It’s going to be a wall, but I’m kind of baring my soul to y’all.
As an 18 year old I moved a few states away to attend college. I went to orientation during the summer and met a really nice, cute guy. We got along so well that we kept in touch, and once classes started at our school of almost 30,000 students – we had each other’s backs. We would get up before class and actually go eat breakfast together, and when classes allowed we would meet up for lunch and dinner too! To this day some of my favorite memories involve going on evening walks, going to football games together, and finding vacant auditoriums where we would take turns playing the piano while the other did the serenading. It was, in a word, picturesque.
So, one evening we’re out on a walk, and TBM me is talking about church, and my friend starts asking questions about homosexuality. Being Mormon, and an military kid stationed overseas – I really only knew one gay person. He was picked on incessantly in our school of a few hundred and I couldn’t stand it, so I befriended him. I wish I had been thinking like that when this event happened, but alas, I was in TBM “gays are sinners” mode. I had not done much research on the subject, but had taken at face value what the church, and the people at church, had told me about being homosexual – and I believed it with a vengeance.
As we sat on a bench in the pedestrian walk, it was getting late, the sun was almost gone and the street lights had come on. If I think about it I can feel the hot, humid Tennessee filling my lungs.
The only friend I had made at school turned to me and said he was gay.
I don’t remember exactly what he said–my mind was too busy reeling. I then broke down into tears, and I asked “are you sure?” When he said yes I just got up and left, walked back to my dorm and stayed in my bed, alternating between crying and sleeping, for 3 days. There were sporadic texts in between. I said more hurtful things to him, including that I felt “like my best friend had just died.” He didn’t want to talk to me much after that.
This hurts my heart so much to write. I regret this encounter more than anything I have ever done in my entire life.
During those days I spent locked in my room, I did run into one of my suite mates. A shared bathroom and hallway–so I didn’t see her often, but we had ordered pizza and hung out twice since the beginning of the term. She had come over to check on me, and I spilled my “wo-is-me-my-best-friend-is-gay” story. She rubbed my back and comforted me. Later that day she slipped a hand-written letter under my door, explaining that though she hadn’t “come-out” she was a lesbian and that she didn’t feel right keeping that from me. She wrote about how she and my friend were still good people, and that hopefully I would be able to look past that because she thought I was a good person (paraphrased, obviously).
I immediately went to her and apologized for my behavior. I also tried sending my male-friend an e-mail. His coming out was much more difficult for me to accept, because truth be told I was falling in love and so selfishly, outside of church standards, I felt betrayed.
It was at this point that my spiral out of the church commenced. I was in choir and surrounded by gay men–all of whom were incredibly nice to me. My suite mate turned out to be a wonderful friend–and she forgave me for my ridiculous behavior. She was critical in helping me realize the error of my ways. These people accepted me for who I was, regardless of my standards or life styles. They went out of their way to help me and were true friends.
Meeting more gay people gave me the courage to go see the Laramie Project when it was being shown on campus. As a TBM I probably would’ve avoided this–because it was centered around a gay man, and that would’ve been enough.
I left the play bawling, betrayed that the young men who killed Matthew Shepard were MORMON, and their home-teachers visited them in prison.
I later wrote a letter to my friend, apologizing profusely. I acknowledged how closed minded and hurtful I had been, and that I regretted every moment from that night, and the days to follow. I told him I didn’t expect him to forgive me, or even want to be friends with me, and that I was sorry for making that hard time in his life even harder.
I don’t know if he ever responded, but we’re on speaking terms again. He moved away from the south and is a very talented man. I see him pop up in my facebook feed and he is always so kind towards me, but I can’t get past how horrible I was to him. A constant reminder to never be judgmental.
I don’t know what I regret more, the initial reaction, or the fact that it took me so long to apologize. I realize this is more than the cringe-worthy moment, but the whole story around it. The entire thing shaped who I would eventually become.
I hate myself more than any one can understand for that hazy summer evening on a bench. I feel physically ill just thinking about it. As well as the beginning of my descent from the church, it was the beginning of my depression, that would eventually lead to cutting and a suicide attempt. Thankfully he seems to be doing well, and I couldn’t be happier for him.