“Back in my day,” Chad Anderson said, “there were promised cures for homosexuality if you followed the right protocols. I tried that for decades to the detriment of myself and many others.”
Anderson, the author of the memoir “Gay Mormon Dad,” stood at the podium at the Helicon West literary series in the Logan Library on Thursday evening. He shared his experience of navigating two worlds: one where he followed his strong religious heritage and one where he was authentically himself.
After showing off his Wonder Woman socks, Anderson read excerpts from his memoir and his blog, “Snapshots of Chad.” The book weaves every other chapter between his life before coming out as gay and his life after. Before coming out himself, Anderson’s younger sister Sheri came out to him. He regrets the way he handled it.
“‘You’re making a huge mistake,’ I told Sheri after she came out of the closet. My insides were all mushed together and spiraling in freefall as I lectured her.” Anderson said, reading aloud from a chapter titled “Little Lesbian.”
Anderson had taken it upon himself to show his younger sister the error of her ways all while the turmoil of his own reality was knotted inside of him. Raised in rural Missouri in a devout Latter-day Saint family and not knowing any other gay people, Anderson didn’t see how this could work out well.
It would be eight years after this conversation with his sister that Anderson would, as 32-year-old man with a wife and a second child on the way, come out of the closet himself.
For many years, this news shook Anderson’s life and family. After coming out and deciding to live his truth, he and his wife separated and moved to Salt Lake City, where he now lives with his partner and co-parents his two sons.
“Ironically, growing up in Missouri as a Mormon is a lot like growing up gay in Utah,” Anderson said. “You stand out and people don’t like you a whole lot.”
Shaun Anderson, a creative writing student at USU, shared some of his own written experiences of being a gay man who was raised Latter-day Saint during the open mic section that followed Chad Anderson’s presentation.
“Chad has a way of humanizing many different perspectives,” Shaun said. “Being part of that identity myself, there is a tendency to be bitter, and I appreciated the humanizing effort that he has had in order to work with his LDS family and humanize them while still experiencing the journey that he had to go through.”
Chad Anderson shared how he finally came to find peace with his religious upbringing and the pain it caused for many years. While he is no longer a member, Anderson said that it is part of his heritage.
“I tried really hard to be true to my roots,” Anderson said, “both the painful parts and the parts that I love.”
Narayne Rougeau flipped through the pages of “Gay Mormon Dad” after the event. She bought two books that evening. One for herself and one for a good friend of hers who has had a very similar journey.
Rougeau is an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and emphasized the need for love and acceptance in the world today. She said conversations like the one spurred by Anderson sharing his story are needed.
“I think we need to learn to be more accepting of people and who they are,” Rougeau said. “I have friends from all walks of life and I like that.”
Over time, Anderson said many of his family and friends came around to that same thinking. He said he wrote his book with his mother in mind because of her ability to love him as he is and balance her faith.
Looking at all he has now, Anderson said he wouldn’t have been able to predict this 10 years ago. He encouraged the audience to be aware that every story is individual.
“This is my truth but that doesn’t mean it is yours,” Anderson said.
Anderson is part of a monthly storytelling group, Voices Heard. He has also worked on an upcoming documentary titled “Dog Valley,” which is about a Utah gay hate crime.