This is a work of fiction, although it does build from experiences of the author and people with whom he has spoken. Nevertheless it is fiction. However it is written from a point of view within Mormon culture. That may be strange for some people. About one third of young Mormon men leave their ordinary lives to go on a mission and proselyte full time for their Church. They leave behind their ordinary identity, including their first names, and become Elder, for those two years. During that time they live twenty four hours a day with another male missionary, their companion. Mormons demand a high degree of sexual abstinence before, during, and after missions. As a result the mission is a formative psychological experience for many Mormon men, especially gay Mormon men. Other than this brief tidbit, I shall resist the temptation to write a glossary of Moromonism or Moromonese for readers. Please consult the other stories about Mormons in the Nifty archive for more background or the numerous published sources on Mormonism.
Despite the demands of abstinence in Mormon life, this story includes sexual activity between males. If it is illegal for you to read this, wherever you are, please do not do so. Otherwise I hope the story is meaningful to you.
The author does not personally subscribe to the theology or ideology of the individual Mormons described in this study, although he finds it interesting to write about.
Please do contact me if you have comments on the story or its events.
The wooden chair felt increasingly hard and uncomfortable. Already I had been sitting in it for a half hour while waiting for an interview with my mission president. The chair offered no more possible positions where I could find comfort and all the other chairs in the row against the off white cinderblock wall looked equally uncomfortable as if they had been designed by some fast food engineer. They were fine if you sat for a few minutes, but their whole goal was to look good, work for a while, and then send you on your way so others could take your place.
I had been on my mission now for six months and had just been transferred to the same city as the mission office. It was now my turn to meet with the president. I had met him before when I came out of the gate at the airport. He and the assistants stood in a group of dark suits and white shirts, among the people coming and going, like a column of formality and seriousness among a whirl of informal comings and goings. Only his wife was different, a woman with a conservative floral dress.
How are you Elder Johnson? Welcome to Bolivia. Good to have you with us, he said in a kind of growl as he pumped my hand in the fierce grip common to people from the mountain west.
Once all six of us who had just flown from Utah and two months in the Missionary Training Center had gathered our luggage and loaded it in the mission van we left the airport. The edges of the building were patrolled by soldiers in dark green uniforms with machine guns while women in derby hats and broad, pleated skirts and men in dark fedoras pressed against the fence. Outside, neighborhoods of three and four story buildings with a concrete frame and brick or adobe walls jumbled around cobble stoned streets.
Although he seemed reasonably nice, in the way of Church authorities and business executives, the president made me anxious. I really wanted to be a good missionary. It was not easy to make the decision to come on a mission. I had prayed lots asking God for the strength to put many things behind me and live with the kind of spirituality that a missionary should have. Words I had learned in the MTC from the Church's scriptures resounded in my mind to help reduce my anxiety. "Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly, then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God." If I could handle the mission president I felt better about trying to be close to God.
His face was angular under a shock of dark hair where every hair was disciplined and in its right place. Nothing was out of alignment. Even his glasses sat squarely on his nose. His ears seemed to be uncannily even and there was no natural bend to his face.
Those eyes, blue like the sky in mid July at home, were warm like the summer, but they chilled me as if they were ice-blue. I felt like he could see right through me and would know all the things I wanted to keep contained inside. Yes I had repented to come on my mission, but some things just never came up in the interviews with my bishop and stake president. If he knew he would not want me in the mission field, I feared. Maybe he would feel that I did not belong among all these good Mormon men who were working to build the Kingdom of God.
I expected an interview when I arrived. But four days at the mission home passed quickly in all kinds of trainings. Before the president could interview me I found myself on a bus with three other elders leaving La Paz for Oruro and the beginning of being a little more comfortable with this high altitude country and its different rhythm and different food
Two months later we returned to La Paz for a mission conference. For a whole day we met together. Sometimes the president was there with us and other times he went to an office where elders and sisters would trickle out to be interviewed by him. The whole mission said that a normal interview was five minutes. If you were with him longer then you were in trouble, the seriousness of the trouble measured by the length of the interview.
