Thursday, January 11, 2007

A Boy's State

When coming home from visiting family in Logan we passed by those grain elevators (I think that’s what they are…) just there around Ogden. Odd how landmarks like that trigger memories, but it brought back a distinct memory of coming out; one that I must assume has moved me into being a [gulp] activist (and there’s nothing wrong with that! ;-)).

I remembered being right there, on I-15, coming home from Weber State College. I was coming home from Boy’s State. For those not familiar with it, you can read on it, here. Basically, each High School in a state picks and sends a couple students to participate in a mock state government. They are chosen by the faculty, if I remember correctly, and are supposed to be the students most likely to be future leaders in government.

I was not out to anyone when I was told I’d been selected to represent my high school; I was struggling, thinking I might still overcome my orientation. It’s a bit vague to the memory, but by the time I had to head off for this college-application-inflating “honor” I think I had came out only to my parents, just a bit earlier. But I didn’t see Boys State as an honor, by then.

I mean, how ironic? It seemed like a cosmic joke. I’d just came out, still distressed at being gay, and I’m off for a week with nothing but guys my age. And that’s not the worst of it, they were some of the most respectable kid’s I’d met, near all of them intelligent, competent, and handsome. Seemingly all of them 100% mainstream too. They confirmed my certainty that I was the only gay kid in Utah ;-).

And that’s not the worst of it, again! Though I can’t remember if it passed or no, one of the pieces of legislation being debated by my peers was to decide if gay kids should be allowed at Boy’s State. There was my very first chance. They were talking about “what if” gays eventually come there, what if the fairies demand to be let it. They had no idea; there I was, liked and accepted as one of them. And I said nothing; I withdrew.

Today I wonder how many kids there were in my shoes, who could have benefited if someone spoke up. As any reader may be able to tell ;-), my nature is to speak up, to do something, even sometimes recklessly, but not then. I kept quiet. They hit me and I pretended it was okay, that it wasn’t even me feeling the jabs. I let my self-doubt and fear in being gay do the other half of the job of demeaning and debasing myself.

I look back on that as a failure that, gratefully, changed me. I’ll not let that happen again, and now, with my home, I can’t let it happen again, and not only for my sake.

Coming home, in the back of my parent’s car, I was so disappointed in my self, in oddly both my lack of action to defend myself and in myself for being myself. No wonder, odd as it is, that grain elevator moment is etched in memory. I wanted my life back, to have the problem just go away, to not be faced with such an “opportunity” again. I sat there quietly, sullen, angry, and so very wrong.

Just now, as I’m finishing this up and thinking back as a father, I think I should probably apologize to my parents for, at such times, not letting them know what I was thinking, for “stoically” trying to take it on all on my own and not allowing their help, when they’d already made it clear they’d help and support me no matter what. Today, I’m more than through with that teen’s angst, in the back seat of that car… No, it’s being in the front seat of that car, with my sullen quiet child in the back, that’s what I’d fear most.


Chris said...

Thanks for sharing this, Scot. I went to Boy's State too. :)

This story reminded me of when I was new to New York City and had just been called to serve on the high council of our LDS stake in Brooklyn. The stake presidency knew I worked in public relations, so they gave me the stake public affairs portfolio as well as a ward assignment.

This was in 1999, and there was talk in conservative circles here of organizing a campaign against same-sex marriage, which was assumed to be on its way. The church had become active in this, and there was an unofficial coordinator who worked with all of the stake public affairs representatives in the area. I was handed a thick file documenting what action had been taken and what action was under consideration. I was asked to consider drafting e-mails and letters to members of the state legislature, and to cultivate support for action against gay marriage in the wards in my stake.

I dragged my feet on it. I did not want to do it. At the time I convinced myself that I just didn't know where I stood on these issues for gay people (since I wasn't one!) and I even voiced some of my discomfort to a member of the stake presidency in a very private, very cautious way. He encouraged me to do my best, but the implication that I should do my best in support of the church's position was clear.

A few months later, before I had a chance to do anything, I was release from the High Council and called as bishop. I was relieved that I wouldn't have to deal with the same-sex marriage politics, because I was so conflicted about it. But then, in the last two years of my tenure as bishop, same-sex marriage politics REALLY began to heat up and I started to worry about the Church asking me to do something that would deepen my inner conflict, which had begun to itensify. But they never did.

Fast forward to earlier this year. The LDS Church did, finally, ask its bishops and branch presidents to read a letter to their congregations affirming the Church's support for constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and asked its members to write to their elected representatives in Washington to express their support for such an amendment.

