Title: Elder Petersen’s Mission Memories
Author Name: Jeff Laver
Publication Date: May 29, 2015
Steve Petersen has been hoping his homosexual feelings are “just a phase.” But as a nineteen-year-old embarking on a two-year Mormon mission in South America, he realizes those feelings are still there, and that he’s attracted to another missionary — the companion he’s been assigned to be with twenty-four hours a day. Set in 1972, less than three years after Stonewall, these missionaries have been taught by their church that homosexuality is an abomination, and those who suffer from those tendencies must repent. Worse, they’re told that with God’s help, fervent prayer, and mind over matter, they can become heterosexuals. Steve’s conflict is real and heart-wrenching; he’s an official representative of his church, but he’s falling in love with his companion. Can he reconcile his church doctrine and the feelings in his heart?
Although the disclaimer says this is a work of fiction, it read to me like memoir. There was a realness to the story, and it felt like sitting down in my kitchen with a pot of coffee to listen to a friend. While the writing style didn’t blow me away, the honesty definitely did.
I have obviously never been a gay Mormon, but there were a lot of relatable moments. In particular, the obsession over “getting it right” and knowing/doing the will of God was painfully familiar. There’s a lot in the story in which many people will find commonalities with their own lives.
The author dealt well with some complex and difficult subjects, and I appreciated the sensitivity and compassion. In particular, Elder Petersen’s first sexual experience with Elder Evans might have come across in entirely the wrong way, but Laver addressed it directly rather than leaving readers to wonder and possibly be upset.
Where I live, we get a lot of Mormon missionaries because we’re a “hot spot.” I don’t think I’ll be able to look at that world the same way again, though I suspect much has changed since the 1970s. I certainly won’t turn any of those young men away from my door next time.
An insightful, though-provoking read, this is one that’s sure to stay with me.
“Elder Petersen, I’m assigning you to Cali. It’s a big city with about a million people. Elder Evans will be your companion. […]”
I looked at the picture and recognized my new companion immediately.
“I know him. Sort of…”
The President smiled. “Small world. Don’t call him by his first name. Remember, he’s Elder Evans now. I’m sure you’ll make a great team.”
I flew to Cali and gave the cab driver the address I had been given. There were deep potholes in the residential side streets of my new neighborhood. The cab driver found the house, pulled over and turned out the headlights. Elder Evans came out to greet me and help me in with my luggage. He had removed his tie and had undone the top button of his characteristic white shirt. I gulped when I glanced from his face to his Adam’s apple and the dimple below it, then again into his smiling eyes. They were blue and sincere. He had light brown hair and was six feet tall, with a slender muscular build. He had powerful shoulders and arms.
Jeff Laver served a Mormon mission in South America. He has a B.A. in Spanish literature and is the author of a novel entitled Just Call Me Greg and several short stories, one of which is included in the anthology Latter-Gay Saints: An Anthology of Gay Mormon Fiction which Jeff also helped edit.