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Sins of a "Good Mormon Boy"

Each year, the church asked me the same question: "Do you touch yourself?" Each year I lied, and hated myself more.

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Yet somehow I — a randy, impure adolescent goat — managed to fool the grannies, and myself. My shame and self-disgust convinced me I was the only adolescent boy in Mormon history to have first-hand knowledge of a great orgasm.

My secret knowledge made me sometimes want to kill myself.

As I lied and lied in my annual worthiness interviews, my fear grew exponentially. When my aunt had a mastectomy, I was relieved to think of my sin like a cancer, something that could be cut out of me. I was so addled that I found it soothing to think that if I worked hard enough and long enough at part-time jobs, I could to give myself a secret present on my 18th birthday: surgical castration.

This weirdly mechanical solution, this idea of my body as a machine vulnerable to sabotage, was inspired by a famous talk on puberty and procreation that was given by General Authority Boyd K. Packer in 1976, and later  published as a pamphlet and routinely given to Mormon boys everywhere.

Packer began his talk by likening the male reproductive system to a “little factory” that manufactures a “life-giving substance”:

For the most part, unless you tamper with [your little factory,] you will hardly be aware that it is working at all.

After matter-of-factly covering various “release valves” and their care and maintenance, Packer ventured into a hair-raising prognosis. A young man who fiddles with his release valves is a young man who dooms himself to doing so again and again:

This you should not do, for if you do that, the little factory will speed up … You can quickly be subjected to a habit, one that is not worthy, one that will leave you feeling depressed and feeling guilty … Keep it in reserve for the time when it can be righteously employed.

In this context, my castration plan wasn’t unreasonable. It was a practical way for me to serve my mission, to share a bedroom with other young missionaries, without betraying my sin to my church, my family, my friends, my neighborhood, the whole Mormon world at large.

And who knows what might have happened if I had stayed on that path. I might be married now, or I might be a Mandarin-speaking eunuch. But instead, I came across Andy Warhol’s silkscreen of Marilyn Monroe in a high-school art textbook.

Other apostates might find their epiphany in jazz, punk rock or abstract expressionism. For me, Pop Art highlighted what was exaggerated in the mundane. My first glimpse of Andy Warhol made me begin to look at my life — and my surroundings — in a startling new way. It gave me the distance necessary to see that what I considered normal and everyday was suffused with unnatural color and unreal appearances.

Something seen can’t be unseen.

Subverted by Warhol’s Marilyn, I gobbled up Anthony Burgess’s “A Clockwork Orange” before I was old enough to rent the movie. I bought Sonic Youth records and listened to them late into my starless nights, filled with a growing sense that in order for me to shoehorn myself into Utah Valley and Mormon life, castration would be insufficient. I’d have to have my brain surgically removed.

I reached the point of do or die.

When I was 17 years old, I chose, like my Mormon ancestors, “do” over “die.” Would they have expected anything less of me?

I walked away from all that was everyday and commonplace. I walked away from Utah Valley, family, friends, and everything that was lovingly, or otherwise, familiar. I headed into a world for which my previous life had never prepared me — a degree in secular, foreign literatures and romances of my own choosing.

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