Mormon wedding night

June 17, 2006

My cell phone alarm goes off at 5:30 am promptly, giving off a soft pleasant beep with a low vibration that rattles the phone against the nightstand. I sit up suddenly, stretch my arms wide, and feel my back pop. I twist this way and that, adjusting, yawning, moving my body from sleep to wake. I slept better than I thought I would, considering the significance of today.

Today I’m getting married.

It’s maybe the most significant day of my life thus far. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints tend to mark spiritual milestones as the most life-altering and noteworthy events in life. Baby blessing, baptism, confirmation, ordination, patriarchal blessing, endowment, temple sealing. It is more than just a wedding. There is a commitment, a legal signing, and an exchange of rings still, but it is a special event that takes place in God’s holy temple. A holy man has the couple dress in white, kneel across the altar from each other, and, surrounded by family and friends who are worthy to be there, join hands to be married for all time and sealed together for all eternity. It is a beautiful ceremony, so sacred and enduring. Every religion has special rites, passages, and ceremonies, but this one is the big one if you are LDS.

As I make my way down to the continental breakfast in the time-share where I’ve been staying with my family for the past few days in Salt Lake City, I think about how different my life is going to be from here forward. That was my last night sleeping in a bed alone. And tonight means not only sharing a bed and starting a new marriage and no longer being single, it means… sex. When the word comes into my mind, I can hardly take another bite of my cereal. I’m so nervous!

Mormon kids aren’t taught about sex. They are only taught not to have it. There are long lists of Do Nots. Don’t date before you are 16. Don’t date other people who aren’t Mormon. Don’t kiss frequently and don’t make out, and it’s okay if you never kiss until you marry. Don’t dance too close. Don’t “heavy pet.” Don’t dress immodestly. Don’t touch any private parts, your own or others. Don’t engage in any form of sexual activity prior to marriage. And the biggest don’t of all: don’t be attracted to someone from your own gender and definitely don’t act on it if you are.

I can still remember when I was 15 and the group of boys in my ward were taken in for a talk about chastity. The man in his 60s looked at the group of us and, trying to level with us, said, “Boys, I know how good it can feel at times when you touch your pecker.” I’d been shocked and confused as he explained how our bodies are temples and need to be treated carefully and in accordance with God’s commandments. I’d had dozens of moments like this as a young man, as a missionary, and as an adult where parameters are taught and set up. Some indiscretions are excused while others are responded to very seriously. But I’m not worried about that because even though I haven’t been able to rid myself of same-sex attraction, I have saved myself for marriage, and Megan is the only girl I’ve kissed. Our physical relationship has stayed safe; small kisses, hand holds, and back massages, but always very tame.

But then suddenly, when you do get married, not only is sex permissible, it is expected. And with no education in a highly conservative religious culture that doesn’t talk about sex, newly married couples are supposed to know what to do, and when, and to what, and for how long, and are supposed to want to do it often. Birth control is somewhat frowned upon. Intercourse is allowed and other sexual stuff, like oral or other things, are never really taught about on the don’ts list so it seems to be up to the husband and wife to decide.

I’ve been nervous about the wedding night for weeks. I’m worried for a lot of reasons. I find Megan to be absolutely beautiful, inside and out. But even though I’m excited about sex in some ways—I mean it is my first time in 26 years!—I just don’t feel the same drive and passion and lust toward women that I hear my friends talk about with their wives. Where they feel aroused and excited, I feel scared and a strange sense of duty. It makes me feel like something is wrong with me. And I can’t shed my own attractions to men, but I know those aren’t natural or right. Once I’m married, I just know things will work themselves out. Things will finally be right in me, and I’ll be right in the sight of God.

