BA International Relations '11
Describe your BYU experience:
To me, BYU was always the likely choice. I'm a Provo kid, born and raised. My family lived just over a mile away from BYU campus until I was 15, when we moved out of the country when my parents were called as mission presidents. I received a letter of recommendation of an area authority to go to BYU, and it ended up being the only place I applied to. Of course, the cost and the proximity to my parents' home were also pretty good incentives.
As a very Mormon kid who drank the Mormon Kool-Aid so hard in effort to cure my "same gender attraction", BYU was the ideal place to go to continue on that vein. It fit into the perfect Mormon plan I had set for myself, and there really wasn't any other alternative. So, I started at BYU at 18, right after returning with my parents from their mission. I enrolled and went through two semesters, all the while preparing for my own mission, another key aspect of my plan.
At the time, I truly believed that by taking all the prescribed steps in walking the path that the Church expected me to, I would be cured of my homosexuality. Retroactively, it's easy for me to see that I was trying to convince myself of my testimony to fit the world I was living in, but back then, I really felt that I had a true testimony of the Church and its principles. As a former mission president's son, I had been surrounded by missionaries for the past 3 years, done multiple Preach my Gospel trainings, and even participated in teaching my non-member friends and eventually even baptizing one. I was, for all intents and purposes, a full fledged practicing and believing Mormon. I hoped to go on a mission, return and find a wife to marry, and have a full family and live in Utah for the rest of my days, all the while feeling a deep sense of confliction about my attraction towards men.
After those two semesters, I left on my mission. I thrived as a missionary. I already spoke the language, had been training in Preach My Gospel for years, and found it easy to talk to people. But there were also a lot of shall we say, distractions, along the way. The MTC was full of hormonal, physically deprived 19 year olds, and that didn’t change out in the field. I was fully aware throughout my mission that I was still attracted to men. There were many moments of guilt and fear and tears and praying and confusion, especially when it turned out that two of my mission companions were gay. One went home for depression and for his mental well-being, and the other was sent home after he discovered he had AIDS. I was deeply impacted by those experiences, feeling that God was punishing us. And then there were our gay investigators. Having to walk through our doctrine with them, and explain to them how homosexuality was an abomination in the eyes of God and that they would have to change this part of themselves to take part in the Atonement nearly broke me as I saw the confusion, sadness, and self-hate I saw enter their eyes as a result of MY words.
About 18 months in, I realized that things weren’t going to change. I had been a stalwart (in my eyes) missionary, doing everything I was supposed to, and yet there I was, still oggling cute guys on the street and gay as ever. But it never occurred to me to go home and leave my mission early. Although I was finally resigned to being gay my whole life, being okay with it and letting any one else know was out of the question at the time. I couldn’t risk my family life, and was terrified I would be rejected by everyone I knew, let alone get kicked out of BYU before I had even begun. So I stayed, and played the part of a missionary. I tried to focus on the service elements of the mission, even though I could quickly feel my certainty in my testimony of the Church slipping away. I finished my mission in 2008.
I returned to BYU that fall. I dove into my studies, never taking less than 15 credits a semester, trying to distract myself with homework and extracurricular activities. I went on two “dates” with girls that semester - a very casual one as a friend to a girl from my childhood, and the other with a sister missionary from my mission. Of course, neither resulted in anything romantic, and I felt even more confirmation that I would never change this part of myself. I ran through the motions with church leaders, just enough interaction to get my ecclesiastical endorsement, and attended church just to get my name marked on the attendance roles and be marked as “active”. I often would find myself skipping the secondary meetings to go play piano in the RB alone. It was incredibly lonely and I longed for someone to open up to, to be myself with.
I found myself making quiet weekend trips up to SLC’s gay club scene, both out of intrigue and as a way to distance myself from seeing anyone I knew. There I met a group of men who immediately took me into their group of friends (who were mostly comprised of members of QUAC, the Queer Utah Aquatic Club). They invited me to a New Year’s Eve party, where I met some of my first gay friends. I also met my first boyfriend there. My perspective changed on being gay and what I could get out of life. My circle of gay friends widened, even to the point where I met other gay men at BYU. I quietly came out to acquaintances and/or childhood friends who I suspected were also gay. I can say that my outlook on life was drastically improved. For the next four years, I lived a double life at BYU, one as a full fledged mormon and the other as an actively dating gay man. I had three fairly serious relationships throughout my time at BYU, finally meeting and engaging my now husband of 6 years, after both of our separate gay friend groups (there were often small groups of gay men who only knew each other, creating an underground network of sorts of gay men and women and allies that would often intersect) set us up independently with each other.
