You are 21, and drowning in grief. Your father has died suddenly, leaving you anchorless. You are suffering from a debilitating and nameless disease, and every doctor you see passes you along, telling you that there is nothing they can do for you. You are in a relationship with a woman who you love desperately, but who loves the sharp highs of anger and fuzzy lows of drugs more.
At your local library, you find a book, beautifully written, telling you that you are a beloved daughter of a Heavenly Father, and He has a Plan of Happiness for you. It tells you about the pattern of things that He has set forth, and that you agreed to in the pre-mortal realm. The book says that there is more to life than pain, and that we have come to this world to learn and experience joy. You read it greedily, taking it with you on your breaks to work, sneaking in as many pages as you can away from your girlfriend’s watchful eyes. In it you see truth, beauty, light and- most importantly- hope.
Six months later you sit in front of the local Mission President. You confess to him that you are a lesbian, but that you have broken up with your girlfriend of two years and are living separately from her in preparation for baptism. He smiles; you’ve said the right thing and you bask in his approval. Cutting ties with your girlfriend was painful, but the sacrifice was worth it. Your sins can be washed away. Your homosexuality can be washed away.
You are 24 and a student at the Lord’s University. You hadn’t been very interested in trying to date at your YSA ward at home. Everyone there knew you were gay and seemed to accept it kindly, but it had set you apart. You aren’t very interested in dating at school either, but you go along with it because it’s expected of you. During your first semester you meet a young woman that lights a spark of recognition in your heart, and the fear and shame of this propels you to start seeking out eligible young Priesthood holders in earnest.
You meet him in September, the one that you bank all of your hopes on. He’s a friend of a friend, and seems kind enough. He brings you small gifts, is considerate about your health, and- most importantly- understands that you are gay. After a month of dating, your bishop, knowing your situation, advises you to marry him. Two months later he proposes. You stand in the snow, under a streetlight and, looking towards exaltation, say yes.
You spend the next nine months explaining to everyone that has ever known you that you will be marrying a man. Of course the Church didn’t suggest this! Of course no ecclesiastical leader encouraged this! Your heart and perverted desires have been changed by the Atonement, and you have just been lucky enough to find a good man who can look past your sins. Your family and friends are deeply concerned, but say nothing. You explain to them that the Lord requires us all to make sacrifices so we can return to Him. As you plan your wedding, you put troublesome thoughts about the young woman from your first semester of college up on a shelf, reinforced by shame and self-loathing. You tell yourself that they will diminish over time, and that your attraction for her will fade to friendship as your friendship with your husband-to-be ripens into love.
You enter the sealing room and kneel across from the man you desperately hope you can one day grow to love. You remind yourself that he has been good to you, and has been so forgiving of your sinful nature. You look into the eternity mirrors and remember why you are doing this: so that one day you can see your father again in the Celestial Kingdom. This is the only way. You lay your heart down on the sealing altar as the ultimate sacrifice, knowing it will be worth it to spend an eternity with your loved ones. You grind the embers of love for the young woman from university, still glowing in your heart despite all your attempts to subdue them, into the fine crocheted lace laying before you. You clasp your husband’s hands, bow your head, and say yes.
And immediately, you regret it.
Something deep within you panics and recognizes the inherent wrongness of this situation. A long buried self-preservation instinct, lulled into submission by hours of scripture study and conference talks, awakens to tell you that you have made a grave mistake. Too much of your voice, your soul has been given up in the name of something bigger. You push these thoughts away as the temple attendants help you prepare for wedding photos and greeting friends, convinced that they must be Satan trying to trick you because you have made the right choice and he is jealous of your agency.
You are 26 and crying in the shower. You are exhausted and ashamed, and are pleading to God to just make you normal, to make you straight. You are doing everything He has asked of you; you are praying, reading your scriptures, keeping the Word of Wisdom, and deferring to your husband as Priesthood holder. So why do you shudder away from his touch? Why do you relish the time you spend alone, knowing his searching hands won’t find you? Why does your heart bloom under the attention of the young woman from university, now living a thousand miles away, and wither from any affection your husband lavishes on it? Why are you so broken?
You get out of the shower and look in the mirror. You are 26. You realize you must bear this for 60 more years to win your celestial prize. An entire lifetime of flinching every time your husband touches you. Six decades of finding another excuse to sleep on the couch, of putting off having a baby, of living with someone you have come to realize that you can never love.
Was heaven, glorious but unseen, worth the sacrifice you had made? You said you would endure to the end, but you hadn’t understood how long and lonely that road will be.
You are 28, and have realized that no man can pull you into heaven. You know you are imperfect, but you are not broken. On the day your bishop sends in the paperwork for your sealing cancellation, he asks if you are ready to start looking for another husband.
You look him in the eye, unashamed, and tell him you will never have a husband again.