From the Pulpit
Singing a New Song
Affirmation Conference - Salt Lake City, Utah
August 22, 1997
By Lee Olsen
My name is Lee Olsen. I'm a former LDS recording artist. Right now I'm working on my Masters Degree in Social Work, I'm a nationally recognized Hypnotherapist, I was married for fourteen years, sealed in the temple, grew up in Utah, born and reared LDS, I'm from Tremont in Utah, family goes back five generations—as far as being LDS...
I was about three years old when I first became aware that I was "different." You don't have a label for these things at age three, but you know you're different. I remember my dad taking me to this little birthday party where it was just a bunch of little boys. And we were going to go swimming in their wading pool in the back of the house, and we went to this little changing room in the back of the house, and I remember at that point sitting there and being physically excited, not knowing what the physical excitement was about. I didn't want to take my clothes off, but I was really enjoying everybody else take theirs off. I knew that was "different," and my dad sat there and tried and tried to coax me, and I wouldn't do it till everybody left the room. But it was sure fun being in that space.
Then I remember, when I was about seven years old, I went to see my older brother be baptized. They took me and my other brother in the same room with him where they changed into their baptismal clothes. For me, that was exciting to be in that arena, but I knew that someday I was going to have to do that and it made me sick. (It was interesting growing up because I know I was a very fear-based child.) My time came to be baptized, and I remember standing in the room where everybody goes to change their clothes where there was the cutest little boy. I remember looking at him and thinking "wow," and having all these incredible feelings, and again, I wasn't going to take my clothes off! I remember the thought going through my mind "wow, I wish I could be him, because he was so incredibly cute!" (Even at age eight, I knew what that was about.)
Two years later, my parents decided they wanted me to do the "boy thing," because I was one of these little boys who was very effeminate. I didn't play well with other boys, because they didn't know how to play with me. (All the little neighborhood girls knew how to play with me because I could play their games very well.) But it was interesting how the little boys reacted to me. There was a lot of fear involved, and I would watch from the window in my house, all these little boys doing things that I really wanted to do, but was so afraid to do. I was afraid that I was going to get hurt, because I was so small. I was also afraid I was going to be rejected, and that was a bigger pain.
So, my parents decided "well we need to get Lee into this boy thing," because at that point in time I could cook better than anybody in the neighborhood, I could sew better than anybody in the neighborhood, and I made these exquisitely elegant little dolls that my mother would enter into the State Fair in her name and win first prize! I did all these things very well, and my parents were scratching their heads, wondering...
Then one day my grandmother came over and said "Marv, Joyce, Lee is going to be like Jack, prepare yourselves." (Jack is my Uncle who is gay.) My parents immediately went into denial, and in that process of denial they began finding "boy things" for me to do. They enrolled me in little league. What an experience! Have you ever seen a little "femme" playing baseball? It's not a pretty sight! They put me in the outfield, and I would stand there, and the ball would come my direction and then hit me, because I didn't know what to do with this "mitt thing." Then they would put me up to bat and the balls would all swish by, followed with "you're outta here," because I didn't know what to do with the bat. And then running...have you ever seen a little "femme" run? What's really sad is nobody ever took the time to teach me. Nobody ever took the time to try to make a difference. Of course, it wouldn't have changed the fact that I was gay, but it would have helped me to get along a little better in my community and a lot better in school.
So I had my little boy experience, and it was a total failure, but at least I did it, and I can say "been there done that." Shortly thereafter I was enrolled in junior high school. Remember the dilemma of seventh grade P.E.? I was just a little guy. I was probably the smallest in my class. And I remember all these thrilling feelings of being with all these young men, who were doing that puberty thing, it was exciting. Physically and emotionally exciting—and scary. I did not know how to deal with that fear. We were in the locker room one day and they were doing all the things that little pubescents do there. They were pulling out their rulers and measuring their "manhood." What do you have at 12 years old? That dynamic of being with these young men was very interesting. They were doing this as "manly men," and even though they became physically excited, it wasn't about "that." I became physically excited about "them." It was exciting and embarrassing and I had to get out of there really quick. So Junior High was an interesting and fearful process.
