Well, it's taken me nearly 3 and a half years to reach this point, so I'm going to follow what I think is a nice tradition and post some details about myself. Sorry if I get long winded. If you've read all 1999 of my other posts (hah!), you probably know all this anyway.
I grew up in North Carolina, Kentucky, and Virginia. I'm the second oldest of 7 kids - 4 boys and 3 girls. There are about 15 years between my older sister and my youngest brother. My mother's first pregnancy ended in stillbirth, and there were a couple of miscarriages in between my birth and the next child, my sister Kate. So my mother spent the first 20 years of her marriage either pregnant or careing for a newborn. She also worked a full time job as a nurse, working the night shift so she could be home to take care of us during the day. My Dad is intelligent, kind and generous, and completely irresponsible. His career ambitions didn't account for providing for 7 children, so there were years when my mom worked 2 jobs, and one hellish time when I remember her working 3. This was also before the boom in liberal maternity leave. I remember my Mom working right up until she went into labor and getting back to work practically before the umbilical cord dropped off. She would do a pioneer woman proud. Being 13 years older than the youngest of us, I certainly did my share of diaper changing, feeding, and general babysitting. Looking back, it's surprising we all made it out alive. We owe that, I'm sure, to dozens of kind and generous LDS friends. Hillary Clinton would probably be surprised to realize that the Mormons have always known that it takes a village. By today's standards my family was practically a village itself.
My parents fought a lot. We had lots of good times, but in my memory the brightest ones are all connected with weeks and months of arguing. Mostly the arguements were about finances and child rearing, though they often devolved into simple yelling and throwing things. Throw 7 kids who learn by example into that mix, and you can begin to imagine the chaos. I spent a lot of time in my room, reading, which accounts largely for my literary interests. I learned quite a lot about 1000 different subjects, but didn't seem to pick up any decent social skills. I was a loner. Throughout my childhood, I usually had one really good friend and the rest of my peers were just acquaintances. I was fat and nerdy and picked on a lot.
Despite the turmoil that seemed to grow as the family grew, my parents did try to raise us all as good Mormons. I always tried to be a good member of the church, and though I was far from perfect, I always truly wanted to live life as I thought God wanted me to. I didn't drink or smoke or swear. I always knew I would be a missionary for the church and looked forward to the opportunity. I tried to save up the money needed, and took 3 years of Spanish in high school, hoping to be called to serve in South America. I truly sought to know if the Mormon Church really was the True Church of Jesus Christ and spent many hours studying the scriptures each week. I participated in every church program open to me. I prayed daily. Many of the prayers were for my family and their problems, but I also prayed sincerely to know the truth of the things I was learning. "Ask and ye shall receive" as it were. I prayed for the "witness" of the Holy Spirit and tried to build a testimony of the gospel. I listened, perhaps with more than a little envy to the people in church who bore testimony that they knew that God lived, that the LDS church was His Church, and that Jospeph Smith was His Prophet called to restore His Gospel. I believed all that, but never really felt more than an intellectual belief. I felt a very sincere hope that it was all true, but I always had my nagging doubts.
I got my mission call to Brazil, where, of course, they speak Portuguese. My mission was a pivotal experience for me. I lost weight so quickly (50 lbs in two months) that my mission president's wife thought I was sick. In reality, I was just eating like a normal person and riding a bike in tropical heat all day. It was also on my mission that I became less of a loner socially. I quickly fell in love with the people and the language. I also fell in love with a couple of my missionary companions, though I didn't recognize it for what it was at the time. (It's funny how I can look back on most of my life now and interpret it from two different perspectives.) My mission was a great experience for me. Oddly enough, however, I can trace the beginnings of my disillusionment with the Church to some of my experiences as a missionary. (But that's another story altogether.)
At any rate, I served two years in Brazil and returned home in July with an acceptance to BYU waiting for me in the mailbox. Ironically, however, it was that year that my Dad, for no particular reason beyond procrastination, had failed to file his taxes on time and therefore missed all the deadlines for any financial aid. I ended up taking out a signature loan (a bank loan with basically credit-card level interest) and enrolled in the local community college. I quickly discovered that I had returned to a home more broken and twisted than I had left it. Coming from a zone of comfort and love and growing self-esteem in Brazil to the arguments and pent up frustrations of my parent's home was horrifying. I was trying to go to school with no money and no financial aid. I was taking a full load of classes and working a full-time job to make my loan payments. Trying to save, if not my parents' marriage, at least my mother's sanity, I found myself getting caught up more and more in the middle of their arguments.
So I joined the Air Force. I became a Korean Crypto-linguist, and after a 6 week stint in the bizarre institution called Air Force Basic Training I spent one of the best years of my life in Monterrey, CA, at the Defense Language Institute. It was near the end of this year that I was hurt deeply by a group of friends whom I trusted and loved. (Again, another story altogether.) Painful as the experience was, it was probably the catalyst that in the end helped me recognize and eventually accept my homosexuality. I finished tech school in TX, and then spent the next two years in Korea at Osan Air Force Base. As much as Brazil was a time of growth and nurturing for me, Korea was a long spiral into disillusionment, despair, and near self destruction. I came as close to suicide in Korea as I've ever come in my life. It was in Korea that my growing struggle with my sexuality came to a head. It was there that I began to seek help for what I thought at the time was a sickness and a spiritual failing.
