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An Uncertain Sound

What’s a 12-Year-Old Supposed to Do?

By Rex Goode

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I know I’m behind the times in writing about this now. I’ve had a two-month illness that has kept me from the keyboard for anything but the most urgent business needs. Seems like things like this happen when I can’t write about them and I’m always playing catch-up with the current events. I’ve thought about it ever since it happened, deeply and with a lot of introspection and nostalgia.

I’m referring to when a 12-year-old girl named Savannah used fast and testimony meeting to “come out” to her congregation that she is gay. I don’t want to break the incident down into fault-finding or criticism of either Savannah, her parents, family, or priesthood leaders. I think a lot of very opportunistic people have already done that ad nauseum, and usually without truly knowing what was happening in any of their hearts and minds. I’ll admit before I say anything else that I don’t read minds, especially long distance, so to blame people would be nothing more than political posturing and I won’t do that.

Speaking only of principles, I do not believe that fast and testimony meeting should be used for prepared speeches, but I have also seen many adults use pen and paper to prepare to bear their testimonies because they found public speaking to be so painful that it was the only way they could manage it.

I also do not believe that using fast and testimony meeting should be an opportunity to push an agenda, but I’ve heard things said in testimony meeting that made me cringe more than Savannah did. I don’t believe in video taping testimonies or anything else in sacrament meeting, but my wife did an audio recording of me singing a solo a few weeks ago. I felt she shouldn’t have, but she does what she wants.

Savannah has received a lot of attention since then, being the subject of stories painting her as a hero and painting the Church and the local leader who asked her to stop as tyrants. As I said, I don’t know what motives drove any of the participants in the story, so the only thing I can honestly do is reflect on my own story as a gay 12-year-old.

Up to that time, I had endured sexual molestation by two male family members spanning nine years. One of those two sexually abused me for six years of my childhood. In third grade, a female teacher had sanctioned me because I refused to participate with the rest of the class in brushing her hair and rubbing lotion on her legs as she read to them. She focused her wrath on a comment I made that I thought a boy in the class had sparkly eyes. I had a crush on him since kindergarten.

When I turned 12, I was still active in the Church, but I also had had many voluntary sexual encounters. I want to stop right here and say that the only link between my experience of same-sex attraction and the molestation I endured is that my abuser recognized me as an easy target because he was close enough to me to know how I felt about other boys. While I would not entirely rule out sexual abuse as a contributing factor to being attracted to males, there is no way to determine which came first. My memories of both go way back.

I was one of the oldest 12-year-olds you would have ever met. When they talk about people who have been “around the block a time or two,” I had been around the whole city, almost literally.

Like most 12-year-old boys, I was ordained a deacon. No one ever asked me if I had been sexually active with other boys. In the school where I attended sixth grade, there were several of us. When I moved there, they all knew each other, recognized it in me and I was let into the group.

I don’t really remember the interview with the bishop for being ordained. I supposed he asked me about girls, which I could have honestly said was not a problem. I doubt he asked me about boys. I wanted to be a deacon. I had a testimony. I even wanted to grow up, go on a mission, become a husband and father, and live the Mormon dream of happy life, happy family, and happy eternity.

We moved to the other side of town and a new school. I remember a field trip to Northern Arizona University to hear the orchestra play Ravel’s Bolero. I remember a couple of the boys remarking, “Only homos like this kind of music.” I loved Bolero. What they said made sense to me, but I laughed along with them.

I endured Scout activities where jokes about “homos” and “fags” were commonplace. Even sacrament meeting speakers had things to say about it, not so crass but I dared not hang my head lest someone notice.

My mother took a job as a waitress because we were quite poor. She would take me to church early in the morning so I could go to priesthood meeting. I was supposed to stay for Sunday School and get a ride home. Later, if she could get off work in time, she would take me to sacrament meeting. Because we were poor, I didn’t have “church” shoes. I wore tennies to church. We also couldn’t afford a barber and she didn’t have the time to do it herself, so my hair was shaggy. This was the late sixties, so I fit well in perfectly at school, but not at church.

