SAINT UNSHAMED: A Gay Mormon's Life: Healing From the Shame of Religion, Rape, Conversion Therapy & Cancer

SAINT UNSHAMED: A Gay Mormon's Life: Healing From the Shame of Religion, Rape, Conversion Therapy & Cancer

by Kerry Ashton

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Overview

The first paragraph of Kerry Ashton’s 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 a lifetime journey of spiritual growth, self-discovery and healing, including many miraculous events along the way that pushed me forward through the 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, including two years of electroshock treatments—provide the structure of Kerry Ashton’s memoir. But intermittently he shares memories from growing up Mormon in Pocatello, Idaho, and from his adulthood. In one episode, the author talks about his mother’s passing, and how he unconsciously blamed himself for her death. In others, Kerry describes some of the battles with his religious father, and how he and his Dad eventually came to forgive each other. These stories, like many others shared in the book, are poignant. Some—like the description that Kerry provides of his rape—are sexually graphic. Some stories are hilarious. And some are dramatic, like those dealing with the domestic violence Kerry endured as a child.

The author also shares memories from his professional career as an actor and writer, both in L.A. and NYC, describing his personal encounters with stars like Barbra Streisand, Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Davis and Julie Harris, while sharing his experiences with famed writers Tennessee Williams, James Leo Herlihy (author of MIDNIGHT COWBOY), and John Rechy (author of THE SEXUAL OUTLAW), as well as his brief but profound affair with Steven Sondheim. Lastly, the author talks about the 12 years he spent in therapy, about his 16-year battle with a rare and disabling cancer only recently won, and about his sexual journey that led him through S&M, kinky sex, and the leather scene, to the loving monogamous relationship he now enjoys.

All of the stories that Ashton shares from his life deal with shame, either in how the author internalized shame and turned it against himself, or how he later rid himself of most of it to become a SAINT UNSHAMED.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780692170519
Publisher: Lynn Wolf Enterprises
Publication date: 04/27/2019
Pages: 348
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.94(d)

About the Author

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Raised in Pocatello, Idaho as a staunch member of the Mormon faith, Kerry attended Brigham Young University in the early 70s, where some of the more dramatic events recounted in his memoir took place.

Kerry wrote and published his first play, BUFFALO HEAD NICKELS with Pioneer Drama Service at the age of 17. Since that tender age, he has written and published several plays, most prominently THE WILDE SPIRIT, a one-man play with music, based upon the life and works of Oscar Wilde, for which Kerry wrote the book, music and lyrics. His other published works include the full-character play, MY LIFE AS OSCAR WILDE and RED HOT MAMA, THE NEW SOPHIE TUCKER MUSICAL, a two-character, two-act musical play.

Of all of Ashton's written works thus far, it is THE WILDE SPIRIT that has enjoyed the most success. When THE WILDE SPIRIT had its World Premiere in June 1977 at New Playwrights Foundation in Los Angeles, Kerry achieved acclaim for both his play and performance. The show subsequently ran for nearly two years, moving to the larger Theatre Rapport and then to The Cast Theater. Later produced in New York, first Off-Off-Broadway in 1982, then Off-Broadway in 1996, Kerry also brought his play to Provincetown, MA in 1990-1992, running for 11 months, making it the longest-running play in Cape Cod's history. In one of the most remarkable histories of any solo theatrical performer, Kerry has given over 1,000 live performances of THE WILDE SPIRIT across the United States, before an estimated 40,000 people, performing in professional engagements at some of America's most prestigious universities and at several regional theaters. Acclaimed by critics nationwide for both his play and performance, Kerry has won many awards for THE WILDE SPIRIT, including three Los Angeles Civic Star Awards for Best Play, Best Actor, and Best Direction. He also received an Award of Merit from the ASCAP for the play's original music and lyrics.

Kerry began his professional acting career in summer stock, first at Dirty Jack's Wild West Theater in Jackson, Wyoming, then at The Pioneer Playhouse near Park City, Utah. Then, after performing in THE WILDE SPIRIT in Los Angeles for two years, he appeared first on television in THREE'S COMPANY on ABC, and later with Cesar Romero and Eve Arden in NBC's WHODUNNIT?

Leaving Hollywood for New York City in 1979, Kerry's New York acting credits include the starring role of Max in PAINT BY NUMBERS at the 78th St. Theatre and in workshop productions at Broadway's Circle-In-The-Square and at Ensemble Studio Theatre. He also created the leading role of Nick in the Off-Broadway production of HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DADDY! His few film appearances include appearing very briefly in a pivotal scene with Meryl Streep and Robert DeNiro in the film, FALLING IN LOVE. Among his TV films, he appeared in RAGE OF ANGELS with Jaclyn Smith, and opposite Maureen Stapleton in SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY.

Kerry now makes his home in South Florida with his life partner, Victor Ramirez. Among the activities they most enjoy together, travel is a real passion.

For more information about Kerry Ashton and his published works, as well as information on his professional career as an author, playwright, actor, director, producer, and as a singer, songwriter, musical composer and lyricist, please visit his website at www.KerryAshton.com

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

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 a lifetime journey of spiritual growth, self-discovery and healing, including many miraculous events along the way that pushed me forward through the darkness toward the light.

