8—IN UTAH I FOUND A SERIOUS MENTOR, A FIRST BOYFRIEND, AND A FUN AND CARING GAY FRIEND. MY STAY WAS COMING TO AND END. MANY THINGS WERE
Madrid, Spain—I decided to do something I haven’t done in years: go to church. “Are you a member?” I did not want to go into details: “I used to be. I belong to another group, with no members in Spain, so I came here.” PR Smiles cancelled. “Oh OK… Well, we have to go now” the missionaries said. Translation: We don’t waste our time with apostates. I get it, but it was hurtful. And how unchristian (for a Church that’s all about Jesus these days)!
Spiritually, the talks did not bring me much, but, despite being given the cold shoulder, I enjoyed listening to the lingo and singing (old) hymns. The ward reminded me of my French ward. And the fact that no member greeted me, reminded of what would be my ward in Britain if I was still a member. And members here reminded me of those in Utah.
Back in 1998, when I was an active member, most of my American friends were LDS. When Terrence, ¹ my first boyfriend ² introduced me to his housemate , I met someone who was unlike everyone I knew. “Hey, Lyle, get me a beer!” Terrence asked. “I’ll get a beer up your ass!” he shouted back from the kitchen of the nice house in Rose Park (“the shitty part of town”, as Lyle called it).
Lyle was irreverent. Lyle was fun. Someone brought up Clinton’s impeachment and he said: “It’s a shame he has to cum on everybody’s dress!” A carefree man in his mid-30s, he was very tall and sported a very impressive bleached blonde mullet only him could get away with! Unlike me, he never worried about what others thought of him. A business owner working from home, he was the most assertive person I knew: in-your-face, so self-assured. I admired him. And yet, he was unpretentious, kind and generous, and I loved him from the start (“dearly, not queerly”, as he explained).
But he was so ‘gay’, as people used to put it (“Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful; there are sooo many other reasons!”) and everything he said (or the tone he used) made me giggle. Plus, Lyle would Someone came to Lyle one night: “Hi, I’m Randy!” to which he replied: “Yeah, I noticed!” Another time some guy told him he smelled good and asked what he had on. “I have a hard on but I don’t think you can smell it!”
But because I still had a foot in the closet, “Does that suit madam!?” or his using ‘she’ when talking to/about men, made me feel awkward in public (or when he shouted: “Is he cute?!! Is he?!!” when I opened the door for the pizza delivery man).
Make me laugh, say you know you can turn me into the real thing—Tori Amos, Jackie’s Strength
Some gay men used that way of expressing themselves to form a community of sorts and forget about a world that did not let them be themselves. (Check out The Boys in the Band, a Netflix film set in the late 60s, to get an idea of what I mean). This was about the time when Utah Senator Craig Taylor, from Kaysville, led the charge in the senate combating what he called the “moral crisis” in society, characterized by homosexuality, pornography and a general lack of responsibility. “Since they can’t reproduce, they have basically said, ‘We will seduce and sodomize your children’.” ³
Lyle understood where I was in life. His mother had raised him LDS. She was a wonderful woman who came round for dinner one night—after he hid the 1998 I’ve Got a Package For You naked men calendar and the X-rated fridge magnets. It was so strange but so nice to meet an active LDS member and be “out”. She was so kind that she even wished me the best for my mission. She understood I had not figured it out yet! We often forget that they were amazing LDS members out there. Not all of them are judgmental and self-righteous.
Lyle and his friends showed me kindness and made me feel welcome me in the gay community and they were kind enough not to mention how I was deluding myself thinking I could have it all. Maybe some felt sorry for me. Sadly, the LGBT+ community has changed a lot since then. There is no room now for being your own person, for holding religious beliefs. If you are lucky, they will exclude you, but most of the time they will just mock or attack you viciously for not conforming. I miss the gentler LGBT of the past.
I liked Lyle’s friends: they were good and nice people, but once I moved into the house I realised how wild they were. Lyle would meet them at the Trapp or the other gay bars every night of the week. I would tag along. The Trapp always played country music and I loved the atmosphere there. When the bars closed they would all head back to the house and the fun would continue, inside, on the deck or in the hot tub, until the morning broke and the shadows fled.
I thought that for those who had grown up Mormon, the chain-smoking, the drinking and the drugs could be a reaction against the Church. They had turned their back on their strict Mormon upbringing and did this, partly, to make a point (and indirectly actually letting the Church have power over them).
I visited Lyle in California 6 years ago. “Back then I was in party mode 24/7,” he reminisced. After he moved out of state he joined the AA. I asked him if he still was in touch with Tony and Brett, the couple that were not so much into the party life. Their lifestyle was closer to what I wanted Terrence and I to have. We would visit them for dinner on Sundays. Tony had been an LDS missionary in France, so we spoke French together. His partner was jealous when we did. The two of them argued a lot. I wondered if they were well-suited. Lyle explained that many gay men were together because they would rather be with someone who’s not right for them than being alone.
It broke my heart to realise that Terrence and I were ill-suited too. We had nothing in common. He loved beer; I loved books. He wanted to party; I wanted to play house. At first, he said all the right things at the right time. He held my hand and made me feel like a prince. It was like a fairytale. But he changed. My mentor, Logan, had warned me that I was “too young to get married” anyway. He no longer approved of Terrence.
