Portrait by Spencer Ruiz

Portrait by Spencer Ruiz

Hayden D

BFA Graphic Design ('14)

Describe your BYU experience:

My BYU experience was good. Not great, and honestly not bad at all, just good. An earnest, well meaning good. I liked the people in my classes and I was too busy with life to get too downtrodden with “my situation.” My first year at college as a young 18 year old was delightful. I loved it all. I was focused on my studies, and decided to worry about the future later. After returning from my mission I realized my attractions hadn’t really been resolved. I dated girls, but was just going through the motions. I knew it was what I should do. Dating always seemed like another thing I needed to get done, and none of my relationships ever lasted that long. I never did anything with guys, I never even told anyone about anything. I never opened up to my bishop or my family about my situation. I decided that people didn’t need to know if I was going to marry a girl and live that life. They didn’t need to know about my sexuality because I was going to live like a straight person. I had a few gay friends, and I gravitated towards them because they were living the life I wanted. They had the confidence and sense of self I yearned for. I remember sitting on the subway as an intern in New York, looking at a handsome guy. The excitement and curiosity flooded my thoughts, but at the same time I remembered that was something I wasn’t going to let myself ever experience. It was heartbreaking. In that moment the reality of my decision to pursue a life with a woman and the emotional hollowness of that choice settled in a very real way. Returning to BYU my senior year was different. I was overtly aware of what path I was headed down. I focused on the happy things. My friends. My career. My hobbies. And I pushed all those confusing broken feelings down and smiled my way through graduation. And don’t get me wrong, they were real smiles, real laughter. I just avoided the things that I didn’t understand and leaned into the good parts of life.

Describe your post-BYU experience:

After I graduated I moved back home to Oregon to live with my parents. I did freelance graphic design work and stayed cooped up inside, not really interacting with anyone. I didn’t think I would start my career there, so I wasn’t rushing to put down roots. I was very active in my ward, even held leadership callings, but seemed to be living a double life. I felt like I was happily doing what I do with my friends and ward, but when I was home alone I was watching reruns of RuPaul’s drag race and drawing cheeky pictures of guys. The years of repressed emotional and sexual energy were catching up to me. After a year I ended up in New York and eventually started a relationship with a guy. That inspired me to begin the coming out process. I felt like I finally understood love, and I was beginning to understand myself more completely. People a year before had commented on my guarded attitude. They could tell I had a genuine personality, but they could tell there were things I wasn’t sharing. After opening up to my close circle of friends and my family I could tell I was maturing. I was becoming a more confident and honest person. It wasn’t this thing that happened over night, I feel like the real growth process started when I decided to begin to open up. There was a time in this process where I stopped going to church and decided to “jump to the other side,” trying things I never thought I would. I felt like after years of doing what I thought I wanted to I had ended up so exhausted. I wasn't going to half and half anything. I started learning what I never knew I didn’t know. After a year or so I found myself returning to church for one reason or another. I was honest with my bishop for the first time in my life. I was clear about my situation. And I went back because I like it there. For some reason I feel good there. So now I go to my ward. I am a teacher. My boyfriend and I go together. I’ve learned after BYU life goes on. That’s when real life happens. I understand I am not done living. I know I don’t know everything. And I understand that is what it is all about. The process has helped me to understand the unknown, not know it per se, but to be comfortable with it.

Advice to current LGBTQ+ BYU students: 

Just keep going. Many of us have had very similar experiences to you. We understand. Understand what you’re getting yourself into. Stay positive. Remember that BYU is so cheap. It’s a good school with good people. Keep your head up and keep going. Follow the rules and then get out. If you want to be there, if you think it’s worth it, then do it right. I went back to BYU for graduation recently and all I wanted to tell the students was life really begins after school. It felt like I had to decide everything then, make these concrete decisions about who I was and what I was going to do, but looking back that is anything but true. And after you finish move on to bigger and better things.

Posted April 2018