I brought my rusted ’84 Toyota pickup to a stop outside of the house—mansion, really—where Eric had told me to meet him. It seemed rather out-of-place, especially when Eric walked out of the house wearing a full suit and tie. This wasn’t unusual, though: I’ve only ever seen him wearing something other than a suit on five occasions. Ever since I’d moved out to Utah, he was the closest friend I’d had, so I couldn’t think of anybody better for this. “Hey, Phil,” he said, flashing his million-dollar smile at me, “How are you?”
A shrug was all I could give in reply, and it was the main reason I was there. Ever since I’d talked to my dad two weeks before and he’d given me his flooring confession—that he was leaving our church–I had felt emotionally dead. It didn’t change my opinion of my religion at all, but it still disturbed me. I knew something was profoundly wrong with me, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. This was as good a place as any to get it resolved, I thought.
Eric guided me through the halls on a complicated route that took me to the room he was renting in the basement, next door to his sister. He was the perfect person for this; after my dad’s phone call, I texted Eric and asked him if he’d be willing to talk to me. As soon as he got off work, he came straight to my house and watched Scott Pilgrim vs. The World with me, after which I gave him a lengthy run-down of what had happened. “How did hearing that make you feel?” he finally asked when I was done.
“That’s the worst part,” I said, “I don’t feel anything at all, good or bad. It’s even worse than I felt back when I was on the pills.”
Eric patted me on the shoulder. “If you ever need me to give you a blessing, man, just say so. You’re a great guy, and you don’t deserve pain like this.”
I looked over at him. “I’m not in pain, but I kinda wish I were. At least I’d be feeling something then.”
“How about Saturday at Eight?” he suggested. I thought about it briefly, then nodded. What harm could it do?
As per the usual custom, Eric had invited Paul, a guy from our Elder’s Quorum, to help in the blessing. I shook hands with him half-heartedly and took my seat in the plush chair they’d put out for me, and gave them my full name. He put his hands on my head and spoke it, then went into the blessing. He told me what I was going through, and that I had the strength to endure it. He told me that although I would not be seeing my earthly father in the Kingdom of God, I had a Heavenly Father waiting to welcome me back into His arms when the time was right.
Whatever it was that he told me, it re-awoke something within me—“the Spirit”, my fellow Mormons call it—and it broke a dam that had built inside me ever since my dad’s phone call. I suspected my subconscious had erected the dam as a way of keeping my feelings inside, so that I wouldn’t have to deal with the fact that I would have to spend my afterlife without seeing the man who had comforted me during my teenage years, every time some girl had broken my awkward heart by accident or design; the man who took photos of my injuries and took me out for refuge and a slice of cheesecake at his office right after my mother had relentlessly slapped me for wanting to turn in my own schoolwork instead of hers; the man who, with a simple sentence, could make me feel like I had either won the Nobel Peace Prize or committed a crime against humanity.
As with every dam breaking, a flood ensued. It came from my eyes and my nose. Out of respect for Eric, I didn’t let out a wail until he said “In the name of Jesus Christ, amen”. The moment it escaped my lungs, Eric left the room and returned with a box of tissues. When I’d finished wailing and blowing my nose, I stood, my legs shaking. Eric wrapped his arms around me. “You’re a great guy, Phil,” he whispered in my ear, “And I can’t think of anybody less deserving of this than you.” It was in that moment that I knew I’d fallen in love with him.
It didn’t take me by shock. Eric was tall, dark, and handsome, and he really cared for me. One day, completely out of the blue, he sent me a text saying “Hey Phil, just wanted to let you know, you’re the man!” We’d hung out a good few times, which let me really get a good look at his personality. I caught him checking a number of girls out, but never working up the courage to talk to them despite my constant encouragement. His nervousness was quite cute, actually. Add that to the fact that he was the sweetest guy I’ve ever known, and this turn of events was inevitable.