The summer after I got out of 7th grade I was playing with the kids in my neighborhood. There were three little boys and three little girls. We all ran together and had a good time. One day we were over at one of the girls houses and one of the older girls says, "Hey, let's play strip poker." We're all sitting on the floor and we decided to play. It was very interesting because I was watching the two young boys sitting next to me and they were so excited about these two young ladies losing their clothes. Steve was totally excited about the possibility of Danielle being naked. I was sitting there totally excited about the possibility of Steve being naked. It was really interesting to be in that space and I was totally confused because here are the boys going "Wow, these girls are going to take their clothes off" and I'm not having that thought process at all.
This struggle went on for a while and I didn't know how to deal with that because I was based in fear and didn't spend a lot of time with other boys growing up because I didn't know how to deal with those emotions.
I got into high school and my first year there was probably the most painful year of high school. I was walking down the hall the first day of registration with three or four of us who ran together. It's interesting because we've gotten together at class reunions since and discovered that we're all gay. We did find our element, but we never talked about it. I wish there had been a forum to talk about it at that time but there was no place to go. You couldn't go to the church people because you were an abomination, evil and wrong. You couldn't go to the school counselors because if they even talked to you they were putting themselves at risk. You couldn't go to your parents so that left you alone. That was very painful. So I'm walking down the hall and here come a bunch of what we called "rednecks." You have to understand what a redneck in Tremont is: it's someone who wears cowboy boots, puts a little bit of chew in their bottom lip, drives around in a pickup, never been on a horse, and they think they're cowboys. I know that I just projected total fear. As I'm coming down the hall, one of these guys came up to me and as he came close he pulled his fist back and punched me as hard as he could in the chest. It knocked me on my butt and I had no idea what was going on. I remember the thought came very vividly to me, "don't cry, don't cry, whatever you do, don't cry." I lay there on the ground, wondering what had happened and why this man had hit me. After they walked by, all I could do was heave and cry. It hurt so bad I couldn't breathe. I had no idea what had happened. Later on, I met this gentleman about ten years later when we were adults. I asked him why this had occurred. He said, "You were small, quite effeminate, and an very easy target." For them, it was effective to prove their masculinity to go to somebody younger, smaller, somebody different, and beat them up. We still find this in our culture today. It frightens me that little kids are going through this now in our schools because we're not open, we're not discussing diversity and that people can be different. These little kids are going through the same confusion and the same pain. That's really hard for me and that's why I'm going into this work.
Later on that year I was walking back from seminary and my best friend and I were walking. It was the middle of winter, quite cold, we had our parkas on. I had my hands in my pockets and here come a couple of rednecks, a different group. We looked at each other and again I was projecting fear. As they walked by, my friend and I looked at each other and breathed a sigh of relief because nothing had happened. Within a few seconds the next thing I knew I was headed toward the ground. These two young men had turned around, one had grabbed the right leg of my pants and the other had grabbed the left leg and pulled them out simultaneously. I went face first to the ground and landed right on this bone down the center of my nose. Everything underneath it shattered except for this bone. My friend took off because he did not want to be the next victim. I lay there for a few minutes. It was very interesting that not one person stopped to help me up. Not one person asked if I was OK. I lay there for a few minutes and realized I was bleeding and so I got up and went to the bathroom in the nearest building, got cleaned up and looked in the mirror. My face was swelling, my eyes were going black very rapidly. All I could do was smile. I was wearing braces and I thought, "My dad is going to kill me if my teeth are hurt." That's all I could think about, my teeth. I went to the office, called my mom and asked her to pick me up. Then I went out and sat in front of the building against a fire hydrant. I think the most painful thing about that experience was that nobody came. Not one person came up to sit with me or ask me if I was OK, just to see where I was.
Finally, my mom showed up and took me to the hospital. By that time my face was so swollen that they had to do some things to get my contacts. I was so swollen you couldn't recognize me. They gave me shots to calm me down and sent me home. They didn't do any x-rays, which I found interesting. I received threats in the mail and in my locker from the two boys because the police had come to my house and I was going to file a complaint. The policeman sat down with my parents and said, "I understand your pain, I understand what he's been through, I suggest you don't because he still has two more years in high school. It will just get worse." In the process of that I got some letters in the mail, letters and notes in my locker, and in my books, from different people saying, "You do anything about this and you'll be in serious trouble." So I spent the rest of my high school feeling threatened and hiding. Again, I wish there had been somebody there I could talk to.
In this day and age, we can create that by being who we are and being vocal about that. I think that's our responsibility.
