BA Linguistics, MA Teaching English to Speakers
of Other Languages ('13)
Describe your BYU experience
If I had to choose one word for my time at BYU it would be frenetic. I was quite involved with lots of different facets of academic at BYU, from attending academic conferences, finishing my degrees quickly, participating heavily in research groups, getting hetero married young (despite neither my wife or myself really thinking that marriage was in the plan for either of us), buying and remodeling a condo just off campus, being in a ward bishopric/various other demanding callings, and being heavily involved with various campus clubs and organizations. And I did well at all of them. But they were largely just different facets of a façade of perfection (or at least ok-ness). On the surface, I had it all together (and I found a lot of genuine fulfillment throughout each of these opportunities to grow in meaningful manners). But I never felt like I belonged.
I knew that I didn’t fit the norms by the age of 4, even while remaining unsure of what exactly that meant until I realized later I wasn’t straight. As many do, I overcompensated both in church and scholastic settings because the stakes were so high. One’s eternal family and soul are pretty big things to risk. But that was what always was on the line. Despite constantly understanding that I was different, I managed to keep a relatively solid sense of self and self-confidence, a trait that has kept me relatively sane and not self-harming. I recognized my limitations. I recognized that those limitations were ok. This was me, although I kept much of me hidden away.
I went on a mission to South Korea. In many ways, it really was the best two years. I had had some international travel experience prior, but really living in a foreign country largely as my Korean siblings did opened my eyes to new ways of thinking. I found the new culture tantalizing, especially as I saw how relationships between guys could look. Koreans are far more physically affectionate between friends of the same gender than are typical Americans. From walking arm in arm under a single umbrella, to massages between housemates, to the young stranger who would reject a Mormon missionary with a hand on the thigh, to Korean bathhouses (soooo nice!), I came to understand just how limiting our fundamentally homophobic American culture can be. I figured out what had been largely missing in my life. The Korean word captures it so much better, but the English word camaraderie will have to suffice. I finally felt like I fit in, at least better than I had before.
Post-mission, I promptly sunk back into old patterns and the feeling of un-belonging resurfaced stronger than ever. I met with my branch president about my not-straight-ness who gave me some counsel: to not tell my future spouse about me. He also told me briefly about a stake meeting of some with “SSA” (Evergreen I think it was at the time) and asked if I was interested. I said it probably wasn’t necessary and he was relieved, finishing with “why would anyone want to be around those people?” Well, you know, those people are me. So yeah, why would anyone want to be with others like themselves? Thankfully, despite my best intentions of following the counsel of “inspired” leaders, my future wife found out before we had even gotten engaged (ask me for the complete story if curious) and we decided we’d see how things turn out for us. That was over a decade ago and we are still plugging along, taking it a day at a time. And I resolved to never turn over my agency and accountability to anyone else. What is right for me and my life is up to me to determine. No one else. We got married the summer after my sophomore year so neither of us did much serious dating.
BYU was thus very much a refiner’s fire, a period of gradually blossoming self-awareness. I negotiated my orientation and identity, ultimately coming down somewhere on the bisexual/pansexual spectrum. As I tried to recreate the sense of belonging I had so briefly felt in Korea, I found myself drawn to the queer underbelly of BYU but frequently felt further ostracized when many guys either were looking for more physical/sexual relationships than I was or were convinced I was trying to cheat on my wife. I experienced plenty of skepticism from gay guys regarding my claim that I was bi. My experiences have taught me that bi erasure is a real thing coming from both the straight and gay communities, somewhat ironic in my mind when gay folk so typically feel ostracized themselves. I didn’t fit in with the gay community. I didn’t fit in with the other straight guys in our married student wards. My façade was up and maintained with rigor for the rest of my BA and MA degrees. It wouldn’t come down until well after my time at BYU.
