This story is part of a series called Craigslist Confessional. Writer Helena Bala started meeting people via Craigslist in 2014 and has been documenting their stories ever since. Each story is written as it was told to her. Bala says that by listening to their stories, she hopes to bear witness to her subjects’ lives, providing them with an outlet, a judgment-free ear, and a sense of catharsis. By sharing them, she hopes to facilitate acceptance and understanding of issues that are seldom publicly discussed, at the risk of fear, stigma, and ostracism. To share your story with Helena, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more here. Names and locations have been changed to protect her subjects’ anonymity.
We were in his father’s tool shed, in the back yard. The door was closed. I was probably 6. He was 9 or 10. We’d been doing this for a while—a few months, maybe almost a year.
My mom came in, and then his mom, and I remember a lot of commotion and shouting as they jumped on us and pulled us apart. My mom rushed me back home and she told my dad. I don’t know how he took it, but I was never allowed to go back and my friendship ended. I had no idea that what I was doing—and whom I was doing it with—was a problem. It wasn’t until I witnessed my mother’s reaction, and then it was impressed upon me by my religion—the Mormon faith—that this was a sin, an abomination, that I realized I had done something bad and that I should be ashamed of myself.
I was so traumatized by what happened that I didn’t do anything again until I was about 11 or 12. This time, it was with another childhood friend and it brought my sexuality back to the forefront. At age fourteen, I lost my virginity; I was in a steady sexual relationship with him for two years, and all of these experiences, all together, were positive reinforcements that I was, in fact, gay. But counteracting this period of self-exploration was also a tremendous amount of guilt, shame, and remorse. I was often in tears because I couldn’t understand my feelings and to a certain extent, because homosexuality was shunned in the Church and in our community, I felt like I was the only one experiencing them. I was too petrified to talk to anyone else.
In my experience, the Mormon Church has a really effective way of reinforcing their core beliefs. Starting at age twelve, I had to sit in front of a Church authority figure we called “the Bishop” and he would ask me a list of questions. I remember he asked me if I had impure thoughts and if I masturbated. And I had to tell him the things I’d done and the things I’d thought and I remember being so worried that he’d tell my parents or other members of the Church, and so I learned to lie to his face.
At age 19, I went on a two-year Church mission. I was in constant fear of acting out my feelings and the consequences that would follow, so I stayed completely celibate. I had thought that because I was “good,” that I would be “normal” when I got back. In an attempt to cure myself—I had read online that there were people who could do this—I contacted a therapist. Thankfully, she basically said—“Look, this is who you are. There’s nothing wrong with you. You need to start learning to accept yourself.”
It was a long road to acceptance. When I felt ready to tell my family, my father tragically and unexpectedly passed away. As the oldest of the kids, I was suddenly thrust into this position of having to be the “man of the house.” It just didn’t feel like a good time to tell everyone.
Three years after his death, I came out to my sister. She was very kind and accepting, and she helped me tell the rest of the family. My mother cried. I have close to 100 cousins alone on my dad’s side of the family. None of them talks to me anymore. But I have a lot of family who cares for me and whose opinion of me hasn’t changed. I think my father would have been one of them—so I feel a lot of sadness that I never got to tell him.
This past November, I married a wonderful man. If there’s an aspect of my Mormon religion that has stuck with me, it’s the importance of family—and I look forward to building one with him. I am lucky in many ways because I made it through the hard times, but I know there are a lot of kids out there who are struggling and who think they are alone. I remember being them, and I remember how much I needed someone to tell me that there was nothing wrong with me—that I was not a sin, or an abomination, or a shameful person—and so I guess I just want them to know that it will be okay.