A few weeks ago, in a panic, I’d called up my old friend and roommate Jesse, who’s been married a couple of years, to ask him about the expectations and details about sex. Does it hurt the girl the first time? Do I need any supplies or, like, sexy underwear or anything? I asked frightening questions about female anatomy and felt both confused and ill-at-ease as he’d explained the answers. He’d discussed male and female arousal, emotional connections, and foreplay. In another conversation, my brother-in-law had compared women to an electric stove that takes time to heat up and cool down, and men to a gas stove that heats up quickly and go out right away. I’d wondered how I was supposed to know all of these things, and if it was a sin to know now, and what other things I should know but didn’t.

After making a bit of small talk with various family members, I get dressed and head over to the temple by myself. Megan will be there in moments with her parents, who I adore, but I have just a few minutes to reflect on the beauty of this building and this place. So much sacrifice and symbolism went into its construction. So much heritage and love and pride mixed into this landmark, this Mormon Mecca. The grounds and the building itself are beautiful. The weather is perfect. It feels right that it is here that my life will change.

I turn and see Megan walk up. She’s radiant. She’s glowing in a way that can only come to a bride on her wedding day. Her parents look so proud and happy. We go through the next several hours in sacred temple ceremonies and we are soon married and sealed together in a simple and beautiful ceremony with our loved ones all around us. Mirrors on opposite walls reflect each other a thousand times, showing the eternal nature of our newly formed family. Then it is the reception, where we are greeted by all the eager well-wishers in long lines to congratulate us. Gifts, cakes, a string quartet, hours of photographs. And Megan looks so beautiful in her wedding dress, a red sash down the back adding flair to the sequined white. This all in conjunction with the festivities, events, and dinners of the past few days have made this a truly amazing week for us.

I don’t get nervous until we are in the horse-and-buggy ride on our way to the Romeo and Juliet honeymoon suite. Tomorrow we’ll leave for ten days in Canada, but this is where we’ll spend our first night together. I think about what this must mean to Megan: her first night with her new husband. She wants, needs, and deserves to be desired, loved, held, and cherished. Her first time should be gentle, full of love and heat and desire, free from physical and emotional pain and doubt. And I think about what this means for me: my first night with my new wife. A chance to show Megan that I love her, and how much. A chance to finally be a man, to work through all my doubts and fears and just do what is expected of me. A chance to finally prove to God that all my unholy desires can be taken away and I can be right in his sight.

The night goes well, I think. Even though I am really nervous, I do my best to try and keep my focus on her and I try to make it as special as possible. There are times when it feels really good and I am able to just be in the moment and focus on the emotional and physical connection and pleasure. There are times when I feel dirty, like what we are doing is wrong, all these things that are on the don’t lists. And there are times when I feel… unnatural. Like this just isn’t how it is supposed to be or how I am supposed to feel. Still, it’s fun and I do love Megan.

That night, I feel grateful for this amazing woman, I feel exhausted from the day’s lengthy festivities, and I feel confused about myself. We fall asleep to a movie and leave the lights on. It is so strange having someone else in my bed. Just like that, I’m no longer a virgin. I think about all the torture I’ve put myself through over my own sexuality and decide again, in that moment, that this is the right thing. I’m married now. I made the right choice. I did what God wanted, what I know is right, and I hope to be blessed for it.

And oh how I love this woman next to me.

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“Why don’t you like girls anymore?”

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“Daddy, why don’t you like girls anymore?”

I shifted the grocery bags onto one arm and knee while I fumbled for the apartment keys in my pocket. My six year old trained his big blue eyes up on me. Just behind him, his little brother, 3, made the jaws on his toy shark Chomp-Chomp open and close.

“What do you mean, J? I like lots of girls.” I fumbled the key into the lock.

“Yeah, but not like a wife likes a husband.”

I nodded as I pushed the door open and shifted the groceries back into two hands. “Well, that’s true. I like girls like friends, but not like a wife likes a husband.”

J followed me in as I dumped the groceries on the kitchen counter. “You used to like mommy like a wife likes a husband, but now you don’t, right?”

