Tuesday, October 28, 2008


A couple of weeks ago, I went out to the garage to track down some files left in my filing cabinet. Because a filing cabinet, in a garage, in Oregon...a state which gets an average 8 months of rain? Not the best place to leave paper items you want to ever see again.

Like my adoption records. Or marriage certificates (and divorce papers). It was a trip, because we've moved a lot and I hadn't seen many of those files and photos and letters for about 10 years. One of the best discoveries was an entire folder full of the kindest, hardest letters, circa 1986, from my friend Chris.


"...I'm not going to kill myself. Although I sometimes think it would be nice. I felt sick all last night. And I couldn't sleep...I'm going nuts, Becky! Crazy!! I scream silently for help. I wish it would STOP!...I'm safe at school. Sort of. The feelings don't go away. It's ruining me. What do you think of me? Am I awful? What do you think of the vestle (sic) clean white boy who is all American, Mom's dream, funny all the time? Now that he's shown to be a corroding pervert and a....I can't write it. I'm so scared. It sounds terrible. The nights are worse because I'm forced to think. God is trying to help me. He is giving me confidence. I love him. Mike told Melonie that you told me that she admires me. If she only knew. If she only knew. {sigh} Goodnight, with all the love I have left, Chris."

Heartbreaking. And since you don't know Chris, you just have to take my word that you would be hard pressed to find a dearer, kinder boy. Every letter of his from this time contains some measure of that self-loathing and pain.

When we were there, in high school, in Salt Lake City, Chris & I were misfits for different reasons, but ended up in similar places. His support, constant irony, and sense of the ridiculous (and the finite nature of high school) kept me sane and optimistic.

I was...awkward physically and socially, with parents trying to convince me college was where good, plain girls like me go to find husbands - as quickly as possible. I wanted SO MUCH more for myself than I was getting. More encouragement. More freedom. More opportunities of all kinds. More room to just figure out what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be once I was away from the constant control. Like a LOT of people, I wanted out Out OUT - NOW!!! College couldn't sweep me away soon enough!

Conversely, Chris was an absolute golden boy, and my opposite in many, many ways: Class president. Lead in all the school plays. Handsome. Perfect teeth. Perfect hair. Snappy dresser. And closeted. SUPER closeted. He wanted in In IN! FOREVER!!!!

It's hard to describe to people outside of that world all of the ways in which being a gay Mormon man is simply impossible. Not only because everyone around you subscribes to a sort-of basic fundy-homophobe-going-to-hell belief-system (and so do you, probably), but also because that is a world which in particular provides both secular and metaphysical rewards to faithful, heterosexual men.

I don't think Mormon women have it all that great. The messages they get are a mixture of subservience, polygamy-in-the-afterlife, having-babies-is-your-calling, being-a-helpmeet-is-fun. Whee. Plus bad underwear. I'm always surprised that many women are fulfilled in that world. But they are...and that's another topic.

Obedient Mormon men, however, are constantly being promoted to higher and higher echelons within that structure. They're told that faithful men are like gods, both figuratively and, in their afterlife, literally. All the wives they can support in that post-life-godhood. And greater community standing, jobs, houses, leadership roles, etc. in this life.

It's not easy to walk away from being constantly told how great and important you are, and how many gifts you will receive in this life and the one after, particularly if leaving meant existing in an unknown, chaotic world which you've been told leads to hell, misery, corruption, self-loathing and complete social ostracization by everyone you care about...

Also in the 1980's, gay=AIDS=death. It wasn't a great, promising time to come out and experience the naked panoply of hot, gay, man-love.

So Chris was suffering. A lot. And I was figuring out that, contrary to the rumors I'd heard, being gay didn't actually seem to mean all that much of anything disgusting, abnormal or corrupt, news which fit right in with my growing resentment of religious hypocrisy.

I also was figuring out that the key difference for Chris was that he'd have a hell of a lot harder road to happiness than my own average one of angst and rebellion.

Re-reading those letters was sweet. Bittersweet, sometimes, but...also moving and delightful. Today I xeroxed the entire folder and mailed the copies to New York. To Chris, who is now all fabulous, demi-famous, completely out, acting and directing edgy off-Broadway theater, living with his long-term love, Desmond, and, most importantly, loving life.

High school=sucked...but that seems to be one of it's key functions. Oppression=very sucky. Suffering=also sucky. Having your parents cut you off because you are gay/atheist/not-them=very very sucky.

Lifelong friendships+freedom+love=NOT SUCKY.


radishly said...

Well hello there, Becky! Funny, it never crossed my mind that your name could do that. ;)

Sweet that your pal found his happiness.

Lee said...

What a sweet post. Thank you for sharing.

My gay boyfriend grew up deaf, gay, Jehovah's Witness in a small, rural, Republican town in Oregon. Similarly sucky.

I am so glad things have changed for them now.

korin said...

Ah yes, life long friendship is the complete opposite of the suck. :D

steenky bee said...

Oh, my. This was sweet. But that letter from Chris broke my heart. Wow. Chica. Wow.

Also, you're added on the blogroll and in my reader. After this post, you are in my heart. :)