For two years, (in Korea and while I was stationed at Ft. Meade, MD) I fought desperately to hold onto my beliefs - in God, Jesus, and the LDS Church - and to renounce, exorcise, or somehow "cure" myself of my homosexuality. In the end, it was my religious belief that lost. I'd feel bad if I thought it was my sexual nature that killed my belief in God, but I truly don't believe that is the case. I believe it was finding the strength to finally quit grasping at religious straws and troubling deaf heaven with my cries that allowed me to accept my sexuality and move forward. I have never regretted that decision.
Shortly thereafter, I met Douglas, moved to Baltimore, got a great job, finished my term with the Air Force, and have generally added a couple of good chapters to my life over the last nine years. I can't say that I haven't made any mistakes or that I have no regrets, but overcoming my religious upbringing isn't one of them. I still try to respect others who hold such beliefs. I can understand where they are coming from, and respect the importance religion plays in their lives. But my post-god life has been so much better in so many ways than my life ever was before that I can't regret no longer being able to share what good others still can find there.
Anyway, this has been far longer, I'm sure, than most of you will want to read, so I'll close by saying that I really love Hatrack. This is such a great group of people. The Cards should be proud of having created an environment that draws in so many kind and generous people. Thank you.
The part where you talk about moving back home after your mission really struck home with me, because I had a similar experience after taking off half a year in college to work in Tennessee, and again (to a lesser extent) after failing to find work in South Carolina, when I moved back in with my parents for about 6 months.
The part where you discussed struggling to find your sexual identity also resonated with me, though for different reasons.
I have always found your posts to be meaningful, quality exporessions. I hope you stick around for a long time. Selfishly, I wish you would post more frequently. I think you definitely add to our diversity here.
Deep sigh. (I love a good true-life story.) You've come a long way - and I am sure from the resilience you show in your post, you will go as far as you ever dreamed of going! Great post!
Posts: 5609 | Registered: Jan 2003
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KarlEd, you were one of the first posters that I noticed when I came here - mostly because I always suspected you of being my brother. How many guys named Karl Ed can there be in Baltimore area? (Obviously, there are at least two)
Congratulations on a wonderful post and all that proceeded it and please forgive me if I insist on continuing to believe that you are my brother...
:looks at KarlEd suspiciously: That's not your real hair color is it?
Posts: 959 | Registered: Jan 2002
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It's good to have you around Karl. You add a flavor and point of view to Hatrack that is very valuable I think. It saddens me that your experiences with the church and your family turned out as they did, but I am glad that you are living a happy life now.
Posts: 4548 | Registered: May 2001
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Pleased to make your (deeper) acquaintance, KarlEd:)
You impress with your strength and tenacity. True strength doesn't come from letting nothing trouble ourselves, but from triumphing over what does trouble us.
It's strange how life works, isn't it? After a years-long period of despair and trouble, you (relatively) quickly found happiness, although not perfect happiness (when is it ever perfect?). I am glad you did-clearly you've earned it, and something in your presence on Hatrack that I can see leads me to believe your suffering wasn't in vain-hot iron on the forge, as it were.
I don't envy you your past suffering, but I do envy that you have managed to overcome it so completely, without becoming bitter or hateful:)
Posts: 17149 | Registered: Jun 2001
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Wow KarlEd, thank you so much. Your story parallels mine in some interesting ways. I'll have to get around to writing a landmark thread one of these days, and I hope it can be half as concise and yet deep as your own.
Being from the Monterey area, I saw DLI in your post and wanted to make a snide comment (nothing personal, it's just a requirement for Monterey locals), but then you had to go and write a serious, insightful post that had its share of pain and beauty. So of course my plans were ruined.
I continue to be amazed at how willing people are to be so vulnerable while here. It's a real testament to the community.
So as long as you don't have one of those DLI t-shirts that says "I learn [obscure language] because you can't," you're ultra-cool. (Sorry, I couldn't help it. It's in the rules.)
Well, maybe even if you do have one.
Posts: 4533 | Registered: Jan 2003
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Thanks for the beautiful post, KarlEd. For different reasons, I know what it is to struggle with belief and the church. While a lot of the theology resonates deeply with me, and I am still trying to fit it into my life - and believe that I need it in my life - there are some things that are just hard for me to deal with.
I always look forward to your posts; they are often some of the the most thought-provoking on the forum. You are just way too cool, KarlEd.
Posts: 2454 | Registered: Jan 2003
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quote:We disagree on some fundamental things, but we can respect each other and appreciate each other, and that's cool.
That's one of the things I appreciate about you, too, Belle.
Saxon - I don't have one of those T-shirts. I always thought they were rude. I did have one that said "Defence Language Institute" in Korean, and one that said "I survived the '89 quake. Still waiting for the Big One!" though.
As for my "other stories", well, I felt like my post was too long to be read much already. Maybe I'll post them later on here if there is interest.
And with that I will quit basking in my 2000-ness and move on to post 2001.
