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By Sean Mackintosh
I thought I’d take my secret to the grave. In fact, I preferred to die rather than have anyone else find out. And I almost did die, several times, by my own hand.
I was raised in a typical Latter-day Saint family—large and orthodox. We attended Sunday meetings and held Monday family home evenings together. We said our nightly prayers and studied the scriptures daily. We did everything that good Latter- day Saint families do to ensure that they will be a forever family. I loved my family and certainly wanted to be with them forever. I strived to be obedient to the commandments—all of them—as best I could. I received my Duty to God Award, held numerous Church callings, graduated from seminary, and served an honor- able mission. Through it all, I kept a secret I feared could destroy everything I worked for. I hoped it would never get out, that it would somehow go away. But the harder I prayed, the more aware I became that neither would be the case.
In elementary school, I was like the other kids. Well, except for one gargantuan difference. While my friends were noticing cute girls and talking about their crushes on them, I was noticing the cute boys and not breathing a hint of my crushes on them to another soul. This wasn’t something I had seen or heard anything about. I didn’t even know what the word “gay” meant, or what a gay person was. But I remember, all too well, that I realized at a very young age I was somehow different from everyone else I knew. And I didn’t think it was a good kind of different. Sometimes I became convinced that I was bad, deep down inside, so I had to make sure nobody saw the “real me.” I felt ashamed of who I thought the real me was.
As I aged and the weight of my secret grew, I began to watch everything I did—how I walked, talked, and looked at other guys (while trying not to look at other guys). I was careful in choosing friends, the music I listened to, and the interests and hobbies I pursued. Nobody sat me down and told me these rules. I’d gleaned them from society, from church, and even from my family. As I spent more and more time trying to be who I thought I should be, I became less and less able to just be myself.
This was so exhausting and depressing. But, of course, I couldn’t let anyone know how depressed I was, because then they’d want to know why I was depressed in the first place. So not only did I hide who I was, but I also hid how I felt and how I struggled to stay afloat. I put a smile on my face and held onto hope. I constantly pleaded and prayed with God, begging Him to take my attractions away. Yet, I remained the same, only more disheartened.
I remember I was thirteen years old when I first had the idea of killing myself. I felt so alone and isolated. I couldn’t even feel my family’s love, because I felt that if they knew the real me, they wouldn’t love me anymore. I was sure nobody could love the real me. Not even God could love the real me.
I was only thirteen years old! Thinking that death might be my only escape continued through my teen years. I am so thankful and feel lucky to be alive today. So many kids in my same situation have not been so fortunate.
By the time I was old enough to go on a mission, I started hoping that one of the blessings of my missionary service would be that my attractions to other guys would go away. I felt I was showing God how much I loved Him and wanted to serve Him so He would finally reward me for all my days, months, and years of fasting, prayer, and service. But after returning home from serving a faithful mission, it quickly became apparent that God had a different plan for me. I was crushed to discover that, in addition to my attractions, my secret became even more difficult to keep. As a returned missionary, I was constantly being asked who I was dating. Why wasn’t I dating? Didn’t I know it was time for me to get married?
I started making up lies to cover the truth. I so desperately wished I could marry a woman, but that seemed impossible, because I wasn’t physically attracted to them. Nor did I feel the type of emotional bond that’s needed to pursue and sustain a relationship/partnership over time. It became too mentally and spiritually exhausting to keep trying.
Finally, one night I was at my wits’ end. As I prayed, I felt an impression—an impression that didn’t make sense at the time. I felt that instead of asking God to change me for the millionth time, I should ask for something different. I asked God how He felt about me and if He loved me for who I was rather than for what I was trying to be. It was the first time in my life I dared to ask God if it was okay for me to be me.
I had never felt the spirit stronger than I did that night. And I hadn’t realized just how severely depressed I had been until I felt such complete love and joy. God loved me, and I knew He loved me!
Next, I needed to learn how to love myself and trust that others loved me too. At age twenty-four, although I was petrified, I finally came out to my parents. It didn’t go well, but at least it was better than how I feared it might go. Soon after coming out to my parents, I came out to my siblings. Some were support- ive, and others were disappointed—even critical. Because they didn’t understand, they thought it was something I had chosen or wasn’t working hard enough to overcome.
Through the many tears that followed, I would call to mind (and heart) the love I felt when God let me know that He loves me for me. Regardless of how anyone else felt, I knew my Heavenly Father loved me and that’s what mattered most.
I was feeling love for the first time. I was still that son and brother they had always loved. I was still a good person who was willing to help anyone. Except now, I was being me. The real me. I wasn’t lying, hiding, or feeling shameful. I wasn’t worried about how I walked or talked. I wasn’t embarrassed about liking Taylor Swift. I was loved for who I was. I was feeling real love.
And now? I am so grateful I did not take my life at the age of thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, or twenty-four. I have a great life, and I have been together with an incredible guy for a few years now. We purchased our first home last year and are building a wonderful life together. He has a family that loves and welcomes me, just as my family loves and supports him. I don’t say this to imply that things are perfect or that it has not been a difficult process along the way.
My parents and I have mutual love and respect for one another. I am grateful that they embrace me and that they embrace their faith too. I respect their agency just as they respect mine.
I realize that not everyone will be happy with my life. However, I am. I know that my family loves me. I know that my Heavenly Father loves me and has a plan for me. And really, that’s what counts the most.