Stranger in Voice, by Elle Mae
Updated: Jan 17
(Setting: Dressing room. Scene: Middle school.)
"Have you ever seen gay people make out? It's disgusting," my friend said.
"Marriage is between a man and a woman." I pulled my costume over a bronze hanger.
"There's a quote I like that says, "Wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it. Right is right even if no one is doing it."
Her black hair bounced as she nodded, "I love that."
"But, they can't help it," my second friend said.
Her shoulders dropped and she stared at the bobby pins and safety pins scattered all over the carpet. I noticed, but I didn't think to question why at the time. Years later, I realized she looked defeated. She tried to say something, but felt like it was a lost cause. She might have worried she said too much. What if she gave herself away? Years later, I found out all three of us are queer.
(Setting: Girls camp. Scene: 4th year.)
"My sister's friends are just awful! They're so toxic! They're are all gay and lesbian and make suicide jokes all the time and they're like anti-straight people." My friend popped an orange starburst into her mouth.
My face felt hot. Time seemed to slur. I forced a few words out my throat. I pushed back as calmly as I could.
"Being gay doesn't make you toxic."
We went back and forth. I pulled my legs up onto the bunk and folded them into my chest. She reached into her bag of Doritos and the bag crackled.
"But, they can't really understand their sexual orientation. They're too young. They haven't even experienced true love." She waved her hand presumably in the direction of "true love."
"How do you define "true love"? Why would straight people be capable of understanding their sexual orientation as teenagers, but not gay people?" I raised my right eyebrow.
"They don't know true love," she said with concern in her voice. "Personally, I think if you're gay you're definitely not neurotypical."
I squinted, "I don't think--"
"It used to be classified as a mental disorder before the world became PC."
Instead of sighing, I swallowed and didn't breathe. I stared at the texture of the wall letting others jump into the conversation. My friend continued.
"I can mentally identify as bisexual because I can form such close connections with girls, but it's just a phase. I've heard so so many older women tell me they used to think they liked girls when they were young and confused. Now they're straight and married. It was just a phase."
"SAME" a girl with apricot orange hair screamed.
I leaned back on the wall and looked down to start peeling the wrapper off my pink starburst. I felt sick. I didn't know what to do or how to handle it.
My friend looked back at me, "I feel like you're getting defensive. I feel like you're defending someone."
"I'm not! I just disagree."
I started tearing my tiny pink wrapper into even smaller pieces. I tried to say something, but I felt like it was a lost cause. I probably said too much. What if they knew?
(Setting: Multi-stake dance. Scene: High school.)
"So I'm telling everyone I dance with something tonight." He pinned a smile at the end of his sentence like a period.
I nodded, smiling, as we danced.
He took a deep breath, "And, well, what I've been telling people is that I'm gay."
I felt like I had been punched in the gut with a million emotions. A part of me panicked. A part of me felt disappointed in a comical way. Of course, the boy I picked for ladies' choice would be gay. Obviously. A part of me felt intensely protective. My face felt hot.
"That's awesome!" I said, anxious to be affirming.
"It's always a little awkward after you come out," he said wincing a little bit.
"Well, it doesn't have to be," I said trying to make it less awkward.
I think he was practicing coming out. After he came out, we talked about all sorts of other things for the rest of the dance. Talking to boys at stake dances was usually a chore, but I genuinely enjoyed talking to him. After the dance, we gathered around for a devotional.
"There is no real happiness outside of the church."
"Don't sacrifice eternity for temporary happiness. It isn't real. It doesn't last."
Sobs starting crawling up my throat. I swallowed. I felt my heart pound. I hoped he wasn't listening. I wanted to believe he didn't believe them. I wanted to believe he knew he deserved to love and be loved. I wanted to believe his family believed that too. But the odds weren't good. I didn't shed a tear during the devotional. I smiled. I said "amen." Days later, the sobbing and praying came. I told some friends in my ward about that dance. I think I was practicing coming out. Their eyes widened, they raised their eyebrows, and laughed nervously. I laughed too.
For a season, every single night, I prayed for queer Mormons. I knelt on my bed and sobbed for hours sometimes. I pleaded with God to take care of them, to listen to them, and to send people to them who would accept them.
I knew being LGBTQ+ in Mormonism is hard. I prayed for young closeted queer Mormons specifically. I knew they were the most vulnerable. I wanted them to know they are whole, not broken. I wanted them to know they are worthy, not worthless. I wanted them to know they are deserving of real love. I pleaded they would be protected from or carried through the shame that seems inescapable in Mormonism.
I knew many queer Mormon stories that broke my heart in funny places. I played them on repeat in my mind. Sometimes, I heard those stories in my own voice. Sometimes I heard them in a stranger's. I thought I was pleading for my friends.
I never admitted I was pleading for me.