I went from there to Ricks College, which was amazing. I had a really good experience there. Ricks College was where I decided I wanted to go on an LDS mission, partly because it was expected from my family, and culturally, and religiously, not really because I wanted to go. I went to the LTM and it was amazingly frightening and exciting and powerful all in the same place. I remember getting up an hour earlier every morning (and we had to get up early as it was) so I didn't have to deal with the dilemma of being in that open locker room with these other young men. The emotions I was feeling were interesting and I did not understand them. I was then sent to Chicago, IL and I remember the first day in the mission home there. I overheard a conversation in the President's office and they were picking who would be with whom as an elder. I had seen the night before all these pictures on the wall and there was this very good looking elder named Elder Allen. Next, I heard them say, "Who are we going to send with Elder Allen?" I remember thinking, "Pick me, pick me, I know I can be his friend!" I got sent to my first companion and was still dealing with this whole issue of finally coming to terms. When I was at Ricks College I had a health class and it was the first time (this was 1978) I had heard about homosexuality. We spent quite a bit of time in this class talking about homosexuality and what it was defined as at that time. At that time, I could say, "Wow, I have a label. That's what I am." I remember spending a great deal of time praying to God to take that away, if that was the case. So on my mission with my first companion I was still dealing with my label now, being out there, being an abomination in the sight of the Lord, yet serving the Lord, and not knowing how all that fits together.
My first companion was an interesting gentleman. He liked to tract at 10:00 pm in the ghetto. I'm this tiny little boy from Tremont UT, I hadn't even started to grow yet, and this was quite frightening to me. We got mugged a couple of times. One night he came in and said we're going tracting, and I said, "No, we're not." He said I was under his authority and had to go, and I told him no, not only no, but hell no. He proceeded to beat the walls up, throw me around, push me down, and I hyperventilated, which scared him to death. Have you ever seen anyone hyperventilate? That's a spooky experience. I'm laying on the bed, curled up tight in a ball, and he couldn't do anything with me. So he took me to the hospital and I was admitted. They gave me injections to calm me down and came back a little later and said, "Your friend out there wants to know how you're doing." I said, "Don't tell him. Just let him be out there thinking about what's going on." The mission president came down the next day and asked me what was going on. I told him, "I'm a homosexual." I feel fortunate that they let me stay because as a general rule they don't. I got a really nice letter from Spencer W. Kimball telling me to have courage, say my prayers, fast, seek the laying on of hands. I went through those processes and at that time they put me into therapy. This was the first therapy I had been through, and it was called behavior modification therapy. It was interesting. I'd go in once a week to talk to a counselor who worked for LDS Social Services. One of the things they taught me was a great little trick called "rubber band therapy." I put this rubber band around my wrist, so when you're having an "evil thought," you're supposed to divert your thought to the rubber band, pull the rubber band back as hard as you could, let it go, feel the pain, and that changes your perception. I tried that for a little while, but it didn't work. While I wore the rubber band, other missionaries asked me, "What's up with that?" We started our own club, but they didn't know what I was. I told them, "When I have this urge to masturbate, I take my rubbber band, pull it way back, let it go, divert my thought, and I'm better." So, there were about 20 missionaries running around with rubber bands on their wrists! Can you imagine the nightmare the mission president was having? He thought I was his only gay boy! They were all using a process.
I fell in love with three of my companions. The church takes a young man who is a closeted homosexual, spiritually, emotionally, and physically, put him in a space with another young man and then are told he is to love this young man, as we often heard on our missions. I said, "Yeah, pick me, I can do that!" The love was very real and genuine, very honest. It was about loving somebody intimately on a spiritual, emotional, mental level. Every once in a while you were lucky and got a really good hug too. But it was never about being a physical person. I look back at that and know that being a homosexual is not about sex. My love is no different than a straight gentleman's love, what I feel is just as strong. It was very powerful to learn that. It's not about sex, it's about love. That's the bottom line.
