8—HOW I CAME OUT
6—I HAD MET A MAN WHO WAS NOW MY BOYFRIEND. BEING SO FAR FROM HOME GAVE ME THE CHANCE TO LIVE THAT EXPERIENCE. BUT COULD MY RELIGION LET ME?
Salt Lake City, Utah, August ’98—Utah is where I did my (own private) coming out. Of all places! And where I met my first boyfriend. Being so very far from home gave me the opportunity. The closet doors were unlocked in Utah. Last summer I looked out and stepped out of the closet like a cat out of the pet carrier, tentatively exploring its new home. I wanted out of the carrier this summer again. But I did not know I would find a boyfriend (and move in with him).
How did it happen in Utah and not in (only seemingly) more liberal France? In Utah I did not need to mind my (Atheist yet not gay-friendly) family, nor my friends (with whom I could not be open), nor my ward (the French LDS congregation I belonged to). Yes, this was where my Church’s HQ were located, but because everything there was otherworldly for a Frenchie, Utah was neutral ground for me. The usual pointers or hang ups did not apply, and the only baggage I had was my suitcase. Utah gave me the same freedom and excitement that a white canvas gives a painter. This was the place! But unlike a painter, I did not come up with an original idea. I did not reinvent myself. I painted what had forever been there.
I had always been gay. Since I was a young kid. And I knew it. But I had been forced to keep it a secret. It was disgraceful to be a homosexual. It was obvious when the kids in school called me ‘a faggot’. Instead of hating those kids I hated myself for not hiding it well enough. Of course I never told my family because I was convinced they would side with the bullies. That poor kid was now coming out. If he had joined the LDS Church at the age of 19, it was because he had no intention of ever coming out. The Church would save him. And the Church brought him a lot of wonderful things, from knowledge to saving ordinances to fellowship, but it also brought him much religious guilt and confusion. Tori’s music helped me deal with it, though. And now the boy was coming out. And how sweet the freedom of being my own person at last!
Tell your boss you’re sick, hurry, get back in I’m getting cold. Get over here and warm my hands up, boy, it’s you they love to hold—Jewel, Morning song
I met Terrence at the Trapp (a private club for members—as most Utah bars seemed to be at the time). A soulless dive when I went back in 2009, it was a buzzing country and western bar in the late ‘90s—and, of course, I loved it! In the patio surrounded by a high wooden fence, ‘normal-looking’ laid-back young guys looked as if they were in their friends’ backyard while (wannabe) cowboys with Stetson hats line danced on wooden dance-floor. The patio smelled like warm wood at the end of a hot summer day, a very cozy smell. Inside smelled more like cigarette smoke and beer but I loved the All-American deco inside with the neon lights advertising Coors and Bud Light. This was where guys played darts or pool and good-natured mature men sported a warm smile. I believe an edgy NYC or Paris gay club with half-naked boys on the bar or in cages and ‘alternative-looking’ patrons would have pushed me back to the closet—and made me lock it for another decade. The men at the Trapp were often inactive LDS members, ex-Mormons, and those who had never been LDS members at all knew that culture. I felt very comfortable at the Trapp, because it was all-American but also because it was a gay bar in the heart of so-called ‘Mormon Central’.
I loved going on dates with Terrence, and I loved repeating to myself I had a boyfriend. The start of that relationship had not been like I had often dreamed of: as so typical in the gay world, I spent the night I met Terrence in his bed (although—so atypical in the gay world—we did not do it and nothing much at all). The second time I saw him, he took me to a pool party, so the third time was the first real gay date I ever had. He picked me up in his big old white Cadillac and we drove downtown. How handsome he looked in his light wash jeans and blue patterned short-sleeved shirt. I loved him wearing my hand. We talked over dinner at a nice Italian restaurant and we drove up by the Utah state capitol to watch the sunset. The radio played those tunes you heard on Dawson’s Creek as we sat on a stonewall and he held me in his arms as the sun set painted the sky and our bodies red and gold. Once the night had poured in we kissed. Then he drove me home. And that date remains one of the best I have ever been on. Maybe because it had been nothing but dreams until now.
