5—Touching the closet door on the other side of the world
7—After my LDS friend kicked me out, the gay bars became a sanctuary. But outside I felt this incredible need, this incredible loneliness, hurt and guilt.
Salt Lake City, Utah, August 3, ’97—Last night Shawn and I had a huge argument. I got back late from The Trapp (a private club for members)—that gay country western bar I had discovered. ¹ He said was worried and had called Elder Larson and the sister missionary that we knew. “Who drove you back?” What he was really worried about was that I was “a homosexual hanging out with other homosexuals.” I do spend most of my nights at those bars, after all, and I made some hints to provoke him.
I’ll never forget the look on his face—so accusatory. And I’ll never forget that new feeling inside. Oh, I am nowhere ready to come out. But I’m gaining a little confidence and in my guilt I’ve found defiance. I’m not alone now—I’ve got a few friends at the bars. I think that, thanks to them, I’m getting more comfortable with my self.
Tonight Shawn shouted at me again. He said his friends warned him. He said he didn’t want to be around a homosexual. I shouted back. So, he pushed me and I pushed him too. “You have to leave!” And that was the end of our fight. “Where will I go?” He said he didn’t care. I had to pack.
I wish he’d tried to remember the friendship we had back in France. Where was the smiling missionary, always so much fun and so kind, who couldn’t wait for me to visit? ² He was in his room now. I went to tell him I was sorry things hadn’t worked out on this visit. “We used to be such good friends!” He was adamant. “Could I leave tomorrow morning?” “No! You have to finish packing!” he said with that cold stare of late.
After a while he came through to the living-room where I had been sleeping. “Have you got everything?” I nodded and he grabbed my bags. He looked so different when he didn’t smile. I tried to plead with him one more time but he grabbed me and pushed me out of the apartment.
I stood outside his door for a minute. My heart was beating so fast. What was I gonna do? It was Sunday night, and it was raining. I carried my suitcase and my bags down the block, the same path I took whenever I went to the bars. And I kept walking down several blocks in the rain until I got near 800 East and 900 South, where the stores and the phone booths were.
I understood why Shawn was so irritated: I had invaded his space for over two weeks now; I had been unpleasant (and to cap it off I had shrunk his clothes when I washed them for him). I wasn’t mad at him for kicking me out. Just stunned. And ashamed that it was because he knew I was gay!
I am nowhere ready to come out. But I’m gaining a little confidence and in my guilt I have found defiance.
The cars that drove past made me feel less alone. I had a quarter I could use. I felt so far from home tonight. There was nothing anyone back home could do. Besides, I couldn’t let my mother know a Mormon kicked me out: she’d be too pleased with this ammunition. I couldn’t call Mormons either: Elder Larson would ask what happened and he might react like Shawn.
I dialled a number with a knot in my throat. But I got no answers. My jacket was getting soaked. Was God punishing me? I tried the number on the business card in my pocket. This time someone picked up. I explained the situation. “Stay put—I’m coming to get you!”
Whenever car headlights dart my way I think it is him and my heart skips a beat. He stops, gets out and takes me in his arms. But every car drives past. It’s getting cold. I’m shivering and I’m soaked. I want to weep. After fifteen minutes a car stops. Chris comes out. He looks concerned and asks if I’m OK. I must have sounded very dramatic over the phone, or perhaps I just look awful. He puts my suitcase and bags in the trunk and I get in.
I was hoping we’d be driving to his hotel—I would have a long hot shower, then put on the white bathrobe, lie on the bed and cuddle with him, and he would make everything better. But he’s heading to the Trapp. That’s where we met. The place was busy, the music loud and I couldn’t believe how many gay men existed! Tonight the Trapp is rather empty, cold and dark. The music is low. The place smells of wet wood.
He buys me a Seven Up and tells me to go dry myself up in the restroom. The night we met he said he was visiting from Idaho, for work. He said he was one of The Boys of Boise—a joke he had to explain. ³ He also joked about the Boise LDS temple being “an ugly witch house.” I told him I was LDS and didn’t appreciate that comment—and to hint that I wasn’t looking to have sex. I’m not sure why he gave me his business card after writing the number for the hotel he was staying at.
I return to the bar after drying myself up the best I could. Do I want to play pool? Why do they all suggest pool? Darts? “Yes, let’s play darts.” We talk about what happened and where I’m going to go. It’s clear that staying with him isn’t an option. I wonder if it’s because we can’t have sex.
