PART 1—Bi or Gay?
Over the course of the next few posts, I’m going to be writing my generic ‘coming out’ story. But first, I just wanted to clarify why. To be entirely honest, I don’t love the idea of writing something like this. But as I’ve thought about the other posts I would prefer to write, understanding the coming out part is often essential.
Additionally, I think there’s some value in having as many of these stories as possible available online. There are already a lot of them, but the more that exist, the easier it becomes—particularly for young LGBT individuals from faith communities—to recognize that there are an infinite number of different roads our stories might take.
My story, surprisingly enough, begins with a girl. As a Mormon missionary, there was a girl I emailed almost every week. She wasn’t really ‘waiting for me,’ and we hadn’t really ‘dated’ before my mission, but it was all around pretty clear that when I got home, we would be dating.
Well, the day finally came, I returned home, and we immediately tried to, maybe, kind of, a little bit, date, sort of—and utterly imploded within three weeks. We didn’t speak for a while after that, but one year later, she was on a mission of her own, and I was writing her week after week.
Eventually, the question of what would happen when she returned was broached. We had been down this road and failed.
I ditched the emails we typically relied on to communicate and drafted a handwritten letter that included the ultimate confession:
It was a revolutionary thing for me to write. I had never admitted that to anyone, ever. Sending a letter like that filled me with total trepidation. I was so terrified that I included a message asking that she mail the letter back to me after she read it (thus the reason I was able to take a picture of the actual letter and post it above). Truthfully, I barely understand why I asked her to do that: It was like I was filled with some abstract fear that even writing the words was a crime, and that I would someday need to burn the evidence.
We discussed the issue a little bit thereafter. She didn’t reject me out of hand. We agreed to seriously try dating when she returned, and that we would discuss it more then.
The difficulty of this situation was compounded by the fact that she was returning home to a state I had moved away from. But we both agreed it was worth trying.
I returned home for spring break. She had been home for a month and a half, and we had talked a few times without broaching the issue. She came over after the Women’s Session of General Conference, on March 28. We got in her car, started driving and talking, and didn’t stop until 4 a.m.
It was one of the most freeing things I’ve ever experienced. I had predicted most of the way the conversation was likely to go, and was pretty much correct. Even though we tried to frame it as her asking me any question she wanted, there were times where I had to prompt the conversation along, because she didn’t want to accidentally say something offensive. But for the most part, it was just a conversation: deep, honest, and so incredibly pleasant.
She confronted the ‘are you really bisexual?’ question with class, and I gave my well-rehearsed—but true—answer: I wasn’t sure. If sexual orientation is based purely on instinctual attraction, then there is no question I’m gay. But it is possible, with some effort, to get turned on while imagining sex with women, and I wasn’t sure what that meant.
The longer the conversation went, the more we both recognized that nothing was going to happen between us. That reached its pinnacle when we each discussed various spiritual experiences we had had that seemed to confirm we weren’t meant to be together. Then she threw me a curveball and implied she was still willing to try. I think she understood that if we weren’t going to date, I needed to be the one who closed the door on that possibility, and I appreciate that immensely.
I left Utah confident she and I would not be able to date—but not, yet, because I believed I was gay. The opposite, rather. During our endless conversation that night, I knew I couldn’t be with her, because I just felt nothing. I mean, I felt everything when it comes to our emotional relationship. But for all that I had every intention of kissing her that night, no amount of internal pep-talking could get me to lean in. So I left thinking, “Well, now you know it’s not her; time to start dating.” I resolved to spend the coming months asking out a different girl every week. It was time to move on, I decided.
But she obliterated those plans. She had, somewhat subtly, told me a few times that I should watch a coming out video made by a Mormon named Clark Johnsen. I had brushed it off, but at her insistence finally decided to check it out. It was Easter Sunday, one week after our conversation, and at the conclusion of two days of General Conference. I thought the video she was recommending would be a five minute coming out video—instead, there was an hour-long series of videos Johnsen had posted on YouTube in 2008. More recently, after gaining some attention for performing in the Book of Mormon Musical, he had done a two hour interview with John Dehlin.
I protested via text that I was not going to waste time watching that much, but she insisted and I finally relented. I watched all of it. I couldn’t stop.
As a teenager, I remember spending two or three years thinking, “Well, X, Y, and Z really bother me about the LDS Church, but I know the church is true, so that doesn’t matter.” One day, quite entirely out of the blue, it occurred to me for the first time that perhaps the church wasn’t true. I had simply never permitted the thought before, but once I did, it never left.
The same thing happened the first time I admitted I was attracted to men. I was 18. There were plenty of times before that moment when I had asked myself if there wasn’t maybe, possibly, the teeniest possible chance that I was gay—but each time, I unquestionably brushed the query under the rug with a self-certain “Of course not!” Then one evening, something shifted, and I realized that wasn’t true. I had been blocking the thought from really being considered.
But of course, admitting I was attracted to men didn’t resolve anything. I compartmentalized it: Literally, I thought of it as that gay part of me. There was also a straight part of me—the part I intended to emphasize for the rest of my life. And, equally important in my mind at the time, there was the hungry part of me; and the tired part of me; and the faithful part of me; and the faithless part of me; and the innocent, naïve, asexual nerd part of me. “Me” was really a whole mess of disparate pieces, some I liked about myself, and some I didn’t, and some I emphasized, and some I hid. So while it was quite the awakening to label a part of me as “gay,” it didn’t particularly change my vision of my future. I continued forward, muttering to myself, “Well, I’m gay . . . but I’ll never be gay; I’ll marry a woman; I’ll stick to the plan. I’m gay . . . but not really.”
Then I watched the video of another Gay Mormon. There were things I liked about him, and things I didn’t. I didn’t agree with everything he said. But I couldn’t stop listening. And with the same nauseating, jolting feeling I had experienced at earlier crossroads, a previously blocked thought emerged. It didn’t surreptitiously crawl back; it wasn’t a slow, dawning realization. It was a fully formed, suddenly irrefutable revelation: I was gay—and I was going to have to actually be gay.
Thoughts of kissing, holding, fucking another man were dirty fantasies for night’s darkest depths; now I realized it was what I truly, deeply wanted. I wanted to be with a man—not furtively, semiconsciously at midnight, but now, right now, at five o’clock on Easter Sunday.