I generally don't post on landmark post threads, not because I don't appreciate them, but just because I can rarely think of anything worth saying in reply. This time, though I can: tell us more! Of course there's interest!
Posts: 16059 | Registered: Aug 2000
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Thanks KarlEd. I, too, have always enjoyed your posts and your facility with the language. I am happy for you that you have found peace in your life and hope that I can come to terms with my own religious struggles as well as you seem to have.
Posts: 2069 | Registered: May 2001
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Fascinating post. I love life because it is hard and takes a lot of thinking. But KarlEd if everything is resolved and you are happy does that mean that you will only think contented thoughts? Will there be no more quest?
Anyway, where are you in Baltimore? We just sold little townhome on Keswick Rd right accross the park from the JHU campus. We loved it there.
This is the first time I've replied to a landmark thread too (that I remember, can't guarantee that), and I also wouldn't mind knowing more. You've inspired me to start digging up landmark posts to get to know folks better. It's very interesting. I've done the Monterey-Texas-MD loop, but as a dependent/wife Loved that term. Anyway, I'll be checking back for more!
I doubt I'll be sorry. I have enjoyed and re-read Icarus's 1,000th, which is the longest post I can recall ever having seen at Hatrack. If you beat that one in length, I'll be awfully impressed -- and I'll still read the whole thing.
I've always wondered about your story, because I knew you had been raised in the church, served a mission, and came out of the closet during the course of your life. Now I know. I admire you for your strength to set things right in your life.
And like Jacare, I"m sorry things didn't work out in the church.
I'm interested in knowing about how you look back on the people you converted to the church now that you've left it behind. Do you keep in touch with them?
Well, I planned to finish what I was writing earlier, but I sent it to myself from work and it never arrived. I'll probably finish it in the AM and post it from work.
So I'll answer Pat's question for now.
I didn't baptize great numbers of people on my mission. I did teach more than I can count but I soured quickly on some of the more high-pressure tactics that some of our mission leadership espoused. I met and taught many wonderful people, and several of them joined the church. Over the years I've lost touch with them, largely because I don't know what I would write to them at this point. "Hey, hope you're doing fine. Oh, by the way, I was wrong about the church. . ."
Seriously, though, I've always been a better letter writer than anyone I've corresponded with. Nearly all my penships ended after I wrote the last letter. When I was questioning the church the most, I stopped writing to those with whom the church was really all I had in common. And time passed and relationships faded.
I think I was a good missionary. I had the language down pat and truly loved the people of Brazil. I think that love came through in my conversation and teaching. There are many ways people come into the church and infatuation with an American missionary is, I suspect, a very common and very powerful draw in Brazil. Wise missionaries recognize this and try to build relationships between those investigating the church and strong members who will be around to strengthen ties once the missionary leaves. I have known a lot of Mormons whose testimonies are tied as strongly to those they hold up as examples of piety at least as much as their testimonies are tied to the scriptures or the witness of the Holy Ghost. I cut a lot of ties (not actively, but through neglect) when I was still unsure of my beliefs out of fear of damaging fledgling testimonies that hadn't yet learned to stand on their own. (Writing this it sounds like I had a pretty high opinion of myself, huh? I hope this doesn't sound as cocky to you as it does to me.)
Anyway, how do I feel about them? I miss them. Do I regret bringing them into the church? No. The church unarguably fills a need. And for many, it fills that need well. I used to wonder if I had some responsibility to contact those people and undo the work I couldn't have done in good faith were I to do it from the vantage point I now have. I've decided I don't. Either they have left the church by now on their own, or they are strong within it. If the former, the net effect is almost that I never was there. If the latter, well, they're probably better people for it. Most Mormons I've known really are good people.
The one big regret I do have is that I became good friends with one young Brazilian guy who was already a member of the church. He was almost old enough to become a missionary himself. We'd visit their house a lot and often he'd go with my companion and I to teach people about the church. Anyway, this was one of my last areas of work in Brazil. he wrote to me a lot for months after I had returned to the states. In letters, he confided in me that he had decided he would not go on a mission. I wrote to ask why and he told me that he was very embarrassed about what I might think of him, but that he felt attracted to men. He didn't act on those feelings, but he recognized them all too well. He was afraid that if he went on a mission he would be unable to live in such close quarters with another man without shaming himself or otherwise getting into trouble. I wrote to him and told him that I understood the challenges he was facing, and I advised him to not completely forsake the idea of going on a mission. I told him that he should continue working with his Bishop to overcome those feelings with the goal of becoming a missionary still in his mind. He did and eventually wrote that he received a mission call. I got one letter from him while he was on his mission and then lost contact. I imagine what different advice I might give him were I to have the chance to go back in time knowing what I know now, and I wonder if his life is better or worse now because of my advice. I wrote him a few years ago at the last address I had for him, but I didn't get a reply. I didn't get the letter back either, but anyone who's lived in Brazil will tell you that means nothing. I often find myself thinking about him and wondering if I should try again. I wonder if he's happier because he went on a mission or if he is as lost as many other Mormon homosexuals I've known. That thought depresses me more than I can say.