Steven Fales’ one-man show ‘Confessions of a Mormon Boy’ skewers his religious upbringing, but his real mission is to show gay youth that it really does get better
Eisemann Center, 2352
Performance Drive, Richardson. Dec. 9 at 7:30 p.m. $25–$150.
Steven Fales knows something about growing up gay in the church. A sixth generation Mormon, he married and had two children before coming out. And along the way, got heavily into the sex trade and drugs.
But Fales also knows something about turning his life around — and turning his experiences into something original. He’s in town for a one-night-only performance of his hit one-man show, Confessions of a Mormon Boy, presented in conjunction with Youth First Texas.
Before his return to Dallas, Fales talked to us about how his play has become a trilogy and why, excommunication aside, he’s still on a spiritual quest.
— Arnold Wayne Jones
Dallas Voice: Obviously, you grew up Mormon and that influenced your show. What was the path from your experience to the stage? Steven Fales: I’m one of those Brokeback Mormon train wrecks where the children were the blessing. But I wouldn’t even have children if it weren’t for the Mormon machine — and I wouldn’t have material for my show!
I have an MFA in acting [from Brigham Young University] and did a lot of Shakespeare and musicals and then my life fell apart. I just intuitively knew I needed to write about it. The first version was back in November of 2001, and it just grew and grew. Confessions had a nice run off Broadway so I spun off Missionary Position which is very well on its way to being complete and just did a benefit staged reading of Who’s Your Daddy? All of a sudden, you have a trilogy. All three 90-minute plays will be done in repertory in Fort Lauderdale next spring. My “Mormon Conquests.”
I read a recent study that said Salt Lake City is, as a percentage, one of the gayest cities in the nation. What do you think accounts for that? Here are some theories. A lot of Mormons went out there and were an isolated gene pool for a while so you might have a genetic factor there. Mormonism is the extreme expression of patriarchy [which may attract gay people]. The amount of gays in that system reminds the system just how unbalanced it is. My excommunication, that’s [an example of how] Mormons try to erase all evidence that they also created it.
Also, to live that good, perfect, Mormon life takes gay people. It takes gays to be charismatic preachers and sing in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. To go on your mission at 19, you had to be a virgin. Many straight guys had fooled around but the gays had suppressed it. My own adolescence was delayed. I can’t tell you how many Mormon missionaries I served with in Portugal came out later.
It makes sense that a play like this would succeed in cosmopolitan cities, but what about smaller towns? Have you been surprised at how well it does in unexpected places? It finds its audience everywhere. I’ve been wildly successful in Salt Lake City and smaller places. I think it’s the Mormon thing, too.
Yeah, what is it about good Christian boys gone gay that we find so fascinating, especially Mormons? It’s a curious piece of Americana. It’s easy to make fun of them and they’re hot! You wanna corrupt them because of it. The juxtaposition of virginity and sexuality is too delicious.
Do you think it’s ex-churchgoing gays who come or ones who still feel connected to their religious roots? My queer spiritual community definitely finds me, but straight people burned by their religions or ostracized by the church of their birth also find the show. This is my effort to find where we fit in as gays and lesbians. There’s a lot of anger in the gay community toward religion and I want to reclaim our spirituality as gay men. It looks different than we were told, but it’s there for us.
I take on Mormonism and the sex industry — how I descended into escorting and crystal meth and how I reclaimed myself after that. It’s not just about religion — there’s a secular part too. It’s a gay everyman story.
For the performance this week, you’ve teamed up with Youth First Texas. What led you to do that? Chris-James Cognetta contacted me and I’ve never played Dallas so this is the perfect opportunity. I’m hoping the show will give these youth an example of not playing victim even when you have every right to be one. I’ve had two cousins who committed suicide, and there was a slow, steady suicide track that I was on when I was selling myself and using meth. I want to help our youth not go down that path. With the suicides we’ve been having, we need to give kids the tools to deal with this. Your parents might say this and your church may do that, but you don’t need to buy into that.
Do you consider yourself still a Mormon or a Christian? Are you religious or just spiritual? They excommunicated me and I saw how false much of the doctrine was. I don’t believe in golden plates or that Joseph Smith was more spiritual than you or me. I like to say I’m no longer a Latter-day Saint but something about me will always be Mormon. My people settled Utah and I celebrate the culture, but I do not endorse the doctrines, such as support Proposition 8. I did convert to become an Episcopalian about three years ago — I felt I needed a new church to bash.
How’s that working out for you? Great! They’ll take anyone. You can believe anything and I love coffee hour; I love the music; I love trying to listen to things that will help me. I think on a spiritual path, you do need a few guides, even if it’s Deepak Chopra or reading a few books. I think science and religion are both a quest to uncover the mystery of what God is. We’re all searching for truth. I think it shows a way to essentially love other people. We’re all interconnected. We should act that way.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 3, 2010.