Before I met William, I already knew three things about him – 1. He had been at school for a long time, 2. Like the rest of us, he was Mormon and 3. He was gay. This was my first experience with a gay Mormon. I’d only met one solitary gay person at this point in my young and relatively sheltered life and that was just in passing. I’d certainly never encountered an LDS person who also identified as gay. Or, perhaps I’d just never encountered one who was open about it.
The Church was staunchly set against homosexuality. They believed that marriage was divinely sanctioned by God as a sacred union between a man and a woman. Any sexual relationship outside of this type of marriage was considered a sin.
Premarital kissing and affection were allowed (within reason) between an unmarried man and woman, but any romantic connection between anyone else was off limits. This left homosexual Mormons in a bit of a bind. They had three choices – 1. They could leave the church, often forsaking their friends, family and community in the process, 2. They could stay in the church and remain celibate for life, or 3. They could put their feelings aside, find a member of the opposite sex to marry and live a heterosexual life.
The anti-gay atmosphere at the time was pronounced. Straight congregants were so outspoken on the matter that, well, let’s just say there weren’t any pride parades. Gay Mormons didn’t come out of the closet. “Closets” were for San Franciscan Dog Stylists. Gay Mormons didn’t live in “closets” they lived in subterranean nuclear bunkers … and they didn’t come out.
These days, anyone who frequents certain corners of the blogosphere knows that there has been a strange but perceptible shift in Mormon doctrine and LGBTQ relations. Now, over a decade later, the gay Mormon community has come out far enough to wave the white flag. They’ve opened up in the collective A.A. meeting that is the internet in order to say everything from, “I’m Mormon, I’m gay and I’m proud of it,” to “I’m gay… but married to a woman because I know that it’s the right thing to do and the only way to get into the highest level of heaven and I’m very happy and sexually fulfilled. See, look at all the kids I made to prove it.”
The church no longer kicks people out just for being gay. Now they only punish members who act on those feelings. Being gay is ok, acting on it is not. This may not seem like progress, but it’s significantly better than it was.
At the time I met William, the internet was relatively new and this cultural phenomena had not yet occurred. So it was a little surprising to meet someone who openly identified as both gay and Mormon. It was like meeting a unicorn in the supermarket. Cole had filled me in on William beforehand, but William soon clarified one point.
“It’s a subtle distinction,” he explained, “but I’m not actually gay.”
Cole rolled his eyes, but remained silent.
William ignored him and continued, “Gay men fall in love with other gay men. They have relationships with each other. I do not fall in love with or want to have a relationship with a man. I just like having sex with them. It’s purely physical.”
I asked what he was, if not gay. He replied, with an indifferent wave of his hand, that he preferred not to use labels.
In the months and years that followed, I never saw William in any relationship, male or female, so I can’t validate or discredit his claim. The ironic twist of his smile gave me the feeling that he enjoyed being enigmatic.
William was taking Cole and I clubbing in Honolulu. Being a regular at the clubs, he was playing the street-smart Tramp to our naive, sheltered Cocker Spaniel. I had never experienced an actual club before. Montana supported more of a dirty bar scene than an upscale club circuit. Or so I had heard. We were neither bar nor club people. I did attend my fair share of dances in the church gym, however … so … there … was … that ….
When we met in the sun baked campus parking lot, William looked us up and down appraisingly. He then flatly refused to take us anywhere until we ditched our shorts and t-shirts and became outfitted in a more suitable manner.
“Seriously, we’re going dancing, not harvesting potatoes,” he quipped in an exasperated tone.
William wore a black satin, button up shirt and a pair of smart, pinstriped pants the color of thick smoke. He moved his short frame with an unexpected grace. He stood militaristically erect and spoke with a level of dignified distinction more befitting of an English Duke than a product of rural America. For all his propriety, however, he laughed easily. His chortle emerged small and impish before rolling into a boisterous guffaw.
We stopped at the mall in Kaneohe where I selected a halter-style tank top and a pair of silvery gray pants under William’s discerning direction. The pairing accentuated the lean form of my teenage figure. The freedom of dressing myself (sort of) was intoxicating. I felt half-naked with my shoulders exposed, but free as a bird, as we hailed a taxi and William expertly guided us to his favorite club.
It wasn’t what I expected. The exterior of the plain cinder block building was dingy and dark. No glamorous red carpet. No muscle bound bouncer screening out the riffraff. We could have been standing outside of an abandoned warehouse.
We hauled open the heavy metal door and stepped through. My initial disappointment was instantly extinguished. We were inside a firework. Lights flashed green, red and blue as multi-hued smoke curled seductively upward, emanating from the lustrous tile floor. William grabbed a drink and guided us to a plush, wrap-around booth smothered in red velvet. It was glorious in its unapologetic gaudiness. I slid in sideways after William, scanning the room in front of us, as Cole flopped down next to me.
