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Friday, April 30, 2010

Food for Thought #6

So, a few of my favorite things came together recently and my weekend is perfectly planned:

I have a date with David Tennant!

…well, a date with myself to watch David Tennant…

…as HAMLET!

hamlet

The DVD is already pre-ordered because how can you go wrong with such a great combination. (Why Shakespeare meets sexy , of course).

You can all thank Cole for this link to enjoy it all yourselves:

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/episodes/hamlet/watch-the-film/980/

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Laugh of the Day #15

Well, let’s put it this way: more writers block on my part means more Betty White enjoyment on yours. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Laugh of the Day #14

So, I totally didn’t finish today’s post. Here we go with something to honor my honey, Betty St. Olaf White.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sonriso, Part 5

A smile is a curve that sets everything straight.

—Phyllis Diller

As far as milestones on the path of gay life, one that sticks out in this twenty-something’s life is the day that people were able to deduce that I was gay based on my Facebook profile. When you think about it on a deep level, facebook profiles are very interesting cultural documents that speak quite a bit to who that person is and who he or she would like to be.

Although my profile clearly stated “Christian—Latter Day Saint,” and I belonged to groups for my ward, my Family Home Evening group, and my mission, the “gay” part of my Gay Mormon Boy mantle was beginning to peer through. And people reading through the lines—my politically liberal views, my photo albums devoted to outfits coordinating my socks to my shirts and/or ties, and finally my GLBT Facebook friends from across Utah. The plan was to remain enigmatic on Facebook and let people find me on Connexion (a GLBT social network), but with a somewhat random friend request, I knew that I was slowly unmasking myself, a fact that deep down was somehow comforting.

The request was all at once surprising, nostalgic, and alluring. It was Evan, Elder Davis’ brother, and his unforgettable smile remained as brilliantly white as ever. I was taken back to that moment back on the grass on the quad over two years ago. It was like reliving the entire experience with another set of eyes, or rather the same eyes unfiltered—the immaculate smile, the perfectly sculpted musculature, the cool ease to bear it all and remain stylish in just a pair of shorts and sunglasses. I knew why I had noticed particular features and I knew that the reason he’d stuck in my mind could not be completely attributed to my politically liberal mentality or my desire to study and understand the human condition. There was an element of physical attraction there which had been left for me to unearth much later.

evan

I responded excitedly—coyly. The interaction unfolded casually over a course of a week or two:

“You're Erik’s brother, right?”

“Ya I am. Did you go on your mission with him or something?”

“Yeah. It's a small world full of twists and turns. We lived together for four months. He came up to visit a couple of years ago and introduced us on the quad if I remember correctly. That's why I asked. (My apologies... my memory is kind of freakish like that). A lot has changed since then.”

“Whoa yeah that was a long time ago... good memory. The good old days up there, I miss it. So what has changed?”

“Well, it hasn’t changed a ton, honestly. As for me, I’m probably as successful and happy as I’ve ever been. I’m doing research, I’ve figured out my future. I’m giving presentations to the state legislature and at a conference in Minneapolis plus I graduate in May…. Oh yeah, and I’ve been dating boys for about nine months now.”

“Its nice to have graduation in sight. I was so happy to have my degree and be done (even though I kind of miss it, more so the social aspect). I saw you were friends with a lot of the people I know up there so I was wondering...

facebook gaydar

“I'm glad you are happy and doing good things with your life. Trust me I know exactly how you feel. I could finally figure out my life and move on when I came out and just started living my life the way I wanted to….So meet any keepers?”

And from there, the conversation turned to our histories—to Mark on his mission and to Evan’s recent breakup with his own Mark. There was something definitely intriguing about the way we’d gotten to that point, demonstrating just how unpredictable life could be. I hesitate using the word “serendipity” even now, but that was the underlying explanation for our interactions in my mind. It was more than repressed sexual attraction. Somehow, his story validated my own and brought it close to home. It wasn’t the first time, but the fact that another important piece of my life was tied to this experience indirectly brought the situation into perspective.

Towards the end of those weeks, a simple “Let me know the next time you’re in Salt Lake so we can make some time to hang out” brightened up a dreary, busy week at work. Fighting the impulse to immediately text back, I suggested an hour later that Friday would work after a presentation down there. As the week progressed, the stars aligned for what turned out to be an incredibly significant day for me.

End, Part 5.

Monday, April 26, 2010

São Paulo Vivo

The Wanderings and Delusions of a Gay Mormon Missionary

Through the crowd, a small herd of Mormon missionaries came into view—“herd” being the appropriate metaphor because we all had a collective semblance of terror, arriving in a new country mostly unfamiliar with the language and culture. The small man who had shouted “Welcome to the jungle!” as we made it through customs approached and explained in his broken English, “Stay with me. Soon we will go to the CTM (pronounced Say-Tay-Emmy) in the van.”

Sao Paulo airport

We all stood there with our mounds of luggage and taking in the atmosphere of the airport. This hub of international travel brought together our group of missionaries, some nuns, well-dressed businessmen and women, Charlie Brown, Jr. (a popular, nationally-recognized rock band), and a hoard of their fans. In that moment, I realized that my life as a sheltered, rural Utah boy would not continue. Everything had been so ordinary, expected, and usual to me at that point and now (though my life was still mapped out for me in a way), and now that was all going to change. Everyone has their growing up moment—the moment in which you realize you’re not really a kid anymore and that you’re meant for bigger and better things. That moment came as I hoisted my bags over my shoulders and made my way to the van.

