Portrait by Spencer Ruiz

Portrait by Spencer Ruiz

Rikky F

BFA Photography ('15)

My experience as a gay man is life-long, but ironically, I discovered myself at BYU.

I began my BYU experience as an optimistic 18-year old, outwardly priding myself on the fact that I had never kissed a girl, with the encouraging, pat-on-the-head affirmation from a mother that was desperate to keep her son’s chastity in check. I had grown up in conservative Texas dodging gay slurs since the 4th grade. I erred on the side of effeminate by nature; my wrists more limp, my voice softer, and my interests not deemed manly enough in comparison to my car obsessed and gun-wielding brothers. The G-word was a vile one in my family. I was NOT gay…when I was teased by my brothers and called “gay” as a put-down, my mother firmly insisted that none of her children were gay. I trusted my mom more than anyone.

My upbringing bred homophobia. And I had a vicious case of internalized homophobia. My freshman year at BYU further beat that mindset deeper. From day one, I discovered that heterosexual eternal marriage was the real goal of BYU. Suddenly, kissing was encouraged! My roommates would come home boasting their two-hour make-out sessions in Honor Code approved areas. My first feelings of anxiety welled up in my chest as the same rumors that circulated in high school, began to circulate around my freshman ward: Is he gay? Self-hatred and denial began to bubble up in my mind.

Sadly, I can only describe my mission as isolating, dehumanizing with an overall sense of abandonment from God. It was there, in rural Brazil that I confronted the trauma from ongoing sexual abuse as a child. Guilt compounded daily as the letter of law was reinforced by my leaders. I thought I was to blame because I let it go on for so long. My home-grown self hatred blossomed the more that I cried out to a God that seemed to ignore me. I would shut down more as passionate thoughts about certain mission companions lingered a little too long. I found myself in an impossible paradox. There was no one to confide in, not even God.

After my mission, I found myself south of campus, terrified of the prospects of dating. I was desperate to fit in and found that the harder I tried, the more I hated it all. In retrospect, anxiety dominated me. Even as I write, my shoulders are tense thinking about the pressure to perform as a straight man. I was at the cusp of breaking and I didn’t truly understand at the time. I slowly discovered one-by-one that most of my roommates and friends were closeted gay men. I was terrified. It felt like a horror movie and I was the last one standing, waiting to be murdered in the dark, all alone.

I met Sam during the first class I had at BYU after my mission. Long story short, we fell in love. The End…Just kidding. Sam and I became great friends during the time that I was the lowest in my life. I was so desperate to be straight. I thought that if I could kiss a girl, regardless of my interest in her, that would prompt me to feel straight and steer me back to the path. I knew Sam was a flirt. He was funny, charismatic, attractive, and he’d be a great wingman to help me find the right girl to help me out. He’d joke, “If you want to kiss someone so bad, why don’t you just kiss me?” and wrote it off as a joke. He knew…and I knew that something was happening between both of us. My frustration overcame me and the next time he “jokingly” offered, I accepted.

We dated at BYU for three years. I could write hundreds of pages about our experiences together, but I can’t in this format. Together, we endured several breakups, therapy, coming-out to family, acceptance, rejection, and fear that at any moment we’d be outed to the wrong people. We had to pretend to just be friends. There was an overwhelming expectation that one wrong move would result in a social lynching.

I have a complicated relationship with God, but the first time that I really felt God confirm his love for me, I was praying with my boyfriend. I refuse to let Mormonism refute my experiences, especially when the organization that justifies their discrimination against me was founded by a boy with an experience more radical than mine.

Overall, my experience at BYU was harmful and traumatizing, however, I was lucky enough to be given an opportunity to find love and hope in the darkest moments of my life. Even when I thought God forgot about me, I now feel at peace knowing that life gives you the best things at your lowest point.

Sam and I have lived together in New York for a few years now. We’ve been together since 2013.

Posted April 2018