Save Me: The Plight of Gay Mormons in Utah
Teaching a creative nonfiction class, a non-believer reflects on the lives of gay Mormons, gay teen suicide, and the ubiquitous Mormon missionaries.
The church’s approach to dealing with gay Mormons is to reprogram them. Evergreen International helps with that. As the group proclaims on its website, “If you want to diminish your same-gender attractions and avoid homosexual behavior, there is a way out.”
GRANT MONTGOMERY / FLICKR.COM / PHOTOS / GRANTLOY
“I try to focus on the positive,” Adam tells me. He leans forward in the chair as if his thin frame will add heft to a statement that his eyes don’t support. “I’m fine.”
Outside my office windows, the campus sits brown and empty. Late fall is the only time of year when northern Utah loses its beauty. Snow has not yet covered the mountains that rise all around us. Bereft of leaves and birds, they huddle closer to the ground.
“I know of someone you can talk to,” I say. “Any message you left would be safe.”
“Thanks,” he says, “but I’m fine.”
I return to his essay and read my comments asking him to “flesh things out” or “set the scene.” What I want to do is shake him, beg him to leave the valley, head for the coast. I want to hold him in my arms and tell him everything will be OK. But I don’t.
“I’m worried about you.”
He laughs nervously and shakes his head, then wipes his hands up and down his jeans.
I can’t tell him I am worried he will kill himself. I have said as much to other students, but I knew them better. Adam is buried in his down-filled coat, far away from me. I think about giving him the statistics for gay teen suicide, pointing out that Utah’s numbers are among the highest in the country, but figures wouldn’t matter in this conversation.
“OK,” I say and push my rolling office chair toward the bookcase, wishing I could keep on pushing it, out the window, into the sky, and up over these mountains with their 1,000-year-old juniper, to a place with more color, more moisture, more oxygen, a place where I could fill my lungs with more air and less God.
I am in the grocery store, standing in the checkout line. As I often do, I scan the headlines of the magazines to keep abreast of the Beautiful People’s latest misfortunes. The magazine rack is filled with the titles you would expect, though many of the covers are concealed behind squares of brown plastic. Instead of seeing the cover of Vogue, I read the title in white letters across the plastic sheet. Good Housekeeping is plainly visible, as is Family Circle. The concealed magazines are those that reveal women and their skin.
Just how much skin matters is a calculus I have worked out in the 10 years I have lived in this predominantly Mormon state. Bare shoulders and midriffs are unacceptable, but arms are OK. Legs must be covered from the knees up. It has been a decade since I have seen Elle or Self or Cosmo sitting out in plain view.
Years ago I taught a class on gender. I asked the students to read an issue of YM, a now-defunct teen girls’ magazine, and come to class prepared to talk about images of girlhood portrayed by the media. Before class, a student, Brent, came up to me.
“I just wanted to let you know that my wife made the magazine OK for me to look at.” He met my eyes.
“OK?” I asked. “OK, how?”
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