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
11 thoughts on “Letter to 14 Year Old Me, by John”
I feel for you. I truly do. You could have plugged many issues different types of humans struggle with here on the earth. Ones that would make a 14 year old feel just this guilty. Masturbation, pornography, fornication, etc..
You must be a man of around 38 right now. Somehow you seem to be hoping that maybe, just maybe, ALL of Christianity has this one wrong; not just Mormons. I have a brother-in-law in Utah who is openly gay. He and his long-time partner are now well into their 50’s and this lifestyle is no longer looking all that great to him. Colon issues abound and the dogs they have are looking a lot less like children than they had once thought.
I have six adult children. Two of our youngest boys (27 and 28) both RM’s, are still looking for a wife. They are lonely. I feel for them, too. They realize they might have to continue a life without a helpmeet and remain celibate. It pulls at their heart strings as the see their brothers and sisters, all married in the temple, having baby after baby. Christmas spent with their respective spouses and children.
They look at their patriarchal blessing and wonder if they did something to deserve this empty life of longing. On good days, which is most of the time, they know that the Lord has and eternal plan for them. While it doesn’t fill the void they feel, it does give them the courage to go on; not acting on the very basic need for human touch and companionship.
Same sex attraction, in itself, is NOT a sin. Acting upon it is. This isn’t just a misinterpretation by Christianity of the Adam and Eve/multiply and replenish the earth story. My two adult boys may go through this entire life not knowing life being married to anyone or the satisfaction of holding their own children in their arms having ‘been one’ with their wife. They do serve the Lord with faith and diligence. They do not act on the ‘sin’ of fornication. I have yet to hear them say that maybe The Church or Christ got it wrong. Maybe it really IS okay to sleep around, live with someone, and so forth.
There truly are worse things than being without a companion. Thinking that the Lord has NO eternal plan for you, I believe, would be one of them. We humans along with Christ are FAR stronger than we think… And life on earth is FAR shorter than it feels…
John, thank you for sharing this. It was truly beautiful and inspiring. As a boy i always felt unworthy despite doing everything that was expected of me. To have someone acknowledge how i felt and to affirm that i was worthy and loved for all of that would have made me collapse in tears of relief.
Far too many LGBT youth see themselves through the lens of the church and have no hope for the future and their dreams. But truly, there is reason to hope. Thanks again.
@FreedomWins A lot of what you are saying is the kind of stuff that causes the pain that makes people write letters to themselves like this. Instead of trying to convince John he is wrong, how about you take a moment to read this again from the standpoint of trying to understand him and appreciate what he has been through.
I’m sorry Jenny, you must have missed the first two sentences of my post. It is heart wrenching what we humans endure on earth. Hiwever, no one corners the market on pain…
For what its worth, and having read Freedom Wins’ comments across the months, I do see an effort here on his/her part to express empathy. I agree that the middle portions of FW’s comment are … rough, and some of it reads as condescending and dismissive. (EG: “Colon issues abound and the dogs they have are looking a lot less like children than they had once thought.”) When counseling with someone in pain, its best to focus on that pain and not talk about other pains. When we shift focus, we demean the original pain we came to counsel over. FW makes that error with this comment.
I’m choosing, however, to focus on these lines: “There truly are worse things than being without a companion. Thinking that the Lord has NO eternal plan for you, I believe, would be one of them.” Yes, she is recommending celebacy and, by inference, rejecting same-gender marriages, just as the church does. But that last part about thinking the worst thing would be feeling God had no eternal plan for you…? That part tells me s/he is growing in awareness of what it is to be LGBT and LDS. Or better expressing her awareness. I welcome that. I welcome imperfect commenters, provided civility reigns, and hope all our discussions can be channeled in positive ways so that each of us grows from the interaction.
And in discussions like these, sensitivity is tantamount. I keep my fingers crossed that posts like this increase sensitivity.
Thanks for reading and for participating.
Thank you for sharing this, John. You are amazing! 🙂
I am so touched by your post! I have shared it on FB. I hope all my Mormon family and friends will read it!!!
I recently heard the idea that expressing empathy never begins with “at least”. I learned from that.
My heart aches for anyone who feels unworthy or irredeemable. I have realized that in teaching the truth that marriage is between and man and a woman, it was in the way it was being taught, the words used that have fostered many people feeling unworthy and irredeemable. I think we as a church and members were and are in uncharted territory, we are learning and growing and changing in regards to same sex attraction. The last 10-15 years has show us that same sex attraction is more relevant than we ever thought and we haven’t done a very good job at teaching truths of the Gospel so that anyone struggling with this still feels loved, included, worthy and deserving. I want to teach this truth to my kids but also want to leave the door open for my children to feel safe being honest if they have same sex attraction. It is sad that John felt that to escape feelings of unworthiness he had to declare that the Church was wrong. I don’t feel the church is wrong in its doctrine but how they have gone about teaching it hasn’t been the best approach. And this has trickled down to the family. This needs to be taught differently in the home. If John, at home and at church had felt worthy no matter what, loved no matter, included no matter what would his feelings toward the church be different? Would he feel he had to declare the church wrong to be free of the feelings that plagued him? Would he even be plagued with those feelings in the first place? I recently read this quote from a gay mormon “If the gospel isn’t working for me, it’s not a problem with the gospel. It’s a problem with me or my understanding of it.” It seems that John has taken the opposite approach here, the Gospel is wrong, not him. The Gospel is true, the doctrine is true. We all have things wrong with us that we need to change. When we declare that nothing is wrong and the church is wrong we are denying the power of the Atonement in our lives. We will have no need of a Savior if we feel that nothing is wrong with us.
“Same sex attraction” is a church euphemism for gay or homosexual. That’s the definition of homosexual. It seems, however, that the church/members cannot bring themselves to say that “being gay is not a sin.”
Please be aware that it is dismissive and condescending to refer to being gay as a “lifestyle” or to keep saying that people are “struggling” with their sexual orientation. The “lifestyle” of the gay people that I know is indistinguishable from their straight friends. I think the real struggle is that of the LDS church (and others) in accepting, dealing, and loving unconditionally their gay brothers and sisters. This is in spite of the fact they have no problem dealing with the many other “sins” which abound among the members.
Another offensive term is “choice”. Homosexuality is no more a choice than heterosexuality. This term is dismissive and demeaning when talking about the very core of a persons being.
How arrogant it is to define a person’s sexuality for them by preaching to them. You should be asking THEM to define it. They are the ones who are living with it. If you are heterosexual, you are speculating at best or being bigoted and judgmental at worst.