Mikayla Orton Thatcher
“Should I take my wedding ring off for this?” I ask Nate as I bundle up to head into the dark evening.
“I don’t know. It just feels like wearing it is, like, rubbing in that I’m married and they can’t be…?”
“I’m pretty sure no one is going to care that you’re married.”
“You’re right. Sorry. That was a weird idea. I just haven’t really been in a crowd of gay people bef…”
“You’ve got this,” he interrupts to reassure me before my worries escalate. “Have fun! Learn lots!”
And he bustles me out the door before I can decide that seven o’clock is too late to leave the house on a winter night.
This is my first time attending a meeting at BYU’s gay-straight alliance. I mean, they can’t call it a gay-straight alliance here, so it’s a group for "Understanding Same-Gender Attraction" (USGA) instead. The name honestly makes it easier for me to go: I’m not sure yet that I want to form an alliance. I only know that I want to understand.
I’m not super familiar with the law school building, but the meeting room is easy to find by the sound. I don’t know why I expected a small, timid group, but this is a large lecture hall full of people who are happy to see each other. I find a seat by a skinny girl with no makeup and a short pixie haircut. She welcomes me (“Is this your first time?”) while I get distracted by the internal realization that I never see BYU women with hair that short. It’s so cute.
While we wait for the meeting to start she—Ellen—regales me with hilarious tales of trying to grade papers by her hapless sociology students. She’s a grad student, like me, but farther along. It’s so cool that she is teaching already. That haircut is so chic on her. Her features are so distinctive and she has such gorgeous grey eyes. Her dad is, like, a general authority, but I think she has left the church. I don’t know. She doesn’t seem to be afraid of coffee. What must that be like? Not just the coffee—the whole situation.
I’m here because of a YouTube video, “It Gets Better at BYU,” that USGA put out last spring. It’s full of interviews with queer BYU students, which I honestly hadn’t realized existed. One of my residents from my undergrad RA days was in the video—I never knew! One interview, though, hit even closer to home: a girl saying, “I knew that I was different from the time I was little. I can look back and see when I fell in love with my best friend at the age of nine.”
I, too, fell in love when I was nine and I, too, prayed for years for my (unrequited) feelings to fade. They absolutely did not fade. But eventually, Nate reciprocated them, and I got to marry my childhood crush with the full approval of my family and community. My childhood best friend, Natalie, was my bridesmaid.
But what if I’d fallen for Nat instead of Nate?
I wanted to be with Nate before I experienced puberty. It wasn’t lust. I had no concept of marriage as sexual and I already knew that I wanted to marry him. That anonymous girl in the “It Gets Better” video helped me start to see what orientation was; that being gay wasn’t about lust any more than being straight was. And that was enough of a paradigm shift to make me realize that I had some serious misconceptions that I seriously needed to work on. So here I am, at a USGA meeting.
The discussion starts, led by Adam White from the video I saw. I wonder what it would be like to be in charge of this group—to be fully “out” to the school administrators. The Honor Code has moved past its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, but only recently. It would take a lot of courage to live under their scrutiny.
The group converses about the Church and I’m surprised to hear the variety of dreams these students have for the future. Some of them want their orientation to change in the Resurrection. Some of them want legalized gay marriage in Utah. Some of them are holding out hopes of being sealed to a same-gender spouse in the temple someday. This last set makes me very uncomfortable. Is it because they’re spouting heresy? Is it because they seem to think their gayness is acceptable? Or am I uncomfortable because I know they’re never going to get what they want?
When the meeting is over, Ellen and I write down each other’s full names so we can connect on Facebook later. You could say that we’re going to make an alliance after all. I go home to my Nate and tell him what I’ve learned. My understanding grows, line upon line, over the next five years.
At some point, I realize that if queerness isn’t a sin, then we have to be okay with the idea that Jesus could have been gay. We have to start practicing thinking about it as part of regular, value-neutral human variation.
Gay marriage is briefly legalized in Utah. When the county clerk tries to deny marriage licenses to gay couples, Nate and I join a small group protesting on Center Street in Provo. We feel awkward. Our bishop, of course, drives by and sees us.
We move houses and “forget” to hang our fancy, framed Proclamation to the World.
Our friend, whom Nate home teaches, decides we’re safe to talk to. She comes out to us. It is the greatest honor of our lives thus far.
I learn about the Kinsey scale in my reproductive physiology class. Nate and I determine that we experience attraction differently.
Nate and I discover our first mutual celebrity crush.
We make more gay friends. We introduce them to our parents.
The Church takes a step forward here and there, but way more steps back. We are very sad.
We walk with “Mormons Building Bridges” with our baby. We try to be good allies.
I get a pixie cut and start joking that I’m “a lesbian except that I love being married to Nate.”
I leave the Church.
I realize that there’s a word for my experience and the word is “bisexual.”
Looking at my story, I am struck by how much the sequence of events matters. My story is a happy one because brave, gay pioneers made a way for me to learn what orientation was before I discovered my own. I knew their stories before I had a chance to feel alone. I worked to eradicate my own internalized homophobia (and significant internalized misogyny) so that by the time I knew I was bi, it was just a happy detail, free of shame and fear.
Best of all, I came out to Natalie just in time for her to entrust me with the play-by-play of her own love story as it happened. When she proposed to her incredible wife, Shannon, they invited me to officiate.