I returned from the mission and of course I was given the old pep talk my last day there. My mission president called me in and said, "Well, Elder Olson, it's good to see you go." I gave him his run for the money. He said, "I want you to go home, want you to find a nice young lady, want you to get married, live the gospel, and everything will be fine." So I came home and immediately my parents got me into psychotherapy. I saw a psychiatrist up at Utah State University for quite a while, then moved to Weber State where I continued my therapy. In the process I was running around with some young adults and met this incredibly beautiful young lady. She was taken with me, she liked the fact that I was kind, tender, sensitive, all these things that nobody else we were running with was doing. I opened doors for her, I was a great dancer, nice dresser, all these things that were incredibly appealing to her. We dated for a while and I asked her to marry me, because that was what I was told would make me "better," and I wanted to be better, really bad. To fit you have to be "better." We were engaged eight months, sealed in the LDS temple, and in the process of the engagement I started shock therapy here in Salt Lake City, on M street, in a little office, but I won't give the doctor's name. You go into a little room, they give you this little device that is a very fine little clamp element, they have you place it around the shaft of your penis. Then they hook it up to another machine that measures circumference. They sit you down and hook up electric bands that look like blood pressure cuffs all the way up your arm. Then they set the shock and it's enough that it hurts. For the first little while the doctor did it, because I didn't have the guts to do it. Then they turned the lights down and they showed a very graphic homosexual video, incredibly graphic, more than I had ever seen in my life at my tender age of 21. Of course I became physically excited, the little ring separated, and the machine shocked me. This happened several times in a ten minute period. Then after about ten minutes, while trying to "turn off the feelings," they suddenly flipped it over to a heterosexual video. Once again, a very graphic sexual film. They said "now enjoy it." Ten minutes later they switched back over to the homosexual video and resumed the shocks.
I did this about once a week for almost two years. Because they promised me I would be better. They promised me.
In my marriage it was really painful and it hurt my relationship with this beautiful (and I'm not understating who and what she is) beautiful young lady. It made it so that we couldn't even participate in physical relations.
On my last session the shock was so incredible that I finally got kicked out of the chair. You have to keep turning it up because you get used to it. It was so high that they finally kicked me out of the chair. I took the cuffs off and left his office and never went back again.
After that I started a myriad of therapies, each promising hope, because I wanted to be straight. Inside I knew I wasn't. Every time I failed at therapy I ended up hating myself even more and had less value. What I found at the age of 27 was that I was a human being waiting to die. Because my church said I would never be acceptable. Because my culture says I'm not acceptable. Because my God said I was an abomination. This, based on a belief system.
I won't go through all the therapies, but in summary, I went through shock therapy, psychotherapy twice, I saw a psychiatrist twice, I went through drug therapy, marriage and family therapy, I even went to a chiropractor who said that he could "fix it." With each one, I can say at this point in my life, that I learned something powerful. I'm not angry about it. I share this with you not because I am a victim, but because I want people to know that, twelve therapies later, you "are what you are." Let's get real.
If a youth came to me today and asked what do I do? I would just tell them "love yourself." I've been there. I wanted results. But you are who you are. Love yourself.
The last therapy I went through was a process called Evergreen. I realize a lot of people are angry and laugh at Evergreen, but if you are there with the right intent, you will learn something. You learn how to overcome an addiction. You learn how to look inside yourself and ask critical questions. You learn how to love other men in a responsible way, hopefully (although that's not always the case). I never look back at my Evergreen experience with anger. As long as I hold onto anger I'm a victim and I'm in pain. I choose not to do that.
I'm probably happier now than I've ever been in my entire life, more calm, more at peace, and whole. All lot of this comes from looking at my belief system. I learned that if you have no secrets, you cannot be hurt. That's a very powerful statement for me.
This wasn't always the case. While I was going through the Evergreen process, I really wanted to be a good husband, and straight. One night I went into my wife's room (we were sleeping in separate rooms, had for many years, trying to be the "perfect couple"), and I started to asked her if she would put her arms around me and hold me. I just needed to be touched. As I went to do that my entire being said "she will reject you." I couldn't even open my mouth. The tears just started. So I left the room, and she was confused. I composed myself and went back to say it again, but I couldn't, the words would not come, because I knew she was going to reject me. My soul told me so. After several times doing this I finally composed myself and went in and sat down on her bed and said "would you hold me?" She looked and me and very quietly and calmly said "I can't do that." I asked why, and she said "because I put all those emotions away and I don't want to bring them back." It causes me pain to realize that she went through all that when she didn't have to. We did it because our belief system told us we were going to get there.
I immediately went into shock with the sudden reality of my situation. I asked "what now?" And she said "I think we need to separate." I asked "you mean move apart until we can get this together?" "No," she answered, "divorce." I sat in shock thinking "oh God, now I'm just a f*ing homosexual."
