5—Touching the closet door on the other side of the world
2—In the first half of ’97 I tried so hard to cling to the religion THAT I loved that it took its toll on my health. But it was alright now—I was in America!
Colorado (somewhere), Monday, July 14, ’97—My CD player no longer plays music—it makes noises. It’s mid-afternoon. I’ve been on this Greyhound bus for over 26 hours. There’s only a handful of folk left now: the skinny mother trying to get her baby to sleep, the couple in the back, the quiet clean-cut guy and the skater boy chatting loudly with the two self-proclaimed “black bitches.”
Lisa is a big, sassy, dramatic girl in her early 20s. Josie is thin, much older and her hoarse voice is perfect for swearing. She got on the bus in Denver this morning and gets on with Lisa like house on fire. I like them a lot but the driver does not. He’s making another announcement on the crackling microphone: “Let me remind you again that there are children on this bus! No swearing!! Alcohol is strictly forbidden on this bus too!” I got two large cups from Wendy’s during our lunch stop for them to empty a bottle of vodka from the liquor store. They asked me. Does this go against the Word of Wisdom?
Lisa spent the night on the seat next to mine as she wanted to keep an eye on me. She’d scared away some weirdo on our last stop of the evening. I’m not streetwise like her. This is my first time away from home—and I am so far from home! I’m not mastering the language. I’m so shy too. I may be 21 but I’m such a kid. Lisa literally took me under her wing. She’s a big girl. I didn’t sleep much. I saw the roadsigns in the headlights: We crossed Oklahoma. We entered Colorado.
No matter how how chaste and determined I remain, those homosexual feelings just won’t go away.
On June 13, I flew to San Antonio, Texas, for a month-long internship as part of my university degree. It’s been about two years since my baptism in the LDS Church and two years since my first trip abroad. I had loved New York City but Texas was the American cliché this French boy had always dreamed of: Dallas, and the Ewings’ ranch. There were cowboys hats as soon as I got off the plane and pick-up trucks on long straight roads. And of course, country music on the radio! It was just like I imagined—apart from the sky that was bigger and higher than anywhere else. And I loved the Dr Pepper vending machines: an American drink I’d discovered through the missionaries and the food parcels their families sent them.
Thank God for another stop!
The rain starts to fall as we step outside. I want it to wake me up, to refresh me, even if it will splash on my shins and make them itch. I’ve always loved the smell of rain after a long warm day. The driver is having a word with the two “black bitches” smoking cigarettes. He will kick them out of the bus if they don’t calm down. I step away. It’s a good thing we stopped chatting when the skaterboy got on the bus (in the middle of nowhere) or I could end up with my suitcase on the side of the road and never meet Shawn and Elder Larson—my missionary in Salt Lake.
It starts raining harder. I see a mother and a child running from a store to their car. I think about my own mother. She was upset when I found an internship in Texas. It hurt that she couldn’t just be happy for me. I get back on the bus before I get drenched. It was quite rainy the four weeks I spent in Texas too, but so incredibly hot.
Winter seems so faraway now. I felt stronger in the Church when the new year arrived. I felt Satan had lost a battle. The Spirit was with me. Our branch became a ward and I was called to be Executive Secretary to the Bishop. I’m not sure that I’m that good at it. I asked for an interview with the Mission President to clear the air: I told him (most of) the gossip about me and the Elders wasn’t true. But I resolved to behave appropriately and not being friends with the missionaries anymore. I don’t feel close to the new Elders anyway but get along with the new sisters.
I started looking for an internship and the sister missionaries went over my résumé and covering letters. I felt motivated in class again and exams went well, considering the little effort I had put into classwork so far. And I discovered the University Internet—accessing information like never before! I have this new friend too, a neighbour to the church and we rent VHS tapes and drive to his friends to hang out.
I hear gay members used to do shock therapy. Will it have to come to this?
However, I’m not out of the woods: I started to have panic attacks. At first I feel anxious, my heart races, my fingers start to go cold and numb and then I struggle to breathe. Sometimes I call the missionaries who are based down the street and they come round to give me a blessing that makes it all disappear in an instant. One night the paper bag I grabbed to help me breathe wasn’t working. My fingers had got too numb to let me dial the Elders’ number. I started to have spasms. My mother called the doctor. When he arrived I was looking like Regan bouncing on her bed in The Exorcist and the doctor injected me with some Valium. Once my muscles relaxed, he asked if I was doing drugs.
I recuperated the next day, reading Scriptures that soothed me. I’m not sure, but I suspect those panic attacks are down to this ideal life I’m trying to lead. I have been faithful to all my covenants. And at 21, in secular France, and with friends and a family that criticise me for being religious, I’ll say it’s quite an achievement!
But no matter how devout I am, how diligently I fulfil all my callings, how chaste and determined I remain, those homosexual feelings just won’t go away. My blood boils when someone in meetings say that being gay is a choice. I fight it with all I have! I fight it so well that the reptile within had to find new ways of pushing back—and I now require paper bags and Valium injections to soldier on. How can people then say it is a choice?! And how can I ever overcome this? I hear members who were homosexuals used to get shock therapy in Utah.
I love my religion too much to give it up. And the Stake President said OK for me to go to the Temple in October. That day I wrote in my Journal: “Praise be to the God of my heart and of my existence. May thou help me prepare for the temple worthily and may I worship thee forever and ever.” How grateful I felt!
And how grateful I feel that God has brought me to America too! I’d found some factory work and work experience with the US Forest Service in Ogden, Utah. But I chose Texas. I did all the paperwork and got my Visa. I enjoyed working for an international firm for the last four weeks. I got to see so many things, lived with an American family and worked in a nice office in a big glass building like on TV. During my internship I attended a luncheon with the Rotary Club and got to meet the mayor of San Antonio at some event. I met people from Church too, and Bruce… I wish I could have stay longer. I actually never want to go back to France…
I have another month left in America, though. And another four hours on this bus before I get to Utah… What a journey!