Being in a gay relationship on BYU campus was…..interesting. Our dates often ended up in a different county to avoid being recognized by anyone. On campus, we would secretly bump elbows while walking next to each other to signify we would be holding hands if we could. We developed code words to say “I love you” in chat messages in case someone inadvertently saw our screen, and a hastily typed “OPV” (Otros Pueden Ver, or Others Can see) when we saw the other was about to chat something sensitive. However, our relationship blossomed in the support of close friends and real, true love found by finally being ourselves and being loved for it.
That time wasn’t without challenges. I had two run-ins with the Honor Code office. An angry ex-boyfriend sent pictures of me in a gay club to my family and the Honor Code Office. Lying through my teeth out of desperation, I managed to pass the interrogation and my family’s confusion and continue at BYU. Later, they called me and my husband (also a BYU student) with accusations that we had posted on Facebook that we were engaged (we hadn’t, but we later found out another gay friend’s best friend turned in anyone he knew, including us, because he wouldn’t date her). Again, we lied through our teeth to avoid getting kicked out, having his roommates, who knew and were very accepting, vouch for us. But more and more, I began accepting myself and loving myself and learning how to support others as well. I participated in the development of the USGA group (Understanding Same Gender Attraction, an unsanctioned group that met on campus), and joining in on some local non-discrimination ordinance advocacy work for housing in Provo city. The more people I met who were accepting, the more I was able to accept myself for who I was.
Looking back, I am very grateful to have attended BYU. I met my husband there, made some of the closest friends I’ll ever have there, and I received a quality education that set me on a path to a Masters degree and a relatively successful career. I had many amazing professors, including Professor Gubler, one of my Middle Eastern politics professors who opened my eyes to understanding sociopolitical issues from every perspective, and Professor Waters, one of my economics professors who was pivotal in setting me on the path towards being an analyst today. I loved the campus, the facilities, and many of the people. Today, many of my friends, fellow students, and colleagues I met there are more than supportive of me and my husband. I’ve received so many unexpected words of love and support from some of those people I felt most worried about losing. Notwithstanding the double life, I feel like BYU gave me a chance to transition from my repressed self into my real self, with the support from many individuals who stood by me and let me know that no matter what happened, they’d be there for me.
Describe your post-BYU experience:
The day I graduated, I moved to California with my then fiancé. Literally, my family held a party, then we packed up the U-Haul and left that very day. I hadn’t come out to my family yet, and they were perplexed with the move, although they knew him and he had already essentially been accepted as an addition to the family as my best friend. We moved into a one bedroom apartment near the university where he was accepted into law school, and where I would eventually complete my Masters degree. We immediately stopped attending church, and began living a very agnostic life. I will admit, it was challenging at first to not have a checklist of doctrines and commandments to guide my life and validate me as a good person, but I eventually learned to live without religion, quietly dodging my parents’ inquiries about my church attendance.
I came out to my family a few months later, which I felt finally able to do thanks to the distance and the safety I felt being in a different state. The fact that I had my college diploma safely in hand and my wedding was fast-approaching didn’t hurt as well. Although many of my siblings took it in stride and were very supportive from the start, it hit my parents hard and definitely upended my family life for the following months. My relationship with my mother struggled, something that hurt almost more than anything else. But eventually, we began communicating again, and, with many a push/shove from my more supportive siblings, my parents began to be more accepting. Not everyone in my family came to my wedding, including my parents, but today, 6 years later, they are about as close to accepting as anyone can be. My husband is viewed as a member of the family, he was a pall-bearer at my grandmothers funeral, and we spend Christmas and Thanksgiving in Utah with my family on alternating years with his family.