One night at the Trapp, Tony told me (in French) that Terrence was doing cocaine. I knew Lyle was doing drugs too. When I look back, I understand that, although he was light and fun-loving, Lyle was dealing with his own demons. As do many gay men. And for this reason, gay bars and clubs are dens of drug dealers selling fake and dangerous balm to broken souls. But I did not know Terrence did. I drank Seven Up at the bars: I did not know what being high looked like! I died. I told him he had to stop. He took off. Lyle, who had overheard me, said: “He will keep doing it after you’ve gone, you know”. In other words: Terrence is not the man for you, and you can soon turn the page, as you’re leaving the country.
But Terrence was my first love, so that’s not how it felt. I hurt so much. He started to come home from work later and later, usually with a six-pack under his arm, and ignored me. My drunken angel with ethylene eyes was turning into a cold bastard. Lyle could see he was pushing me away. Maybe Terrence was anticipating my departure. That is what Lyle thought anyway. My gay friend tried to protect me and limit the damage. Years later I learned that it was him who told Terrence to get those Tori Amos tickets and to bring me roses “to apologise for being an asshole” after a night out.
Lyle tried to lighten up the mood one night (after they got drunk at the bars and Terrence was being cold and mean again) by throwing jam, ice cream and toppings at us in the house. We all ended up chasing each other, trashing the carpets and the walls in the process and, because Lyle slammed a door, a big mirror fell off the wall and broke. He did not care. But he cared about me. He sided with me whenever we had a fight, even if I was wrong, and before knowing the facts. “What did Terrence do?” he asked one night as I wiped a tear. “Nothing, it’s not his fault.” He stood in the doorway, staring at Terrence with a grimace on his face: “Oh, I know what that motherfucker is like!”
“That motherfucker” started to go out without me, and he rekindled with his ex at Bricks, the night club, in front of me. Everyone was embarrassed. I was destroyed. A friend of Lyle’s drove me back to the house and I cried like a child, wailing on that bed where he had held me tight night after night telling me that he loved me. I think he started to sleep with his ex again shortly after that. I could tell by Lyle’s expression, the whispers, and his friends telling me Terrence did not deserve me.
I had never wanted to have a casual relationship. I was so naïve, but Terrence had gone along with my plan as manipulators or messed up people do. When Lyle became aware of everything Terrence had said to me about being in love and getting married, he was furious. But maybe he really meant it at first. Maybe he did not mean for things to go this far. Maybe it all caught up with him.
My stay was coming to an end. I went to say goodbye to Logan. I had called him to tell him what was happening with Terrence. He gave me good advice I could not follow. Logan and I got intimate one last time. I gave myself (while remaining a virgin) instead of being in my head, and it was one of the best experiences I have ever had. That tender sexual act softened my sorrow and relieved my loneliness too. He could tell I did not want to go back to the Lyle’s house, so he took me to a drag queen show. She was awful but that meant we could not stop laughing. It felt good to forget Terrence for a while.
Before flying home I had my first bike ride in America. I loved riding in the wide streets and through the crossroads with Logan. I had dreamed of that in my 80s childhood. And I thought about that, and how I had found more than I had ever bargained for: I experienced a relationship, from start to finish, with so many intense emotions, (the best and the worst I ever experienced), on a very fast timeline, like in a movie. And I made wonderful friends that God was good enough to cast in that decisive episode of my life, to help me come out.
Despite all that had happened with Terrence, I wanted to stay in Utah, and with him, and with Lyle and with Logan and the rest. I didn’t have any gay friends back home. I was all alone.
I did not want that bike ride to ever end. I did not want to go home. Ever.
These foolish games are tearing me apart! And your thoughtless words are breaking my heart.—Jewel, Foolish Games
Today—I shook my head when I read my Journal. But I believe it is a good thing that I met Terrence. Why? Because that doomed relationship was a real turning point in my life. More than any other events.
Besides, I will always treasure those good times we shared. I only wish I had not fallen in love completely and so desperately, but I am not angry at my old self. I think that, in my circumstances, it was inevitable. And it had to happen that summer, and in Utah, as there was no way I could have found the way to make this happen in my hometown, or after my mission, or with more ‘alternative’ gay men.
Coming out in Utah had its advantages. The gay community in Utah understood my religious situation. Many go these men remained somewhat conservative and held on to some of those values. Salt Lake City was the perfect place to help me become who I wanted to be (and who I have become): a man who holds on to his religion but is fiercely independent and who accepts his sexual orientation—and can defend that choice.
I had started a journey between the relief that comes with self-acceptance and the malaise that comes from deviating from the righteous Mormon path I believed was right. This is an ongoing journey that has brought me knowledge and imparted the wisdom that comes with experience. As much as I love my religion, I know the impact my previous denial had had on my mental health and on my physical well-being. Since coming out I try to tread well. I do the best I can to live my religion, but I also accept who I am.
And as I am writing this post, I also realise that my religion helped me do some wonderful damage-control with that first relationship too.
First, if what Logan described as “what they (society and churches) did to us” would linger and get in the way of most of my relationships for twenty years, my religion helped me set boundaries with Terrence that my passionate nature might not have. And it helped me stay (somewhat) grounded and not go faster than I was ready to. Terrence put up with the limits I set. He never tried to push me and convince me that I was ready for more. He respected the fact that I was LDS and going on my mission. And I am thankful to him for that.
Second, I wanted to serve a mission. It broke my heart to think I had to leave his side for two years. But it was to serve the Lord. There was purpose there. It was not just because I could not legally stay in America. It made the idea of separation more bearable too. For now.
¹ Some names have been changed to preserve the privacy of the subjects