It was a march into epiphany as we walked from the cement terminal to the bay of vans and taxis. The brilliance of the Brazilian sun became more and more apparent as the train of gringo missionaries cautiously rolled along. It peeked through the tinted windows on the doors clearly labeled “Saida” and appeared almost white as we squinted to see beyond the shade of the terminal of vans.

Excited and loaded up, we made our way into the vans—the drivers eagerly awaiting a journey they’d clearly made several times before. The more eager missionaries tried using their scant Portuguese skills to ask their names and explain that they were missionaries, to the amusement of the Brazilians watching out for us.

sao-paulo-1

Skyscrapers of glass and steel, insular slums, smatterings of urban litter and graffiti art of Che Guevara, Bob Marley, and George W. Bush, the enormous concrete river of black sewage. Brilliant red and blue banners signaled the beginning of an election season reminding me that 2004’s US election was just around the corner. Groups of twenty-somethings in shirts with golden yellow lettering “SERRA” stood on street corners shouting slogans.

The city was alive, as I’d had a glimpse into the passion São Paulo and Brazil had to offer. I suppose middle school civics had twisted me into thinking that American politics was superior somehow, but suddenly I noted that it was nice for people to believe in something enough to take to the streets and show it, and as I looked around at the other missionaries with their faces pressed to the glass in their white shirts and ties, I realized that we had a lot in common with our Brazilian brothers and sisters.

***

We arrived an hour later at the CTM exhausted from travel, anticipation, and the sewage river’s overpowering smell (I’d describe in terms of smells emanating from outhouses, highway construction, and the sulfurous hot pots of Yellowstone). The Centro de Treinamento Misionario (CTM) is a center for training all Mormon missionaries that serve in Brazil and perhaps the largest conglomeration of American citizens in all of Latin America, which is why the first thing you notice as you arrive are the tall fences lined with sharp tips and a booth occupied by a severe-looking guard. The thought of prison immediately came to mind—a funny side note in the moment.

Again, we filed our way in the gates before closing them behind us and offering our Thank Yous to the driver without thought that they might go lost on his Portuguese ears. Unexpectedly, as I stumbled through the gate with my clutter of luggage, I spotted a familiar face.

Wednesdays CTM

“GMB. E ai, cara?”

It was Jim Toone. As I later learned, he’d been here a month and tried to impress me with his knowledge of Brazilian slang. We grew up 2 miles from each other and went to school together, though we’d hardly spoken. He was a snowboarder I’d always considered a slacker and wondered if these two years would change him.

“Nice to see you… a continent away. I wasn’t really expecting any familiar faces for a couple of years.”

Conversation was left to a minimum because we didn’t have much to talk about, and I had a lot to think about.

A few instructors who greeted us at the gate gave us some helpful instructions in English and helped us to our rooms.

“Elder Gay Mormon Boy” I heard called from across the courtyard.

“Yes,” I said as I made my way.

“You’re in District 37-D and your companion is Lindley. Follow Irmão Henrique to the fourth floor with your things. Oh, and don’t forget your blue dot.” And with that, he removed a sticker from his clip board placed it on my name tag, and pointed me in the direction of Irmão Henrique.

“There are only two times you use this elevator,” Irmão Henrique pointed out the group sternly as a small group of four or five of us rode up the shaft with our luggage. “When you arrive and when you go.”

We turned right outside of the elevator as he grabbed a stray bag of mine. Thankfully, he instructed us all to take a good nap and be ready for orientation in a few hours. Eager to throw my bags down and pass out on my bed, I thanked Irmão Henrique, then taking a deep breath, I opened the door. It was what you’d imagine for a dorm. Three bunk beds and three desks all in brown and white tones. I rolled my suitcases in, taking in the coolness of the open window and the tile floor. As I turned around to shut the door, two missionaries popped out from behind it. “You must be Elder GMB,” they shouted as I jerked away in shock.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Food for Thought #5

I’ve been thinking a lot about some upcoming decisions in my life. Some big, some small. Some everyday, some once-in-a-lifetime. I think that most people can agree with this (courtesy of Lead Singer of a Rock Band):

Areyouhappy

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sonriso, Part 4

A Flashback

Keep smiling - it makes people wonder what you've been up to.

—Unknown

I’d been anticipating this day for a week now. I was going to see an old friend in a very different context—so different it was weird to consider calling him by his first name. To me, Erik was always (and perhaps always will be) Elder Davis. We were missionaries together in Brazil. We were never paired up as missionary companions, but arriving at roughly the same time, we quickly developed a bond.

Elder Davis and me

My earliest memories of him come from my first missionary conference in which we gathered (as missionaries regularly do) for training sessions and a nice dinner. He welcomed me, provided some advice (having 3 more months of experience), and wasn’t afraid to talk about pre-missionary life back in the states. We later ended up living together as missionaries and developed an even closer relationship.

Our reunion revolved quite a bit around the gossip we shared and inside jokes we had. He would call me a communist (in part because of my political views and in part because of a communist musical I’d started writing with my friend Serenity in high school) and I would tease him about looking like a twelve year-old.