“A, you and Chomp-Chomp come in and close the door!” I yelled at my toddler out in the hallway. I looked down at my older son. “Yes, that’s right. Mommy likes boys and I like boys, too. You know that.”

A made his way in and somehow closed the door with his hindquarters while still manipulating the shark’s jaws. “Dad, Chomp-Chomp is a nice shark, he only eats mean fish!” He was yelling despite my being a few feet away.

“I know, buddy. Chomp-Chomp is your best friend, huh?”

“Yeah!” He and the shark went zooming into the room.

I started emptying the grocery bags on to the counter, J still standing there looking up at me. “But why?”

J’s been curious about his origins lately, asking all kinds of questions about his birth, what foods he liked as a baby, what his first words were. He asks about the house Megan and I lived in when we were married, the pet cockatiels we had, the trees that grew outside. His kindergarten teacher has him writing short stories and little plays, and they all seem to feature animal couples getting married and having babies, and he’s always wanting to look at photos of himself as an infant. His curiosity about the world and his place in it constantly brings a smile to my face. I love learning about the world through his eyes. Some answers just aren’t easy to provide to a 6 year old boy, though.

My brain flashed over to a commercial I had seen years before, an ad placed against gay marriage during the Proposition 8 trials in California. A cute little blonde girl being raised by two dads turns to them with poignant questions about marriage, looking hurt and baffled that she doesn’t have opposite sex Christian parents to raise her, the commercial ignoring completely the loving home she has.

I moved the eggs, apples, and spinach into their places in the fridge, my brain rehearsing all of the answers I could give to this beautiful little child who looks so much like me it is startling. I could talk about my Mormon upbringing and the religious counsel I’d had to cure my homosexuality through service. I could talk about how his mom knew I was gay before we’d married and how the marriage had lasted until I was going to break. I could talk about how happy I am now that I am out and all the puzzle pieces of my insides are put together. I could tell him how lucky I am to have he and his brother despite the crazy circumstances that brought them into the world. But he’s six, and all he needs to know is that I love him.

I turned around and drop down to my knees, getting on his level. “Well, Mommy and I used to be married, and now we aren’t, and we both like boys for marrying instead of girls, and we both love you. Mommy and I are still friends, it’s okay, and we both think you and your brother are the best things ever.”

J twisted his lips like he does when he’s thinking. “If you get married again, will you be a husband or a wife?”

“Well, I would get married to a boy, so we would both be husbands. Later this year, Aunt Sheri is marrying Heather. They love each other and they will both be wives.”

He nodded, still thinking. “I’ll probably get married when I grow up and have some kids, too.”

I gave an oh-so-serious look. “Yeah, I bet I know who you’ll marry, too.”

He gave me a look, recognizing that shift I get in my voice when I’m about to be silly. “Who will I marry?”

I looked innocent as I reach my hands up. “Oh, I don’t know. Probably a tickle monster.”

He screamed in mock protest as I grabbed at his knees, his shoulders, his tummy with tickling fingers. He fell against me in laughter, arms around my neck, and I squeezed him in tight.

“I love you, dad.”

“I love you, too, son.”

And suddenly there is a shark eating the back of my neck, and the next several minutes are spent wrestling and being monsters (nice ones, of course, who only eat mean things) and practicing standing on one foot. The afternoon is filled with a blanket fort and a cheese pizza and Dora the Explorer, who (I suddenly realize after my 1000th episode) yells everything instead of speaking.

It’s hours later as I watch my boys sleeping, J on the top bunk with his arms stretched out over his head, A on his stomach with his knees and arms folded underneath him (and his faithful shark at his side) when I realize, once again, how grateful I am for these incredible men in my lives, and how thankful I am that the world is changing, one generation at a time. These two well-adjusted happy little boys will grow up with a straight mom and a gay dad, and it will be normal to them because it is normal to us. A non-traditional family, yet a family still.