It was still a transition though. I worked for a year in accounting at a property management company in Newport Beach in Orange County, CA, one of the more conservative areas in California. Although my coworkers were friendly, I still didn’t know how to come out to a stranger. I slipped up my first day, when they saw the ring on my ring finger and asked if I was married. I said I was engaged….then quickly remembered that guys don’t typically wear engagement rings! They started asking more questions, and in haste I used the wrong pronoun, called my fiancé a “she”, and from then on, felt too uncomfortable telling them the truth. My husband TO THIS DAY still gives me crap for pulling that stunt.
We got married later that year, with many friends and family attending. I remember becoming speechless with emotion as I spoke to the family members that did attend as we got dressed in the hotel room. Through rolling tears, I thanked them for being there at my wedding, something I had never envisioned as possible. To this day, I have never felt more loved by family.
After a year working, I began my two-year Master program, timed perfectly so that my husband and I would graduate at the same time and start our real adult lives together. I remember my first day at orientation, introducing myself and saying nonchalantly “my husband is in law school here” and watching the group just move on to the next person without batting an eye. That was another pivotal moment in my life - the first time coming out to a group of strangers, so that they would only know me as a gay man. For once, I was completely myself with people I had never met. It was a beautiful thing.
Through the next several years, I maintained a positive relationship with the Mormon church. I’m pretty sure my Dad sent the missionaries to our house at one time, and we humored them and allowed them to teach us a lesson (out in the apartment building hallway, since they were sister missionaries, even though we insisted they had nothing to worry about). I never became “anti”, and was more than happy to explain the Mormon perspective to my friends who were so intrigued to hear about this “cult”. I think for several years, I still identified culturally as Mormon. My name was still on the Church membership list, and I wasn’t inclined to go through the process of getting it removed, content to simply let it be. But then the news of the Church’s decision to exclude children of gay parents from getting baptized until 18 came out and my relationship with the Church severely deteriorated. I immediately sent in letters to have my name removed from the membership list, and felt a sense of relief when I received the confirmation letter that it was done.
I am still not anti-mormon. I can clearly see how my life was positively impacted by my time spent as a member, thanks to the social support infrastructure, the focus on family, and many other elements. And with time, I found that the best way to receive acceptance is to demonstrate acceptance back. I often find myself discussing church doctrine with my mother, always from a clearly agnostic perspective, but making sure that she felt heard and respected. This has really helped make our relationship work. On top of that, I realized that at least for a while, I had to be the one to make the effort to reach out to my Mormon family members and friends, and others who were less accepting, and extend a branch of understanding. As a former Mormon, I had a unique perspective that allowed me to see the world from their point of view which really helped when I try to explain my own.
I am glad to say that today, I am more me than I have ever been (to quote Jennifer Garner in “Love Simon”). I am closer to my family than I have ever been, because they now know the real me. I have found easy acceptance at work and in my professional life. The world has changed so much since I was younger for the LGBTQ+ community. It really DID get better!
What advice or wisdom would you share with a current LGBTQ+ BYU student?
I'm not entirely certain how the culture toward the LGBTQ+ community at BYU has changed since I left, but I imagine it is still challenging and scary for LGBTQ+ individuals. So, on top of reiterating that it DOES get better, here are a few thoughts:
My first word of advice would be to find a supportive community, whether that means a single person, a small group of friends or a support organization like the OUT Foundation). For someone who had spent so much time in the closet, a major fear of mine was not knowing who I would be as a gay man. Your support group will allow you to be yourself, and to learn what that feels like.
Secondly, I would say to give some credit to your family members and friends. I can't promise that all families will be accepting and supportive, but one of the things my family is most sad about is that I didn't give them the benefit of the doubt or even a chance to be supportive. And if they aren't supportive, remember you aren't alone. We've got your back and are here for you!
Finally, I just want to provide a reminder that the LGBTQ+ community is a veritable rainbow of individuals and that we all rise together. I've seen too many instances of LGBTQ+ individuals who are content with supporting causes that directly impact themselves and their segment of the community, but leave the other segments to face their challenges alone. Remember that even though we have seen a lot of progress in the past few years for some of our communities, there is still much to be done to support each and every member of our community.
Posted July 2018