Stuart Matis, a member of the LDS church who had struggled with his homosexuality, committed suicide on February 25. Here, a former bishop who counseled Stuart reflects on his life.
I returned home after midnight on Monday night, February 28, to find a message on my answering machine saying that my friend Stuart Matis had taken his life. It took me a long time to get to sleep, and then I slept fitfully. The next morning, heavy of heart, I drove to a meeting in Monterey, about 40 miles down the coast from Santa Cruz, where I live.
To try and find some solace from the news of the night before, I listened to Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis" and Brahms's "German Requiem." Beethoven's Mass for the dead begins with a quartet of voices singing, "Kyrie eleison" (Lord have mercy). Out of that quartet, a single tenor voice repeats the Kyrie with such piercing clarity and beauty it sounds like the voice of an angel singing over the broken world. That voice became my prayer, not only for Stuart Matis but also for all of us who make up a world in which such senseless deaths as his occur.
I had been in Salt Lake City the Sunday before, addressing a gathering of gay and lesbian Latter-day Saints and their families and friends. In my remarks, I referred to Stuart, although by the pseudonym "David." I had been counseling with Stuart over the past several months and was both impressed with him as a person and terribly worried about him.
I said that Stuart "is one of the finest Latter-day Saints I have ever met, a person of great integrity who has struggled with the issues of faith and same-sex attraction for the entirety of his adult life." I spoke about our association and my attempts to convince him of God's love. I said, "I worry about this man, and I pray for him, and for the countless others like him who suffer unspeakably because, for reasons none of us understands, they love people of their own gender."
During the past year, Stuart felt inextricably caught between his intense devotion to his church and what he came to believe was the indelible nature of his sexual identity. For most of his adult life, he did not believe that his orientation was indelible; for many years, he was convinced that if he were just faithful enough, God would make him heterosexual. In a letter to his family written the night before he died, he said, "I was convinced that my desire to change my identity was a divinely inspired desire. As it turns out, God never intended that I become straight. I had engaged my mind in a false dilemma: Either one is gay or one is Christian. As I believed that I was a Christian, I believed that I could never be gay."
Within the past few months, Stuart was increasingly comfortable being truly and openly gay. Blessings given to him by his father and his bishop confirmed his identity. As he said in a letter to the Brigham Young University student newspaper, "My bishop and my father each gave me blessings inspired by the Spirit that proclaimed that I was indeed gay and that I would remain gay."
He had begun to make gay friends and with them felt at home for the first time in his life. He spoke joyfully of these associations. Not long before he died, Stuart confided to me that he had fallen in love with another man and that he was seriously considering entering into a lifelong relationship. He said, "The reason I don't like the word 'homosexual' is that the sexuality part is not the most important part of what I want. I want an intimate, loving relationship like my mother and father have."
But he had difficulty holding on to these feelings in the face of lifelong messages that told him such feelings were not only wrong but he was evil for having them. As he said in his letter to the BYU Daily Universe, "I read a recent letter to the editor with great regret. The author compared my friends and me to murderers, Satanists, prostitutes, pedophiles, and partakers of bestiality. Imagine having to live with his rhetoric constantly being spewed at you."
Also, the Mormon Church's aggressive support of Proposition 22, the "Protection of Marriage Act," on the California ballot both disturbed and depressed him. In a letter to his cousin, he wrote of hearing the news last July that the church was supporting this issue, "I cried for hours in my room, and I could do very little to console the grief of hearing this news."
I tried to convince him that he should stop reading and thinking about it. I said, "Stuart, it isn't healthy for you to be so emotionally involved in this issue." I was so concerned about him that I made him promise he would call me if he became suicidal.
Stuart's last communications are filled with feelings of self-loathing and despair. In the same letter to the BYU student newspaper, he wrote, "For ... two decades I traveled down a tortuous path of internalized homophobia, immense self-hatred, depression, and suicidal thoughts." To his family the night before he took his life, he wrote, "As you know, I have been suicidal for years, and in the past year, I have been vocal about my feelings. After a year of expressing my grief to you, I've realized that there is nothing that any of you could do to attenuate my pain. ... I simply could not live another day choking on my own feelings of inferiority."
It is startling to realize that a person of such brightness, goodness, and kindness could, through the ignorance, insensitivity, and irrational hatred of others, be reduced to such a state, and yet who among us has the strength to hold on to our sense of self in the face of a continuous maelstrom of negative feedback? We all need validation; we need the mirror of other people's faces and the echo of their voices, those of loved ones as well as strangers, to position ourselves in the world. In the letter to his family, Stuart wrote, "Throughout my life, despite all the pain that I endured, I always trusted in God and hoped for the best. This hope fed my desire to live. However, I now have become convinced that my anxieties will never be resolved. ... As I am incapable of resolving them myself, I have decided to end them in the only way I know will work. I must remove the chains of my mortality."
The saddest thing I heard about Stuart was a revelation by his mother at a memorial service held the Wednesday following his death. She quoted Stuart as saying, "I have never told you that I loved you because I was holding my feelings of love so tightly inside that I couldn't risk expressing them to anyone." Even repeating these words here fills me with profound sadness.
I feel Stuart had both a great need for love and a great capacity for love. This was evidenced by the extreme concern he had for young Latter-day Saint homosexuals. He spoke often of the teenage boys and girls who were beginning to face their homosexuality. He anguished over their loneliness. He despaired over the realization that many of them would go through the same cycle he had gone through. He wanted to save them from experiencing the anguish of soul he had suffered.
Stuart intended that the ultimate act of his life would somehow help these young people. In his letter to his family, he wrote, "Perhaps my death ... might become the catalyst for much good. I'm sure that you will now be strengthened in your resolve to teach the members and the leaders regarding the true nature of homosexuality. My life was actually killed many years ago. Your actions might help to save many young people's lives."
Driving back from Monterey the morning after I had heard of Stuart's death, I was comforted by the words of one of the choruses of Brahms's Requiem, "How lovely is thy dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts!" I miss Stuart, and I mourn for the joy he might have experienced in this life and the love he might have given to others.
In his famous meditation on death, John Donne wrote, "Who can remove from that bell [for the dying] which is passing a piece of himself out of this world? No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. ... Any man's death diminishes me, ... and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
The bell that tolls for Stuart Matis tolls for us all, for we are all diminished by his passing.