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Ear to the Ground

Shame and Sexuality of a Mormon Youth

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Posted on Sep 18, 2012
mind on fire (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A gay pride flag flies outside of a Mormon building.

During periodic interviews in which church elders asked Adam Streeter whether he touched himself, the boy endured the agony of being forbidden to be fully himself.

The interviews were tests to determine whether Streeter could enter Mormon temples with his family and friends. Failure meant social exclusion, so each year Streeter lied, with increasing guilt and shame made more complicated by his budding homosexuality. Language appearing in the church-produced pamphlet “For the Strength of Youth” condemned homosexuality and masturbation, filling Streeter with fear and self-loathing that made him rub his finger raw with a purity ring and decide that he might one day save himself by getting castrated.

Streeter escaped though. It was art that saved him: A picture of Andy Warhol’s silk-screen of Marilyn Monroe in a high school art textbook gave him “the distance necessary to see that what I considered normal and everyday was suffused with unnatural color and unreal appearances.”

If only all children in his predicament were so lucky.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

Adam Streeter at Salon:

Until that autumn afternoon, I’d thought of myself as a good kid. I didn’t cheat in school. I seldom lied. I never stole so much as an extra Tootsie Roll from an unguarded bowl of Halloween candy. (In my neighborhood, older folks who didn’t stay up late could leave Halloween treats by their doorsteps without worrying that a trick-or-treater might grab more than his or her fair share.)

“For the Strength of Youth,” however, said I was guilty of a sin far worse than lying, cheating, or candy stealing. My sin was only a little less severe than murder. And I sometimes did it twice daily. And my close calls with spiritual homicide involved lurid imaginings of Bruce Willis and, of all people, Dan Lauria from “The Wonder Years.”

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