I am now home after 5 weeks in the Caribbean on a BYU study abroad. The trip was amazing in so many ways, and it has really shaped the way I look at life, spirituality, art, and most surprisingly, BYU. I came away from this trip with a changed opinion on the people of BYU.
I met the group of 18 students in a pre-trip class this past winter semester, and I treated them like I would any group of BYU students in any setting–with indifference. I didn’t learn their names. I didn’t talk to them. I didn’t pay attention to them. I had learned through a few limited experiences that straight BYU students cannot be trusted with friendship or knowledge about me. Really, my circle of friends at BYU includes lots of gay guys, two straight girls (Moana, Kythe), and a few art friends that I am close to in the art studio but that I don’t see outside of the studio. I just don’t trust straight BYU students.
But on this study abroad, I was forced to become close to this group of students. It started with Kristina. I sat next to her during both long flights. She was a beautiful girl (and I could see that she was endowed), but as soon as she said she was from California, my mind said “Prop 8” and I shut down to her. It was awkward. She flipped through the sky mall magazine, trying to start conversation. “Oh that’s horrible! That’s every man’s fantasy,” she said, pointing to a lamp that was in the form of a woman, but had a lampshade instead of a head. “Not every man’s fantasy,” I said.
Over the next few days she drove me crazy, not because she was annoying, but because she was in every way the girl that I would have married if I had come home from my mission and not come to terms with my sexuality. So I stayed closed, despite her friendly attempts to reach out to me.
It was the same with several of the others. I stayed fairly aloof from the group. But then Taylor and Eliza broke my shell. They started to come over to my room to talk with me, and to hang out with me during group activities. I let them in because I knew I could trust them. Eliza had written a paper about the BYU gay community, and in high school she had been the president of their gay-straight alliance. The two of them were starting to get close to me, but they were also getting close to several of the other girls (and the one other guy). So slowly I started to spend more time with people in this group.
Spending more time with these girls meant spending time with Kristina, because she was close to them. I learned she was a feminist, and few other things that led me to trust her. Finally, I opened up to her, and she opened up to me. She explained how she had been married and divorced from a man who had not treated her right (and who was presumably gay). He had married her not out of love or sexual desire for her, but because marriage was what he was supposed to do and she made a good wife to show off to others. It was a sad story, but it had made her very open to and supportive of my sexuality.
By the end of the second week, every single student, and both professors, knew that I was gay, knew that I was leaving the Church, and knew that I would one day marry a man. And you know what? It didn’t matter. It was something that we could talk about, if we wanted to. One of the professors talked to me about his two gay brothers, one who had taken his life a long time ago and one who was a bitter angry ex-Mormon who taught at UCLA. One of the girls told me about her Polynesian culture and how accepting they were of gays (She said every mother hopes for one gay son because she knows that he will take care of her in her old age). We talked about it a lot. But it was also ok to not talk about it. It wasn’t something we had to address.
In the end, these people became my friends. Real friends. And I can’t express how wonderful it is to have straight friends. It makes me feel so rounded, so balanced. And they are all caring and supportive and trustworthy. I didn’t know BYU had such people. So for my last semester here, I’m going to be friendly to the people who sit next to me in class. There might be some douches there, but BYU does have students that I can be lifelong friends with. And for my last semester, I’m going to have dinner parties with straight couples (more than just CJ and Kythe). I’m going to party with my straight study abroad friends. I’m going to feel like I have a place here.