France, August ’97—The American dream was over. I was in daze. Jet-lagged for the longest time. Being back home was like a step back. I felt like a child who had too much fun and must now stand in the corner. I felt like the most familiar of places were the strangest. I was back the other side of the mirror. It was almost a cultural shock. Going back to my old world and to my old life was some adjustment!
5—Touching the closet door on the other side of the world
8—Going back to my old life after tasting freedom was hard. There would be no bars and no one to confide in; only the Bishop to disfellowship me.
My bedroom felt like someone else’s. I rearranged the furniture and put out the flags and all that Americana stuff I brought back. I put on Tori’s music to make that space my own again. I still can never listen to the Crucify EP without being back in San Antonio or in Shawn’s apartment, alone, bored, desperate to get out but loving being in America and discovering this side of me that had been silent forever.
I got my photographs developed. I looked at the glossy pictures again, sitting on my bed. The trucks on long roads looked too small, the tall glass towers lacked perspective, and the street signs and blue letterboxes failed to show the excitement the Frenchie had felt for those symbols.
I had lived my American dream. It seemed impossible now that I was back. Pictures of the Alamo and Downtown San Antonio, of my internship too, brought back the humid heat and BBQ flavours, my time with the Texan missionary’s family, his wedding (that had been like a wake up call), ¹ and Dustin (and the best date I never had). ² I loved the pictures of the best weekend of them all, in Dallas (and Southfork) with Grant and his friends.
I had been miserable in Utah and often bored in Texas. Yet I was elated to be in the USA. I was excited to see and discover so much and to experience different flavours and smells that I will forever associate with the place. I had discovered a new world. And those snapshots scattered around me on the bed formed a magic circle that had the potential of taking me back there. I looked at those snapshots and said to myself: “I was there!” And it made me feel warm inside. For a few minutes. Then came a chill. It had all been a dream. So soon after coming back home, it was already hard to believe I’d really been there.
I was a closeted Mormon boy who played with fire when he got a taste of freedom and despair.
Like the pictures of Las Vegas where I had gone for a weekend with Elder Larson and Tandy. And then I had the pictures of Utah, taken during those days I spent discovering SLC, discovering myself. The many mixed emotions that those pictures brought up. In Utah I had played by own rules and I had headed in the direction I wanted to. I had developed a taste for independence from that sense of freedom, alone for the first time, away from home. So far away that I could push boundaries I would have never pushed otherwise.
I didn’t want to go back to France. I remember the SLC Airport. I knew then, like I knew now, sitting on the bed, that nothing would be the same again. There was no gay bars back home; nowhere to run to; no sanctuary for the confused boy; no one I could confide in. Here, there was no one. No one at all. In the gay bars of SLC I had been able to let my guard down. For the very first time. I had talked with other gay people. For the very first time. I shared my doubts, my fears and my hopes. And I could ask questions. For the very first time.
I had found out that the chill of loneliness I carried in all places dissipated in those bars. But at the SLC Airport I realised that soon there would be no bars. As much as raging hormones drew me to some men and tempted me to push boundaries all the time, what convinced me to ignore my fears—and the standards of the Church—and visit the wrong side of town and push the doors of those bars was an incredible need to feel less alone in this. Is it what I’d tell the bishop?
At the airport I also knew that going back home meant going back to church. It meant talking to the Bishop and confess my sins. The ward would know what I had done. Apart from the technicalities, it was the whole realisation that now the time had come to face up to these sexual acts, not only on a personal level, but on a religious one too. That was a daunting thought. I would need to pay the price for what I had done.
Couldn’t I just keep quiet about it? Yes, I could… if I didn’t believe. I could have kept it a secret. But I did believe. I did believe in the Church too. Hiding this to the Bishop was like fooling God. Impossible prospect. Now I knew I was not going to be allowed to go to the temple like I had planned. It all dawned on me now that I was back home.
It was good to see my friends, but strange too. They did not get my excitement as they looked at all my pictures, but it was made worse by the fact I was having to hide so much from them—more than ever before. Sometimes we drove past bars or places that I imagined could become gay bars with those handsome American men I had met.
The bars transformed me a little. Inside their walls I felt more confident, more at ease. I found some human touch and fellowship. Outside the bars I still blushed when people looked me in the eye. But I did feel a timid flame inside, a fragile strength that meant I was growing up now that the sexual side of me had been addressed—even if all I had done was kissing and what some teenage kids do with their friends when bored.
Among the pictures was one of Bruce, the man I had met in San Antonio. ³ My little sister had seen it and I blushed and panicked when she asked me who it was. I hid it in my drawer. Then I got rid of it. But there is another picture I still have: me and the Stetson hat the Texan missionary had given me. Too big for me, I still had worn it proudly as I emerged from the plane at the airport in France, almost as to signal my coming from a completely different world.
It was as if what happened in America was nothing but a (wet) dream.
Being French and wearing a Stetson hat was weird. And a bit like being LDS and gay. It sounded like a great idea, and it looked good and felt good to be wearing it. But I wouldn’t be able to ever wear it in France. As much as I loved it, it would not do but I still wanted to believe I could.
And so now I had to repent. I told the Bishop what happened. I was a closeted Mormon boy who had played with fire when he got a taste of freedom and despair. And now the time had come for him to face up the consequences. I didn’t bring up Shawn kicking me out, or how terrible some Church members had been in Utah. I didn’t try to justify myself. I just confessed what I had done. The Bishop was a caring and nice man. As shy as I was, I didn’t feel too awkward sharing the information with him. Interviews with Bishops have been in the news lately, since our world is fascinated and obsessed with sexual inappropriateness. But I never felt those interviews were wrong.
The Bishop said I was disfellowshipped for six months. I was not be able to participate in ordinances, such as blessing, passing the sacrament—the Mormon communion—or partaking of it (since you cannot take upon yourself the name of Christ when unworthy). I was not be allowed to give speeches or to use my Priesthood either, of course.
I had chosen this Church. I had got a powerful testimony. I recognised it as the Church of God. And I had transgressed. The process of repentance was made all easier by the fact that I was in a different environment now. It was as if what happened in America was nothing but a (wet) dream.
Over the next few months I even resolved again to marry a girl someday. But I couldn’t imagine I’d somehow ever stop being a homosexual.