Split Personalities 

Utahns living a dual life

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Two Lives Become One: Craig Steiner, Former Closeted Gay and Active Mormon
For years, the stress of living a double life as both an active Mormon and closeted gay man haunted Craig Steiner every minute of every day. Since only celibate gays can be active church members, he felt he was always on the edge of being discovered if he even blinked wrong or said the wrong word. “I watched my voice, my gestures, my mannerisms,” he says. “I looked in the mirror to see how ‘gay’ I might appear to others. When you are deeply closeted, every single second of your life is spent in the most agonizing fear. It is relentless and literally in the back of your mind every conscious moment. It doesn’t matter how long you are undetected. One false move and your whole life falls apart.”

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Steiner vividly remembers his first crush on another boy in first grade. “I remember the kid’s name and what he looked like. I didn’t know the word for it, but I knew I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone,” he recalls. He’s emphatic that, “Not only did I not choose to be gay, I chose to not be gay a million times. Every morning when I prayed, I chose to be straight.”

While serving an LDS mission, he kept all the rules. In his exit interview, the mission president said, “You are by far the most faithful missionary we have seen.” He recalls, “I had lots of spiritual experiences, but on that one topic, there was a silent, empty blank.”

He understood the mechanics of dating. “I had seen guys holding girls’ hands and did what they did. I was very romantic and would write poetry and give flowers. The caring part came very naturally to me.”

All the while, he wished he could tell someone he trusted about his problem. When he eventually confided his struggles to his LDS bishop, he says the man told him he needed a proper outlet for his sexuality and added, “I promise you in the name of the Lord, if you marry a righteous girl in the temple, you will never again have a problem with this. You will be cured.” After those words, “Nothing was going to keep me from getting married,” Steiner recalls. “I wanted to be just like the other Mormon people.”

His mother lined him up on a blind date with a woman with whom she worked. On their second date, they seemed to have a lot in common. As they continued dating, friends commented on her beauty. “I thought it was great that I picked a beautiful one—because I honestly didn’t know. There was no girl that I was attracted to any more than any other. They were like a row of cereal boxes.”

Steiner appreciated the fact that his fiancee was a generous, loving person. He says he took his bishop’s advice not to tell her about his struggles with sexual orientation. “Much later, into the marriage, she began to wonder, saying, ‘We are more like brother and sister than husband and wife.’” He was determined to live out his marriage, no matter what. “I totally, absolutely believed every word of Mormon doctrine. I wanted to be worthy and it tore me apart.”

The layers of fear felt endless. “Everything you stand for, everything you believe, everything you are or wish you were, everything your family thinks of you, everything your pioneer ancestors did for you, everything that Joseph Smith and Jesus mean to you, the entire universe will blow up if anyone finds out. You live with that, your finger on the trigger, knowing if you fall asleep and so much as twitch, it’s all over and you’ve blown up your entire world.”

He once felt that if he were outed, he would kill himself by driving off a cliff. “There was no question that would be preferable to having my double life exposed.”

When his wife ended the marriage, “It felt as if God had opened the cage and said, ‘You can leave.’” But, he says, “I was determined not to be enemies. I told her I needed the car and computer for my work, but she could have anything else she wanted.” He adds that he cares for his former wife deeply, “just not in the way that a husband is supposed to. We are the best of friends who talk daily and see each other several times a week.”

After his divorce, he felt he couldn’t ignore his situation any longer. Over a two-month period, he fasted and prayed and read everything the church had published on the subject, as well as all of the clinical research and studies he could find. He eventually felt that “the church had no answer for me except for me to turn into someone else.”

Steiner says he later received a strong spiritual experience in which God told him that that he could be accepted as a gay person and that God did not expect him to overcome his homosexuality. At that time, he trusted both the spiritual feelings of his LDS testimony and the equally strong feelings of his recent answer to prayer. While he had friends who thought he should just write a letter and have his name removed from church records, “I didn’t feel that was right. I felt strongly that I needed to fully face up to myself and tell the whole truth.”

An LDS Church court is held when a member “commits such serious sins that they might be kicked out of the church. In my case, the sins committed surrounded homosexual behavior. Yeah, I had messed around with guys and did not believe it was possible for me to ‘go straight’ or be celibate for the rest of my life, so I was a prime candidate for church court.”

Attending his church court felt like attending his own funeral. “My stake presidency and my bishop were there. For the church court, you can prepare a statement. It was one of the few times where I was very direct and pulled out all the stops, mentioned all of the sins and where I was. I laid it all out there,” he says.” After that, they asked insightful questions. I felt like they really did love me and were trying hard to do the right thing.”

At the end, he says his stake president’s expression turned dark as he told him that the presence of God would leave him after he left the room and was then excommunicated. “I had no choice but to leave,” he recalls. “I walked outside, and it was like the unbelievable burden of my two lives fell off. There was an unbelievable sense of relief and release, like all of my problems vaporized and I was starting off as a whole new person. There was a sense of hope that was completely foreign after living with hopelessness and despair and knowing my life was a dead end.”

When people ask if he would do it again, there’s not an easy answer. “The misery was so intense, but if it was the only way to end up with my two kids again, I’d do it—with a great deal of hesitation and trepidation. My kids are worth it—no question. They are the greatest joy in my life.”

Now 47, Steiner has dated here and there, but still seeks the long-term relationship he hopes to have someday. “I am so driven to be with someone. Maybe I will and maybe I won’t, but even if I never do, I am so much happier than when I was living two lives.” In his marriage, he had always slept against the edge of the bed. He says it wasn’t until his first gay relationship that he “felt inclined to snuggle up with someone and sleep with them in my arms. I never knew I was supposed to have those instincts.”

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