Latter-day LGBTQ+: Melissa Heaton

Melissa Heaton* knows she’s been pansexual for a while. She describes that as being attracted to people based on who they are, not based on their outward appearance or gender. Personally, Melissa feels that people don’t take her sexuality seriously when she is in a relationship with a male, and that outsiders might assume she’s straight.

“I am pansexual, which has nothing at all to do with kitchen utensils and everything to do with people’s personalities. I love people who are good people just for the sake of being good (rather than having a motive), kind and genuine. I don’t care as much about their external sex organs,” said Heaton. “As far as attraction, I’m into a person with confidence who can take care of themself. What it means to be pan, at least for me, is that when I’m looking for a relationship, I care about who you are, not what you’ve got.”

When she was 17, she met her partner of three years at work. It was during that relationship where she was open about being attracted to more than males. He was accepting and supportive. At the time he identified as bisexual, but later on the two of them ended up coming out as pansexual together.

Before coming out, she knew about bisexuality, but didn’t feel like it described her.

“I have tried to be in a relationship with a girl in the past and that one didn’t work out,” said Heaton. “People have told me I don’t belong to the community because I’ve only had sex with men. I’ve only been with one man though. I don’t think that makes me 100% straight. It means I love my partner and I’m committed to him.” 

One day, Melissa was having an open discussion within her social work class. A person she was talking to mentioned being pan, to which she responded, “me too.” It was the first time she openly admitted to not being 100% straight. Melissa said she was proud to say it, although part of her was afraid she’d be called a fraud.

Sometimes Melissa worried if this was the right way to define herself. “What if I really am straight after all and I’m just some LGBTQ+ wannabe?” she thought. She says that no longer stresses her the way it used to. What she knows is that she loves all people and pan feels right to her.

Melissa was born in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but says she found clarity as she aged and realized that she can be spiritual without a specific religion. The 2015 policy that made it so children of gay parents couldn’t be baptized in the church until they’re 18 was one of the main factors in why she left the church.

Melissa has changed a lot. She said growing up, she didn’t drink any caffeine — not even Mountain Dew — and struggled with liking fashion because it often led to immodesty. She tried to turn her attention elsewhere, to things like video games. 

Fashion wasn’t the only thing that was hard for her to deal with while being a member of the church. At the time, she enjoyed exploring her sexuality, but felt like she couldn’t experience that while being a member of the church. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, members are expected to practice complete abstinence until they are married. If they don’t, they are expected to meet with their bishop to begin the process of repentance. Melissa said that having a confession with a church bishop was a situation that seemed uncomfortable to her.

Additionally, Melissa felt that her grandmother pushed religion really hard onto her family in the last decade of her life, so much that it felt controlling to her. That extremism, along with personal research, pushed Melissa toward leaving the church. She says the one thing she does miss is the community it brought. For now, she connects to spirituality through spiritual practices and Buddhism. 

“I consider myself Budd-ish,” she said. “I meditate but I’m not sold on reincarnation. I like to believe an afterlife, assuming there is one, is more like that in the end of the show The Good Place, where you get a chance to better yourself and learn from your life.”

Melissa said that she came out to her parents while in a relationship with a man, so it was informal.  Her mom admitted to her that if she’d been born in Melissa’s generation, she’d likely come out as bisexual, but that things were different because she grew up in a time where that was less accepted. 

Melissa doesn’t think the church shows true acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. To her, it feels like you have to pick one or the other. 

“There’s a definite ‘you’re with us or with Satan’ and that homosexuality or anything aside from sex within the context of marriage of a man and a woman is considered a sin. I think there’s a lot more gray area than just a black and white or good and evil.”

Melissa says that her experience with members of the church has been positive overall. She’s gone to LDS events with her tattoos showing — something that’s not typical among church members — and never received negative comments for it. She thinks that being at UVU and not BYU, a religious school, might be why she feels that people are more accepting. 

“I feel like I can be a person, not just… judged,” she said, “I used to associate with some really straight-edged people before. Even showing my shoulders was an issue. There’s a lot of shame, and perfection-seeking in that community. But in a very short time, everyone seems to be growing up a lot. Maybe it’s just that my perspective has changed, but it seems that a lot of churchgoers are a lot more accepting and loving than before.”

Melissa says that living on her own has given her an impressive amount of clarity and freedom to think for herself without fear of judgement or worrying about what her parents might think. For example, when she was younger she enjoyed the song “I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry, but she couldn’t listen to it because it upset her mom at the time. Now, she is more free to engage in music and other media that sits right with her.

For her, getting over the shame she felt from church included spending time with people who shared her values, reading Brené Brown and Mark Manson, as well as finding media she connected with. She loves to continue learning in life and further develop her personal perspective.

She says many people in the community suffer with shame and even suicidal ideation. Those that are LGBTQ+ and part of the LDS religion might wonder why a loving God would make them born LGBTQ+ if it is considered a sin.

“I don’t think God/The Universe/Divine has a beef with ‘the gays’. I really don’t. If you’re having consensual sex with a person and you’re both into it, awesome. I don’t think it’s fair for some guy in his 60’s to say you’re going to hell for it,” Melissa said.

Melissa thinks it’s becoming easier to be out in the open as LGBTQ+ than before, and recommends a video from YouTuber Dan Howell on this topic. She’s glad to see that the LGBTQ+ community is getting more representation in the media. Most importantly, she wants those that are struggling to know that they are not alone.

*This source wishes to remain anonymous and the name has been changed to protect their identity.

Illustration by Basil Baggerly

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