The author’s name has been omitted for anonymity’s sake.
I used to write a lot, but now I mostly make art. Making art is more comfortable than writing. When writing I am extremely conscious of what words connote and denote. This consciousness makes it harder to decide which word is the most appropriate for what I want to say. When I paint—and more when I sculpt—my decisions come naturally simply because art lends itself to ambiguity.
Without a universal meaning of colors or lines or compositions, I can ʻsayʼ what I want without saying anything. People see what they want to see in my art. If there is uninteresting, disruptive, or offensive content in a piece, people usually will still just see what they want, or they will pass it by. Art is safer than words.
Safety is not always a virtue.
While I have recently relearned how cathartic and revelatory art can be, I need to write. I need to write because writing forces me to crystalize my thoughts and form opinions. I will frequently right in church, but those writings are viewed by no one, are stream of conscious, and are largely just complaints. They donʼt really force me to crystalize any new thoughts nor form any new opinions, they just reﬂect the ambiguity found in my artwork. If I write about the content in my art then I move from recognizing ambiguity to trying to decipher ambiguity.
When Jon offered me a post a few weeks ago on SHAFT, I thought it could be just what I needed to push me to think about where I stand on BYU, the Church, God(s), gays—well, where I stand on my future I suppose. This isnʼt to say that I havenʼt considered these things before chatting with Jon or to say that writing about them will bring the solution. It is to say that this offer will help solidify some of my nebulous thoughts and opinions of the last few months. Jon asked me to write a little blurb about being gay at BYU. This may be more than a blurb.
When I came to BYU in 2003, I was out to no one—admittedly, not even myself. But right away I met a coworker who I was told was both gay and actively Mormon. In short, my world view expanded exponentially, and I began to accept that I was gay. A year and a half later that same coworker would ﬁnd my “Deepest Darkest” blog and Iʼd be out. (I didnʼt appreciate the double entendre of that title until I met some dirtier-minded folks than my coworker).
By the time I left on my mission ﬁve months later, I was out to a few other gay Mormons, the local ecclesiastical leaders in charge of my mission papers, and my mother. I served a faithful mission interacting very little with homosexuality, or any sexuality for that matter. I returned to BYU a few months after getting home with every belief that I would “ﬁnd the right girl” and lead my Mormon life as planned. I moved in with that same coworker and four other men I did not know. I could not have moved in with a better group of individuals. (Spoiler: “Finding the right girl” doesnʼt happen).
I moved in during January and did not start school until late April. During spring semester, I took a human development course. One of the papers required was an adolescent autobiography aimed at helping us see how different events or conditions could affect various domains of development. I did not see how I could write about my adolescence and not include being Mormon and unadmittedly gay.
I did not know how to handle the paper until a few weeks into the semester when my professor tried to get more students to think critically about nature vs nurture. He asked the students to provide examples of conditions which were either entirely nature or entirely nurture. He systematically deconstructed every suggestion to show that nature and nurture could play a role in virtually everything.
Exacerbated that his suggestions had been torn apart, one student asked why there was even a discussion in the ﬁeld about nature vs nurture because it was now so clear to him that the two play a vital role in everything. That professor became my favorite teacher by what he did next. He said something like this:
You know thatʼs really interesting that you ask that because at the beginning of the semester when I polled about all those conditions (alcoholism, schizophrenia,autism, genius, heterosexuality, homosexuality) the class was fairly evenly split for most topics but not for homosexuality. Almost everyone said that it was nurture, that a person couldnʼt be born gay. Well why is that? [awkward silence from the students] Iʼll tell you why. Itʼs because you believe God wants people to become like him. He wants people to have families so naturally he would never let a person be born gay. But let me ask you, how beneﬁcial is it to Godʼs plan that a person be born with schizophrenia? A predisposition to alcoholism? You see, there are plenty of things that people are born with that do not lend themselves to everybody being happy and exalted, but they still exist, and they still are inborn.