So, when Mom would drop me off at the church for priesthood meeting, I went in the front door and out the back door. I always had the same destination in mind—a fellow gay 12-year-old I knew from my former school. Our visits were not often about sex. We liked to play Star Trek. He always got to be Spock and I was always Kirk. We also argued about whether DC Comics was superior to Marvel and sometimes had a what-if-a-DC-superhero-encountered-a-Marvel-superhero argument.

When we moved to another state, it took me almost four years to go back to Church again, but the year I was 12 was the hardest year of my life. It’s hard having the experience of a 30-year-old when you’re just barely starting puberty. Having battled abuse in all its forms, having had the sexual experience of men twice my age, and enduring all of the talk from every person in my life about how perverted and nasty people like me were, was difficult beyond my words to describe it.

I think about what it would have taken to have spared me most of that, and it all comes down to one thing–an adult to talk to about it. In the late sixties, everyone assumed their children were heterosexual. My abusive third grade teacher showed documentaries about child abuse, the physical kind. I knew I was the victim of it, but couldn’t tell her. She was already waging a war against me with my mother. My scout leaders who participated in the jokes about homos and fags were not to be trusted.

I had a very kind bishop, but I was too ashamed to talk to him. My parents were dealing with my step-siblings, both chronic runaways. My mother thought I was the perfect boy and I couldn’t bear the thought of disappointing her. My step-father seemed to barely acknowledge my existence.

The only things said in church about homosexuality and those who practiced it were condemning. In my heart, I believed myself to be the worst boy in the world, certainly the worst deacon ever. People at church were willing to condemn it but no one wanted to talk about the prospect of salvation for boys like me. I believed myself to be lost because no one ever told me otherwise.

Today, the silence continues. Every once in a great while, the topic will come up in priesthood meeting, all of the standard stuff that is the current LDS thinking on the subject. We love people, even homosexuals, but we don’t really want to talk about them.

Not long ago, a 15-year-old boy who had just joined the Church with his family came to me and said, “I told Elder ______ (the zone leader) that I’m gay. He told me that to even have homosexual feelings is a sin. Is that true?” I’m glad he asked me.

A stake president asked me not long ago, “Aren’t you afraid that if we talk about this with our youth that we’ll be giving them ideas they don’t already have?” I almost feel like the answer is too obvious to even speak, but the whole of media, their nonmember friends, and their schools are giving them ideas. If we’re silent, they’ll never know how we feel or what we believe, and they’ll never tell us a thing until there is no more time left to influence them.

I think of the words of the apostle Paul, who said, “…if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle (1 Corinthians 14:8)?”

I have another little hint to give you. You can’t turn someone gay by using the word. It’s not a spell.

I don’t really know what, if anything, Savannah’s church leaders have been teaching on the subject. Maybe they have taught on the subject, but it seems to me that most leaders think of it as something that only needs to be talked about if it comes up. I imagine now is one of those times in Savannah’s stake, so good for her.

In some ways, I think she’s lucky. She has had support, and now, the whole world is supporting her. I just had my thoughts, my testimony, and my relationship with God. You see, though no one ever told me there was hope for me when I was a youth, I still had my certainty of the reality of a Heavenly Father and a Savior. No one at church reached out for me, but He did.

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2 Responses to “An Uncertain Sound”

  1. Art said:

    I wish with all my heart that I had no idea what you are talking about because it hurts so much to acknowledge the hurt I felt as I was growing up. I had to hide so much of myself so much of the time. For many of the same painful reasons you shared I also had no understanding caring adult to talk to. The only one who seemed to like me enough to give any enjoyable attention ended up molesting me.
    I got lots of negative attention and because I didn’t know any better I accepted much of what they said as truth.
    I escaped into reading.
    I’m grateful for finding the Gospel as an adult but Mormons are imperfect humans, too. I’m grateful for a Heavenly Father who gives me the love I need especially when He is teaching me a lesson that helps me accept and let go of coping behaviors that I learned long ago.
    I feel close to tears as I read your story. I’m sorry for what you endured for so long that you didn’t deserve. Thank for the hope you share and engender.

  2. Rex Goode said:

    Thank you, Art. I appreciate you.

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