Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Utah saints


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Perfect: The Journey of a Gay Mormon, by Joseph Dallin; $15.95 paper, $9.95 download,

For Joseph Dallin, born in Provo, Utah, being raised Mormon was one predetermined destiny he couldn't escape. Another was being Mormon and gay, which became the most complex contradiction he'd ever faced. His youth, his coming out process, and the long, laborious journey away from the rigid structure and strictures of his religion are beautifully detailed in his memoir Perfect.

Named after the prophet Joseph Smith, Dallin was one of six children in a family that rigidly followed the Mormon belief system from birth. These philosophies were so deeply ingrained in him that he admits to finding difficulty comprehending other spiritual viewpoints outside of his own. He describes enjoying a lucky "privileged childhood" hunting and fishing with his father while striving for personal perfection at age 8 after his mother explained the Mormon doctrine of "translation" to him (the idea that if a human is too righteous to be Earthbound, God will whisk them up to heaven without dying first).

But no amount of familial nurturing or religious dogma could intercept Dallin's early childhood crush on his fourth grade teacher, a feeling he was sure would dissipate once the yearnings of puberty took hold. Terrified to masturbate (a "crime against nature" in his Bible) and convinced he was a sinner if he tried, Dallin writes of his attempts to corral burgeoning same-sex feelings while listening to his grandfather's rants about homosexual "pigs" or reading the Mormon scriptures' condemnation of them. His father offered a more liberating stance on sex – that it was natural and should be enjoyed, as long as it remained within the bounds of heterosexuality.

His radical dress code (from "preppy, pretty-boy fag" to the Mormon temple garments) and secret love of boys bled through into his adolescence, where college life stealing glances at towel-clad muscled boys in the common bathrooms "threw a match to the combustible hormones that coursed through my blood vessels." Dallin stayed the course of Mormonism, volleying letters back and forth with his "girlfriend" Emily, until finally all of the strained pageantry, forced convictions, and faked heterosexuality became overwhelmingly hypocritical and he came out at 23.

Dallin's journey is long, rich, infinitely courageous, and multifaceted; joyful at times, but taking a sad turn at others. He highlights the church's lack of acceptance and violent abhorrence toward those with alternative perspectives, and the torture he put himself through for years, believing he was sick, crazy, or, in his Mother's words, following a "Satanic plan," and that the only release would be to take his own life.

The book opens with Dallin's suicide attempt during a blizzard along a treacherous Rocky Mountain pass, and ends with several moving epiphanies, like the declaration of his parents' "confidence, support, and love" after a healing, transformational Christmas visit, and the balance he acknowledges within his current life in Hawaii surrounded by unfettered, natural beauty. Bracingly honest, lucid, and rewarding, Dallin's memoir shines.

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