Not much had changed when he made that trip up to visit me and his brother. I was more liberal than ever (going so far as to attend a College Democrat meeting or two) and he could pass for fifteen now—maybe. The day was perfect. The closest you could get to a brilliant Brazilian day. As I approached him from across the quad, the intermittent cool from the bright green grass and the radiant heat from the chalky pavement brought me back—fleetingly—to the urban and rural tropics I’d known in Brazil. My past had met my present briefly in this one moment. Little did I know that a tiny piece of my future would enter into that moment as well.

Quad

“GMB! It’s been like six months and a continent!” he called to me from across a band of sunbathers.

“Davis! What have you been up to? Still getting asked out by girls in middle school?” I teased.

“Quit that. I’m just starting back up at the U again.”

“Aren’t you loving school?”

“Blah,” he responded complacently. “Sometimes I’d just like to go back to Brazil.”

“Are you kidding me? All you did was complain about the heat. It’s always something, isn’t it?”

“Hey,” he said in his most nasal voice. “Let me introduce you to my brother,” he said motioning towards the sunbathers. “Evan,” he called.

With that his brother got up to introduce himself.

Immediately, my eyes were drawn to the brightest smile I’d encountered in my life. “Nice to meet you. I’m GMB,” I said.

“I’m Evan,” he said, still smiling as he extended a hand and secured the sunglasses mounted in his short faux hawk with the other. Even then, in the days when I thought I was straight did I note that he was attractive. As my eyes drifted from his face downward, I noted the perfectly toned abs, the stylish board shorts, and that his perfectly-tanned complexion continued from his smile down to his toes.

Adrian-Grenier

“He’s gay,” Erik told me a few moments later (once we were alone). I hadn’t really known about his gay brother. I’m sure he mentioned him in passing not as his gay brother but simply as “Evan.” It kind of surprised me because I’d wondered about Erik’s sexuality, but left those questions in the air.

Apparently, it was a big issue for their family.

“My mom wasn’t too happy about the trip up here,” he explained. “She didn’t think it would be a good idea to stay the night at Evan’s since he lives with his boyfriend, Mark.” I didn’t pry into the situation, but it was in the back of my head.

I had met gay men before. There was Ianto and a couple of guys I taught on my mission, but somehow this seemed more immediate and close because a good friend’s perfect Mormon family was impacted. I found our political divergences particularly interesting at this point. I didn’t claim to understand the movement for GLBT rights or the people it represented, but the notion that love could be conditional based on something so personal didn’t really settle right.

As I showed Erik around campus—my office, my favorite spot in the library, the campus café—our conversation seemed to be halted by our differences and Evan’s homosexuality. We remained in the neutral territory of discussing school and reminiscing about the mission. Still, it was as happy a reunion as one could hope for or expect. Intrigued by this earliest glimpse into the true lives of gay Mormon boys, question came to mind that would not be answered for another two years when Evan and I met again.

End, Part 4

Friday, April 23, 2010

Sonriso, Part 3

Exit Strategies

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

—from “We Wear the Mask,” Paul Laurence Dunbar

The next morning, I sent Derek a text: “We need to talk.”

In terms of dating and relationships, about 80% of the time that is a very bad sign. And for that reason it took him a while to respond.

That night, he sent a very generic message either oblivious or evasive of the situation: “Hey, GMB. What’s up?”

“Not much. Just homework tonight. Do you have a sec to talk on the phone?” I responded.

me on phone

After another half hour, my phone rang and the pressure suddenly mounted. Cliché as it might sound, I panicked at the last minute wondering if I should even pick up. I answered at the last possible moment before it could go to voicemail.

“Hey, Derek,” I said in as neutral a tone as possible. “How was your day?”

“Super busy. School, then rehearsals, then work, then some family drama when I got home.”

“You do seem to have a lot of that don’t you?” I jested.

“Can’t deny that. At least there’s the weekend, right? It’s too bad things didn’t work out for you to go too,” he said, lying through his teeth.

“About that…. I really did want to go,” I said gritting my own teeth slightly. Teeming with dissatisfaction but holding back, I paused. “I talked to Zane on Connexion last night and he explained the situation.”

“What situation?”

“If you didn’t want me to go to Sundance, you should have told me.”

“I do. It’s just complicated, okay?”

“Yeah. This is getting pretty complicated,” I said. “This isn’t going somewhere I like, so I don’t think another date is a good idea.”

***

To be completely honest, that’s not what happened. Not at all. I didn’t send any text or attempt any serious talk. That’s how the story would have ended had it happened a year later.

quantum-suicide-9

Instead, I let it go. I had no intention of pursuing an actual relationship with Derek, but I still planned to wait it out. Zane’s forecast was that he’d lose interest soon and move on when he knew he wasn’t going to get any more action turned out to be fairly accurate.

One date was all it took.

underworld 3 I didn’t want to be there and I’m sure my body language indicated such. It all started with an uneasy hug in the snow as we met at the movie theater. Since he drove a bit that day, I suggested he pick the movie, and without fail he picked the one movie I wasn’t interested in: Underworld 3, “It’s okay,” he reassured me. “It’s a prequel, so you don’t need to see the other movies to know what’s going on.”

I sat there amused. While he was so enthralled he didn’t attempt to make a move, I amused myself with analyzing how ridiculous I found the movie and the situation. How did I end up stuck here. At least it’s a free movie, right? That’s all I’d pay to see it.

