John Bonner, of Salt Lake City, Utah, has given me permission to publish his open letter of encouragement to his 14-year old self, posted initially on the Mormons Building Bridges Facebook page. I can’t thank John enough, either for the honor of sharing his words with you or for his candor. This is a must-read for all people of faith who seek to follow the admonition of Christ to better love and serve the LGBT community.
Dear 14 year-old me,
I see you there in the pews, head bowed, lines of tears marking divides down hot, embarrassed cheeks and pooling up in blurry smudges on the pages of the hymnal as you let the sacrament pass you by because you believe you’re not worthy. I see you standing alone in front of the basement window in complete darkness and silently mouthing the words, “I’m gay,” for the first time and vowing never to speak those words aloud to anyone. I see you pleading, begging, night after night on calloused knees to have these feelings taken away from you–rooted out of you and destroyed.
I see you confessing to the bishop that you touched yourself again and knowing with unquestioning certainty that no one else in the world has ever been as base and depraved as you are. I see you writing promises in your journal, written with such intense pressure that you can still read the impression of every word for many pages beyond the original entry, to never let Satan get ahold of your heart again, to never abuse your body or mind with impure thoughts, to be the righteous, obedient son God wants you to be from that moment forward. To be perfect, even as He is.
I see you looking up ways to die. And making plans. And rehearsing in your mind what the note should say. Believing the world would be better off without you. Trying not to imagine how it would break your mother’s heart. Wondering if anyone else would miss you, or even care that you were gone.
I see you playing your guitar and singing love songs about girls and wanting to believe that you’ll feel that way someday. And sometimes, when you’re alone in your room and no one’s listening, daring to use male pronouns in those love songs, and feeling a wash of profound shame extinguishing the fleeting rush of excitement that stirs within you.
I see you listening to firesides and reading scriptures and researching church articles and books that make mention of people like you. I feel your deep despair as you are compared to rapists and pedophiles and murderers. As you’re told that you’ll bring about the destruction of society and the end-of-times calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets. I know that you fear it’s true–that you, in this homosexual state, are irredeemable.
I want you to know something. Something that will be hard for you to believe right now. But I’ve lived another 24 years beyond your 14, so I’m going to ask you to try to trust me.
There will come a day when you will know things that you have no way of accessing now. Things that will help you see the complexity and problems and complications and wonders of the full history of Mormonism in ways you’d never before imagined. This is important because what was once absolute–black or white–will now become the most compelling, variegated gray. And though you don’t realize it at the time, this revelatory gray–the miracle of the reality of ambiguity in the story of the founding and evolution of our faith–will begin to set you free.
There will be a specific moment standing in front of the BYU Museum of Art when you will allow yourself to wonder for the first time: if the church was wrong about Emma, and Mountain Meadows, and polygamy, and black people–maybe, just maybe, they’re wrong about me too.
This thought will fill you up with a bright, burning joy as real and powerful as any testimony you’ve ever borne or experience with the divine you’ve ever had. You will not be in a grove or on your knees. There will be no pillar of light or apparition of holy beings, but it will be a real and undeniable moment of sacred witness. And you will think back on it again and again as you make your own way across the unknown wilderness.
And oh, John, you will be kissed in ways that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and time will stop and you will finally understand what those sappy guitar love songs were about.
I need you to hold on so you can experience that. And sunset on Charles Bridge in Prague. And dancing until 3 a.m. in London. And crunching your way through piles of fall leaves in Central Park. And driving home after a first date with a boy and knowing you’ve never been happier. And walking arm in arm with your mom in a gay pride parade (I know! Can you believe it?!) And getting a letter from your dad telling you how proud he is of the man you’ve become. And seeing gay marriage become legal in all 50 states, beginning with Utah!! (I swear it’s true!) And helping people who feel the same way you do now to also hold on–to also start to believe in themselves and get excited, for the first time, about what the future holds.
And the friends. Oh, the friends. All those desperate lonely nights you spent praying so earnestly for people to come into your life who would understand you, and like what you like, and just, get you–I need you to know that someone was listening. And John, they’ll be the very best people you’ve ever met.
There will be such love. It will knock the wind out of you.
But you have to promise me you’ll stick around first. Though you won’t be able to take all this in yet, I need you to hear me when I say:
You are loved. You are worthy. You are beautiful. You are enough.
Just as you are.
And nothing, and no one can ever change that.
I can’t wait for you to get here. I’m counting on you that you will.
I love you.
… man must hope, or he cannot receive an inheritance in the place which thou hast prepared. Ether 12:32
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If you are an LGBT person who is suffering today, please reach out to one of the many people who stand ready to mourn with you. You know who they are. If you don’t feel you have someone in your life who can be there for you, right now, in the ways you need, please use these phone numbers. You are precious in God’s eyes.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255
Trevor Project: (866) 488-7386
Trans Lifeline: (877) 565-8860