All day I expected to be called at any minute. I had been preparing myself for this moment. I wanted to be good. So I knew I was going to have to open up and tell him that stuff. I wondered if maybe he couldn't just see it in me and was just waiting for me to speak, so he could know I was really trying my best to be worthy of being a tool in the hands of the Lord. But then again maybe he was just waiting for me to tell him so he could send me home in shame and disgrace. I did not want to go home, but every time I prayed, every time I tried to bear testimony to an investigator, or to my companion, it was there with me as if it could somehow give the lie to everything I felt, said, and wanted to be. To finish my repentance so virtue could really be with me I needed to confess. I had to tell him. Surely he would see my intentions and know I was working so hard to be good.
It seemed that almost half of the mission's hundred and fifty or so missionaries were called out of our meetings to be interviewed--even my companion was interviewed--but I was not one of them. I stayed in the conference, listening to the trainings, singing the songs, and even standing to bear my testimony. The meetings seemed to lift me up and give me a lightness of spirit as if I really belonged there with the missionaries doing the work of God.
Once we were on the bus returning to Oruro, though, while the other missionaries dozed in their seats, my heaviness returned to me and seemed to just push me down into the seat. I knew I would have to talk with him and could not understand why it had not happened. Why did he not call me in. Maybe he knew that my interview would take much, much longer than five minutes, whether I was in trouble or not, and he had not allotted that much time to the schedule. I wrote him weekly as the mission rules required, telling him about the work we were doing in Oruro where we now had lots of investigators and where the muddy, stinky streets seemed more bearable. Maybe I should tell him in my letter about my concerns and the burden I carried inside. Or maybe I should just say "I need to talk with you." I did not know.
Two months later I got a phone call telling me I had been transferred to La Paz near the mission office. I knew that soon I would get that interview even though I still had not written anything in my letters to him. I just knew my turn would come. I was happy that I was going to lose my burden, but I was also scared. This was stuff I had never told anyone. Really I did not even like even admitting it to myself. The only person I ever talked to about this was God and just kept feeling that I needed to talk with my mission president about it.
A couple of weeks went by. I was getting used to my new area and walking up and down hills all day. Many days my toes would hurt from being jammed forward into my black shoes that I shined every morning. I was also getting used to my companion, a lanky dark-haired guy who was as tall as I, although he seemed as thin as a marionette, all sticks and strings. For some reason, no matter how I tried to get along with him, it seemed he had a wall up. He was newer in Bolivia than I was, by three months, and still seemed to be resisting the ways of the people. His Spanish was broken and he had not yet developed the ability to understand what was going on around him.
Early one morning the son of the family, from whom we rented a room and who we paid to feed us and wash our clothes, pounded on our door before breakfast. We were still stretched out on our beds, still in our garments, and reading the scriptures. "Élder Johnson, Élder Johnson teléfono," he shouted between pounds. "Ya voy." I said as I stumbled into my pants and shoes while putting on a sweater against the chill of a Bolivian winter. Once I had negotiated the stairs and the patio, I stopped at the small table on which the telephone lay, with its crocheted coat half off, and picked up the hand piece. "Sí buenos días" I mumbled, still not used to speaking in the morning.
"Elder Johnson, said the voice in English, the president would like to interview you and your companion this afternoon. Please be at the mission office by 2:30 pm, after you have finished your lunch."
Again I shifted in the chair to try to find a place that was at least somewhat endurable. The light coming into the room from its one window seemed longer and was casting deeper shadows. I had been sitting for almost half an hour and was feeling restless and cold. I stood to walk into the light to try to warm up and maybe find some comfort in standing instead of sitting on that chair, when the door opened.
My companion stumbled out. He looked paler and even thinner than when he went in. His suit hung from his frame as if it had been tailored for a more robust figure. For a second I wondered what had gone on. Why had his interview taken so long? What did he have to talk about?
Before my thoughts could really take form, the president sidled out past my companion and stuck out his hand "Elder Johnson. How are you? Please come in!"
As my companion slumped into my chair I walked in front of the president into his office and took one of two identical wooden chairs in front of his desk on which only a small pad cluttered its clean and shiny expanse.
"Let's see Elder Johnson. You have been here in Bolivia for almost five months. That means you have been on your mission for seven months. How are you doing? How do you feel about your work?"
I tried to make my eyes look straight into his that were boring into me from the other side of the desk. My head wanted to slide off my neck to find a more comfortable angle, but I made it stay upright and I straightened up in my chair as my guts tightened.