Our quick, final date ended with a quick hug goodbye. Should I say anything? It was as if I was holding my breath debating whether to come up for air or keep waiting it out conserving what little I still had in my lungs. We passed each other hollow smiles as he got in his car to make the drive back.

Twenty minutes later, I received a call.

“I had a good time, GMB.”

I listened waiting for the inevitable “but.”

“You know it’s been fun and all, but we’re at different places in our lives. I left the Church a long time ago. I’m comfortable with sex. You’re going off to grad school fairly soon.”

“True,” I said. Oh my gosh. It’s really happening, passively embracing this fate.

“Well, I feel like I haven’t been getting a lot out of our time together. I mean, I keep making all of the effort and don’t feel like it’s paying off.”

“Okay.”

“It’s best we move on then. After all, you’re looking for a relationship and at this point I don’t think I am anymore. I only have so much time to have fun.”

“I agree.”

With a few painless words, it was all over and I saw through the counterfeit smile. Not Derek’s, but my own. I was weak for putting up with being nothing more than an object, nothing more than a conquest, nothing more than a pretty face.

End, Part 3.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sonriso, Part 2

Red Flags and the Kindness of Strangers

This post is rated PG-13 for some language.

At worst I feel bad for a while
But then I just smile
I go ahead and smile

—“Smile,” Lily Allen

A few nights after that steamy evening with Derek, a chat window popped up unexpectedly one night. It was Drake, a guy I’d spent months chatting with and texting without any success of lining up our schedules for a single date. I’d heard through the grapevine that he was in a relationship, so this conversation was particularly unexpected.

Drake and boyfried.

“GMB!”

“Hey, Drake! How are you?”

“Pretty good. Life’s treated me well. I saw you online and thought I’d say hi.”

“Thanks. I like hearing from old friends, but you know it gets weird when they’re in a relationship. I’m self-conscious of what it’ll look like sometimes.”

“That’s one of the silliest things I’ve ever heard. I know we haven’t talked for a while, but a friend is a friend.”

“I’m glad you feel that way.”

“There’s not a ton of good guys out there, so we’ve gotta look out for each other.”

His sentiment brightened my day a bit, but I wondered if its surfacing was not entirely spontaneous.

“I heard you’re seeing Derek.”

“Yeah. He speaks pretty highly of you. He considers you his best friend.”

“We go back a few years, I guess.”

“He’s handsome and witty.”

I wasn’t really expecting what came next although I wasn’t entirely surprised.

“He is. You just need to be careful.”

Drake didn’t elaborate, but rather left me to wonder just what he was leaving for me to discover for myself—a topic we would discuss over coffee a couple of weeks later.

Cole had acted similarly since Derek and I began to date. They went to school together and knew each other from a distance. Only later did I learn that it was by Cole’s wishes. That said, their paths did cross. A few nights after my chat with Drake, Derek made a confession:

“I was at a party last night and ended up telling Cole everything.”

heart skip

My heart skipped a beat. I’d kept something from the one person I could trust the most. It was something deeply personal that I was still processing. I was planning on telling him about that hand job sometime down the road (despite his joking remarks that he would disown me if I got any action before he did). In a way, though, I’d kept it from him as I withheld the details of the date.

Cole’s response was ambivalent. He was happy I was comfortable with myself in the moment and reassured that I wasn’t so comfortable afterward. Just what I needed at the time even if I wasn’t able to reach out for that kindness myself. At this particular time in my life, that seemed to be my luck.

napoleon_dynamite_poster Despite what I’d learned about Derek that week, I was gearing up for our next date, a day at the Sundance Film Festival with a few of his friends. I’d wanted to go since I was a freshman in college (as one of my instructors was in Napoleon Dynamite and offered to take us before it sold out). Thursday night, though, he dropped a quick text: “Saturday won’t work after all.”

He didn’t really offer an explanation other than “Things didn’t work out,” which left me a bit upset. I put on a smile and let it all go in the moment, though.

“It’s alright. Some other time.”

“Next week. I promise,” he said.

Later that night, a chat window popped up as I was finishing up a paper on some Brazilian short stories.

“I hope you’re having a good night. I’m Zane, BTW.”

Zane was another one of Derek’s friends. The one who’d invited him to Sundance. I bet this is going to be an interesting conversation, I thought to myself.

Sundance

“Nice to meet you. Derek’s thinks you’re pretty much the coolest guy he knows. He really goes on a lot about you.”

“Oh really? LOL, because he’s an asshole.”

Although I’d half-expected something negative from him at that point, his comment really took me by surprise. He explained:

“Derek’s a fun guy to hang out with, but doesn’t have a lot of substance. He’s why gay men have a reputation for being drama queens.”

“I’ve started to see that more recently. It’s got to be true if one of his best friends goes to some length to track down a total stranger warn him.”

“He’s got a pattern. He goes for he wants and when he gets as much as he possibly can, he moves on. Don’t let it get that far is all I’m saying.”

“Okay. That’s good to know. Next week’s definitely the last.”

“Next week? Aren’t you coming on Saturday to Sundance?”

“He told me things didn’t work out for me to go.”

“See…Total asshole. The only reason I got the passes was so that I and my friends could meet you. I’d hardly call it a reputation, but I’d call it a good one still.”