“Come on, Man,” Cole mumbled under his breath, clearly annoyed. “Why’d you bring us here?”
I thought he was being a little quick to judge. After all, we’d just arrived. Sure, it was grungy but it had a 70’s retro vibe that was kind of cool.
William laughed his funny chortle guffaw and took a sip of his drink. “Chill out,” he said. “Try to enjoy yourself.”
Cole made a dissatisfied sound.
I leaned in closer, trying to hear over the bombastic thumping of the music.
“Be grateful,” William said. “Nobody will hit on her here so you don’t have to worry about getting ditched.” He smirked, “Well, you probably don’t have to worry.”
Thanks a lot, I huffed to myself, taken aback. So what if it was my first time in a club? I thought I looked pretty good for a hayseed.
Noticing my haughty expression, Cole whispered apologetically into my ear, “It’s not you. It’s a gay club.”
I raised an eyebrow, “No, it isn’t. There are girls and guys dancing together. There’s no way it’s a gay club.” A voluptuous Asian sexpot paraded past our table, as if to prove my point. I gestured toward her seductively retreating form, “See?”
“That’s not a girl,” noted William, following my glance. “I know him. He’s a tranny, a drag queen.”
I did a double take, examining the twirling form with a more critical eye. It was perhaps the most voluptuously feminine form I had ever seen … and thanks to her “dress” I could see almost all of it. A solitary, minuscule black strap wrapped behind her neck before dividing into two equally sparse strips split down her front. The open neckline plunged daringly downward reuniting just above her pubic bone. The minimal leather barely restrained her massive breasts. Her long, inky hair fell thickly across her naked shoulders. There was absolutely nothing masculine about her. Evidence of plastic surgery, sure (even I knew that slender Asian girls didn’t come with double D’s), but nothing else.
“That,” I stated boldly, “is a woman.”
William scoffed, “Come on, now. Use your head. That is a man. Just look at him! Look how absolutely massive his chest is. On such a small frame? Look at his arms – too muscular. He has no hips.” He toured through her retreating body, picking apart the evidence like a twisted, corporeal Sherlock Homes.
“I have no hips. Am I a man?” I shot back, laughing. “And I know her chest isn’t real. I’m not that dumb.”
“All right then,” William parried, swirling the ice in his rapidly emptying glass. “What about his Adam’s apple. Do you have one of those?”
An uncomfortable giggle escaped my lips as I noted that she was, indeed, sporting an Adam’s apple nearly as impressive as her cosmetically enhanced chest.
“Wow,” I stuttered. “That is one realistic looking woman … er … man … shman … transvestite. But, where is his … you know? I can see freckles through that dress. I’d think you’d be able to see … so … yeah …” I tried unsuccessfully to examine without looking.
William shrugged and leaned back, draping his arm across the padded velvet booth. “Maybe he taped it back. Or maybe he just tucked it. They make great underwear for that. Hell, maybe he had it hacked. I really don’t know for sure,” he mused nonchalantly, swirling his straw around the ice in his glass and taking in the rest of the room. “I know him. I just don’t know him if you know what I mean.” He winked.
Cole rolled his eyes, then pulled me out of the booth. “That’s enough of that,” he said. “Let’s dance.”
“So, how did you and William become friends?” I asked over the music’s chaotic pulse as we navigated through the crowd toward the dance floor.
Cole smiled, “Yeah, it’s a strange friendship, I know.”
“No!” I back peddled. “That’s not what I mean, I just … I was just curious.”
He laughed at my obvious embarrassment. “It’s a valid question. William lived by me in the dorms when I first started school. He was really nice and welcoming and he always helped me out. He never hit on me or anything, he’s just a genuinely nice guy. So, now we’re friends. It’s pretty simple really.”
It was simple. Things with Cole usually were. He wasn’t prone to drama. He rode the waves of life with a bright-eyed, yet very even keel.
We emerged onto the dance floor and started to dance. We moved awkwardly, our inexperienced motion contrasting starkly with the grace of these professional club hoppers. We danced anyway. A couple of the guys found our inexperience endearing and danced along. They were breathtaking in their expert grace and they laughed easily, happily. It was delightful. The music throbbed and the lights flashed and I couldn’t stop grinning.
How in the world had I gotten here? Here I was, this little girl from rural Montana who’d never seen anything, and now I was here. A man with hair the color of the sun twirled around us like a comet, decked in a full body mesh leotard. He flashed and glittered as he moved, casting sparkling diamonds across the floor and everyone on it. How in the world had I gotten here? I was inside a prism.
This is the latest installment in my story. If you haven’t yet read the previous entries, click here to start at the beginning. Then continue to read each post in numerical order.