Salt Lake City, Utah, August ’98—It all started last summer, when I tentatively stepped out of the closet. But I never thought I would get a boyfriend (and temporarily move in with him) on this next trip.

When I joined the LDS Church at the age of 19, I had no intention of ever coming out. I had been gay since as far as I can remember. But I had been forced to keep it a secret. It was disgraceful to be a homosexual back home in France. When the kids in school called me ‘a faggot’, I hated myself for not hiding it well enough. Of course I never told my family, because I was too ashamed. If the Church did not stop me being gay, and its teachings on homosexuality actually brought me much guilt and confusion, it did bring me lots of wonderful things too, from knowledge to saving ordinances to fellowship. And I did not want to let go.

So, Utah is where this French boy did his (own private) coming out. This is where he met his first boyfriend. Of all places! But in Utah I need not 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, Utah was where my Church’s HQ were located, but everything there was so otherworldly for a Frenchie, it was also neutral ground. Utah gave me a white canvas. This was the place!  I did not reinvent myself. I painted what had forever been inside of me. And how sweet being my own person at last!

I met Terrence ¹ 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! I was Emily in Paris (but in reverse).

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 with the neon lights advertising Coors and Bud Light. This was where guys played darts or pool and mature men sported a warm smile.

I felt comfortable at the Trapp, because it was all-American but also because the men there were often inactive LDS members, ex-Mormons, and those who had never been LDS members lived in that culture. Being with someone like Terrence was not a complete novelty. It was like being with other Mormon friends, but with a twist. Visiting a gay bar in NYC or Paris might have sent me back to the closet.

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 

As so typical in the gay world, I spent the night I met Terrence in his bed (although—as so atypical in the gay world—we did not do much). The second time I saw him, he took me to a pool party, and the third time was a real date. He picked me up in his big old white Cadillac and we drove downtown to a nice Italian restaurant. Then up a hill by the Utah state capitol to sit on a stone wall to watch the sunset paint the sky and our bodies red and gold. We held each other. The car radio played late 90’s tunes. The night poured in and we made out. Then he drove me home.

One of the best dates I ever had. It had been nothing but dreams until now. I imagined that 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 also still felt uncomfortable with being gay. At the pool party, I had struggled with PDA (even though my heart skipped a beat every time he touched me). I felt embarrassed with some of his flamboyant friends. I could not undo all the damage done to myself and by others since my childhood over the course of two summers visits.

Besides, even though I had the best mentor in the world and was dating a guy I was crazy about, it was not always easy. I was LDS, and I was about to go on a mission. I was naturally concerned about my standing before God. When Logan—my gay friend and mentor—asked me how things were going with Terrence, I told him I was falling in love. He did not make fun of me. He understood that was my first relationship. But he was concerned about my on-and-off spiritual anguish. And he asked me. My answer was tainted with religious guilt.  

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: “There is nothing wrong with you.” 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. I hugged him thank-you. “I hate what they did to us,” he said.

After that episode, I started to relax. My conscience did not torment me at all when we went hiking up the hills with his roommate. I was sitting on the back seat and could not stop looking at him in the rearview mirror. He was so handsome. He felt my ankle and kissed by the pale blue lake, after eating peaches—my favourite fruit—in that paradise.

I loved having him taking me out on dates. Like when he picked me up in his old Cadillac and drive us to Kyoto, a Japanese restaurant where we got to know each other more. Purple was his favourite colour, he loved country music and cried for sad scenes in movies. And he told me about his family some more and his hopes and his fears. We used to go drive around the hills outside the city and I loved that. In town we kissed at red lights. I no longer feared the looks we got when standing too close to each other in grocery stores. I even hold his hand in public (sometimes). Logan saw us coming in at the Trapp one night and commented that we looked really good together.

Terrence made me feel special. No one had made me feel like that before. Very few people have since Terrence. I had never felt like I mattered to any man. For the first time I felt the sweetness of love, not just the sting. I did not feel alone anymore. He would call me after work and tell me he had missed me all day, that his boss was asking when I was leaving town, as he was too slow at work since he had met me. I did not want to think about my flight back home.

One Sunday morning as I was getting ready for church, Logan shouted: “It looks like Terrence getting out of that car!” I looked through the window and there he was, walking towards the house, in a white shirt and one of his roommate’s tie (which he helped him tie). “Is Terrence going to church with you?!” Logan laughed out loud. I was so touched and so happy. Maybe that is when I really fell in love with him. The dog tried to get out when we headed out. “She’s Catholic, she’s staying here!”

I was fully aware that 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, rolling in the grass, or when he kissed my neck while I drove his big old Cadillac along the Great Sat Lake. I could see the dark clouds gathering before the storm and the bad smell the lake gave off but I ignored them, just like I could see that my summer in Utah was soon coming to an end but ignored it too. 

I was not ready to go. And Terrence wanted me to stay. So he changed my plane ticket, and paid for it. He was so happy and full of excitement that he decided to mow the lawn in the burning sun. Then he drove me to Logan’s and he helped me pack my stuff. And I moved out (and in) with my man. He walked in on me as I prayed in his room. He stood still in the doorway, waiting for me to be done. That was very touching.

He was trying to stop smoking for me. He would feed me chips while we watched movies lying on the couch. We would compete with the number of toppings we would add to our ice cream (Marshmallow, pecan nuts, raspberry jam, liquid chocolate and whipped cream for me). Living together now (and sharing a bed every night) was even sweeter than all the toppings in the world. 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 a decision I would some day 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. And when he finally got home, I would taste iron on his lips and smell it on his skin before he washed up. I was crazy about him! I loved the faces he made to make me laugh, his green blueish eyes that always looked as if he was burning with a fever, that warm and frank cowboy smile, the way he teases me or the way he holds me.

Yes, I had the obsession of a schoolgirl. All the experiences teenagers had, I was now starting to be having at 22. I lacked maturity and experience. But for a while he too was so in love. We were kissing all the time and everywhere. We could not stop touching each other the minute we were close. He kept telling me he loved me, that I was his man forever, that he would always look after me, that he would wait for me when I was on my mission and then help me find a job here, as he knew people.

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 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. Not to mention that I was only visiting! That relationship was a disaster waiting to unfold.

But Terrence was my first boyfriend, my first love. Falling hard was inevitable. And part of me smiles at the memory. I have no regrets. Because meeting him changed the course of my life. Everything in my life is a Before or After August 1998.

¹ Some names have been changed to preserve the privacy of the subjects

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