“Wait… Why was I not invited then?”

“You’ll have to ask him. If you ask me, though, I think he’s insecure about us possibly liking you better… and for good reason.”

The time had come to contemplate my next move.

End, Part 2.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sonriso, Part 1

Reading Between the Smiles

And I can't hide, as people lie.
They make me cry, but i just smile
I can't hide, 'cause people lie.
They make me cry, but I just smile
I can't speak you read the team,
Your words they live to burn my dreams
But I can't hide, as people lie.
They make me cry, but I just smile.

—”Fake a Smile, Hide the Tears,” Beyond All Reasons

I used to wonder why my opinion of Derek changed so drastically in the months after we stopped seeing each other. It wasn’t so much a change of opinion so much as a sudden realization that I was attracted to the idea of doing what I’d never done before and having a boyfriend. Almost overnight, I went from recalling his wit, his skilled hands, and the squint of his eyes as he smiled to a disdain for each and every one of his traits. His wit turned from charming to malicious. The hands that brought me the first sexual sensation I’d shared with any other person (a hand job in a photo lab) took on a fiendish, self-serving character. And his smile was no longer an open expression of joy as I’d once seen it. It read more like a history of one people overcoming another in battle, making our romance more like the lust of conquest and his smile more a celebration of my fall to our desire.

Derek

In the moment, I enjoyed it. The pressure—of being the example, being the one that made being gay, Mormon, and happy work for him—had been mounting for months. I’d done what I could to cope with the friction of these two conflicting pieces of me, pushing against each other like two massive geological plates, and it seemed inevitable that one would subduct under the other resulting in some sort of growth. My faith that some path would be opened to me resulted in the apathy regarding the Proposition 8 debate and my ambivalence toward the self-hate I’d seen in other gay Mormon boys including my own best friend and others who were in much darker places to the point of contemplating suicide. Letting go for that moment made me reevaluate my stance on remaining neutral—or possibly complicit—in the gay Mormon silence.

In my disobedience, I’d let myself feel. It felt good to feel bad—to feel the guilt and know I’d made a decision not solely based on fear, but based on me. At least I knew what it felt like. At least I had knowledge to act on. I would not go gentle or blind into whatever lay ahead for me.

At least that’s what I salvaged from the rather dismal romance between me and Derek, which quickly unraveled in a matter of weeks. Every attempt I made to see him again just didn’t fit into his schedule and my idea to have a simple dinner sometime wasn’t as appealing as watching Underworld 3. Needless to say, that date became our last.

Before that could happen a number of red flags appeared, well-preparing me for the imminent end of our tryst.

End, Part 1.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Timeline Clarification


So I thought today I’d be starting a new series (titled, “Sonriso”) but I think today would better be served by a rundown of my timeline, considering I’ve been at this for about ten months and also because I've complicated things recently with Missionary Monday.

Currently, I’m 25.

  • I graduated high school in 2003
  • Went to college the 2003-04 school year
  • Took a 2-year leave of absence to be a missionary in Brazil (Aug. 2004-Aug.2006)—Monday posts tie in to this time period. I was 19 when I left.
  • Returned to school at 21 years-old (Aug. 2006).
  • Came out to myself in April 2008 and started dating men—the blog was started roughly a year after this event and focuses mostly on what happened one year in the past (sort of an experiment in writing, which I’ll discuss come the one year anniversary of the blog).
  • I’ve alluded to other events (such as graduation—May ‘09), but I’ll get to those relatively soon.
Questions are always welcome.

Monday, April 19, 2010

“Welcome to the Jungle!”

The Wanderings and Delusions of a Gay Mormon Missionary

Aerial view of pristine Amazon Rainforest or jungle, Brazil

I’d put my life on hold. I’d taken a leave of absence from school, put my scholarships on hold, left my job, and—moments earlier—said goodbye to my family. Two years later, I’d return to that same airport and see them almost as I’d left them: some slightly taller and wider but mostly just the same.

I, on the other hand, wouldn’t be the same person, arriving barely recognizable—physically fit, able to handle stress constructively, goal-driven, etc. Now that you know the ending of this series, the emphasis is conveniently placed on the how (the process and story) rather than the what (the outcome).

All of the preparation I’d made—attending missionary preparation classes and such—seemed slightly off. Working in the hypothetical and role-playing fundamentally discounted individual nature. No amount of practice could prepare me for the human interactions ahead. The first of these interactions, with Elder Rockefeller, a fellow missionary, was a clear indicator.

Neither of us were accustomed to our hours-old missionary existence. No longer being called by our first names, not being allowed to hug people of the opposite sex, not being allowed to watch television or movies, and now always having another missionary at your side felt a lot like walking in shoes of two different sizes. The rhythm of conversation was thrown off.

“So, you’re headed to Brazil, too?” I asked after our awkward introductions.

“Yup,” he said distinctly. Rockefeller, from that moment, came off as a combination of Goofy and that stoner from the back row of your geometry class. He wasn’t all there, but in an innocent kind of way.

As we talked (finding out we were going to the same area in Brazil), he seemed to have the same cool tone about everything from his memories of high school soccer to the breakup with his girlfriend just a month earlier. He wasn’t worried at all about the next two years of his life. In fact, to him, this adventure to another continent seemed to be just another day of life—an impression I couldn’t really fathom at the moment, especially since I hadn’t considered any aspect of my life particularly special at that point in my life.

