9—I EXPERIENCED LIFE AS A NEWLY ‘OUT’ GAY MAN BUT THE REAL TRANSFORMATION HAPPENED AFTER I DIED IN A BIG METAL BOX 30,000 feet OVER THE OCEAN
Sunday, September 6, ’98—Journal entry [translated from French]:
“When I got to Chicago I checked the monitors to find the gate for my next flight. Paris was listed. But it’s ‘Salt Lake City, Gate 54’ that I saw first. I wanted to go to that gate! Leaving was a mistake. If it was not a mistake, it still felt like dying, and I wanted to go back to Salt Lake, back my friends, back to the man I love.”
I had to leave: I’d no money left; I stayed in the house—in “the shitty part of town,” as Lyle, the owner and my boyfriend’s roommate called it—longer than planned; more importantly, I was called to serve a mission for the LDS Church, leaving for the MTC (the Missionary Training Center) in Preston, England, in 3 weeks’ time.
Journal entry: “I said goodbye to Lyle [my best gay friend]. ‘Good luck on your mission; you’re a good bitch!’ And if the other missionaries say I can’t use the F word, I’ve to tell them: “Don’t tell me what I can fucking say!” I nodded. Not even he could make me laugh today. I couldn’t speak. All I could do was hug him goodbye. But just before walking out of that house where I had lived and loved, I managed: ‘I love you’ [in a strangled voice].”
My gay friends in Utah did not understand my going on an LDS mission but were supportive nonetheless. A Catholic one said that no matter what my Church’s stance on homosexuality was, I had my relationship with God, and had to follow what I believed to be right. They could tell I had a genuine faith I wanted to share.
People tend to oppose missionary work under the premise that if someone’s interested in religion, they can look it up or contact the missionaries themselves. As a convert, I understood that it was important for (this) religion to be ‘advertised’. Most people put up with advertising. And if they understand why their friends or stranger tell them about a book, TV show or vacation spot, so why can’t they understand those who want to share what makes them happy, brings them knowledge and holds promises of everlasting bliss?
Terrence went via Downtown so I could say goodbye to the city. He took hold of my hand but we didn’t say a thing, my throat was so tight it was sore. We got on the Interstate, and we picked up speed. Before I knew it we were at the airport. My heart sank. In the elevator Terrence French kissed his ‘French boyfriend’. Suitcase checked in. I got my boarding pass.
Back to the parking lot. We hug. We can’t be more passionate in public. He gets in his car. I walk across the parking lot. I’m going to break down. He drives around the parking lot to the Exit. The Cadillac is right behind me now. I don’t look back. And I know I will never forget that feeling, or the sound of the Cadillac passing very slowly right behind me, like a rusty white hearse.
Journal entry: “We had a farewell dinner party at the house last night, then went to the Trapp, then back to the house with people I had never met before. It was 6 a.m. when the party ended (for most people) and Terrence and I went to bed. [This part I had forgotten:] He kissed me like never before. I felt his desire; I couldn’t stop kissing his mouth, with passion, tenderness, anger too; we were animalistic and romantic, kissing wildly, desperately. For the longest time. Someone knocked on the door. They’d started the hot tub. ‘I’m in bed, OK?’ he shouted.
“We just couldn’t get close enough now—we almost crossed the line—touching and pulling each other all across that bed as the morning light crept in. At 7:30 a.m. I fell asleep in his arms. I wish we’d slept through the day. I would’ve missed my flight. I could’ve stayed longer. How can I ever sleep again without those arms around me now?
“Now I am somewhere over the ocean, on a plane heading for Paris. On my right side, as to make things worse, there’s an empty seat, like on the United flight from Salt Lake City to Chicago. As if to remind me that from I am traveling this world alone now. On the Chicago flight I tried to read to stop thinking. But as soon I put the book down, thoughts of Terrence ¹ rushed back to me. I could hardly breathe.”
How it hurt, how so desperately alone I felt inside the Salt Lake International and the Chicago O’Hare airports. I couldn’t stop crying. And I didn’t even care people saw me cry.
Journal entry: “I’ve just had to turn off the on-flight movie on the tiny screen. It’s called City of Angels. My heart is so heavy in my chest (literally) again. I want to cry so badly…”
The things that I would go through to turn you back around. The planes that I have died on… Trade you for another cloud—Tori Amos, To the Fair Motormaids of Japan
France, Saturday, September 15, ’98—Letter to Terrence [not sure why I kept copies]:
“Back in France I had that weird impression of being a foreigner. I felt so far from everything, so far from ‘home’. Maybe because home is where the heart is. And when in church or anywhere else, it’s as if I need to forget all I’ve learnt (as if I’d graduated from college in Utah, but they’re expecting me to attend high school again).”
First night back home: so tired, so jet-lagged, unable to relax. In desperate need of distraction, I went to see my best friends. I felt so out of synch with them all. I’d been gone for 4 years, not 4 weeks.
When I got back I called the house. Lyle was hosting a BBQ. “It’s so hot here today! What’s the weather like where you are?” As if to drive the point that there was a world between us, it had been cold, raining and foggy.