I first realized my bisexuality when I was starting school at a community college back in Michigan. It was in Ann Arbor, where having gay, bi, or lesbian friends was simply a fact of life, no matter your background. Of course, I went to the campus club meetings and everything, even whipping up some of my famous meals for them. Despite this, however, I never felt completely welcome there. For one thing, I’d made clear from the get-go that giving up my faith wasn’t on the table. Though I never asked directly, I suspected that the other reason for this was that I wasn’t gay enough. Not only was I attracted to both sexes, I hated acting like a stereotype, I didn’t consider Republicans to be the Root of All Evil, and I didn’t cry “homophobia!” whenever something went wrong for me. I didn’t fit into their cookie-cutter expectations of what being “queer” should be like, so they treated me like a second-class citizen.
For the most part, I’ve really tried not to make a big point of expressing my sexuality, because I don’t want it to become a huge part of my identity; the LGBT community back in Ann Arbor had done that, and their lives, to me, seemed sadly empty. My policy with coming out is that I tell it to people who I think have a need to know, and people who ask. I’ve told most of my family, and the people I’ve dated. So, since I was so close to Eric, I decided to include him in the list of people who “had the right to know”.
From what I can gather, my experiences being a queer Mormon are the exception, not the rule. Nobody in my church that I’ve told has ever made me feel unwelcome, or told me that I’m a filthy pervert. It’s the non-Mormon girls that I’ve dated who express disgust at my attraction to men in addition to them. It’s my Mormon friends who seem capable of accepting the idea that I can be attracted to men without losing my interest in women, and who don’t spend every minute asking me which guys I find hot. No, they’ve also never even suggested that I take part in Evergreen International.
Naturally, I was sure Eric would take it well. Part of me wondered if maybe he was the same way, and was interested in me. Even if he were, I’d decided to politely decline his potential advances since I had no interest in pursuing a romance born out of desperation; Eric was also far more devout than me, and I knew that if I “led him astray” somehow, he’d never forgive me. So, at church one day, I told him that I needed to talk privately with him. He agreed and we went into one of the kitchens. My heart was throbbing and my hands were shaking, far more so than they had the first time I’d asked a girl out. I was worried that he’d freak out, and I’d lose his friendship.
When the door closed behind us, I cleared my throat and looked at him. I was unable to maintain constant eye contact, so I kept looking at the counter, which had a large platter covered with lemon bars. “Eric,” I said at long last, “I’m bisexual, and I think you need to know…I’ve had a bit of a crush on you. If it makes you uncomfortable, I understand, and we won’t ever need to discuss it again. I just thought I should get that off my chest.”
Eric stared at the floor for what seemed like an eternity. He opened one of the cupboards, retrieved a glass, and filled it with water. After he’d finished it, he finally spoke. “Well, Phil, sexual attraction to men is something I’ve never struggled with. It’s not a sin to have those feelings as long as you don’t act on them. And no, I’m not comfortable ever discussing this again, but if you ever feel a need to talk to the Bishop about it, I can get an appointment set up for you.”
I looked back into his eyes. “It’s not something I struggle with. I’ve come to terms with it, and I’ve accepted that it’s part of who I am. But if you want to end this line of discussion here, I can do that.” Eric nodded and opened the kitchen door, gesturing for me to go out. I complied, and we took separate routes to our cars. The rest of the week, he never texted me or called me.
The Saturday after that, I went to a church-sponsored dance. Eric was there and I approached him casually. “Hey,” I said, “How are you?”
“Fine,” he said simply. I looked carefully at him, and noticed him staring off into the distance at a blond girl filling a cup at the punch bowl.
I walked up to the girl, and noted the lack of a ring on her finger. “Hey there, gorgeous,” I said, “What’s your name?”
She blushed. “Sandra.”
“Hey Sandra, I’m Phil,” I offered her my hand and she shook it. “I hope I’m not being too forward, but do you have a boyfriend?” She shook her head. “There’s this amazing guy I’d like you to meet,” I said, leading her over to the corner of the room. “Sandra, this is Eric. Eric, this is Sandra. Why don’t you two go have a dance?” They linked arms and walked out to the floor. I watched them from afar, talking quite enthusiastically as Eric tried not to step on her feet.
This, I knew, was all I could really hope for. If he was happy, that was enough for me. Eric was having his turn, and I’d just have to wait for mine.