I wonder what I would have done if I had been the one presiding over the ward in Brooklyn earlier this year. Would I have read that letter? I don't know. It's hard for me now to think that I would, but I suspect I would have felt duty bound. Perhaps I would have excused myself from conducting the meeting that day so that one of my counselors would have been the one to give voice to the letter. I certainly can't imagine that I would have flatly refused to do it, and nevermind making my reasons for not doing it public.

In an interesting twist, though, the letter was read in my old ward in Brooklyn, which my family and I left in the summer of 2005, the same Sunday that most people in the ward found out that I was gay and that KK and I were getting divorced. I guess I ended up taking a stand against the Church's political statement after all.

Loyalist (with defects) said...


I have to say this has been one of my favorite posts. There always seems to be some defining point in our lives that rocket the rest of our life in another direction.

These seminal points, whether through our action or in action, define our life.

Your closing remark is also poignant is something that causes me great concern with my own children as well.

Thanks for sharing.

Chris: I'm not sure if you will return here, but I very much felt a connection with your thoughts as well. Though we may seem to have taken differnt roads in life; we share a great deal as well. Your thoughts and comments stired my spirit as well. I wish words were not so clumsy (or that I was so clumsy in writing), but I too am left wondering what my call would be in that situation. Knowing myself I would have found a secondary objection to which I could negate the responsibility and not face the situation squarely.

Thank you for your thoughts and comments as well. I have much to ponder. (which I like doing) :-)

Chris said...

Thanks, Loyalist.

Scot said...

Thanks for sharing this, Scot. I went to Boy's State too. :)

Gee, us gay guys with our inability to socialize with the same sex in our teen years and all sure do okay ;-).

But man, Boy’s State is one thing, to be in your shoes there, with such far reaching effect, is quite another. Thank you for that account.

And thank you Loyalist… just 10 more days… :-)

Loyalist (with defects) said...

"Are you on the list?"

Anonymous said...

there are theories of change that talk about stages and the importance of encouraging change in small steps. for the smoker who denies any harm from smoking, it doesn't help to give him a talk on nicotine patches, instead you start by merely pointing out that not everyone has to stop and catch his breath half-way up the stairs.

similarly, it doesn't make sense to talk about gay marriage to the average church member who thinks, like that nigerian episcopal bishop, that merely shaking hands with a gay person is an act to be avoided. instead we start by encouraging simple tolerance.

a few years ago, a member of the bishopric gave a talk on the good samaritan but substituted 'gay' for samaritan. planting a seed, that's how it begins.

that's not to say there isn't a role for more strident activism. there are plenty of smokers who know the harm, want to stop, just need advice on how to go about it, or support in their first few weeks.

we needn't feel guilty because we're all not on the front lines.
but for those who, scot, more power to you.

Paul said...

I, too, went to Boys State.

I don't remember any of the issues addressed when I was there. Surely homosexuality wasn't one of them.

However, at the age of 17, I'd not had any sexual experience to even think about my own sexuality. I do recall it was my first experience where I was very interested in seeing all the other guys hang out at night in the dorms in their underwear and I recall lingering in the showers -- taking the opportunity to look at all the other guys naked.

I do recall a conversation in the car a few weeks before the trip to Boys State where one of my friends said, "you need to get a girlfriend."

And like you, I remember exactly where the car was at the time.

Scot said...

Hey, Paul too; it seems Boy’s State makes people gay ;-).

I agree santorio. I know, particularly for some people, just letting us be in the same room (breathing and unincarcerated ;-)) is a big positive step, and I’m asking for too much in asking for equal legal treatment of our families. But I’ve still got these other people (one of them climbing around my desk right now :-)), who make asking nonetheless compulsive, even when it’s a time to not aim so high.

And I'd also agree that no one need feel guilty for taking on the most vocal side of such a fight.

-L- said...

Too bad I missed this post until today. Blogging to be done properly should be a full time job, it appears. ;-)

I was probably at Boy's State the year after you and I remember it being a hugely formative experience for me too, but for different reasons. Of course, on the gay side of things, I had a huge crush on my roommate. Surprise, surprise. That makes it so much harder to focus on going out and meeting other guys for the campaign... :-)

chosha said...

The regret is okay, but be careful not to judge your teenage self by the standard of your present day maturity, understanding of self, and ability to stand in the face of opposition or ridicule. It's enough that it helped you get to where you are now.