“No Going Back” by Jonathan Langford is the latest offering from the Mormon community to address the difficult internal struggle young Mormon youth may feel as they learn they have what the LDS Church terms as same-gender attraction. It’s been generally well received and is up for awards.
I’m concerned the reason for its positive acclaim is not due to its relevancy. This may be personal on my part; like the protagonist Paul, I was raised Mormon, and like Paul I came to discover my own feelings in middle school in 2003, and like Paul I had a very close best friend who was the first person I told, and although he was the only person I could feel safe around, that revelation affects our relationship to this day.
Hence, I feel that this book strays so much from what I think is realistically experienced by gay teenagers that I wonder if – like most narratives about young Mormon men “with SGA” – it is a representation mainly depicted through the eyes of a straight male with leadership experience in the Church laying claim to a narrative that, frankly, simply isn’t his to tell.
In other words, the success of books like “No Going Back” is that they advocate refusing the “homosexual lifestyle” and remaining in the Church to stick it out. And in my experience, this is a much more problematic and complex phenomenon than even the Brethren would like to admit.
The simple truth is: there are more Mormon college guys in Orem and Provo with homosexual or bisexual behaviors than the dominant Mormon culture knows about – or wants to know about. Married men with children and young men either about to go into the MTC or freshly returned from a mission hook up in bathrooms on UVU and BYU campus grounds, in parking lots and bedrooms on a daily, perhaps even hourly basis. And these men, numerous as they are, are rendered invisible by the appeal to books like “No Going Back.” To most Mormons, these men do not – and cannot – exist.
It’s a rampant underground culture at least as old as I am, forcing hundreds of men to live in silence because there is no institutional memory or community to represent them. The dominant narrative told about men in the Church with SGA is that they A: serve a successful mission and B: get married in the temple. If that fails, then C: live out your days single and celibate. Those who successfully do this – and feel happy – are more the exception than the rule, but the fact that this narrative is marketed as “the standard,” like other narratives that make Mormons feel comfortable with themselves, it is much more damaging to men and their friends and families than productive.
This reproduction of comfortable narratives about SGA is essentially Church policy. The most honest queer Mormon stories I know of are Carol Lyn Pearson’s “Good-bye, I Love You” or the anthology “Peculiar People” by Ron and Wayne Schow. But given all the men and women who, like me, are in a Post-Prop 8 Mormon Church, we need more contemporary narratives that can address a broad range of experiences. An entire group of people is being erased from Church history.
So those with a voice to speak, let it be heard. You are not alone, and what’s more, you have a story to tell. Stop letting those in power tell that story for you.