"Um, yeah. I mean I got here four and a half months ago. "
"So you have been in Oruro with Elder Kliegman. How was the work there?"
"Good. We had some baptisms and got lots of investigators."
He shifted in his padded chair and it creaked as he turned and looked at his window for a second or two before drilling his eyes into me again.
"How is it going in your new area with Elder Barnard?"
I thought from the way he spoke that he was going to say more. A few moments of silence filled the air before I realized I was supposed to speak."
"Um. It's all good. I mean it's kinda different from Oruro but there are good people here. Um Elder Barnard's got stuff on his mind. I guess it's not so easy to get used to Bolivia. But it's good. He's a good companion and works hard."
All the while I was speaking a different set of words was rising within me. I could hardly finish answering his question before they were pounding in my mind demanding I open the door to them, now. I could not wait for another interview.
"President? Can I tell you something? There is something I gotta tell you. "
His eyes narrowed from the interruption of his thoughts and the pattern he had set for the interview. They became a smaller and faster drill as his words followed the hole they had drilled and bit into me.
"What is wrong Elder Johnson? Are you having problems in the mission?"
"No. no President. I love my mission. Things are good. It's just, um ... It's just there's some stuff from before I want to tell you."
"Are you masturbating Elder?
I almost did not hear what he said because of the pressure of my secrets that needed to enter the room. Somehow my head had dropped. I straightened it and looked surprised.
"No! I quit doing that long before my mission. Do you think I masturbate?" He seemed off balance. He had been leaning back in his chair and it wobbled as he righted himself.
"Most young men do, including missionaries. I thought that might be your problem. I just recently had an elder speak with me. He was afraid he was going to be sent home because he masturbated. Can you believe it."
His laugh was tense and strained but it bounced off the walls of the room disconcerting me.
"Can you believe it. He thought he was the only one who masturbated and that would somehow disqualify him from the mission. He was so frightened when he spoke with me that I could swear he felt a door was going to open under him and he would fall right out of the room and the mission just because he masturbated. It is almost too much."
My voice sounded faint and startled at the same time. I did not know what to say. I was confused.
"I don't masturbate." I whispered. "I stopped before I began my interviews with my bishop and stake president in order to go on my mission. I haven't done it since. I do not want to. I want to be a good missionary. I want to be good with the Lord. I want virtue ..."
"It's ok Elder Johnson. You are ok. Masturbation is a little thing. It won't cause someone to be sent home. We have not had a single elder or sister sent home since I became president and it is my goal that no one has to go home early! You are fine." In a voice that was little more than a thought creeping slowly from my mouth I said
"I still have to tell you something." My head would not stay upright any more. I slumped in my chair and looked at my shoes that somehow had gotten dusty from coming here.
"I do not want to go home. But I have to tell you something. Please let me tell you something.
"Maybe you will send me home. I do not want you to. I love my mission. I want to serve the Lord. But I need to get this off my chest.
"I never lied in any of my interviews. They asked if I was keeping the law of chastity and I was. I just never told them about some stuff from before I decided to go on a mission.
`I need to tell you. Please let me tell you. I want virtue to garnish my thoughts. I need the strength to represent God. Please ..." He had leaned over his desk and was looking at me again.
"Ok Elder. You can tell me. What is it that you need to say?"
"Um ... Um President ... I did some stuff before my mission. I did not lie. But I did some stuff. You might not like me or want me here. I did some stuff.
"You see. This one friend and I. He and I spent a lot of time together. He would often sleep over at my house and I would stay at his. We were good friends. He and I. um. He and I. We. Um ...
"This is hard, president. I need to tell you but it is hard."
He now had his head resting on his arms while his hands made a nest for his face.
"What happened Elder?" he asked in the softest voice I had ever heard him use. "Tell me what happened. It is important you tell me."
"Well. He would sleep on my bed and I would sleep on my sleeping bag on the floor. We talked about all kinds of things as we were falling asleep. I do not know how it happened, but one night we started talking about jacking off. I mean we both did it. "Um ... Somehow ... I ended up with my hands on his penis. His clothes were off, because we only slept in our underwear. His penis had come out of the opening in his boxers and it was hard. Somehow ... I ... um ... I just started stroking him.
