Title: SAINT UNSHAMED: A Gay Mormon’s Life
Author: Kerry Ashton
Publisher: Lynn Wolf Enterprises
Published: 17 April 2019
Cover Design: Kerry Ashtoon
Length: 120 000 words /348 pages incl. 14 pages of B&W photos from author’s private collection.
Keywords : Gay, Memoir, M/M, Romance, some hardcore sex, Forbidden love, Rape, Mormon Religion, Coming out, Forgiveness, Overcoming Religion, Rape, Police Surveillance & Arrest, Conversion Therapy including Electric Shock Treatments, and a 16-year battle with rare cancer
Add To: Goodreads
“A TRIUMPHANT MEMOIR!” Clarion Books
The first paragraph of Kerry Ashton’s new memoir explains a lot: “I told this story once as fiction in the 1980s, but this time I tell the truth. I even tell the truth, in #MeToo fashion, about being violently raped by another man when I was 18, with a knife held to my throat—a secret I kept from everyone, including myself, for over 40 years. The rape, like other experiences I endured while a student at Brigham Young University, where I came out in the early 1970s, had a profound impact on my later life. But this story is not so much about my rape or my coming of age at BYU, as it is about the lifelong effects of shame itself, not only about how I internalized and inherited a wounding shame from my Mormon upbringing, but also how I eventually unshamed myself. It is about the journey of a lifetime, finding spiritual growth, self-discovery and healing along the way, while encountering many miraculous events that pushed me forward through darkness toward the light.”
Telling about his experiences during his four years at BYU—the rape, falling in love for the first time, police surveillance, harassment and arrest, while enduring three years of conversion therapy and electric shock treatments—provide the structure of Kerry’s memoir. But intermittently, the author shares memories from his childhood, growing up Mormon in Pocatello, Idaho, and later from his adulthood, as well as from his professional career as an actor and writer, both in L.A. and NYC, describing encounters with Barbra Streisand, Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Davis and Julie Harris, while detailing his experiences with Tennessee Williams and his brief affair with Stephen Sondheim. Lastly, he talks about the 12 years he spent in therapy, about his 16-year battle with cancer, how he eventually rid himself of the shame internalized from his Mormon youth, sharing glimpses into his sexual journey from his innocent youth through S&M and the gay leather scene in mid-life to the loving monogamous relationship he now enjoys.
Author Exclusive Post
To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, “Be yourself; everyone else is taken.” I wrote my memoir for everyone, but in particular for other gay men from Mormon or other strict religious backgrounds, in the hopes that by sharing my journey, of coming out and later of finding myself and learning how to truly love myself and accept myself as a gay man from the inside out, that it would be instructive and helpful to those who are still finding their way through such a maze toward their own self-acceptance as gay people. My advice, more than anything else, is to find your true self within. Separate and apart from what you have been told you should be, how you should feel, what you should believe, who are you authentically? Finding one’s way to authenticity can take a long time. For me, it took me years, and it is still an ongoing process. I was taught from an early age that I had to be someone I wasn’t, to project a false self that would please my Mormon world and my parents. But being gay turned out to be a true gift, because it forced me to look inward and to sort out the false self from my true self, my “inner child” if you will, as I refer to it in my memoir.
In this regard, I would encourage every gay person who is wrestling with their coming out process, to see being gay as a gift and not as something they need to feel ashamed of, or to regret or feel sadness over. The sooner one can accept their sexual identity as something to embrace, rather than to carry as a cross to bear, the sooner they will be on their way to self-healing and self-acceptance.
Most of us who grow up in a repressive religious environment, are deeply shamed for our unique sexuality. That shame can be corrosive over time, and it leads to this deep feeling that we are not okay, that we must hide the truth of who we are from the world. In time, we become as sick as our secrets, and shame begets more shame.
I would also suggest therapy for all those coming from a similar background as mine. I would strongly advise that people look for a loving, supportive, gay or gay-friendly therapist, and I would strongly advise choosing a CSW, LCSW or MSW certified therapist, as they work more from a feeling perspective than an analytical one. I spent 12 years in therapy with a licensed CSW therapist, who was also gay. My work with him helped me find myself more than anything else I have done in my life. Beginning therapy doesn’t mean that you, too, will have to spend 12 years in the process. Each of us is different, and we all have our own path to healing. My partner Victor has never been in therapy, for example, and was able to work through most of his coming out issues on his own. But any help we ask for and are willing to accept, will bring about healing, whether we spend only a few weeks in therapy or several years. It’s all to the good. But in one way or another, any steps or actions we take in healing ourselves, will work to our highest good.
Most of all, I really hope that those gay men and women from Mormon or other strict religious backgrounds will read my book, as I think it will help them to find their own path to healing, and give them encouragement in their own journey to wellness and recovery.
READ PART ONE HERE
The Holy War, as I have come to think of it, began on a hot day in early September 1971, the day I left Pocatello to drive four hours south to Provo, Utah, to attend Brigham Young University. As in all wars, whether holy or unholy, it would not be without its casualties.
