Derek F

Derek F

BS International Relations ('12)

Describe your BYU experience

Growing up as a kid, I always fit the role of outsider well. I fit in, just not too well. I attributed that to my Mormonism: I have a unique spirituality, others just didn't relate to that side of me. I needed to be around those whom I shared a lot with, so BYU felt the right choice for me! I believed in my heart that I could truly focus on myself by being around people that understood me.

The reality was much different when I arrived, however – I still didn't quite fit in. I mean, I had great friendships! My friends saw my heart even before I knew it. I kept thinking I was the problem, doomed due to my porn addiction. I worked alongside my friends and got my mission call – Albania – the same place my grandmother went! Now, I wouldn't say that they were the BEST two years of my life, yet they were the most impactful.

I fit in with the Albanians like a puzzle piece fits next to another – they're an incredibly forward and social people! The challenge was actually the mission – sharing those beliefs with another culture, one you don't understand, especially when you are unsure yourself does not compare. I heard stories of torture during Communism and could I ever relate? I chose to listen, they had more to teach me than I, and it made all the difference – the Albanians cared for me sincerely, inspiring me to love back.

When I got back, I started dating again, but only with my friends on double dates. In all honesty, they were a blast! I loved getting a group to get to know one another, it builds genuine connection! I never made it past two dates though, which I just thought because I was 'The Nice Guy,' the one always building up my friends but never treats himself. I was a dedicated disciple at church, holding callings but getting less interested. I felt lonelier as the years moved on, no matter how many friends I had.

I stayed true in every way possible, except in one way—porn. My friend actually got an internet filter on my computer to block it and it worked! Until the depression hit. I prayed so hard but felt so much comfort after asking for others that I got my answer – meet other gay Mormons! I finally felt on the inside, the people that shared the most with me! What proceeded was the best year of my life – I fully embraced my identity and enjoyed some of the most spiritual and emotional connections with people I will always hold dear. I finally found my people – friends who understood me and helped me understand myself – at last, I was no longer lost, I found my answers so long sought. That peace is incomparable!

I shared that love through my classes – my professors were so profound! Professor Merrill, my foreign policy professor, with real experiences from wars abroad, had such a candid take on the world it opened my mind. Professor Bowen lived for years in the Middle East so she always challenged my knowledge and beliefs, which helped me evaluate the world more honestly. She even talked to me after I received my diploma! She took me for a walk and told me her brother is gay. She told me that she always accepted him, always loved him and kept him close. She knew my heart and told me to keep learning, keep loving, that I can have a good touch on the world. The people I met always showed me pure love, so I graduated with gratitude in my heart that I went to BYU. It was a challenge and I made the best of it, and found the community I had sought for years – in the heart.

Describe your post-BYU experiences

Life after BYU has taken me on the adventure I always wanted but never thought I'd embark on. After I left BYU, my first course of action was to leave the church – I needed to explore the sides of me I had hidden all these years! I then deconstructed my beliefs, because I didn't know if I believed the things I've been taught because they were true or if it was all I was raised with! I admitted that I would learn with an open heart and be honest to others and myself, to never lie again. That was the best moral guideline to follow in the years to come.
Then, I took off! I went to Alaska, met a guy, and traveled the Caribbean together (until we realized we couldn't stand each other). I chased another guy to Salt Lake and finally lived with hippies (and loved it). However, I was unemployed for a few months. Work was hard to come by in Salt Lake. My dad offered me to move home and work with him rent free and make some money. I instantly took it, a decision that transformed my family completely. I stood up to my father's father when no one else ever had, earning true respect from my dad (he still raves about it to my brothers). My mom and I share such meaningful and loving conversations. I created lasting memories with my siblings.

When I lived there, I met my first true love. We easily fell for one another, bringing unbridled happiness in my life, yet I still went to Alaska that summer, which I regret to this day. Up there, that summer, I had experiences which scarred me, ultimately causing my boyfriend to leave me, alone in the North with barely any friends around me. It was hard to leave those depths, but I did heal, through therapy, honestly confronting every weakness I had. I reached out to every friend I had made and they all shared so much love with me that I finally learned to love myself then encouraged others to do the same. I strengthened instantly and realized I needed roots, so I settled down, in Seattle, which has now been my home for over three years.

Professionally, I have been working on building my resume while I network, because it is hard to get noticed in such a fast-growing city as Seattle, so I'm valuing my network. I have found a strong and diverse friend group, all challenging each other in different and beneficial ways. I hope to still get a job along my major – International Relations – someday at a nonprofit, or something fitting. I'm patient in pursuing that, so I am cherishing my moments and connections I have. I socialize in my gay community often, it's still my home. Dating brings worthwhile experiences, yet true connection is hard to come by. Again, I'm patient.

My siblings are my foundation and we are a true and dedicated team, no matter what. I try to continuously be a good example to them by living the life I preach about myself. The experiences I had ultimately worked together towards my good as I honestly confronted and accepted them. I hope others can aspire to their best selves, the world would be all better for it!

What advice or wisdowm would you share with a current LGBTQ+ BYU student?

Cherish your friendships, we all need each other more than we realize! We can achieve so much more together. They helped me understand that decisions have consequences, which isn’t a bad thing – every step you take transports you somewhere new and exciting! Just be prepared to accept whatever occurs as a result of your decisions and tackle each problem day by day. There are always pros and cons, so it is best to move forward confidently and honestly. Undoubtedly, honesty truly is the best policy! When I came out, I vowed never to lie again and it has helped me effectively confront the issues at hand and work to improve. You aren’t the only one who’s ever struggled, so share your story, weaknesses and all! You’ll be surprised how many people relate maybe not to the exact experience, but to the feelings you’ve felt. We can grow stronger as we work together, so I am grateful for the honesty and strength of my friends. It has made all the difference in my life!

Are there any other thoughts or experiences you would like to share?

When I was a teenager, my friend wrote on her mirror, "We must be the change we want to see in the world." I believe in honesty and kindness so I reflect it in my life as well. I am grateful for my journey and hope more of us can realize how truly unique we are, in or out of the Church. We have been given a challenging yet highly rewarding path! I know it can sound cheesy, I truly am optimistic about our future, we just have to live positively ourselves in order to manifest it elsewhere.

Posted May 2018