So let me ask you, and please think before you answer, ‘Who made your bodies?’ [A student conﬁdently asserts that God did] Really God made your body? Because my parents made mine, and my parents donʼt make perfect things. Have you seen my nose?
He went on to cite studies linking homosexuality to genetics and cited various general authorities commenting on the biological origins of homosexuality.
I knew what to do about the paper. I went by his ofﬁce hours to praise and thank him for a much need lecture at BYU. Then I outed myself and asked if he would grade my adolescent autobiography instead of the TA. He said he would. After he graded it, he asked me to be one of his TAs.
You see, I know that there are people at BYU who are ignorant and bigoted. I know there are people who are simply terrible, but I believe those people are mostly everywhere. I know that I am not as quick to take offense to folksʼ comments as other people are; perhaps itʼs from growing up Mormon in the very Baptist Buckle of the Bible Belt (Alabama) but perhaps other people are just too quick to take offense.
Like this one guy in my fundamentals of drawing class; he was too quick to take offense. In that class most folks were very left, but not this bastard. Okay, thatʼs mean, Iʼll just call him Chuck. Chuck often made comments so conservative that Limbaugh could be offended (but not Beck). He liked to get a rise out of his more liberal peers.
One day he even said that he didnʼt believe everything he said, but just wanted to have lively discussion. I didnʼt like this guy. One day he started on homosexuality, gay marriage, or something; my teacher didnʼt like what he had to say. She was a bit too polite to be an excellent art teacher, but when pushed she could give critical feedback. Chuck had pushed her. She put him in his place but still more subtly than I would have.
After class she and I got to chatting about the very tense conversation that Chuck instigated and how ignorant some people (Chuck) can be. With near-religious emotion that I was to educate BYU and the church-folk that gays were real and were just as much people as straights were, I outed myself to her. I felt like she was safe. She was. Turns out, her two sisters are both lesbians, with partners, living in New York. Messed up childhoods? No, her mother was a Molly Mormon and her father a professor at BYU, these two were just gay, so she credits their genes. While I never took another class from her, she has always remembered my name and has always asked how I was doing when weʼd run into each other.
I have outed myself to two other professors since then, and it has always been a positive experience. As far as peers at BYU go, Iʼm out to most of my peers too. I can think of no one Iʼd call my friend who doesnʼt know that Iʼm gay—keep in mind that not all classmates are friends. All of my roommates know; they learned one at a time as I thought appropriate, although in retrospect, I could have introduced myself as a gay man from the start, and they likely would have been ﬁne with it. But I am very discriminating with my friends; they are the highest caliber individuals and not exactly representative of BYU.
Iʼm afraid when it comes to a perspective of a gay manʼs experience at BYU, Iʼm not the best source, but I would suggest that no one gay man is the best source to understand the gay BYU experience. Each department and its faculty and students are so diverse that many experiences must be examined to understand how it is BYU. However, all of this is with a giant caveat. I donʼt date boys.
Iʼm 26 and Iʼve been on one real date with a man. We held hands. Thatʼs it. Iʼve never kissed a man. Iʼve never dated a man. Iʼve never had a man. And my guess is that is what has made my BYU experience so pleasant. Now that Iʼm ready to date a man and have a meaningful relationship. I ﬁnd BYU a bit stiﬂing. Iʼm afraid of my ecclesiastical standing affecting my academic progress.
Although I want to understand my sexuality more, although I want to learn how to have a lasting romantic relationship, although I want to ﬁnd a companion that I can serve and share with and love, I cannot. I cannot grow the way I want to grow and maybe the way I most need to grow right now because I have to ﬁnish my education. It has years and thousands of dollars behind it, and Iʼm not willing to put that on the line so that I can have a boyfriend. That will most likely have to wait until after graduation. Then I can start learning about life.
Thatʼs the real pity of attending BYU as a gay man. Because gays donʼt exist—only people with gay tendencies—Iʼm not allowed to learn about who or how to love. Iʼm only allowed to learn what they want me to learn.