How a gay Mormon man found his sexuality in Italy

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Elder: A Mormon Love Story

Tom Clark grew up in a Mormon family, and from a young age, he was taught that homosexuals were "destined for hell." Although he didn't know what the term "gay" meant yet, his mother taught him that homosexuals were "next to the lowest rung on the ladder (after murderers)."

After going through psychological testing as a young man, he was told that he had a very high "feminine quotient" and when the psychologist discovered that Tom was attracted to men, he prescribed him anti-psychotic thorazine.

Six months later, in 1974, he was sent on a Mormon mission to Pescara, Italy. As a Mormon missionary, you are expected to be fully present and dedicated to your duties for every moment during those two years, with very little contact with non-community members and absolutely no room for dating. Tom could tell that something in him was off balance emotionally. He recalled night time as being "a torture."

On a hot summer Sunday in Pescara, a group of young Italians came to one of the Mormon meetings. At the end of the meeting, a young man named Gianni approached Tom, commenting on the music that was played at the beginning and end of the meeting. He pointed out that the song that had been played was the theme song from 'Death in Venice', a movie about an older gay man who falls in love with a young boy in Venice during a cholera epidemic.

Gianni and Tom were very different from one another, but perhaps that's what made their love so electric. While Tom was in Italy on a Mormon mission, Gianni was a young, Italian communist with a European state of mind.

As a rule of thumb for Mormon missionary trips, you must constantly be with a companion on the trip. This was hard for Tom because he and Gianni wanted to be together all the time, so in an effort to make things work, they got creative. Tom and Gianni would spend hours arguing about communism versus Mormonism just so they could spend time together.

One night, their argument got so loud and so heated that they were asked to step outside. Tom looks back on that night lovingly, recalling that the fight immediately stopped as they stepped outside: "We sat there holding hands, and we were just talking and he leaned over at one point without saying anything, and he kissed me for the longest time," he said.

Tom's mind began to race because in that moment, everything changed. He couldn't help but think, "Where have I been? I've been alive this long, and only now I am getting to this?"

"I finally knew who I was," Tom said. Although this was a turning point for Tom, he was well-aware of the fact that his emotions and his life did not align with his life as a Mormon missionary. Regardless, he and Gianni were inseparable after that moment. Gianni, the young college student and communist was "very intense" as Tom recalls.



Because of the circumstances, there was no possibility for Tom and Gianni to have sex. "We just didn't care. I was happy for the first time in years," Tom said. As the two men were falling deeply in love, Tom found out that he had to be transferred to a new city for his Mormon mission. Tom distinctly remembers the pain he felt when he heard that he'd have to move. "Neither of us could conceive of being without the other," he said. He recalls feeling like his "insides were coming out."

Tom asked Gianni to accompany him to the train, but both of the men knew that there was a different motive in mind. Tom and Gianni spent the whole train ride out of the city alternating between crying and kissing, feeling as if that day was the end of their lives.

That night, the two men spent time on a ferry, and in that moment, Tom decided to have a conversation with God. "God, I'm tired of fighting, and I'm tired of asking you to take this away from me," Tom prayed. "I'm going to do what I need to do, and you do what you need to do."

The next morning, the ferry boat docked, and it was time to say goodbye. Tom had no way of clearly explaining to Gianni that having a life and future with him wasn't possible with their circumstances and lives.

At that moment, their relationship and their lives changed forever, but Tom looks back on his beautiful love affair fondly. "It wasn't just love," he said. "It was also the awakening of me."

For more coverage, visit NYTimes.com

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