Steven Fales

Steven Fales
Steven Fales -- Actor/Writer/Producer

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Spiritual Abuse/Sex Work Intro to the Book "Confessions of a Mormon Boy"

Introduction to Confessions of a Mormon Boy: Behind the Scenes of the Off-Broadway Hit (Alyson Books, 2006) by Steven Fales (2007 Lambda Literary Award Finalist--Drama).

The book and album "Live from London" is available on Amazon.

Let’s be honest, folks. Whether you’re gay or straight, there’s a good chance you’ve slept with a Mormon at least once in your life. Or you’ve always wanted to. Or you will! Especially if you live in the Western United States. I think it has to do with that darn smile. Everyone wants to know if Mormons still smile like that when they come. Well, we do! It gives a whole new meaning to the famous Latter-day hymn, “Come, Come Ye Saints.” And to the infamous phrase, “Coming Out!” Governor Schwartzneger once said in an interview, “I feel like I’m coming all the time.” We Mormons feel the same way. Perhaps that’s why we’re always smiling. Okay, maybe we don’t always smile when we come, but at least we often leave our partners grinning! (This obscene paragraph was cut from the book by my publishers, but I just had to put it on this blog! Read on. The next paragraph actually officially begins the intro. Whew!)

According to Mormon mythology, God has smiling, becoming children populating other worlds He has created all over the universe. Mormon founder Joseph Smith once taught that the moon was populated by Mormons. (Not to be confused with the Moonies.) I’ve made it my personal mission to simply meet every gay Mormon on this planet. So far I’m making good progress. (And that doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve slept with them all.) Wherever I perform Confessions of a Mormon Boy, from San Francisco to New York, Chicago to Miami—LGBT Mormons seem to find me—sometimes flying thousands of miles. As long as good upstanding, comely Mormon couples across the galaxy continue having babies, and the Church continues to condemn its homosexual members throughout the universe, there will always be queer Mormons to shake hands with after the show.

            Latter-day Q-Saints are everywhere. We've been around since the Church was founded in 1830. There are thousands upon thousands of us gay Mormons. Statistically, we are approaching a million throughout the world. Our stories are unique and yet the same--we are bonded by our colorful Mormon heritage and traditions, and our diverse sexual orientations and circumstances. We’ve been around since the Church was founded (1830). And I promise we are much more dimensional than anything you’ll see in the recent gay film Latter Days or Angels in America, we give an entirely different spin to HBO's Big Love, and mainstream Mormons aren’t all the fundamentalist freaks you read about in the non-fiction bestseller Under the Banner of Heaven.

            I think I speak for most when I say Mormons are hot! We are pure Americana. It is the consensus in the gay community that there are a disproportionate number of gay Mormons among us. Why? I personally believe that patriarchy breeds us Momosexuals like bunnies. All I have to do is wear a BYU T-shirt into a gay bar, LGBT Center, or Gay Pride event and I’ll leave with three or four (or more!) new best friends for life. I’ve done it many times. Gays make great Mormons. Mormons make great gays. “Oh, the Mormons and the Homos should be friends!”
            What is becoming evident to me is that my work doesn't just speak to Mormons or gays. As I’ve written specifically from my queer Mormon point of view, Confessions of a Mormon Boy seems to be landing universally. It plays as well in Salt Lake City as it does in New York, though the themes and humor are sometimes appreciated differently. Salt Lake gets the religious and spiritual nuance of the first half. New York really gets the gritty urban underbelly of the second half. Other cities like Chicago and San Diego and Atlanta seem to get it all. There is apparently something for everyone.
            As I greet the audience after every show or read their emails, I get all kinds of comments--from gay, straight, male, female, old, young, religious, non-religious—telling me how much the play means to them. “Did you steal my journals to write this play? I’m Lutheran!” or “You’ve told 99% of my story. I’m Jewish. Or Muslim!” or “I was excommunicated, too, and I’m straight!” or “Except for the escorting part, we have lived parallel lives!” or better yet “I was a sex-worker, too, and I grew up a good Catholic girl!” I’m realizing that this isn’t just my story of reclamation, it is many of our stories.

            What we all seem to have in common is spiritual abuse. I define spiritual abuse as any time an individual or group uses religion to justify telling or showing anyone that they are not worthy of God’s full love and blessings—including basic human rights. My excommunication from the church of my birth for the practice of homosexuality (in the twenty-first century!) is an overt form of spiritual abuse. Nothing would please me more than to see this medieval, barbaric, cult tactic cease and desist in my lifetime. No one should be excommunicated for anything—especially for being gay.
            Furthermore, I believe that spiritual abuse in all its insidious forms fuels addiction—as my play very personally illustrates. What do you fill your soul with when God no longer seems to be an option? Where do you turn when you no longer belong to your indigenous community?  At the end of the day, then, Confessions of a Mormon Boy is my contribution to helping end spiritual abuse and religious violence in our churches, mosques, synagogues, and families.