I got up, put some clothes on, and left. I drove. Drove hoping that someone would hit me or that the car would go out of control. When you are in shock, you really are able to "step two toes over and think things like that." I ended up at a friends house. We talked for a while, and then he took me home. I went into the bathroom where I had been storing up some medication and took an overdose. Amazingly, this gentleman came back and found me asleep. He did not know what was wrong and so took me to the hospital where they pumped my stomach, but found very little of it left. It had been pretty much absorbed into my system so they filled me with this charcoal stuff. Then they put me into the psych ward for about a week. This was part of the process I went through to find "me." I had to go that far to lose who I was.
I found it very profound when someone sat me down one day and said "there are no new thoughts. We can arrange them differently, but there are no new thoughts. We do not suffer alone." When you look at beliefs you realize that beliefs are nothing more than thoughts. Thoughts float randomly in the universe. When we make a belief, we grab a thought and hold on to it. And when we make it a fixed, or personalized belief, we not only hold onto it, but we place it somewhere in our soul. For me learning that a belief system is nothing more than that, a belief system, it gave me a lot more power and control over my life.
In the process of becoming more spiritual, I am very much in tune with my God. Moment to moment every day he is in my life. My experience with him is very full. It's not based on a belief system, it's based on my belief in Him. This system doesn't tell me how it is going to look, or how it should occur.
On the other hand, we find in our culture that our spirituality is very guilt-based. It is cyclical, beginning with the act, the "sin." We then move to a position on our knees begging for forgiveness, making commitments that we hope to keep. "We'll do better." "We'll get in line." In this we are very spiritual, very much in tune with God, and we begin to keep those promises. Then we move on to a state where we start to feel good about ourselves again. Eventually, though, we begin to lose this spiritual high and begin questioning, begin slipping. In no time we are back at the beginning doing the deed again. Why? We repeat this cycle over and over again because we base our spirituality on how we feel when we are on our knees begging for forgiveness, rather than basing it on our connection with God, with who we are, with our perfectness as we are. When you base it on guilt, it's a false spirituality. If He is truly an unconditionally loving God, then he does not hold carrots out in front of us. We are perfect as we are. What we chose to do with this perfection is what counts.
We are not "less than." We have never been "less than." We have a belief system that has told us we have limited value based on who we are. That possibly we are an abomination, based on who we are. Why hold on to a belief system where you will never have value?
I know that there is a movement within the gay community to say "hello church, wake up, we are here." It's pointless. The harder we push, the harder they will push back. The more we live with integrity, dignity and have a good relationship with our God, the more we are whole. It's not about a belief system.
A couple of months ago a Bishop came over to my home after I had called the church office building asking for my name to be removed from the records of the church. He sat down with me and said "Hi, I'm here to help you." I hesitated. I thought back to my church court. It had taken four hours and was the most painful experience I have ever had. When it was finished the "gentleman" across the desk from me had looked at me and said "you just didn't want it bad enough." This was after I told them about all the therapies, about growing up with all the pain, being beaten up, how we had worked so hard in my marriage, and yet all he could say was "you just didn't want it bad enough. Sorry."
I was recounting these memories when the Bishop said "I'm afraid for you." I asked "why are you afraid?" He said "when we take away your membership you will lose the Gift of the Holy Ghost." I looked at him and smiled and said "you know if I was enmeshed in a belief system where I really thought you had that kind of power, I might crumble here and now. But I don't and you don't. No one can take that away. If that were true, based on your doctrine, I would have lost God's gift in my life twenty years ago." According to his belief system, with my behaviour, I would have lost God many years ago, and God has never left left my side.
All during our youth we are taught to be validated from without. Our Bishops, church, prophet, community, schools, and families validate us. The one thing we are never taught is how to validate ourselves. We end up spending a lifetime looking for someone to say "you have value." We search for a system that says "you are okay." These can't do this for us. We have to ask this question of ourselves. By going inside and asking our soul we can find our truth. No one outside yourself can give it to you. When you move to a space where you know your soul is saying "yes, you are perfect," then you have found real truth.
I would like for you to look at your beliefs and realize that they are nothing more than thoughts. Look back at who you are and where you've been. Hold on to that which has value, letting go of your "beliefs" and instead holding onto God. When you know that God is all that counts, not the system, then you learn how to be free. When you have no secrets, you cannot be hurt.
What is success? What is meant by success? Material? Worldly? Personal and emotional? The people I consider to be successful are so because of how they handle their responsibilities to other people, how they approach the future, and who have a full sense of the value of their life. I call people successful, not because they have money, or because their business is doing well. It's simply because they are human beings who are unafraid to know and love themselves.