BFA Illustration (2005)
Brigham Young University – Idaho
Describe your BYU – Idaho experience
I didn’t really have any college aspirations, but my mom pushed me to go. I ended up at BYU – Idaho, mostly because the church schools were cheaper, and seemed like a logical next step for a Mormon kid.
At the time, I was far from being out. I was still repressing my sexuality pretty hard. I didn’t date at all during school, but that had more to do with me being a highly introverted nerd than it did with me being gay (although looking back, it probably had a little bit to do with being gay, too). I do remember having crushes on a few girls, but I was quick to shove them away. All of this is to say, LGBTQ+ stuff didn’t factor much into my BYU – Idaho experience. I simply wasn’t paying attention to it, or was consciously ignoring it.
I spent my time there focusing on my studies. I majored in art and worked toward becoming an illustrator. I loved the art faculty and fellow illustration students there. I still keep in touch with some of them. I am happy that I was able to go to BYU – Idaho. I think it was ultimately helpful for me to go to a church school because I was surrounded by mostly positive people who held high standards. The art department was genuinely concerned about not just teaching art, but teaching the students to make a positive contribution to the world with whatever they created. That’s what impresses me most about my education at BYU – Idaho to this day.
I think my time at school would have been more negative if I was out or was more aware of my sexuality. I know LGBTQ+ students have a hard time at the BYU schools, and I want them to feel validated in that. Even though my own experience was good, I still have misgivings about it. I feel sad that I couldn’t be out when I was in school. I think I would have been more confident and happy. Perhaps I would have found LGBTQ+ friends. Maybe I’d be further in life than where I am now. I am happy that things have changed in small but significant ways for LGBTQ+ students since my time there, because it would have meant the world to me.
Describe your post-BYU experience
Soon after I graduated and returned home from school, my parents and both of my sisters stopped going to church. I had to decide for myself whether I wanted to continue or not. My relationship with the church up to that point was just kind of…tepid. I was neither super enthusiastic, nor rebellious. It was like a habit. It would have been pretty easy to walk away.
For some reason, I felt a strong impression to stay. I felt weird and awkward about it because it was strange to go to church without my family there, and I didn’t have any close friends in my ward. It was a very lonely time, and I wasn’t sure if I even had a testimony or not. My sisters would return to church a few years later, but I look back and am grateful I had the opportunity to decide for myself to make religion a part of my life, without family or friends or school to pressure me into it.
My attitude toward church changed significantly in the following years. It was still tough, but through serving in callings in Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary, and in participating in a small Young Single Adults group, my ward became like family. It wasn’t just a social thing though; I had significant spiritual experiences too. I received courage to pursue my job as an illustrator. I worked through some of my anxiety issues. I enjoyed being able to step outside of myself and serve others. I happily received my endowment. For the first time, I was developing a real testimony of God and the gospel.
I had a strong hope that I would marry in the temple and start a family. I became somewhat desperate to find a husband because I thought if I did, I wouldn’t have to deal with the same-sex attraction issues that I knew I had. There was a period of time when I genuinely thought I had overcome those issues because I had become so deeply involved with church and hadn’t looked at a girl in ages. But that hope disappeared quickly because they eventually resurfaced, and this time it was many times stronger than before. I think it had a lot to do with seeing my sisters and friends get married and move on with their lives. Now, I’m seeing kids I taught in Young Women and Primary have kids of their own. It made me look at my life and realize how much it had come to a complete standstill because I couldn’t admit this one thing about myself.
I was in my thirties when I finally went on my first date with a woman. I thought I’d feel guilty and sneaky about it, but afterward I had never felt so peaceful. Everything suddenly made sense.
I’ve since come out publicly. I’ve been fortunate to be largely supported by my family, friends, and ward. I’ve gotten to meet other LDS LGBTQ+ people, which has been amazing because I thought I was alone in this experience for so long. I try to share my own story whenever I can so other LGBTQ+ Mormons don’t have to feel alone either.
The whole experience has made me happier and more hopeful. I am more confident in my life and in my work. Having so many personal problems is tough when you are in a creative field, because so much of your life bleeds into your work. I was in a slump for a long while, and my career took a nosedive because of it. Since coming out I’ve been able to be more open and creative and personal in my art, which has helped me get my professional life back on course. It’s been a great benefit that I hadn’t really anticipated.
I still attend church and have a testimony of the gospel. Coming out was a most spiritual experience for me, and also the most devastating. I thought I would lose all the faith and friendships that I had worked so hard to gain in those years after school. However, it ended up helping me form a personal relationship with God because I clung to it while my world seemed to fall apart. My relationship with the church has changed a lot. I still love it, but I feel less bound by it. I want to live my life in a way that makes me happy, and I believe God wants that for me too. There are things about church doctrine and Mormon culture that I wholeheartedly disagree with, but I also hold onto the good things I get from it and hope for change. I don’t know what my future holds, but I am more positive about it than I’ve ever been.
What advice or wisdom would you share with a current LGBTQ+ BYU – Idaho student?
Just know that you are not alone and there is a bright future ahead of you. There is such a big world outside of BYU and the church. Enjoy the positive things you can get from the Mormon community, but don’t cling to the things that are harmful or hold you back. By being your true self, you are much stronger and more significant than you think.
Are there any other thoughts or experiences you would like to share?
Gay Mormons are often presented with only two choices— stay in the church and be alone for the rest of your life, or leave the church in order to have a romantic relationship. I think that idea is very harmful. Neither option is bad per se, if it works for you. It’s when people get stuck between those two options that they feel torn and in despair, and too often, suicidal. I was stuck in that place for a long time, and it almost broke me. I want other LDS LGBTQ+ people to know that they have so many more options for their life. You are allowed to create whatever balance you need between your LDS and LGBTQ+ parts of your self in order to survive, and thrive. You don’t have to have other people tell you how gay you’re supposed to be or how Mormon you’re supposed to be. I personally am living somewhere in the in-between. It’s where I feel I’m supposed to be, and where I’m most happy.
Posted May 2018