I did not know how to handle those strong feelings I was developing for him. I imagined that date was what a Mormon date should be like. But it was a gay date. And as much as I loved being with Terrence and felt good about coming out, I was not there yet. I felt uncomfortable with being gay. At the pool party, where most guests were gay, I had struggled with PDA (even though my heart had leaped every time he touched me). I also felt embarrassed with some of Terrence’s flamboyant friends. Those were good people, and they were a lot of fun. But I could not undo all the repressed feelings and unlearn all the hiding over the course of one or two summers. But I was making slow progress and I enjoyed having people guess straight-acting Terrence and I were together by the way we looked at each other or touched hands. I found it too hard not to touch him when he was around anyway!
When Logan—my gay friend and mentor—asked me how things were going with Terrence, I told him I was falling in love. That was my first relationship and Logan did not make fun of me. He was more concerned about my on-and-off spiritual anguish. My answer was tainted with religious guilt. I was LDS and about to go on a mission. I was naturally concerned about my standing before God whenever my heart and hormones did not take over. What would become of my eternal salvation? And that is when he approached me and cupped my face in his hands. “There is nothing wrong with you.” I tried to turn away to hide the tears in my eyes but he was still holding my face in his strong hands, and, looking me straight in the eye, spoke those words again, softly but with authority. “I hate what they did to us.” And it was as if a dam had broken into my heart. I felt peace. I felt a strange warmth that was not unlike the promptings of the Spirit. And I believed. I was not out of the woods yet. But I believed his words and what I felt that night.
I started to relax with Terrence too. My conscience did not torment me at all when we went hiking up the hills, in the cooling shade of trees, along the river, and kissed by the pale blue lake, after eating peaches—my favourite fruit—all alone in that paradise. I did not hear a voice inside my head when we lay on the couch in each others arms to watch a movie. And I was aware I was making memories of us when we went to the ice cream parlour barefoot in the middle of the night, or the afternoon we wrestled and laughed and rolled in the grass in his friends’ garden, or when he kissed my neck while I drove his big old Cadillac along the Great Sat Lake. While I drove I ignored the dark clouds that were gathering before the storm, and the bad smell the lake gave off, just like I ignored that my summer in Utah would soon be coming to an end.
I was not ready to go. And Terrence wanted me to stay. So he changed my plane ticket, and paid for it, and he was so happy and full of excitement that he decided to mow the lawn in the burning sun. He made me feel special. No one had made me feel like that before. Logan had not been able or willing to. Very few people have since then. I had never felt like I mattered to any man. For the first time I felt the sweetness of love instead of nothing but the sting. I did not feel alone anymore.
I packed my stuff at Logan’s and I moved out (and in) with my man. And that was bliss living together (and sharing a bed every night)! Was I ever tempted to cross the line? No, I was not. Because, even though I was like ice cream in his hands, I was determined to wait until after my mission, when I would come back and be with him. This is how I rationalised it. Pushing the deadline of the decision I could eventually have to make. Meanwhile, I loved the A/C being so high that it meant we would spoon all night long. And I loved waking up in his arms or to his tender and cheeky smile. I missed him terribly during the day. I waited for him to come home from work—sometimes literally. And when he finally got home, I would taste iron on his lips and smell it on his skin before he washed up.
Yes, I had the obsession of a schoolgirl. Because all the experiences I should have had as a teenager I was only starting to be having. I lacked the maturity and experience to realise this was a summer fling (for him). But I think that for a while he believed it could be more. He changed my plane ticket a second time. When I called my mother to let her know, she cried. She thought I would never come back. And in some ways I never did: I had a boyfriend now and I was coming out (even if privately), and that shifted my trajectory and it reset something inside. I was at the start on my own the path now. I would come home a different person.
Your love is better than ice cream, better than anything else than I have tried—Sarah, McLachlan, Ice Cream
Today—Part of me feels sorry for the boy I was back in 1998. I was so clueless and so in love with Terrence. I was a hopeless romantic with no experience at all and a total lack of role models when it came to relationships (gay or otherwise). Add to this the demands of the Mormon religion, and it’s not hard to see that relationship was a disaster waiting to unfold. Not to mention that I was only visiting! But Terrence was my first true love, my first boyfriend, and it was inevitable. And then part of me smiles at the memory. I have no regrets. Meeting Terrence changed the course of my life for—I believe—the best. And if there is one event that divides the two parts of my life, it is not moving to the U.K. 20 years ago, but the summer of ’98 when I came out.