            This play is about many things. But for me, it is about how I first learned to stop being a victim of spiritual abuse—and how I started to reclaim my values and a spirituality that works for me. It’s been said that religion is for people who are afraid to go to hell. Spirituality is for people who have been to hell and don’t want to go back! Religion and spirituality can be two very mutually exclusive things. And, yet, I have to concede that religion can be a spiritual path for many, many people—though it seems to be the exception. Basic spiritual tools belong to everyone. Unfortunately, many religions put their own stamp on spiritual technology (i.e., prayer and meditation, reading inspired literature, gathering in fellowship, service, etc.), claiming theirs is the only way.

It has been rewarding to see men and women who have long abandoned their religion (often out of necessity or survival) leave the show with the possibility of reconciliation with their faith and a renewed commitment to spirituality in their lives—whatever that needs to look like for them. It has also been humbling to meet other recovering sex-workers after the show and hear their stories—and realize just how many of us have taken our spiritual gifts to the streets. (Commercial sex work includes prostitution, escorting, pimping, madaming, pornography, stripping, phone sex, adult cam work, erotic massage, or any other arena where you exchange sex or a sexual activity for money, services, or goods--whether a legal activity or not.) If churches could only get the impact of the loss of talent (and tithing!) they are missing out on by not embracing their LGBT members! (And the part this plays in fueling the rebelliousness of some of us!) I’m not a sociologist, but I’m alarmed as I see how many sex-workers with magnificent spirits grew up with a religious upbringing that one day let them down. There seems to be a connection . . . and some of us never make it back.
Some of us choose not to come back.

I would like to further propose that until we get "complete" with our parents, we cannot get complete with God. I think this is particularly true for those of us who grew up in a tribal-clan mentality with an unstated motto like: “If you’re not Mormon, you’re not family.” Or “If you’re not straight, you’re not family.” How I started to get over my anger and issues with my religious dad, in particular, is one of the most important dramatic arcs of the story and brings about the climax of the play. Making peace with my parents (and the spiritual abuse from home) has allowed me to start making peace with God. And it has been quite a homecoming! As it says in the Bible, may "the hearts of the fathers turn to the children, and the hearts of the children turn to their fathers."

No matter who we are, we all have a good victim story and can be held prisoner by that story. When we are in victim-mode, there is only one possibility—being a victim. And choosing victimization is not very sexy. When we become willing to give that up, we have all kinds of choices, our possibilities are endless, and miraculous can occur. We are no longer our circumstances or our past. Who we are is literally Possibility itself. The possibility of being able to love and be loved by God and other.

I call my work “transformational theatre.” My play is a true story of transformation (with elements of recovery) told by the person who lived it. It’s reality theatre and is unabashedly purpose driven. I guess you can take the kid out of the cult, but you can’t take the cult out of the kid! I hope my altruism isn’t a turn-off. It’s a by-product of my zealous up-bringing. I further realize that yesterday’s transformation is today’s ego trip and tomorrow’s relapse. So wish me luck!


Another purpose in writing was to illuminate the dilemma of those struggling to reconcile their dreams of becoming straight with the realities of being gay, and what it costs to accept or deny that truth—especially when children are involved. Some of us good, fundamentalists got married to do the right thing. Many of us loved our straight spouses (as best we could) and were lucky enough to have children. And suddenly, the option of coming out became more and more acceptable. Sadly, many of us have had to choose between our authentic selves and waking up with our dear “spouse-friend” and beloved children in the morning.

After my excommunication and divorce, I was concerned that if I were to die, there wouldn’t be anyone I could fully trust to tell my young kids who I was, what happened, and how much their daddy loved them. So this play was originally written for my children. It seemed a matter of life and death that my innocent children (who are growing up in Utah where it’s debilitatingly shameful on the playground to have a gay dad) hear the complexities of this story in my own words—warts and all. It was my responsibility to tell it. As we are taught to do as Mormons, I have written a non-traditional family history or "Book of Remembrance". I felt it was my duty and responibility as a father and artist to do all I could to leave an accurate record behind to help them make sense of this nearly impossible situation. (As of this writing of the book (not the blog post), my son (11) and my daughter (9) have no seen the show. I have tried to be age-appropriate, but it is for my adult children.)

This is serious personal family business going on before you. History is again repeating itself.  As I mention in my play, my former father-in-law, Gerald Pearson, was a gay Mormon. I never got to meet him as he died of AIDS long before I married his oldest daughter, Emily. But I feel a kindred bond with him. My children are his grandchildren. Unfortunately, he never left a record for any of us, let alone his children. But his ex-wife, Carol Lynn Pearson, told some of his story in her autobiography Good-bye, I Love You (Random House, 1986).