Rockefeller Ballenger Carter

The trip became a blur of new faces and stories. A few other missionaries trickled in, but we stuck mostly to the groups we were assigned because we knew we’d be together for a couple of years. We were joined in those moments by Sister Ballenger and Elder Carter who I’d seen with his huge family taking pictures and crying as I entered the airport and as I said goodbye to my own family. He was the oldest in his family to serve a mission, so it was a highly emotional experience. I remember his mother sobbing as he held her with that deer-in-the-headlights open-eyed stare.

At 5’3” Sister Ballenger managed to put some energy into the demanding and slightly terrifying journey to another continent. She was the youngest of four kids, all of whom served missions. In conversation, it seemed that the things she’s miss the most while in Brazil would be U of U football and running marathons. She was refreshingly different and appealing in that she wasn’t just another 19 year-old boy mandated to go and serve. She was here by choice and a few years our senior.

Our conversations continue on our flight in which I sat sandwiched between Ballenger and Carter, the layover in Dallas, and then our flight to Brazil.

“I can’t believe it’s finally happening,” Sister Ballenger gasped, leaning towards me then pulling away realizing her forbidden impulse to hug me. It was a cautionary rule, a barrier to keep missionaries from being tempted by the opposite sex, and we heeded. Ironically, temptation from the opposite sex, I came to realize later, would remain a null factor in my experience.

The journey entering its tenth hour, Rockefeller, Carter, and Ballenger all drifted off to sleep as the cloak of night was pulled over our path. Unable to sleep, I pulled out a stenopad and started writing as everyone around me, a hodgepodge of races, nationalities, and languages. Regardless of these differences, they all drifted off to sleep—except for me and one other missionary across the aisle and down a row.

Plane to Brazil

We were both writing and I was intrigued. A fresh new journal lay open on his folding tray with a few pages turned like my stenopad with some scrawlings and a pair of letters to Nate and Cole, already on their missions, analyzing the experience I was currently passing through.

Noticing I was also awake, he passed me a note:

“Hey, I’m Elder Alan. Where are you from?”

“Nice to meet you. Elder GMB. I’m from Utah. Boring, I know.”

“I’m from Mesa Arizona.”

“Used to the heat then, I guess?”

“Yeah. I’m not too worried about that. You worried at all?”

“For sure. What if I don’t learn the language? What if I get sick? If there’s one thing I’m good at, It’s worrying.”

Our conversation turned to home and what we’d miss. Of course our families and school, but our nerds got the best of us as NPR programs were added to the list and we spent the rest of the flight recalling memories of Car Talk, Diane Rehm, and Prairie Home Companion across the pages ripped from his journal. Looking back, Elder Alan fits a pattern for me: intelligent, tall, dark, handsome. Were I to run into him today, I’d realize that my fascination with him writing and having a nice smile were more than I understood at the time.

Elder Alan

Light began to penetrate the plane’s tiny windows as the announcements regarding altitude and safely deplaning were read in Portuguese, English, and Spanish. That was the first sign that changes lay ahead for us. Lethargically but deliberately, everyone elbowed their way to their carry-ons and overhead luggage. As the missionaries gathered at the gate, we all seemed to realize the reality: we were here and there was no turning back. In a haze of foreign language and unfamiliar instructions we fumbled through customs, not quite sure what waited for us outside of the airport.

Once through customs of Sao Paulo’s immense metropolitan airport, we heard a loud, accented voice shout “Welcome to the Jungle!” emanating from a dark-haired man no taller than Sister Ballenger.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Day of Silence Album

Here are some pics from the local Day of Silence:

Thursday’s post was featured in the exhibit.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

All American Dinner

Recently, a guy I’ve been dating teased me about being white, so I’ve been in “What White People Like” mode. We jokingly came up with tater tot casserole, so the first chance I got I made it, and that was for a very special gathering involving Emily, Jacqueline, Bronson, and Cheryl—who had some wonderful news. Those of you who know the couple should ask them….

The night was a success, and those of you who did not attend really missed out on conversation, Carol Burnette clips, and this:

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Below are some photos from the preparation of the Duggar Family Recipe (halved of course to feed about six adults).

DUGGAR's TATER TOT CASSEROLE
2 lb ground turkey cooked, seasoned, drained
3 2lb bags tater tots
2 cans cream of mushroom
2 cans evaporated milk
2 cans cream of chicken
Brown meat & place in large cass. dish.
Cover with tater tots. Mix soup & milk together.
Pour over top. Bake at 350 for 1 Hour.
(One of Daddy’s Favorites!) Makes 2- 9”X13” pans

Some random notes on the recipe:

I substituted everything I could for low fat, and it turned out a little bland. We decided that what’s lacking are vegetables and spices, so we did a little experimentation. It’s really good with peas. I’d also consider broccoli.

My ex, Mark the Missionary, was fascinated by these shows, esp. John and Kate Plus Eight, so memories of our discussions there popped up as I bought the ingredients.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Silence that Kills from Within

In commemoration of Day of Silence

day-of-silence

A while back, I heard one of the most unnerving and upsetting things I’ve ever heard in regards to my best friend. Discussing his homosexuality once with his Bishop, Cole was told that he was “beyond feeling.”