“Is it good to be back home to your family?” I didn’t tell him my sister had let me put a mattress on her bedroom floor. My own bedroom was someone else’s now: everything in there was so familiar, yet strangely alien. What I brought from Utah gave me no comfort: it just hurt. I was terrified me to be alone. I slept on the mattress in my sister’s for a whole week.
When I was in Utah, I missed Terrence whenever he was at work. When he’d come home I’d taste the iron taste on his lips. Sometimes I followed him to the shower and we shampooed and soaped each other up (and kissed). I was embarrassed the one time Lyle was around, but he said: “You don’t need to hide… I’ve already done everything you can ever do!” Had he ever been eight times zones away from the man he loved the most in the world, with no prospect of being reunited anytime soon?
My French friends and I went to our usual bars but I missed the Trapp! On my goodbye party, one of my Utah gay friends said: ‘You will be missed. You had an impact on all our lives.’ I missed my gay friends with whom I could be myself and had nothing to hide. That night we went back to the house with the cute girl (who gave the best hugs), and her boyfriend, who was so at ease around gay people. I didn’t know anyone who was gay or just OK with gay people.
Journal entry: “Wednesday, September 9, ’98—It was a week ago today that I saw Tori at the E Center. ‘They don’t know you that you already lived on the other side of the galaxy.’ They didn’t know that here. ‘I want to smash the faces of those beautiful boys, those Christian boys…’ she sang loudly over the band. The new missionaries in my ward are so perfect, and so prissy and puritanical! I’m going on my mission in 2 weeks… My companions could be like them! ‘…So, you can make me come, that does not make you Jesus!’ I’m still a virgin, but now that I’m back I feel I’ve probably crossed some lines. I am not sure what to do…”
I’m half alive but I feel mostly dead. I try and tell myself it’ll all be alright. I just shouldn’t think anymore tonight.—Jewel, You Were Meant For Me
Today—I kept copies of my letters (not sure why) and I was not exaggerating when I wrote about feeling terrified and feeling like dying. Those are the words I used in my private Journal. And I wrote that there was “a weight on my chest on the plane whenever I put my book down” in a letter to Terrence.
But this was the late 90s. The era of Jewel and Tori, Sarah McLachlan and Party of Five (with Sidney Prescott from Scream, welling up when getting a yoghurt from the fridge). That was the perfect era for me to go through this and write that stuff.
Tori’s music helped: her religious background, her sexual guilt, her inner voice, her strength, her shadow, her pain, her need, all of that made her a kindred spirit, a muse, a minister and a therapist. (I told her this when I met her in 2009, in Salt Lake City!)
Because I wrote in my Journal a lot, I was able to process my pain and the changes in my life. In my desperation, I became aware that something good was happening. How strange to feel so heavy and yet lighter than ever before in my life; to feel broken and yet free for the first time. I was on my own road now. And that was exciting! Yes, I hurt; I felt isolated; but I also felt alive and grounded for the first time. I wasn’t alone anymore. And I had my first relationship. I told my sister. She was 16 and thought that was cute. But that was a big step. I was not ready to tell anyone else, and that was OK. But I knew who I was. It gave me strength.
I noticed that I felt at ease and comfortable in the company of men. It was part of the coming out process and the influence of my friends. Did they have too much influence? Wasn’t I supposed to follow the brethren only? I never let go of my faith. I still loved the Godhead but I loved another triumvirate too: Logan, the wise one, the teacher and the mentor; Terrence the lover; Lyle the fun gay friend. Yet, because of that addition, I was effectively taking the first step out of the Church (or rather the first reason for them to make me go).
Letter to Terrence: “I love you so much! I could not look at any of the stuff I brought back last week. It was too painful. I hid them away. But I think the pain is all worth it, because you’re worth it. You barged into my life and brought a fantastic light I caught after being afraid, and I don’t wanna see the darkness again. I wanna keep my beautiful boy with the bright, intense, brave and nice look on his face. You are my man with the urban childish cowboy smile. I’ll be everything you want me to be, babe.”
I was idealising Terrence now! I waited for him to write. He never did. Logan said: “Maybe he does not know how to write.” He never called after I left America. I only spoke to him twice on the phone.
Tori’s Father Lucifer line: “He didn’t see me watch him from the aeroplane. He wiped a tear and then he threw away our apple seed” always reminds me of Terrence and the day I left town. Lyle said that Terrence only cared about was himself, and that he thought about booze and drugs before thinking about anyone else. He said that it was not fair the way he treated me.
Logan sent me letters, and he sent a beautiful Christmas card. My Utah gay friends wrote and one sent me a crate of Dr Pepper (what I always drank and couldn’t find in France). Lyle wrote and spoke to me on the phone. I think they all felt sorry for me.
I don’t think you ever completely forget your first love. After all these years I still keep (but not sure where) the commitment ring Terrence gave me before I left and the shirt he gave me the night we met.
¹ Some names have been changed to preserve the privacy of the subjects