If Gerald had lived, I believe he would have realized the vision Carol Lynn had for him. Even as she cared for him as he lay dying in her home she believed he “would be a light to point better directions to the gay community. And he would be the bridge he had so wanted to be to develop understanding of homosexuals to the larger world. He would take what he had been learning about what love really is and synthesize it into a wonderful message. He would write the things he only had reams of notes on. He would speak and people would listen. Surely that’s what would happen. Surely Gerald would not die with his dreams unfulfilled.” (from Good-bye, I Love You)

Gerald did not die in vain. For me, Good-bye, I Love You has been a template, a validating affirmation, a warning, a self-fulfilling prophecy, a guide, and, at the same time, a second chance. I have come to see this bizarre trans-generational sychronicity as a  beautiful, wonderful, painful, humbling experience--rich in it’s potential for deeper understanding, healing, and forgiveness—and lots and lots of humor. As Confessions of a Mormon Boy has developed across the country, the story has hopefully become less and less about my connection to the extraordinary Pearson family, and more and more about my own spiritual journey.
The subject of homosexuality is controversial in and of itself--especially in Mormondom. When you are telling a personal story, when both the general public and your children will read it or see it, homosexuality becomes an even more controversial subject. Some might say what Carol Lynn and I have done is not only shocking but greedy and possibly hurtful, that we've sold our "signs and tokens for money". We have broken taboos. But what we are both guilty of most, if anything, is following our hearts in attempting to make something poetic and positive out of our pain, starting with uncompromising honesty. "We are only as sick as our secrets." And if two generations can't testify to the transformative power of the truth gleaned from real life experience, then I'm giving up and getting re-baptized in the Mormon Church! (Would they take me back now?)

I am well aware that I am guilty of exploiting my family—as guilty as Carol Lynn. Carol Lynn used Gerald’s story to help make her valid feminist points. Her young children were still living at home and Gerald’s ashes were barely cool by the time her memoir was published and anonymity was lost forever. Some would say that we’ve sold our “signs and tokens” for money. I further need to assert on more thing. Carol Lynn Pearson is not gay. It is not really her story to tell, but she does do a good second-hand job. I wrote, because gay fathers need to be the ones to tell our own stories. (This paragraph was not in the original introduction either.)

My ex-wife, Emily, is now writing her confessional. It’s payback time. But if you think Emily and I have a good story—wait ‘til our kids write their book! (If they choose to finish this trilogy.)


After finalizing the script for the Off-Broadway run of Confessions of a Mormon Boy (a process best termed as "distilling"), I found I had stacks and stacks of material left over. Here then, are many of the things I wanted to say on stage, but couldn’t for one reason or another—not the least of which was time. Ninety minutes of me talking about myself without an intermission was the maximum audience bladders—and my director--would allow. I’ve expanded my “comic/dramatic autobiographical monologue mingled with scripture and song” for this book. I think it makes for a more satisfying read. Everything you read here has been performed in one version or another (in a reading or production) as the play developed on its way to an off-Broadway run.

I’ve also included an excerpt from the original Utah version of the play. This more whimsical version served as the world-premiere of the Confessions of a Mormon Boy in Salt Lake City, November 23, 2001. As you will see, it is drastically different in form and tone—but it will always be my favorite. It is my original “funny valentine to Mormonism.” There is also an epilogue, an afterward describing how the play developed, and other extra features and added resources that give more context to the project and my gay Mormon world, including my excommunication letter and production photos.

Everything in Confessions of a Mormon Boy, to the best of my knowledge and recollection—is 99 percent true, with the rest being 100 percent emotionally and poetically honest. I’ve admittedly taken some creative license by recreating a few scenes, embellishing some dialogue for comedic purposes, altering some chronology for dramatic purposes, and compressed a few characters into one. Artistic license has also been taken in portraying certain characters and to preserve the anonymity of others—but all characters are actual people from my life and events that actually happened. And I included Emily and Carol Lynn the process. (They’ve even sold me signed depiction releases!) As we say in Mormondom “I know, with every fiber of my being--that this play is true!”

The one-person show genre does not allow for my entire story to be told. There are so many things to share and expound upon. They will have to wait to be expressed in other ways and at a future time. I hope that I have made the strongest points and that the blanks will be filled in with thoughtfulness, compassion, intelligence, and sensitivity by the reader. As it says in The Book of Mormon, "And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not . . . " In other words, "I cannot write the hundredth part."

I have found sanctuary in the theater—the temple of humanism. In a way, the theater is where I go to commune and worship—often eight shows a week. It’s where, in the words of one of Shakespeare’s greatest human beings, King Lear, “None doth offend.” I hope you enjoy my "Orpheus Descends" love story and my post-post Modern prodigal tale about the humanization of a Mormon boy. I don't think St. Augustine would approve of some of my confessions, but then again, I'm not Catholic!

The Brethren of the Church said I could appeal my excommunication if I wanted to. Instead, I am taking my appeal to the stage and am offering this play as my prayer. And since my Higher Power has a sense of humor--and a touch of sarcasm, too—maybe, just maybe, if we laugh (and cry) enough together, we can laugh me right into heaven. Then the devil will really have something to laugh about!

Blessings, and keep smiling!

Steven Fales
"Transformin' Mormon"
Salt Lake City, Utah, June 2006


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