Describe your post-BYU experience
Post BYU, my wife and I moved to the Sacramento, CA area for my Ph.D. at the University of California, Davis. For the first year and change, things were largely the same although I developed relationships with a couple of gay guys that provided me with much-needed camaraderie. A relatively minor bump in our relationship occurred after we watched a documentary on human sexuality that featured some information about asexuality. In a light-bulb moment, I blurted out that this was me. Another piece to the puzzle had fallen into place. My preferred label of bisexual had always felt rather limiting; I appreciated the male form but had little desire to do much with a guy. While initially I felt little sexual spark toward females, that developed as I came to know a woman better. But that only reached a certain level. I then knew I was somewhere on the asexual spectrum. Ultimately, I may be demi-sexual—someone who requires emotional connection for sexual interest to form—although even that label doesn’t quite always fit. My wife, who had been understanding of my bisexuality, felt somewhat betrayed by my recognizing asexuality in myself. However, with some discussion and time, we were able to overcome this hurdle.
A bigger challenge came in the form of the November Exclusion Policy, which happened to have been leaked the day of my qualifying exams (I’m so grateful I didn’t find out about the policy until well after, when I was teaching an evening class). I had progressed along each step of the prescribed “right” path (Eagle Scout, honorable mission, married in the temple, child), only to have the Church I had devoted so much time, service, emotion, and money to draw yet another line in the sand. Every time I looked at my daughter, all I could think of was how this new policy meant that, should my path take a twist, my happiness could come at the cost of her spiritual progression within the Church. Every time I looked through barely restrained tears at that sweet little 17-month-old face, with her chubby cheeks and excitement about the world around her, I feared that I’d eff her life up even more than most parents usually do. I sunk lower than ever before, my typical resilience washed away in the face of my potential “sins” being heaped upon that little soul. I increasingly wondered if the continued pain and struggle was worth it or if my little family would be better off without me." I could no longer in good conscience remain active in the Church without living authentically. Ultimately, with the support of my wife, I publicly came out as bisexual/asexual, as it was either that or fade away from the Church. In many ways I feel that, because of the policy, the Church forced my hand. I needed to be able to speak out against the policy and our treatment of those of us who identify as LGBTQIA+, and I needed to do so as an open and proud member of the queer community (even if I don’t usually particularly feel like an insider of that queer community).
So I came out, which has been a whole different ordeal. I remain active in our ward here, but have felt my voice been slowly silenced in my ward and stake over the past two and a half years. While I had yearned for love and acceptance, I found little but barely suppressed (or not even suppressed) judgment. With the exception of a few bright and loving members, the best I’ve come to expect is tolerance. And yet I persist, showing up each week with my rainbow bracelet and rainbow CTR pin (and now my oh-so-cute rainbow bee pin) and working to promote compassion and empathy above judgment and vitriol. Unfortunately, I’ve found a remarkable dearth of love and support from those who covenanted to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort and have had to turn elsewhere to get the comfort and empathy I need. To better reach out and help those who may need it most, I wanted to get the local branch of Affirmation revitalized and have found a support network there. While we have a long ways to go still, and are far from meeting everyone’s individual needs at this point, I feel optimistic about the work that Affirmation does.
In many ways, I’m closer to my wife than ever before. We now have a 6-month-old boy who already idolizes his 4-year-old sister and lights up any room with a fantastic toothless grin. I finished my Ph.D. in four years and got a full time teaching job at UC Davis and continue to adjunct at other institutions. I have successfully published a number of articles that have been pretty well received. We have a little house and a flourishing garden, thanks to the incredible growing season here in Northern California. Despite the turmoil all around, I’m increasingly capable of letting it go (if you’re not channeling Elsa right now, that might be a sign that you’re straight) and doing the best dang me I know how to do. I am me, and that’s enough.
What advice or wisdom would you share with a current LGBTQ+ BYU student?
And that’s what I’d share with me twenty years ago or even ten years ago when I was starting at BYU and anyone else struggling right now: you are enough as you are right now. I also found it’s important to recognize that one’s sexuality may be more fluid than most of us would assume and that discovering such complex orientations and identities (and how they interplay) can take a lot of time. So be patient.
Most importantly, the very traits that are frequently connected to sexuality (compassion; depth of understanding; the capability to look beyond the surface; love of beauty, truth, and love; love of art and music; empathy) are the very traits the world needs more of with every passing day. So yes, as possible and safe, let your queer light and uniqueness so shine in its wide array of dazzling colors. The world needs that light. I need it.
Posted May 2018