Mormon Underwear By Johnny Townsend

Phoenix New Times/September 16, 2010

Stephenie Meyer is probably the most well-known "Mormon author" of our times, and much has been made of her Twilight book series about young, seductive vampires.

But if anybody in the Mormon Church finds Meyer's books a little too racy, they'd absolutely crap themselves if they ever read Mormon Underwear (, Johnny Townsend's new collection of short stories about gay Mormons.

Like Matt R. Salmon, whom we profiled in this week's cover story, "Over the Rainbow," Townsend was raised in the Mormon Church and struggled against his homosexuality.

Though Salmon voluntarily had his name removed from church records while Townsend was excommunicated, they had the same struggle -- growing up gay in a religion that fervently condemns homosexuality.

The thirteen stories in Mormon Underwear capture this struggle with humor, sadness, insight, and sometimes shocking details. Every story revolves around a character struggling against his nature, trying to reconcile his faith in and love for God with his sexuality. And at the core of every tale is the idea that there are two choices for gay Mormons if they wish to remain in the church: celibacy or hypocrisy.

In "Sex Organs," the main character, Larry, has chosen celibacy. He's 70 years old, still a virgin, and has just been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Larry rejoices when told he has six months to live. After his prayers to be made heterosexual or rendered comatose went unanswered, Larry praises God for fulfilling his wish to die. But when a male escort wants Larry to do more than just watch, he faces the most difficult test of his life.

The story "Dirty Cock Sucker" is told from the perspective of a straight Mormon man, who discovers his father (a former Mormon bishop) has been having sex with men since being widowed ten years ago. Near the end of the story, he asks his father if he can watch him with another man. A disturbingly detailed scene ensues.

Townsend isn't beating around the bush here. Some passages in Mormon Underwear may be hard for the average reader to digest, particularly the plethora of sex scenes. Thankfully, the reader's given abject comic relief at points.

Our favorite passage comes from "Splitting with Elder Tanner," where Townsend writes of the Mormon Church: "In the past, polygamy was a commandment. In the past, interracial marriage was against Church teachings, and Blacks couldn't hold the priesthood. It was possible that at some future date, the prophet would have a revelation accepting homosexuality."

Whether or not that happens, Mormon Underwear provides compelling stories, literally from the inside-out.

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