I spent the morning packing things in my ‘56 Chevrolet, parked in the spot on the lawn where our driveway would have been had my parents ever had the money to pave it. A yellow-and-bronze, two- door coupe with cream interior, a huge cream steering wheel, and black dashboard, the car had class, which is why I named it Oscar— after the Academy Awards I hoped to win one day.
As I packed Oscar full of boxes, Dad worked under the hood of the car. Once Oscar was filled with boxes, I sank down on our front lawn. Knowing this would be my last day at home, I tried to capture everything I saw and felt around me: The red of Mom’s roses framing our side porch, the hazy blue of the late morning sky, the large pine tree at the front of our corner lot, and the blue-grey crag of Scout Mountain in the distance, where I had always imagined Santa’s sleigh flew over on Christmas Eve.
Hearing Mom humming in the kitchen as she prepared lunch, everything seemed right in my Latter-Day-Saint world.
Getting up from the grass, I walked over to where Dad was still working under Oscar’s hood. “Everything look okay, Dad?” I asked.
“Oh, sure,” Dad replied in his folksy way. “I just wanted to make sure everything’s good with your car. I don’t want you stranded on the highway.”
Though I had fulfilled every church obligation, I was not the mechanic that Dad had hoped each of his three sons would become. I left mechanical jobs to Dad or to my two older brothers, both married by then.
“I love you, Dad,” I said suddenly. He stopped tinkering with the spark plugs and looked up at me. “I love you, too, son,” he replied, embracing me with a greasy hug.
Mom came out on the side porch just then. Wiping her hands on her apron, she called out to us, “Okay, you two! Lunch is ready!”
I washed my hands at the kitchen sink and let Dad wash his hands in the bathroom. Then I joined Mom at the kitchen table while we waited for Dad.
“Kerry Lynn,” she whispered, stroking my dark brown hair as she often did, “I don’t know what I’m going to do without you.”
Now a grown-up, or so I thought, I bristled at her calling me by both my given names as it sounded so girlish. But since it was my last day at home, I chose to ignore it.
“With all the kids married,” Mom continued, “and you going off to college, this house is going to feel awfully empty without you.”
“Maybe you and Dad will finally get some peace and quiet,” I kidded. “Maybe now you two can finally go on that second honeymoon you’ve talked about.”
“Maybe,” she said, laughing as she reached out to hold me. “I
love you, Kerry.” As she held me tight, I never wanted to let go. Once Dad joined us at the table, he said a blessing on the food, as
we always did in our home.
After the blessing, we tore through the food. Mom had made
some of my favorites: Her wonderful potato and egg salad, savory burgers with all the trimmings, and delicious corn-on-the-cob bought fresh from the farmer’s market.
After lunch, we went into the living room where Dad anointed my head with oil, laid his hands upon my head, and gave me a sacred Father’s Blessing—the blessing of a Melchizedek Priesthood Elder— warning me to be “mindful of the Adversary.”
Before I left that day, Dad took a photograph of me standing in front of Oscar. Barely 18 and dressed neatly, at 6’3” and 190 pounds, I was the very image of a conservative, clean-cut, LDS young man who loved his Mormon family, the LDS Church, and his Heavenly Father.
I arrived at Salt Lake City three hours later. From there, it took me another hour driving south on Interstate 15 before I arrived in the city of Provo.
Taking my first glimpse that day of Provo through Oscar’s wide windshield, I could see the white LDS Temple huddled against the Wasatch Mountains, its golden steeple gleaming in the late afternoon sun. Further north, Mount Timpanogos reached heavenward, while a sign at the main entrance to the BYU campus read: “The World Is Our Campus.” In reality, the campus became my world.
Driving north past the immense Cougar Stadium, and then into the foothills just beyond the BYU campus, then turning east and heading toward the mountains, I came to the huge Marriott Sports Arena under construction on my right, and stopped at the light. Once the light turned green, I made a left turn onto Sumac Avenue, climbing dramatically into the foothills, before pulling into the driveway in front of my new off-campus apartment.
Enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway for a chance to win
one of two eBooks of SAINT UNSHAMED
Raised in Pocatello, Idaho as a Mormon in the heart of Mormon Zion, Kerry attended BYU in the early 70s, where some of the most dramatic events recounted in his memoir took place.
Always interested in pursuing a career as both an actor and writer, Kerry wrote his first play, BUFFALO HEAD NICKELSat the age of 17, and published it at 18. Since then, he has published several works, among them most prominently THE WILDE SPIRIT, a one-man play with music, in which Ashton starred as Oscar Wilde, and also wrote the play’s book, music and lyrics. The play won Kerry critical acclaim for both his writing and performance, and three 1977 L.A. Civic Star Awards for Best Actor, Play and Direction. The play ran for three consecutive seasons in Provincetown, MA from 1990-1992, and was produced Off-Broadway in 1996, winning Kerry a National Award of Merit from ASCAP. The author now makes his home with his partner Victor Ramirez in South Florida.