This really blew me away. Beyond happiness? Beyond pain? Beyond love? Beyond being loved? I still don’t know if that’s even possible—to be completely ruled by a numb sense of ambivalence. Why would anyone try to convince someone that he’s broken on the inside? Especially someone who does so much for those around him. Someone who helps so many people emotionally access unknown parts of themselves through music.

There was no rational explanation or emotional outlet. This man was wrong and he was doing harm to my dearest friend. I did all that I could to reassure Cole that he was at a much better place than in the months following his broken engagement to a girl. Just as he was healing from that tragedy and on the precipice of coming of age in a musical sense, another part of his world began tearing him down.

All of this left me feeling angry but incapacitated because that’s the last thing I wanted to feel towards a leader in The Church. For so long, I’d managed to walk the slack tightrope straddling the boundaries between a gay life and a life in The Church. I placed one foot in front of the other on a daily basis, limiting myself only to kissing and make outs, but nothing more. There were of course challenges to all of this—currents of wind pushing against my solemn, deliberate steps—but nothing seemed to frustrate me more than those coming from my LDS Brothers and Sisters (terms of affection and equality for other members within the Mormon Church). Cole wasn’t the only one who felt as if he was being torn down.

dayofsilence

As I took the last class required for me to graduate from Institute (a religious education system serving those 18-30, generally), I became uncomfortable. I’d been uncomfortable before (not knowing how to handle the advances of my female classmates before I knew I was gay) but suddenly, I listened to everything with a new awareness. It was difficult to hear other people talk speak to the “issue” of homosexuality when I’d suddenly become a first-hand authority on the subject.

“It’s unnatural.” “It’s Satan’s influence.” “It’s because they masturbated too much.” All of these comments rattled around my head. No one including the instructor of the course seemed aware that there were people like me. People who had been totally faithful, who had served missions, who had been held up as examples. Now, though, because I’d kissed another guy, because I wanted to be with a guy for the rest of my life, because I didn’t agree on Proposition 8, I was a pariah.

In class, I became silent and anonymous. I would disappear for a week at a time working through the chaos in my head. I could not be at peace with both wholes in that atmosphere—complicit in my silence or outed by my voice. The instructor would occasionally send an email concerned that I’d missed two classes in a row completely unaware that his voice was one of those pushing me away. The one place I was supposed to be “a safe haven from the pressures, trials, and challenges of the world” (see the website) had become the one place I dreaded most because there was no room for my voice or my stories.

I put up with that feeling until the end of the semester, occasionally defiantly opening connexion on my laptop rather than taking notes. When the semester was finally over, though, I rejoiced because the silence could no longer kill me from within. I only had to deal with those feelings in the occasional Sunday School lesson or at the occasional family barbeque.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Remembering Matthew Shepard

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I recently took a road trip by myself to the beautiful state of Colorado for the conferences aforementioned in this blog. The conferences were amazing and I got to know some of the most amazing people in my life.

laramie project A set of unexpected consequences aligned prior to the trip. I decided to drive and to do so alone. On the way there, however, I passed through—of all places—Laramie, Wyoming—the site of the brutal beating of Matthew Shepard. Having seen The Laramie Project the week before and taken a class on the psychology of memorial sites, I decided to take a little detour when I realized my trip was ahead of schedule.

I headed into town looking for a memorial for the man beaten and left for dead solely based on the fact that he was gay. In a few moments, I’d found myself on his college campus in a parking lot next to the library thinking, Twelve years ago, he was here. This is where he studied, where he hung out with friends and met boys, where he went to class….

On Oct. 9, 1998, Shepard was found beaten and bloodied. As reporter James Brooke described the moment:

“At first, the passing bicyclist thought the crumpled form lashed to a ranch fence was a scarecrow. But when he stopped, he found the burned, battered and nearly lifeless body of Matthew Shepard, an openly gay college student who had been tied to the fence 18 hours earlier.”

When I saw the movie and heard the first hand descriptions of the police officer who arrived on the scene, of his best friend, of the local business owners, and of the local clergy. As I looked around and got a feel for the campus and the town, I didn’t notice much difference from my own campus in Utah.

DSCN0560

People clearly held diverse sets of views and interests. It was a place like any other campus I’d been. Students were studying in the library and playing frisbee barefoot on the grass among the abstact sculptures.

After a quick stop in the library and asking a few questions, I came to the memorial. It wasn’t quite what I’d expected. A simple bench with a plaque just thawed out from the Wyoming winter:

DSCN0546

What was I to make of something so simple for something that so incredibly incomprehensible. Taking the advice of the plaque on the bench, I sat down to think about it for a while: Shouldn’t it have been something grander? Something more artistic? Something so generic?

When I thought things through, though, I came to the conclusion that maybe it was a great testament to who he was and what happened. He was a man like any other. The only thing that made him different was the fact that he was attracted to men and that he accepted that. Wouldn’t a memorial with an everyday quality and a thoughtful inscription be a deserving tribute?

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Whether you view yourself as a child of God, a common human being, or as a citizen of the world, none of us are any different from Matthew. He was singled out for being gay like someone could be targeted for being an immigrant or having a stutter or converting to another religion. Each of us are unique because (whether for biological or spiritual reasons) we were meant to be and in that we are all the same.

We are all equal and should acknowledge that by showing each other love and respect.

