|This is me saying, "Wait, I moved where?"|
Tuesday, August 29, 2017
I Will Not Go Back in the Closet
Last week I stopped by BYU Pack and Ship to mail a letter. As I rifled through my backpack looking for exact change I told the cashier that I just needed to find a quarter. Because of my unavoidable loud voice an attractive woman behind me overheard and offered me a quarter. I turned around and politely declined her offer while we both exchanged smiles. We said a few more words and it seemed like she was flirting with me (which I could totally be wrong about). I found the money and paid the cashier. Then my newly reactivated BYU student instincts kicked in and I casually glanced behind me at the girl’s left hand. No wedding ring. Conclusive evidence that by offering me a quarter she had definitely been flirting. As I walked away I patted myself on the back thinking, I still got it!
I moved back to Provo last week and so much has changed in the six years since I last lived here. I’m 33 now, I look more like a professor than a student, food trucks became a thing in Provo, and I’m gay now. I mean, obviously I was gay when I lived here before, but only a handful of people in town knew that back then. It was a carefully guarded secret. This little experience with the quarter girl reminded me of how I was able to successfully (mostly) pass as straight during my time at BYU. A deep voice and a lack of fashion sense are super-helpful if you want to come off as a straight man.
Everything changed in Tucson in January 2015 when I came out on my blog. As I stopped lying and started to be honest about my sexuality it became common knowledge that I was gay. Everyone in my last ward knew I was gay and I just started expecting everyone to know. It was wonderful and freeing and it was surprising when someone didn’t know. So coming back to Provo where almost no one knows my former secret has felt weird. And having heard a number of horror stories of people being treated poorly in Utah I was a little unsure of what to do. Adding to that worry, a few people explicitly warned me that Provo would not be as welcoming as Tucson and that I should be judicious with whom I told. I decided that it would be best to get to know people first so that being gay wouldn’t be “my thing” and then once people knew me I’d just come out when it came up organically.
A few nights ago I was talking to my roommate who I just met last week. He mentioned having a girl over earlier in the day. My natural reaction was to immediately pry and asked, “Are you in love with her? Did you kiss her face?” but if I turned the conversation towards dating then he might ask me about my dating life. And what if he felt uncomfortable living with a gay guy? What would I do then? I decided to steer the conversation away from dating to avoid any awkwardness. I was afraid of how coming out might affect this new friendship and that’s a fear I hadn’t felt for a long time.
Then at church on Sunday I was filling out one of those get to know you forms for new members. The last question on the form was: Is there anything you’d like us to know about you? Here I was in a brand new ward where I only knew one person in a super conservative place in the heart of Mormondom. I hesitated for a moment thinking it might be best to not disclose my sexuality so early before people got to know me. Then I remembered what Carol Lynn Pearson had said at LoveLoud the night before. She recited a poem she had written for the event about how a butterfly cannot return to its chrysalis. I considered what that meant for me and then scribbled the words “I’m gay” on the form.
After the meeting two members of the Welcoming Committee (yep, that’s a thing in my new ward) came over to talk to me. I knew they hadn’t seen the form yet so I considered playing straight just to not make them feel uncomfortable, but as they asked about why I was studying social work and what I wanted to do with that degree it just naturally came out. They were both super cool about it. One of them had attended LoveLoud the night before and had loved it. He said it would be so great to have an out gay person at church. The other one was bummed she hadn’t gone to LoveLoud, but said she was happy to have me in the ward and asked if she could take me to lunch to ask me a few questions. I was super relieved.
Then after church I met with my bishop. I had considered not coming out to him when we first met so that he could get to know me first, but I came out to him anyway. And he responded in the best possible way. He asked some great questions and I told him about my blog and the things I’d been doing in Tucson. He pulled up my blog on his laptop right then and said he’d read it. My main worry about coming out to my bishop was that he wouldn’t want to recommend a gay man to be a temple worker. So when I expressed interest in being a temple worker and he said, “I would feel 100% comfortable recommending you as a temple worker,” I was over the moon.
We didn’t have a lot of time to chat because he had other interviews after me, but he asked if he could take me out to lunch so we could chat more. I replied, “Of course! Free lunch to talk about gay stuff is, like, my favorite thing!” So even if everyone ends up feeling weird around me because I’m gay at least I’m getting free lunches out of it. The bishop then said, “I have one last question. What do you need me to know and understand so that I can serve you better?” What a beautiful question! In the few minutes we spoke it was evident that my new bishop is sincerely trying to serve in a Christlike way and the cynical part of me was pleasantly surprised. He didn't offer any council, he just listened, learned, and empathized. I walked out of the church building a few minutes later invigorated by the Spirit and stunned that things had gone so well. I got in my car and literally shouted for joy and said a prayer of thanksgiving as I drove away. I just couldn’t believe that it had gone so well.
Leaving Tucson last Monday broke my heart. I remember sitting in the Tucson Temple two weeks ago and having an overwhelming feeling that I was among my people. Then at the LoveLoud Festival in Orem I had the same feeling that I was with my people. I felt that same Spirit again as I left my new church building on Sunday. I’m coming to understand that for me to feel like I belong, the people around me have to really know me. There are a lot of people I have yet to meet in Provo and they are going to know the real me. I will not go back into the closet.