"I liked it President. I knew I shouldn't be doing that because I wanted to go on a mission. But I liked it. He was my best friend. He was teaching me to play the sax. And I would help him with his English and science homework. For some reason ... I just had to hold his penis. I had to jack him off.
"That's how it started president. We had so many classes together in high school and had been friends for years. I just needed to jack him off. I couldn't sleep unless I got to do it.
"Then he started doing me too.
"I was falling in love with him, President. I thought maybe I was, you know, homosexual.
"I don't know how, but one night it was just not enough to hold him in my hands. I could feel how his veins would pulse under my fingers. It was not enough. I had to taste him. I didn't mean to, but I tasted him and then put my mouth as far down him as I could. "For a long time, President. Every night we would get together I would go down on him while he would jack me. I knew it was wrong. But I loved it. I loved him."
"Then senior year he just all of a sudden started avoiding me. It really hurt. I knew it was because I went down on him. He liked it but he was ashamed too. He started going out with this girl. Always before when he went on dates, I would go too. We would sit, the three of us, in his truck. He would reach his arm out around the girl while he drove and I would lay my arm over his touching his shoulder. Now though he did not invite me.
"I was really hurt and did not know what to do. He wouldn't talk to me in band and avoided me in other classes. He did not ask me for any help, and just quit giving me lessons."
"While I was praying one night I just told God about it. It felt really good to talk with Him. So I kept on praying. I could not talk with my other friends or with my parents about it, I mean they would have thought I was queer or something. So I talked with God. "That's how I decided to come on a mission. I was praying and the idea just popped into my head. It felt like the right thing to do. "So I started trying to get ready. I got more serious at Church and stated reading all kinds of gospel books as well as studying the scriptures.'
"I was still masturbating. It seemed I had almost no control. The urge would hit and I just had to do it, at school, at home, in the car. I had to.
"But one day I just felt I needed to quit so I could go on my mission and so I did." "At school one day the urge hit and I left class cuz I couldn't stand it. I stood by the urinal with my erect penis in my hand. It was throbbing. I wanted to rub it. But I just stood there and looked at it.
"Suddenly I just said `no! I want to go on a mission.' And I just put it away. That was about when I turned eighteen. It's been over a year and I haven't masturbated.
"But I never told anyone about my friend. I need to repent of that so I can be clean and virtuous." I fell silent. My words had poured from me as if from someone else. I felt empty and exhausted. My arms were folded under my legs and I was leaning into them silently, as tears kept running down my cheeks.
The President sat back in his chair as it creaked again. He too was looking down. He stayed that way for a while and then looked up at me again. His eyes were drawn and I did not want to look into them.
"Thank you Elder Johnson, for sharing that with me. I know that was difficult for you." He cleared his throat as if something were caught in it and would not come loose. "It is important to confess Elder Johnson ... to lay things in the hands of the Lord. "You were right to talk with me. I wish I could say everything will be alright. You have no idea how much I wash I could say that. You are good, Elder Johnson."
I lifted my head and looked at him through teary eyes and my disorderly blond hair that had fallen forward. Only now he was looking down. He was no longer looking at me.
"If this were about some young man and his girlfriend I would tell you that you were probably forgiven and that the important thing was that you had learned your lesson, repented, and come on a mission.
"But you had sex with another boy. That makes it different. I can't tell you it is ok, even though I can see the power of your faith.
"I have to talk with my authorities about this. When a General Authority comes to Bolivia again I will ask his thoughts about it. He might want to talk with you. He might say that you have to be sent home. Gosh! I hope not. My goal is to send no one home! "But if those are his instructions then there is nothing I can do. You will have to go home.
"Until then I want you to pray lots, be diligent in studying the scriptures and every week I want you to report to me about your moral condition in your letters."
As his words struck me I folded more into myself as if I were becoming just a little gray package sitting atop the hard, brown, wooden chair. When he stood and invited me to give him a hug, some part of me did. But I was really as small as a little origami of just cloth, no flesh, laying on that chair.
The door somehow opened and my companion turned back from looking out the window. He looked at me and said nothing as the president told me to write him soon and wished us good luck with the work.
"Jeez Elder," my companion said. "You were in there for a long time, almost an hour. Are you ok? What happened?"