I don’t dream very often, but when I do it provides a very clear picture of my emotional state. Worries and fears that plague my subconscious make their way into dream land, and via sleep I become consciously aware of those problems.
For example – when I fled my abusive relationship, I found myself in a state of hyper-vigilance. For several months, I kept having dreams where my abuser would just “show up” in seemingly benign situations, interacting with the people around me. Everyone seemed unaware of the problem his presence presented or how it was causing me to go rigid with fear. I’d try to leave, and he would keep following me. In my dream, I’d be constantly looking around corners and finding him there. I just couldn’t escape, and I’d wake up with my heart racing.
Clearly, my dreams were feeding off my fears of being found by my abuser. Those dreams ended with a blast when I was able to ensure a sense of safety and security for myself. In the last dream of the series, he came to my home. When he knocked on my door, I pulled out a shotgun and sat waiting on the other side. When I refused to let him in, he forced the door open, and I pulled the trigger. No more bad dreams.
I’ve recently had another very telling dream which has brought me to a reflection on my path of self-acceptance; a path which has included a departure from religion and a recognition of my LGBT identity. There’s a whole story building up to this dream; a story worth telling.
As a Young Woman in the Mormon church, I believed it was my duty to reach out to my non-member peers and invite them to attend church activities. I believed that this inviting was a sign of true friendship and compassion, as I was sharing the truth of the gospel with them and providing them with an opportunity to experience the blessings promised by the church. So when I found myself forming a friendship with a butch lesbian struggling with anger management issues who’d shared with me her story of having been molested by her father, the first thing I thought to do was to invite her to church, thinking it would help her.
She accepted my invitation and she clearly enjoyed coming to the activities. She also extended an invitation to me in return, to attend one of her church meetings with her (which I did) and then to see a movie with her. When we went to the movie, she wanted to hold my hand, and I realized she saw the outing as a date. I told her that while she was most certainly my friend and I enjoyed her company, I was not interested in dating women. She was okay with that and kept coming to church.
However, rather than participating in what had been planned, she opted to “hang out” in the gym, play basketball, and interact with the Young Men doing their scouting activities. Several of the Young Women started following her lead, and the Young Women’s President perceived my friend as a threat to her “flock”. She asked the bishop to speak with her, and so the bishop took her into his office and instructed her to adjust her dress and manner before coming back to any activities. My friend told me about what had transpired in the office, told me that she wasn’t interested in a church that wouldn’t accept her for who she was, and we parted ways.
For many years after, this experience has plagued me. It was the first time I’d seen church members (church LEADERS) behave in a way I considered to be un-Christlike. I was deeply hurt, seeing my friend turn away from what I considered to be the only thing that would bring her true happiness, because of the way my church leaders had treated her. The experience also opened my eyes to other faults in members of the church and even in church teachings and history, especially as it relates to the LGBT community. I was stubbornly obedient and naive though, and it took me many more years of uncovering problems to bring my illusion of truth crumbling down.
Even deeper than my disillusionment with the church, however, was my own buried and repressed sexuality. My experience with this friend has stuck with me after all these years, because it became linked not only to the first time my trust in the church had been broken but to my very own identity. I never dated anyone as a teen. I just wasn’t interested. Or at least that’s what I told myself. Looking back, I realize now that part of why this situation affected me so deeply was because I WAS interested in this individual as MORE than a friend. I just couldn’t admit it to myself while mired in the teachings that gender was a divine trait that had been predetermined and could not be “mistaken” or “mismatched”, and that interest in those of the same sex was a Satanic temptation meant to lead individuals astray from the straight and narrow path of eternal happiness.
It took rejecting these “truths” to FINALLY be able to start exploring who I was on the inside and what my interests and preferences actually entailed. I started internalizing EVERYTHING and really thinking about every belief that I’d accepted as truth without evidence. I slowly started realizing that much of my unhappiness and poor relationship decisions could be tied to a failure to accept and follow my own inner feelings and desires. I’d been pursuing relationships with men because that was what was expected of me, not because I had any actual interest in men, and I’d long considered my lack of interest to be a problem. I thought I was somehow broken inside and in need of fixing.
Then there were the other issues – how in my dreams I typically saw myself as male. I kept picturing myself in the roles of my favorite heroes like Spiderman, Robin Hood, and Han Solo. I never wanted to do anything feminine, despised dresses, make-up, shaving, etc, and fit in better with the guys than I did with the girls. My parents said I was a tom-boy, which was explanation enough to satisfy me while growing up, but when I cast aside the Mormon-centered concept of divine gender, I started questioning everything.
In the past couple years, I’ve been treading a journey of self-acceptance that could never have started without first rejecting the religion of my birth. As that journey has progressed, and as I’ve opened myself up to expressing the “me” I’d repressed for so long, I’ve been becoming happier and happier. I’m less stressed, less guilt-ridden, more confident, and even more outgoing. As I’ve been becoming comfortable with my identity, I’ve been starting to share it with others and “come out”. Shortly before my dream, I attended my very first LGBT event, a major step forward in being open about my authentic self.
The dream that put me on this path of reflection was really very brief and simple. In the dream, I was able to reconnect with this old high school friend in a surprise encounter. I recognized her, but she didn’t recognize me, so I shared with her everything I remembered about our brief friendship, and I told her about how her refusal to participate in a church that would not accept her had stuck with me for all these years. I told her about my own journey and how I’d slowly come to realize what a wonderful example of courage, confidence, and self-acceptance she had provided for me. We hugged, we cried, and we wound up dating.
When I woke, it struck me as odd that I would dream about this individual, but I realized that it was a dream of reconciliation. This dream was a sign that I had finally come to terms with my past and that I am now ready to embrace my path forward.
My journey is not all that unlike what many LGBT individuals born into the Mormon church find themselves going through. While the world is becoming more accepting as science shows that gender identity and sexual orientation have genetic and developmental foundations that cannot be altered or “cured”, the Mormons remain intolerant, even going so far as to exclude the children of LGBT couples from the ordinance of baptism. They still teach that gender is of divine origin and that “same-sex-attraction” is a temptation not to be acted upon. Affiliation with LGBT friendly groups renders one unworthy of their temple recommend, and anyone “struggling” is counseled to speak with their bishop.
The Mormon church has a long history of repression, suppression, and oppression of anyone who doesn’t fit their hetero-normative lifestyle. From political involvement to attempted conversion therapies, they have systematically treated homosexuality and trans-sexuality like a disease to be eradicated. As long as churches like this remain, there will always be those who spend lifetimes questioning and repressing their sexuality rather than accepting their unique identity and pursuing a life of happiness. While I have found my own sense of inner peace, I yearn for the day that journeys such as mine are no longer necessary and everyone can have the strength and confidence of my high-school friend in rejecting oppressive teachings and cultures.