“I’m … gay … sort of.” He looked wildly uncomfortable. “I mean, I’m in remission … or something like that. I’m in treatment.” He looked up at me, his gaze searching, studiously monitoring my response.
“Oh. Ok,” I replied lamely, trying to act as if his admission was no more unusual to me than if he’d confessed to liking country music.
Gabriel’s demeanor was timid, his hands shaky. His nerves were obviously firing on all cylinders. He had none of William’s gutsy bravado. He was shy and quiet and clearly terrified.
We were sitting together on the hard cement floor of one of BYUH’s numerous outdoor walkways, just like we always did. Our backs rested against the wall as we balanced oversized drawing boards on our knees. Our sketchpads were littered with pictorial fragments – unwieldy tropical fronds erupting from the decorative garden before us, our shoes, a hand, a line of doors, and inexpertly executed renditions of each other. We’d been practicing together since the beginning of the year. In fact, drawing was one of my favorite classes largely, if not entirely, because of Gabriel.
Gabriel was a freshman, like me. His short, white-blond hair jutted up from his scalp in rows of neatly groomed spikes. He was slender but muscular with a runner’s build. Gabriel was innately cheery and engaging. He was unfailingly lighthearted, positive and upbeat. He also happened to be delightfully intelligent and distinctly insightful. I loved whiling away the hours with him, sketching and chatting animatedly about everything from art to philosophy. He was one of my favorite friends.
Now, after logging countless hours together, Gabriel was confiding his secret in me. He was gay. Only two months into the semester and 50% of my close male friends were gay. To be fair, I only had a handful of male friends at this point, but it still seemed like a lot. I wondered if the school harbored a disproportionate amount of gay students, or if it was me … Was I a budding Liza Minnelli?
“What do you mean, you’re ‘in treatment’?” I asked.
“The Bishop is working with me,” he replied. “He’s helping me get better. I was working with my old Bishop back home, but then I came here and they transferred me to this new one.”
I had so many questions. How did you know you were gay? How did you wind up working with a Bishop? How is he helping?
I restrained myself and attempted to issue my questions at a normal rate. Gabriel began to unravel the whole story. I’d known some of it, like the fact that he had been born and raised in Utah and had come from a very religious LDS family, much like mine. It was one of the things that had bonded us together.
Most of what he explained, however, was entirely new to me. Gabriel told me that he had “fallen into the sin of homosexuality” in highschool. (The LDS church believed, at the time, that people weren’t born gay. They could choose, or stumble into it as with any sin. In the last decade the church’s teachings on homosexuality have shifted slightly. They no longer claim that same-sex attraction is a choice, but still maintain that acting upon those attractions is a sin.)
Gabriel had grown up with the church’s teachings and he believed them. He didn’t know where his attractions had come from, but he accepted that they were sinful. He believed that his feelings were wrong, but that didn’t mean he could stop having them. He tried, but they just. Kept. Coming.
He said that he had first realized his predicament when he started having feelings toward other boys in gym class. He increasingly found his eyes wandering toward the muscularly blossoming forms of his peers. He didn’t mean for it to happen. It just did. As I listened to his story, I couldn’t help recognizing the similarities between his experience and my own first inklings of heterosexual sexuality. All the hallmarks felt the same.
Gabriel had not acted on his feelings. He had tried to ignore the swelling of desire within him. He had kept it a secret from everyone, hoping that it would extinguish itself in time. As he neared his high school graduation, however, he had met someone. The boy was young, like himself, and fighting the same desires. Slowly, their friendship had evolved into a sexless romance. Flirtations abounded. Gabriel had been startlingly aware of every brush of their hands or meeting of their eyes. He was his first kiss.
It didn’t last, of course, with all the pressure of secrecy surrounding them. The guilt soon caught up with Gabriel and he confessed everything. The revelation had been devastating to his family and heart wrenching for him. Gabriel had been started on a program of scripture study, prayer and religious instruction with the goal of turning him away from the sin of homosexuality and toward heterosexuality… or, if that couldn’t be accomplished, at least away from the former.
After leaving home, Gabriel had continued the program with his Bishop at BYUH. Now, after months and months of work, he was starting to despair that he might never reach a conclusion. He desperately wanted to serve a mission for the church. All the men in his family had served a mission. He had been preparing and saving for his own throughout the entirety of his young life. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t be allowed to serve with an issue of this magnitude still on his plate.
I listened to Gabriel’s story intently. I watched the emotions play across his face. Rage, at himself for letting this happen. Guilt, for not stopping it somehow. Shame, for not being able to stop it now. Sorrow, for all he had lost and all he stood to lose.
I just let him talk. I had no advice to give, no experience to draw upon. I wanted to ask him, did he ever think about giving up and just moving on? Creating a new life, one that was less painful? I didn’t though. I already knew, in some small way, exactly why that wasn’t an option. He would be turning against everyone he knew and loved, walking away from the reality he’d been raised on. He would be giving up his entire life to enter the gaping black hole of the terrifying unknown.
I’d never seen Gabriel like this. He was so open, so raw.
When he finished his story, I thanked him for confiding in me. I told him that I thought he was brave and remarkable for striving through all of this. I’d never met anyone who had gone through anything even remotely similar, so I had no advice to offer, no counsel to give. I didn’t know what to do. All I could do was trust Gabriel and the choices he had made. He wanted to be cured so desperately. I could only assume he knew what was best.
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.