Happy Birthday to Me

On queerness and the Mormon church

Matthew Gong
Gay Mag


Illustration by Carmen John

EEvery year for the last eight years, I have written myself a birthday letter. They’re glorified journal entries that distill experiences from that year into meaningful stories. After I came out, I started posting the letters for family and friends to read.

Last year, I didn’t post a letter. I didn’t write one either. It’s not that I didn’t want to; it’s just that last year was . . . complicated. When I get stuck in my head, my boyfriends like to remind me jokingly, “Other people feel things, too — your emotions aren’t unique,” and they’re usually right. However, there aren’t many people who are queer and whose dad is an authority in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (also known as the Mormon Church). If there are, I would love to meet them for a nice cup of group therapy. We have so much to talk about.

Even before I was born, my dad immersed himself in Church service. He accepted every church responsibility asked of him, including teaching Sunday school in our congregation, being a youth group leader when my brothers and I were young, to serving as a Stake President for student congregations at BYU. When I graduated high school and went off to college, his church responsibilities changed. He went from local callings in nearby congregations to a new calling as a General Authority, which is international; it’s sort of the Mormon equivalent of a cardinal. Despite the all-consuming nature of his work, when he turned seventy, he could retire. His time in church leadership would be “just a phase.”

LLeadership in the LDS Church is a peculiar thing. The Apostles, the top fifteen leaders who comprise the first presidency and quorum of the twelve, are appointed for life. They are pseudo-celebrities to many practicing Mormons, treated with reverence and then asked for selfies. When an Apostle dies, it’s a somber spectacle. At the next bi-annual church conference, a new replacement is ‘called’ to fill the vacancy. The online Mormon community buzzes with speculation about who will be called next. Once someone is called, they’re called for life. They never get to step down or retire. They will age publicly, and they will die publicly.

I found out my dad had been called to be an Apostle at the same time as the rest of the world. I…