The Tree of Life

My dad found out I might be gay when I was fourteen and he caught me with some compromising images on the computer. Needless to say, that was a traumatic night for both of us. I was seated at the computer and he was standing behind me when an image popped onto the screen that wasn’t supposed to be there. We both raced for the mouse to close the window. As I lunged forward, I tried to cover the screen with one hand. My dad turned to me and with all the disgust a man could ever put into words, he asked, “Are you a homo?”

“No,” I pleaded, “It’s not mine.”

I ran upstairs to escape in my room, but I could still hear the shouts of more compromising discoveries. That night my parents betrayed their own terror as they tried to assure me that I didn’t have to be gay. The most vivid memory I have of that night is my dad’s eyes, open wide as he imagined all the future scenarios in which same-sex attractions would be a problem.

“Oh God,” he moaned, “What are you going to do when you have to live with guys in college?” His eyes grew wider still. “What about your mission? You’re going to have companions! You’re going to have to shower with them in the MTC.”

bradley column shower adThe showers at the Missionary Training Center were so infamous that navigating them was one of the first horrific scenes my panicked father imagined when he found out I might be gay. He had survived them when he was training to be a missionary, but how could I manage if I was turned on by guys?

The MTC showers were built like an old fashioned locker-room with five shower heads around a single post. They called them the tree of life showers because, like in the garden of Eden, there was no way to cover your nakedness there. It was a right of passage every incoming missionary dreaded, myself not excluded. When I was a freshman at BYU and my mission was fast approaching, I couldn’t shake the fear of sharing a shower with other guys. What if someone caught me looking at him? What if I was turned on? What if I ended up liking this thing that everyone was supposed to hate? How could I possibly escape my temptations and live as a faithful missionary if naked men were thrust in front of me every morning?

For months before I left to serve, I prayed for strength specifically to deal with the tree of life at the MTC. I begged God to make me straight before my mission so that I wouldn’t have to deal with it. I begged God for a way out–any way out.

When my mission finally came and my parents dropped me off at the MTC, the first place I went after I dropped off my suitcase in my new room was the bathroom. I had to see how bad the tree of life really was. The showers, though, were roped off for construction. The building where I was assigned was one of the first buildings in the MTC to get new showers with partitioned stalls. They finished the remodeling on my floor on my first day there.

I interpreted the change as a direct answer to my prayers. I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to face the anxiety of sharing a shower. I was also, if I’m going to be honest, I little bit disappointed. It was that secret carnal desire that proved to me that I wasn’t able to overcome my sexuality on my own, but that God, who knew my every thought, would make up the difference.

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3 thoughts on “The Tree of Life

  1. Wow. I’ve had almost identical experiences to EVERYTHING in this post. I was SO grateful the tree of life showers were gone when I got there. It was an answer to my prayers too. Of course…I still only lasted 4 days before the anxiety of being with attractive men 24/7 set in…

  2. I was at the MTC in the days of communal showers. Surprisingly it wasn’t an issue and I wasn’t all that worried about it in the first place. I discovered that at 6:00 am I could barely get myself up so I didn’t really run into any problems with any specific part of me getting up.

    I’m sorry that your father reacted the way he did. I’m guessing I’m closer to your father’s age than yours so I consider myself very lucky at how well my parents reacted when I told them I was gay right before my mission. That was the mid 80s after all.

  3. I dreaded the tree of life showers just like you did. Figured there was no way to avoid them, though, so I just had to muster incredible self-discipline and act like nothing was wrong. And after about 30 seconds in the shower with everybody else, all my fear vanished. My brain realized that it was not a sexual situation at all, and I soon learned to look forward to the showers not because of all the naked guys but because it was a relaxing, fun break from the MTC rigors and a chance to just have some genuinely innocent good times with friends. More than once we turned the showers into a slip & slide. The tree of life showers were a genuinely good thing for me because they broke me of that paralyzing fear I’d always had. Now I feel sorry for guys going there with that same fear, because they won’t have the same experience I did to help them get past it.

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