We sit on the bar stools at some high rustic wood table. The place is all-Americana. That titillated me the first time I walked in. Chris is dark and handsome, and I love his low voice. He’s very masculine, muscular and so confident and happy-looking. That’s what attracted me to him. He puts tobacco in his mouth and I touch his hands. He takes mine in his to warm them up. I want to forget about everything. But now he says I have to find a solution. “Maybe a girl will be more sympathetic?” He has meetings in the morning, so, I go call the returned sister missionary that Shawn and I know. “You can sleep on the couch. My roommate’s out of town this week, so you can sleep in her room from tomorrow on.”
Chris drives me there. If I could have just one wish granted it would be for that car journey to never end. The rain stopped and the fog has replaced it while we were at The Trapp. I could cry—I feel safe with him. Safer than I have ever felt outside those gay bars. He stops the car outside my friend’s place. I want to kiss him. The night is dark and the fog is thick. I tell him. He leans over. I taste tobacco in his mouth. Then he gets out of the car. He gets my stuff out of his trunk. He hugs me and I watch him drive away as my heart sinks. Wrapped in the damp arms of the fog, with my suitcase and my bags at my feet, I spit out some tobacco.
I walk towards Jen’s apartment, still tasting it. It’s not a nice taste, but it’s his and that makes me feel less alone, and a little stronger as I knock on the door. I don’t have much explaining to do. She called Shawn after I hung up. She’s worried. I’m guessing both on a temporal and spiritual level. I don’t want to argue. She’s such a wonderful and kind person and, unlike Shawn, doesn’t act any differently than she did as a missionary.
I get ready for bed and lie under a quilt on the couch.
Those bars are like sanctuaries for me now, where I feel safe, where I don’t feel ashamed.
Salt Lake City, Utah, August 9, ’97—The day after Shawn kicked me out, I laid on the carpet listening to Tori Amos CDs all day, as my friend’s roommate had all of them! Every now and then I tried to get Chris on the phone.
That last full week in Utah I got up late, read, ate cereal for a breakfast/lunch combo and put on Tori and then watch the roommate’s videotape of Tori’s MTV Unplugged. That new routine stemmed from boredom and the fact we didn’t have cell phones or YouTube, only the TV, CDs (and their artwork) or VHS tapes like this one, with Tori’s dramatic sadness and torment—accentuated by the heavy makeup—drew me in like divas draw in other gay folk.
It rains more and more now. I feel lonely. I feel hurt. I’m disappointed with friends—and to some extent with the Church. But I don’t want to go home! I don’t want to go back to my old life, the one in which I’m so miserable and subject to panic attacks. Before the girls get back home from work, I make spaghetti with mayo—because I don’t have much money left and found out that it tastes rather good—and then I head to the bars.
I still hold on my guilt for what happened in Texas, but I want to experience more. And it’s loneliness as much as curiosity that’s pushing me to want to get close to a man and kiss him. That foolish notion that I am not so alone. Those bars are like sanctuaries for me, where I feel safe, where I don’t feel ashamed. Going there is also a reaction against Shawn.
Tuesday was a slow night. The Dear Hunter was almost empty but I guess it was to be expected on a rainy early week night. But I felt so alive and peaceful. I fell in love: with some 80’s synth-rock song. Was it Cyndi Lauper? The cute bartender said, “Stevie Nicks!” (and as I looked puzzled, he wrote Doing The Best I Can on a paper napkin for me). And that is how I discovered Stevie as a solo artist!
A handsome man in his early-thirties made eye contact while mouthing one of the Fleetwood Mac songs that I loved. I went to him. His name’s Michael. Like someone else I met before, Michael served a mission in France! Another song I liked came up. The cute bartender was clearly a fan of Stevie’s. Michael and I kissed—but he refused to give me a lift, and I walked back home in the cold rain.
Tonight was a particularly busy Saturday night at The Sun. The older man I met the first time I went there said to me: “You’re getting a bit too desperate here, and that’s not becoming!” I didn’t realise I was “on the prowl” and “a tease.” It hurt. But he was right. I don’t drink but this new sense of freedom is going to my head!
January 2021 Update: I never saw Shawn again. However, just a couple of weeks ago I found him on Facebook. He immediately reached out: “One of my few regrets in life, is the way that I treated you during your visit to Utah. I was so immature and scared as I lived my life during those years. However, there is zero justification as to how I treated you as my friend and someone I greatly respected and loved. I have wanted to tell you this for such a very long time. I am sorry. I am ashamed, embarrassed, and live in disbelief at how I treated you during your visit. I hope that at some level you will forgive my ugliness as a human being. I had no right to treat you as I had.”
We often tend to overlook the fact that others have their own demons to combat. I guess we were all kids who were trying to find our place and needed to do some growing up.