B.A. in Media Studies ('12)
Describe your BYU experience
I was not out at BYU, not even to myself. It was a relief to be among fellow Mormons in college and know that my standards would never be seriously questioned or attacked. Still, my freshman year began with the heat of the Prop 8 debate and that was super uncomfortable. My brother (my only sibling) is gay, and I only disclosed that to a select few girls in my dorm floor who I felt would be sympathetic to my plight — this plight of feeling my loyalties being pulled in opposing directions (loyalty to my brother and to my faith). I was worried the other girls, my potential new friends, might ostracize me for being gay-friendly when so many professors and our bishopric were constantly emphasizing the importance of Prop 8. My roommate was a Californian and, as per the weekly requests over the pulpit in our student ward, made regular phone calls to voters back home to explain why gay marriage was bad. I never told her how tense I was.
What made me feel like there could be a place for me at BYU was my introductory film class, taught by Dean Duncan. He was as unapologetic in sharing his liberal leanings as most other BYU professors were in broadcasting their conservatism. At the same time, he still found seamless ways to integrate faith and scripture into his classes, which gave me hope that you really could be a Mormon and be liberal. The rest of the film faculty also helped me feel like I could fit in in this way. Kathryn Isaak of the Humanities department did the same. I spent many, many, many hours in her office talking not only about frivolous things but about some of my spiritual crises, and she always guided me through them without judgment.
I was totally devout at BYU. I loved Relief Society, I read the scriptures regularly, I attended church regularly (and not just for the ecclesiastical endorsement). I was excited at the prospect of getting advanced degrees and coming back to teach with the film faculty that I loved so much.
Dating at BYU was kind of the worst! That is the only experience I wish I could go back and change. Those were lost years. The persistent "date or die" culture in Provo is so suffocating and stressful. It never would've occurred to me to try dating girls. I think it's amazing that a queer culture has started to blossom in Provo in the few short years since I graduated, with USGA and now Encircle.
Describe your post-BYU experience
I went to USC to get my Master's Degree in Film, and that's where everything started to change. Though I'd initially been afraid that my cohort would mock me for being a Mormon, that assumption could not have been further from the truth. Everybody was extremely supportive. One guy ran across a room at a party once to prevent me from accidentally drinking something with alcohol in it. Classmates apologized for their sailor mouths, even though I never asked anyone to stop cursing. They really had my back.
The first time I came home for a visit, I went to lunch with a former Young Women's leader and she asked me what the biggest difference was between BYU and USC. I said, "gay kids can be out and exist there to the fullest." There were several queer students in my cohort, living happy, open lives. Around the time I was witnessing their example — that gay students didn't need to live underground, like they had at BYU when I was there — I started to develop romantic feelings for a close friend. A friend who was not a cis man. Because of my supportive roommates, classmates and advisor at USC, I was able to weather this sudden identity crisis and come out in one piece. When I started coming out, none of my friends interrogated me about my religion, which I appreciated. I didn't have to defend anything.
Unfortunately, as time went on, things at church did not improve. The exclusion policy made me feel once and for all that Mormonism doesn't want me. I've been blessed to have the most supportive ward, understanding bishops, and truly loving friends—but that's not enough to withstand a testimony. I can go to my home ward and feel totally accepted, but I can't feel hope in the gospel like I used to.
My newfound queer identity set my professional life off-course. After graduating from USC, I taught as an adjunct at BYU with my beloved film faculty. It was implied that when I got my PhD, I would be joining them full time. In most ways, the teaching was a dream come true. But being unable to be openly queer, at least unable to openly date the way I wanted to, was a dealbreaker. Walking away from that opportunity is one of the hardest things I've ever done.
But I wouldn't trade my identity for anything.
What advice or wisdom would you share with a current LGBT+ BYU student?
You will find your people. You will find allies in unexpected places. You are allowed to have a voice, and you are allowed to share it. Stand up for yourself at church, if you go. When people tell you that the only identity/label you should give yourself is "child of God," and that any other identities are the world's way of being divisive, remind them that "we are as different as the sun and the sea—and that's the way it is supposed to be."
Any other thoughts or experiences you'd like to share?
The first person I came out to was a former Young Women's leader. She urged me to come out to the ward so that people would know there was a gay person among them. That ward knew me as a super active member, someone who loved speaking in church, someone who attended every activity with enthusiasm – someone who couldn't be dismissively written off as someone trying to be rebellious. I told her I was afraid of making people uncomfortable if I outed myself at church or, basically, stood up for myself. She said, "How many times have people made YOU feel uncomfortable at church because of stupid things they said? Because of things they just believe? This is something you ARE, something you KNOW. If they can't handle discomfort at hearing your experience, that's their problem." Thanks to her, I've never really shut up since!
Posted May 2018