asked me to use any of these techniques or conceptualizations.


Unsurprising to those familiar with the many other double-speak statements from the LDS Church, this workshop was not at all about respecting diversity or client self-determination. It was about conceptualizing homosexual behavior as a symptom of trauma, abuse, or attachment issues. It fit well with the now out-of-print copy of the book my supervising psychologist gave me: “Breaking the Cycle of Compulsive Behavior” by Martha Nibley Beck and John C. Beck, which equates homosexuality with substance abuse and eating disorders.


Despite my best efforts, however, my cognitive dissonance shelf was starting to sag and splinter. One sunny day in my Hau’ula studio apartment, I learned the thing that made it snap and collapse. Suddenly everything in my life looked different. Like dominoes, my memories, self-concept, relationships, priorities, and life choices permanently shifted. I sat on the edge of my bed and sobbed.


The next day I had to go be a counselor again, to faithful Mormon college students asking me for help with their sinful, carnal natures. I starting living two lives, like many others who struggle to grapple with this internal disaster zone before there are even words to try to describe it to others, let alone contemplate the risks of doing so. I kept attending church, praying, saying all the right things, while I felt my heart drift further and further from my words.


I finished though. I graduated with my master’s degree in counseling and started practicing as a mental health counselor. During the day, I worked in a psychiatric crisis unit with people having their own battles with reality and perception. At night, I processed my grief. I sought and received incredible support from strangers through the now disabled forum PostMormon.org. My handle was “girlinthecloset” as many of us borrow the “in the closet” term from the LBGTQ community for both faith and sexual orientation. Ironically, I hadn’t even started to examine the latter.


My (now ex) sister-in-law was the first one I trusted with my faith crisis in person, aside from my (now ex) husband. We had been close friends for several years and I believed she would continue to be supportive and understanding of me like she had been so many times before. The next day I learned she had searched for and found all my posts on PostMormon.org and emailed them to our entire extended family. My worst fears were confirmed – I was judged, shunned, and shamed by those I trusted and was supposed to have an eternal bond with.


This was a large part of my motivation to move to Miami, Florida. I also felt a void in my concept of myself, which was always primarily defined by Mormonism, and felt drawn to fill it by exploring my Cuban heritage. My seven years in Miami now feels like a second adolescence – a time I was able to redefine myself and my sense of identity in a new way. In Miami I met other people with Cuban moms and learned to shift my perspective away from the way I saw my loud Latina mother within Utah Mormonism. I earned my independent license as a mental health counselor, started my own practice, got divorced, came out as bisexual, completed my PhD, went through a lot of my own therapy, and obtained a faculty appointment at Antioch University Seattle. Also, I now clap when I laugh like a loud Latina.


Having built a new foundation for myself, I am strong enough to reach back and help my community. I always knew keeping these documents would be important, to fight the pattern of gaslighting and white-washing history the church seems to favor. Having documentation of the past teachings and justifications can help those affected by them feel less disoriented when people inevitably start claiming the church has always been LGBTQ affirming and inclusive.

The abusive relationship patterns on an organizational level deeply affect many people who have faithfully and obediently built their lives around the church and its promises of happiness through sacrifice. Many who leave the church are burnt to a crisp from the refiner’s fire, and have pushed themselves through years of internal, hidden pain at trying to force their biology to behave differently.


Nearly ten years ago, I sat in this workshop and took notes from all the experts I trusted, because they were doctors and researchers endorsed by the church. I listened to my supervisor, who had years of counseling experience and helped me refine my own counseling style and help my clients. Today, I am the expert and people write down things I say, which is still weird for me, but I’m trying to own it.


Yesterday, the church apparently admitted these experts were wrong. They always were. Trying to change your sexual orientation is impossible, and training someone to fight against their instincts is psychologically torturous, as evidenced by so many diligent, faithful people who have learned to hate themselves, and have sacrificed romantic intimacy and connection, believing this sacrifice would lead to blessings of happiness and relief. Many states have confirmed this by banning reparative therapy for minors, protecting them from well-meaning parents, bishops, and therapists who are doing their best. We will never know how many fought their minds so successfully they concluded suicide was the best option for their salvation. Without addressing the effects of this reversal, the psychological torture only worsens. The same concepts apply to all faithful Mormons who have fought their own sexuality to obey expectations of righteousness and chastity. Sexual repression is the unnatural thing here.


At the same time, I recently learned that Russell M. Nelson performed heart surgery on my grandfather in the 1970’s, which gave him an extra ten years of life. Even though this wasn’t enough time to meet me or any of my siblings, I’m aware of this connection to a man I’m now seeing in memes and put on blast by exmormon social media. It’s difficult, but I try to remember that the black and white world I was raised in is inaccurate. No one is good or bad. We are all good and bad. We all do good and harm others. We all experience compassion and disgust, pleasure and pain, and everything in between. Just like gender identity and sexual orientation, we all live on spectrums, in weird in-between places, both/ands and contradictions.


Let’s embrace each other in this cultural transition, and have conversations. Listen to understand instead of only to respond. Ask questions. Take a deep breath when you notice yourself getting agitated. Set boundaries and walk away from conversations. Protect your space and energy. Turn off your push notifications. Spend time with people, animals, and/or things that soothe you. Check on your friends. Make some love-bomb cookies or banana bread for your confused, hurting loved ones. When you say, “is there anything you need?” mean it, and follow through. When someone asks you, “is there anything you need?” answer honestly, and let people help you. Let’s be kind and serve each other and heal ourselves.



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