Growing up in Pocatello, Idaho in the 50s, in the heart of Mormon Zion, was like growing up in Oz, where Mormons kept me on a religious path the way the Munchkins told Dorothy to follow the yellow brick road. Most American families felt pressure in those years to appear like the perfect U.S. family seen in TV shows like Father Knows Best and Ozzie and Harriet. But in our insulated Mormon community in southeastern Idaho, the expectations of appearing like a perfect family increased dramatically.

With a population of 35,000, Pocatello was Idaho's second largest city in the 1950s. It is now twice that size if you count the suburbs. Home to Idaho State University, Pocatello was and still is very LDS — as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints call themselves.

In Pocatello, like all LDS communities, church membership divided into wards. My family and I were members of the Pocatello 15 Ward, one of several wards within Alameda Stake, and among the more than 40 LDS wards in Pocatello. As LDS Brothers and Sisters, we proselytized Gentiles — as we preferred to call non-Mormons — but we never socialized with them, since the Prophet had warned us "to avoid the mere appearance of evil."

To survive in my LDS family and Mormon community, I had to pretend to be a perfect Saint the way my parents did.

Both of my parents were raised dirt poor during the Great Depression. Mom was barely 17 and Dad only 20 when they married during his military furlough, prior to Dad shipping out with the Navy to serve in the South Pacific during World War II.

After Dad returned from the war, my parents had four babies in six years. The firstborn, my oldest brother Dennis, was expected to be the responsible one. When he couldn't live up to all that was expected of him, he became the family scapegoat. My sister Denise was assigned the role of Daddy's little girl, his perfect Mormon princess, and the sweetest of all of us. Craig would later make Dad proud as a popular athlete in school and in his later and highly successful career in public education.

Without knowing it, Dad had claimed the first of his three children as his own. So when I came along, being the youngest and Mother's last chance, she claimed me entirely for herself. As my New York therapist noted decades later, "Whether you were a boy or a girl, she knew she would name you Kerry, since she expected you to carry and meet her emotional needs from then on."

Both of my parents had dormant and repressed shame boiling within each of them. Sometimes, as my siblings and I made our way down the LDS yellow brick road, my parents' shame came sailing at us like the fireballs thrown by the Wicked Witch.

I don't know how old I was when Mom lay me out naked on a changing mat, as I waited for a new diaper. I only remember that when she wiped down my genitals, my "little pee-pee," as Mom called it, sprang to attention. "Oh, dear!" Mother exclaimed, removing her hand from my penis as though she had just touched a hot poker. What Mommy had been doing to my pee-pee had felt pleasurable. I wanted the feeling to continue, but when I reached down with my right hand, to rub the spot that had felt so good, Mom smacked my hand away. "No, Kerry Lynn!" she said. "You mustn't do that. That's naughty!"

My little hand stung and I cried, but the real pain was in the shame I had just internalized. It was sinful to give myself pleasure!

The next time I remember being shamed happened when I was five. My father Allan Ashton, an insurance salesman, was 35 at the time. My mother Millie Jane Ashton was a 32-year-old homemaker. At 11, my oldest brother Dennis was already a bully. At ten, my sister Denise was the saintliest among us. At seven, my brother Craig already fit in the way he was expected to. And I was Mom's "baby."

Getting in our car after spending hours in church, I announced my true feelings from the backseat: "I hate church. It's so boring!"

Enraged, Dad turned to face me in the backseat. Looking directly into my eyes, he gave me a dire warning: "Kerry, I don't ever want to hear you speak that way again about our Church!"

"I'm sorry, Daddy," I whimpered, already repentant for my out-spoken honesty, behaving like the best little Mormon boy in the entire world. Yet, it was not my father's rage but the look of disapproval on my mother's face that had me cowering.

My mother was the only source of love I knew or had ever known. I could no more live without her approval than the earth can live without the sun. Clearly, I was trained from an early age not merely to be her baby boy, but to behave like her exclusive property. Not that Mom or anyone in my family would have seen it that way; her complete commandeering of my psyche and all that I was, of my very soul, was not something that she was aware of consciously, any more than any member of my family was consciously aware of their assigned roles in our dysfunctional family system. But the fact that I was my mother's personal slave is true nonetheless.

Mom had trained me well: A lifted eyebrow meant she was dis-pleased with me, that my only source of love and companionship might abandon me. At five, I had already learned the truth: To survive, I had to lie; I had to become inauthentic and false.

When I was six, I performed in a church play with my family on the stage of our LDS ward's reception hall. It was my first appearance on stage and I was nervous. Some little girls giggled backstage as Mom stripped me out of my clothes for a quick costume change. Naked and mortified, I was Mother's property to do with as she pleased. Once dressed, I stifled my tears and made my entrance holding my owner's hand.

That same year, our family visited my Aunt Ruth and her family at their home in Ogden, Utah. Aunt Ruth had a little girl named Carrie who was just my age and, like me, loved to sing and dance. After Carrie got up on the kitchen table and sang, "On the Good Ship Lollipop," we all applauded.