My Secret Writing Place

When I was 12, after my parent’s divorce, my family moved into a new home in a small Idaho town. The landscaped yard in the front had a few bushes and trees and one large black rock that stood up from the ground, with soft edges pointing toward the sky. The day we went to look at the house, I remember sitting my small frame down in front of that rock, nestling into the ground, and leaning my back against it. Because I faced the house, I realized that no one would from the road behind me would be able to see me.

This will be my secret writing place, I thought.

Somehow the rock suited me better than some of the other places I had ferreted out, like the big empty pond in the back yard (it had been dug out but never filled) or the alcove under the stairs (which was soon filled to the brim with food storage boxes). No, the rock would do perfectly. I would be hidden in plain sight, out in nature, yet still connected to my family and home.

And so I had opened a notebook and began jotting down story ideas, all fitting for my age at the time.

I wrote my own Choose Your Own Adventure in blue ink on loose-leaf. A daring set-up with Donatello using his bo-staff to face the evil Shredder. And then the reader would decide where to go next. “If you want Donatello to attack Shredder, turn to page 17. If you want Donatello to think before attacking, turn to page 28.” I carefully kept track of the story lines and was proud of my final result.

I plotted sequels to my favorite movies, thinking of where to take the fictional characters next. I created a serialized comic strip about mutant toucans that I showed my friends every week. I kept a journal, detailing my deepest thoughts and feelings, mostly about helping people and following God. I wrote poems. I wrote long Emails to my friends, then printed them out, saving them.

When I was 15, I wrote my own murder mystery dinner party, basing the characters off of the game Clue. My friends came over in formal wear, color-coordinated with their characters, and searched for weapons in the house to “kill” their assigned targets before they were first “killed”. Each had rich back stories of affairs, betrayal, treason, and revenge, and it was delicious.

By then, we no longer lived in the house with the rock out front. My writing shifted to computer screens, faster and more efficient, and my tones took on less creativity and more introspection, deeply delving into the corridors of myself to find what resided there.

Life has taken me through many twists and turns, and I have never stopped writing. I’ve written journal entries and poems, blogs and essays, fan fiction and thought-provoking historical analyses. I even wrote and published a graphic novel, the Mushroom Murders.

I’m 37 now, and I write more than ever. I only recently realized how much writing is a part of me, although it has been present in every part of my life. I wrote through high school, through my Mormon mission, through my years in college. I wrote through my years in the closet, through my marriage to Megan, and through the births of my children. And when, at 32, I came out of the closet, I wrote to heal my wounds and find myself.

I write now, present tense, for so many reasons. I write to give birth to the sagas in my brain. I write to share my observations. I write to inspire others and make them laugh. I write to quiet myself. I write because I itch until I write, and then I can relax and settle into myself for a few hours before the itch comes back, and because when I don’t write the itch just sits there itching.

I write about my children. I write about the human story, shared with hundreds of others in therapy sessions as a social worker. I write when someone inspires me, or makes me laugh, or makes me cry, or makes me angry, generally from a place of observation and sometimes from a place of participation. I write about history, my observations on the world as I learn. I write to share what I’m reading, always changing, generally biographies and generally chosen at random. I write to promote social justice. I write about being gay, and about being ex-Mormon, and about growing up Mormon. I write about living in Utah, and growing up in Missouri and Idaho, and I write about traveling and who and what I see when I travel. I write about kindness, and I write about cruelty. I write about camels, and slavery, and transgender rights, and murder, and dinosaur toys, and beers with friends, and the woman on the plane next to me.

I write in Snapshots, captured camera viewpoints from my eyes, each photo uniquely from the place that I dwell when the photo was taken, each with its own character and color and texture.

I write. And here I will write often. And I will share it with you. And if I can inspire you, or make you think, or haunt you, or leave you with a smile on your face, or elicit a laughing fit, well, then my writing has both helped me and left you with something to chew on.

And so, welcome, to Snapshots of Chad, my new not-so-secret writing place.

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