Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A review of The Gate and The Garden: The Apostate Journals of a Gay Mormon Missionary in Japan

After some concerted effort last night and an early bedtime, I finally managed to finish Corbin Brodie's 2016 book, The Gate and The Garden: The Apostate Journals of a Gay Mormon Missionary in Japan.  I downloaded this book in 2016, less than a month after it was published.  I just got around to reading it this month.  Sorry to be so slow, but I have a whole stack of books to be read and I keep finding more.

Although I have read and reviewed quite a few exmo lit books, I had kind of gotten out of the habit.  I enjoy a good story about what it's like to be Mormon, especially when the person is an ex Mormon.  There tends to be a lot less testimony sharing in books by the exmos.  Corbin Brodie (a pseudonym, as are all the names used in this book) is no longer LDS, but he did serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when he was a young lad.  In those days, missions for the guys started when they were nineteen years old; since 2012, the age limit has been set at eighteen.  I am not exactly sure when Brodie served in the Sapporo, Japan mission, but it must have been before 1991, since he makes references to the Soviet Union.

Corbin Brodie grew up in Canada.  He has a younger brother named Duncan and mentions his mother was a very faithful member of the LDS church.  Brodie and his brother were raised to be as faithful as their mother was.  Although I get the sense that Brodie wasn't exactly TBM (true believing Mormon) from the get go, he agreed to served the expected mission.  His book mostly consists of journal entries he wrote during his time abroad and while he was at the Missionary Training Center.  It also includes a few short stories.  I gather that, like me, Brodie has an impulse to write.  I'm sure writing has saved his sanity more than a few times, especially when he was living in Japan.

By his own account, Brodie got off to a good start at the training center.  He was made a leader during his weeks in Provo, learning Japanese and the missionary lifestyle.  He adjusted to life as a missionary and went to Sapporo, where over the course of two years, he went through a series of different companions.  Brodie seemed to have an affinity for Japanese and picked it up early.  In his journal, he uses a number of Japanese words for church terms.  For example, he doesn't call his companions "Elder" lastname, as Mormon missionaries call each other, Brodie calls them "Choro", which I gather is the Japanese term.  He refers to other church officials and the mission home by their Japanese terms, too.  I'm pretty sure that the missionaries in non English speaking areas do use the local terms instead of Elder, Sister, or President.  Anyway, I kind of liked that he used those terms because I enjoy picking up foreign words, even if I don't necessarily enjoy learning other languages.

At 19 years old, Brodie is now living in an environment where he is surrounded by guys his age, some of whom he finds attractive.  Given that he's a Mormon, at his sexual peak, and serving as a missionary, being gay is, to say the least, a special challenge.  Although it's not considered a sin to have "same sex attraction" (as the Mormons put it), it is considered sinful to act on that attraction.  So, I can only imagine that as difficult as being a missionary must have been, it must have been even more difficult to be a gay missionary.  Add in the fact that Brodie didn't seem to enjoy Japan that much (he mentions not liking the food), and probably would not have had a whole lot of time to enjoy it even if he did, and you have two challenging years.

Brodie is musical and creative, but listening to music that isn't church approved is forbidden.  Still, he manages to play the piano sometimes.  He seems to have some good experiences with Japanese locals, many of whom don't want to be church members, but are okay with simply being friends.  He has some good companions who are friendly and some who are "hardasses" bucking for rank or simply people with whom he has nothing in common.  Through it all, though he serves faithfully, Brodie realizes that he doesn't really believe in Mormonism.  It's getting harder and harder for him to pretend to have a testimony.  Finally, during his second year, just four months before he's scheduled to leave Japan, he has a crisis of sorts.  He makes it known that he wants to leave Japan.

Brodie's leaders do all they can to convince Brodie to stay in country and finish his mission.  They tell him if he leaves early, he'll be on the hook for the $2000 plane ticket.  Brodie realizes he'll have to work a long time to be able to pay off that debt.  I actually had to laugh at this, not because it's funny, but because essentially Brodie was kind of being "trafficked".  It doesn't sound that different than the women who are brought into foreign countries and forced to work off the price of their plane tickets.  Also, while I'm still not sure what years Brodie was serving, $2000 must have been an astronomical amount of money at that time.  It's a lot now.

Brodie also considers his mother, a very faithful TBM who is in school earning her social work degree.  He doesn't want to disappoint her or his brother, who has also put in his papers to go on a mission.  Eventually, he is convinced to stay and sent to the mission home to finish out his last four months.  The mission home is less onerous, except that Brodie chafes under the rules, including the one that doesn't allow him to cross the street to buy a candy bar without a companion with him.

Brodie's story ends rather abruptly.  There's no neat wrap up at the end of his journals, although he does provide an interesting afterword.  He's now living in the United Kingdom and has a son, although he is no longer romantically involved with his son's mother (she's a dear friend).  He's still gay.  After he returned home from Japan, he took about three months to break it to his mother that he didn't want to be LDS.  And his mother, to her great credit, eventually accepted it, although it was very hard for her.

Although I don't remember if he mentioned it, I got the idea that Brodie's mother must have been from Scotland.  He writes of going to Edinburgh before the mission and missing Scotland.  I can relate to how much he misses Scotland, since it's one of my favorite places.  I also got the sense that even if Brodie hadn't been homosexual, he would have left Mormonism.  It seemed to me that his intellect was too sharp to accept what the church teaches wholesale.  He couldn't make 2+2=5, like some people can.

My one criticism about Brodie's book is that it's very long.  Although his writing is very good and engaging, it was tough going getting through this book, particularly with the inclusion of the short stories.  I realize that he basically published his journals as he wrote them, but personally, I think this book would have been stronger if it had been abridged somewhat.  The short stories were of good quality, but they kind of took away the flow of Brodie's missionary story.  I love a good short story, but I don't like to be distracted when I'm reading.  I felt the fiction pieces were somewhat a distraction.

I do think this book would be well-received by ex Mormons, especially male homosexuals who have served missions.  I think they will be especially able to relate to Brodie's experiences.  I was happy to read that as hard as the mission was, it didn't seem like the whole thing was a waste of time.  He did seem to come away from the experience with friends, some of whom I hope remained friends after he left the church.

Anyway, if I were going to assign a rating, I think I'd give The Gate and The Garden: The Apostate Journals of a Gay Mormon Missionary in Japan a solid four stars out of five.  It's well worth reading if you're interested.




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