Well, your friends know what’s right, and your friends know what’s wrong
and your friends all know sometimes it’s hard to choose
I stood in front of my high school Seminary class, my knees involuntarily knocking together as I sang. I was looking down at the floor instead of into their faces directly. Why was I so nervous?
But the friend who helps you see where the choices will lead
is the kind of friend you never want to lose.
My voice was a high baritone. I had been singing in church functions for years, in sacrament meetings and Relief Society lessons, but doing this here, in front of my peers, this was a new experience.
I was 16 and this was my second year in the Seminary program. One hour of school each day was reserved for Seminary in my predominantly Mormon high school. There was a church-dedicated building right across the street from the school where each faithful Mormon student took one hour away from regular classes to come over here and learn about the scriptures. I had chemistry just before this, and band just after. Seminary felt like a regular school class, except we started with a prayer and a hymn, and our text books were the Mormon scriptures: the Old and New Testament, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. We studied the words of God and the prophets, and then would head back across the street to high school when the bell rang.
It’s the friend that leads with love, doesn’t push, doesn’t shove
Just reminds you of the truth you’ve always known
Then does more than just talk, takes your hand and starts to walk
by your side along the road that leads back home.
I put my full intent into Seminary classes each day. I read my scriptures nightly and offered heartfelt prayers. I played Mormon Tabernacle Choir music to fall asleep to every night and kept paintings of Jesus on my walls. I paid ten per cent of my earnings to the Church. I attended three hour services every Sunday, and went to youth activities every Tuesday night. I reached out to people who were struggling, offering them support and love. I offered to teach my friends who weren’t Mormon all about the Church. I was all in, one hundred per cent Mormon, true blue through and through.
And this friend seems to see all the great things you’ll be
Even when some things you do would prove him wrong.
Despite my efforts, though, I felt hidden. Shy. Quiet. I was afraid of letting anyone get to know me because I was afraid they would learn my terrible secret, that I was attracted to other boys. Same-sex attracted, I was told to call it, not gay. That word was dangerous. It was only a few months ago I went to my Mormon leader, our Mormon bishop, a close family friend, and I told him that I had sinned. I had stayed up late at night and watched a television show that had shirtless men in it, and I had had impure thoughts. I had never told anyone before. He had reacted with kindness and compassion, and he had reminded me that Heavenly Father loves me very. He had given me a Priesthood blessing, his hands on my head, reminding me what a stalwart son of God I was, and then he had given me a book to help me have a greater understanding of things. A book written by a prophet just a few decades ago, called the Miracle of Forgiveness.
But he always believes that the real you he sees
Is a champion he’s simply cheering on.
I had read the book front to back multiple times now, especially focusing on the parts on homosexuality. It let me know how dangerous associating with other people was, how it could destroy my spirit and lead me to the devil. It taught me that masturbation can cause homosexuality, and most importantly, that homosexuality, even though it was abominable and evil, could be cured with enough effort. I just had to try harder, be more faithful, press onward ever onward.
And the love that you feel from a friend that’s this real
Is as powerful as anything on Earth.
At this point, I finally looked up at my peers and saw them looking back. I could tell my voice sounded good, even though my leg was shaking. I was doing this, singing for my peers, in an effort to challenge myself spiritually, to show God that I loved him. I paid careful attention to not looking at any of the boys in the room, especially not the handsome ones. They could never know I found some of them attractive.
For it lifts and it grows and it strengthens and it flows
It’s what allows a soul to feel just what they’re worth.
Even as I sang about true friendship, I realized the irony. I didn’t have any friends. I was doing in my life just what the song requested, just what it asked. I was surrounding myself with peers who were good Mormons, who made good choices. But I didn’t let anyone of them know me, because if they knew me, they would know my secret, and that would be not only embarrassing, it would be sinning. No one could know, not even my family. They would be so ashamed.
So many lonely souls are calling, and our brightest stars would not be falling
if only they had a friend, a real friend.
I was singing the song “Be That Friend” by Michael McLean, a church singer who put out CDs for youth, catchy lyrics and tunes that brought the spirit, reminding Mormon youth that they weren’t alone, that their friendships would last into the eternities, that Christ understood and loved them, that they were special. I listened to McLean’s music all the time. I wouldn’t learn until many years later that around this time, he had a son coming out of the closet, coming forward as gay, and that his own family was being pushed to the limits as they tried to figure out this unsolvable problem in their own home.
Everyone hopes to find one true friend who’s the kind
They can count on for forever and a day.
I firmly believed that with enough effort, I could conquer this, I could will myself to be straight if I could prove myself to God. I knew it. And I knew my options for the future, even if I couldn’t find the cure: marry a girl and trust in God, or just be celibate my entire life and then I could get married to a girl in the next life, in Heaven. Those were my choices.
Be that friend, be that kind, that you prayed you might find
And you’ll always have a best friend, come what may.
I finished the song and sat down in the silent room. It was considered irreverent to clap in church functions, but many of my peers gave me nods and silent congratulations. After class, one of the popular girls in school told me I had a nice voice and invited me to audition for Show Choir next year, which I did. It felt good to be seen. I was so used to hiding in plain sight, I guessed it was okay to be seen, just a little, just so long as no one looked too closely.
**lyrics to Be That Friend by Michael McLean