Wanting me to have my turn in the spotlight, Mom encouraged me to sing "If I Were King of the Forest" from The Wizard of Oz, since I did a good impression of Bert Lahr's performance, complete with dialogue and dance steps, and I always got rousing applause. "Go on, Kerry Lynn!" she said, nudging me onto the kitchen table. "Sing the Cowardly Lion's song!"

I got up on the table, but when I sang, "It's hard believe me Missy, when you're born to be a sissy," Dad yelled, "Stop singing that song!"

"What?" I asked, surprised as everyone else.

"Get off that table, young man!" he hollered. "No son of mine is going to perform on a table like a ... like a ..."

"Like a what?" Mom interjected, getting up in Dad's face.

Dad shouted back at her, "Millie Jane, pack up! We're leaving!"

Before I knew it, we were in the car driving home. Sitting in the backseat, I knew Dad was ashamed of me, but I didn't understand why. "Why didn't you let me finish my song, Daddy?" I asked.

As I began to cry, Dad warned, "That'll be enough, Kerry Lynn! I don't want to hear any more about it!" Dad gave my mother a warning glance. "This is your fault, Millie Jane!"

"My fault?" Mom retorted. "Why? Because I stand up for him against you and all your bullying?" Clearly, I was the reason for their fight, but I still didn't understand why.

As my parents fought over me, I cried even more.

"Stop crying, young man," Dad shouted, "or I'll give you something to really cry about!" But the more I tried to repress my tears, the more I sobbed.

"That's it!" Dad shouted, pulling the car to the side of the road. "You're getting a beating, Kerry Lynn!"

Wild with shame, Dad jumped out of the car. Deciding that his belt was not harsh enough, he went along the road and tore a two-by-four from a nearby fence. Bringing the board back with him, he dragged me out of the car.

"Allan Ashton!" Mom exclaimed. "You are not going to beat our child with that two-by-four! I will not allow it!" But Dad already had my pants down and was paddling me when Mom got between us. "Allan, that's enough! What is wrong with you?"

Undeterred, Dad continued my beating as the drivers passing by looked on in horror.

That incident was so emotionally painful for me that I blocked out any memory of it. It was only after years spent in therapy decades later, and only after my sister Denise shared with me her memory of the entire event, that I finally faced the truth.

Regardless of what had made my father so angry that day, he made it clear to me then that I was a source of shame for him, one he either had to ignore or obliterate.

* * *

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.

Getting out of the car, I could see Utah Lake shimmering at the south end of the valley. The white Provo Temple stood just up the road and across a field, with a huge whitewashed Y on the Wasatch Mountains looming in the background above me, to the east.

Walking up through the home's carport and using my key to enter my new apartment — the one Mom and I had chosen earlier in the summer when we had first visited Provo together — I was glad to see that my roommate Mickey, a friend from high school, had not shown up yet. It would give me time to unpack all of my belongings.

The living room was covered in blood-red shag carpet, just as I remembered it, and the view of Mount Timpanogos and my landlord's yard through the back window were just as stunning as I had remembered them, when Mom and I had first looked at the place earlier that summer.

With my single bed set up in the living room, as I had asked, and another single bed set up in the adjoining alcove, awaiting my roommate Mickey, and set up that way at his request, the apartment already felt like home.

My landlady Mrs. Dixon had even put out some flowers in a vase on the top of the living room dresser to welcome us. It was the same spot where I would place my portable color TV that I had brought with me.

I was now at 'the Y' — what BYU's 26,000 students called the university — and a new resident of Utah Valley, or Happy Valley as it was termed, since most living in the valley seemed stuck somewhere in the 50s. In truth, while American students across the country were rioting, burning their draft cards, and calling for an end to the Vietnam War and an end to the establishment, the residents of Happy Valley were blissfully removed from the social revolution of the 70s.

Since BYU was the showplace for clean-cut and clean-living LDS youth, 'the Lord's University' required all of its students to obey the laws of God. This meant obeying The Word of Wisdom, abstaining from alcohol, cigarettes, tobacco, coffee, tea, and recreational drugs. And students were expected to observe chastity and to abide by a dress code. Since a young man's hair length indicated his politics at that time in a way it hasn't done since, males were required to keep their hair cut above the ear and the collar, while sideburns, long moustaches, and beards were forbidden.

Unfortunately, I had my first run-in with the BYU Standards Office at registration the next afternoon, when a man in a black suit walked up to me and said, "Young man, please step out of the line."

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Saint Unshamed A Gay Mormon's Life"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Kerry Ashton.
Excerpted by permission of Lynn Wolf Enterprises.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Page 1-Title Page

Page 2-Publication Information including ISBN, etc.

Page 3-Previously Published by Kerry Ashton

Page 5-Page 5- B&W photo (1)

Page 6-Main Title Page

Page 7-Blank

Page 8-Dedication

Page 9-Blank

Page 10-179-Part One of text (numbered as pages 2-170)

Pages 180-190 B&W Photos (numbered pages 171-182) (22 photos)

Pages 191-344-Part Two of text (numbered pages 183-336)

Page 345-B&W Photo (numbered page 337) (1 photo)

Page 346-Acknowledgments

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