LIFE

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

“Welcome Back, Welcome Back, Welcome Back”

So, I’m pleased to announce my return to the blogging world. I’ve been incredibly busy this past couple of weeks and I plan on showing you a little bit of what I’ve been up to in the next couple of days.

Tomorrow and Friday’s post will commemorate the National Day of Silence being held this week. According to their website:

“On the National Day of Silence hundreds of thousands of students nationwide take a vow of silence to bring attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in their schools.”

Keep in your minds this coming Friday those affected by hate. The consequences of this anger and violence affect everyone in the forms of depression, anxiety, broken families, and suicide.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

FYI

Everything should be back to normal on Monday. I'll be responding to your comments from the past weeks shortly.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Food for Thought #4

Here's an interesting comic I've come across on a literary blog called The Valve:

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Glee: The Yearbook

This is just what it looks like courtesy of GleeFan.com. Can you believe how close we are?!


Who knew that Mark Stalling used to look like Zack Morris?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sou Grato por...

I haven't really gotten to this part of the story yet, but one of the first things we learned in the Missionary Training Center in Brazil was how to pray and bear testimony in Portuguese. "Sou Grato por..." means "I'm thankful for..."

Darin probably felt a lot like this when I left. Well, now that Darin's on a mission, I'm grateful we're the same size. My wardrobe literally doubled in size overnight....

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Conference Memory

For those of you who don’t know. Every first weekend of April and October, a worldwide conference takes place for the members of the LDS Church. It’s broadcast from the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City to church buildings around the world in dozens of languages.

Well, when I was 17 and my little brother Darin was twelve, we went to the Priesthood Session in the Conference Center. It was pretty exciting since the building holds 20,000 people. This was the closest experience I’d had to an airport.

We stood in long lines with our father and then made our way through metal detectors as our tickets were scanned. Entering the building put us all in a state of awe. The interior of white walls and pillars and marbled floors was a lot to take in at that age; however, once we got into the open air portion, I was even more astonished.

I was at an age where the craft behind art and architecture was beginning to make sense. It was a lot to take in, but since we had time (a good half hour before the conference was to start), I told my father I was going to look at the rest of the building. My brother came along and we made our way up to the top floor taking in the view, the art hanging on the walls, and the swarm of men in white shirts and ties to which we matched perfectly. We made our way to the elevator to go down a floor.

“This is pretty cool,” I said, pushing the button to go down a floor.

“It’s just different to be here in person,” Darin marveled.

As the doors opened, we didn’t find the marbled floors or the excellent views we’d expected, but rather a monotone gray parking garage. Had we wanted to see the apostles cars, we were probably in the right place; however, it was almost time for us to make our way back.

We hopped back in the elevator and hit the button for our floor. Once it opened up, we realized we were in somewhat of a pickle. We had to go through security again.

“Have your ticket?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“We’re getting in line, then,” I instructed as we stepped in front of two men who could be our grandfathers.

As we approached the checkpoint, I worried about what might happen as we went through a second time. Would our tickets give us away? Would we be turned away?

I did my best to make a good impression with the elderly guard. “How’s the day been?” “You must meet a lot of interesting people.” Etc.

I made it through just fine and as I started walking a little faster, I heard a buzzing sound behind me. A red light flashed in the corner of my eye. Apparently, my brother’s ticket had tripped some check in the system. I couldn’t come back to my dad brotherless, so I asked the guard, “What’s wrong?”

“This stupid machine says your brother’s ticket was already scanned. It keeps misreading. Run on in before it starts.”

And with that we breathlessly made our way back just in time to take our seats.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Bella’s Gay BFF

Again, because of a lack of time, and because I’m having fun with Twilight spoof’s again, I’ve decided to feature the video Max Power shared in his comment into an actual post.

I’m sure that were Taylor Lautner’s character actually gay like in the video, there would be much more appeal. Again, Stephenie, there’s an entire market you’re ignoring. Just push him out of the closet and you’ll make another million.

(Geez, that sounded a little like a hostage negotiation).

Friday, April 2, 2010

An Open Letter to Stephenie Meyer

Dear Stephenie—

Thank you for being a part of our little joke yesterday. One quick look at your busy calendar will show remind you that yesterday was April 1, and even though you didn’t have any involvement or consent in yesterday’s buffoonery, we’re grateful for your guest appearance.

While I might not agree with many of your young fans on the merit of your literature, it’s clear it’s made an impact. At the very least, you’ve gotten several girls (and young gay men) to pick up a book even if it’s left them with certain delusions regarding love and potentially violent relationships. Although the sentiment of “Love conquers all” is a nice one, these young women (and men) would likely be better off in a relationship without the possibility of being eaten or losing a limb or being scarred somehow.

Perhaps you should take our little joke seriously. I think gay men have a lot to offer to your fiction. (And, no, that’s not a jab at your outfit, Stephenie). There is as much wrong with gay men as there is with straight men, but let’s face it: there’s a general tenderness that need not be tamed, an empathy that heals hearts’ wounds, and a confidence straight men can’t offer because our aims are simply different.

Had Bella had a gay BFF to talk her down from her vamp-chasing ways, I realize it wouldn’t have made for a great story, but it would definitely save many Twilight superfans a few relationship therapy sessions down the road. Those are just my two cents.

Sincerely,

GMB

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