Despite Conservative Mormon Upbringing, Gay Man Learns To Accept His Truth. “Huge Relief To Finally Be Who I Am.”

by Brenton Erickson

I’m Brenton Erickson. I am from Mesa, Arizona.

When I was 10, I remember a night that my parents were out on a date. I have a ton of older siblings. We’re all at home in this one-story house. They’re babysitting me. I do not remember exactly how, but I had an epiphany, like, realization that I was gay. I called my parents on their date, picked up one of those old, like, receiver phones with the curly cord. And they answered and I said, “I’m afraid I might be gay.”

My parents both said, “Okay. Why don’t we wait a couple years? You’re young. And just, like, calm down.” So we waited a year or two and I talked to them about it again. And when I was 12, I went to see my Mormon bishop to talk about it with him. Entered one of those interview rooms, sitting across from him and his big desk and let him know that I’m attracted to men.

And his immediate reaction was, you know, “Thank you for telling me in this. It isn’t sinful but you…” – basically explained to me that in order to remain in the Mormon church, I just needed to not act on my feelings. I felt slightly relieved, you know, felt like I could keep my life as I had it and continue on. But that was quite a lot also to contemplate as a 12 year old. So that’s how I thought about it and approached it for about 10 years.

I got older, went on a Mormon mission, got back, started school at Brigham Young University, which is a Mormon university. All that time, tension had been building. I knew what I thought I wanted to do with my life, but saw gay couples and had glimpses of gay culture and felt simultaneously envious and terrified.

Everything kind of reached a boiling point my junior year there. I was 22. It was October. I had started to feel like the desperation of my situation looking forward and trying to imagine my life celibate, alone, or trying to be married to a woman. I remember taking a shower and being in the shower just feeling paralyzed. I have never struggled personally with like actual suicida; ideation, but it was in that moment that I had this deep empathy for people who feel like they just want to die. In the end, I did get out of the shower and with the resolution that something had to give. I had to try something new. I had to try dating men.

It was only a week later that I went on my first date with a guy, which was amazing. Like, hard to describe how exciting it is to go on a date with someone that you just naturally inherently want to be on a date with. I also shortly after my parents, let them know that I was dating guys. It was really rough for them at first. I got a couple days of religious lectures They were heartbroken. But they did process it pretty quickly and came around to supporting me, like,  pretty fast.

It wasn’t all easy. Brigham University has an honor code, still does, it bans any expression homosexual affection. So it’s like the same as Mormon policy, but actually applies to university. So you can be expelled. So that was always in the back of my mind and I actually ended up coming back to bite me pretty bad.

I was telling other immediate family members and most of them had generally good reactions but one of them got pretty upset and gave me an ultimatum. Essentially they told me, You either need to confess everything that you’ve been doing – so going on dates with guys – to your bishop or we’re going to notify the honor code office. And honestly either of those sounds like one route way, like one-way ticket to expulsion. If you tell your bishop certain things like that, you actually go through a formal discipline process that immediately kicks in action from the honor code office. So they’re all tied together.

I did. I mean I really had no other choice. I went to my bishop. I told him all that had happened and he let me know that he would have to wait a few weeks and decide. So I had three weeks of just wondering whether or not I would even be able to continue in school or graduate. If they expel you, they withhold your transcripts.

In the end, the bishop said, “Okay, we don’t need to do any formal discipline. You just need to change course.” But there is no chance I was changing course. I’ve been through 10 years of trying to live that way.

And so I just told the bishop, “Sounds good. You’re right.” For my last year, year and a half, I just continued to date guys under the radar. That period was pretty difficult, getting to experience being myself, but kind of a constant weight hanging over everything. It wasn’t until I had accepted my offer at the University of Michigan Law School here in Ann Arbor and not until their office had received my diploma that I finally came out publicly on Facebook.

Now here I am in my second year of law school. I’m still pretty much the same person – still super close to my family, still like doing the same things. I just date guys now and it’s really nice being here, like, able to go on a date any random, you know, weekend night and not have to look over my shoulder… just not worry.

I have spent ten years being afraid of myself. Like being afraid that I would actually just be who I was or do what I wanted to do. And now I am doing what I want and that massive fear is gone. It is a big weight to carry around. It wasn’t something that I pushed to the back of my mind. This was not Oh I’m noticing these feelings and I don’t really want to deal with this. It was at the front of my mind all the time. So huge relief to finally just be who I am.

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