You Can’t Go Home Again
A week ago, I went home. Well, to one of the many homes I’ve had… I went home to my alma mater, my college. Or what used to be my college. When I attended, it was a woman’s college with a proud history, and now? Now it’s co-educational. Now its name has been changed. Now I walk through familiar buildings and everything feels foreign. My home changed while I was away, and we don’t recognize each other anymore.
I love the term alma mater, which means “bounteous or nourishing mother.” I love the image it brings to mind, of the place we go to for nourishment. This is what my school was to me. This is what church was to me.
Visiting my school reminded me of going to church. I’ll mention now that I’m not currently active because church doesn’t feel safe for me right now. I mentioned in my article last month that I am a queer mormon. I’ve been out for 16 years and I moved to Utah a few months before the Proposition 8 drama went down. Being a closeted queer member had been easier outside of Utah. My new stake organized weekly events, requesting that members partake in calls to California residents urging them to vote to eliminate the right of gay people, queer people like me, to marry.
I was so uncomfortable. I didn’t want to be out because I was a student at BYU, and I wasn’t prepared to be thrown out of my graduate program for being queer (because even though I was completely living the gospel standards, which for me means being absolutely and utterly alone, I could still get tossed). I didn’t want to seem too liberal, either, because that would make life uncomfortable. Because in Utah, the members of your ward are everywhere. They are your neighbors. You see them on walks. On trips to the grocery store. In your classes at school. At your job. If you take a stand anywhere, you will pay for it everywhere. (Maybe I just didn’t have great luck with wards…). And every week, an email went out announcing our assigned date and time to “man the call center.” Each time, I emailed back my Relief Society president and asked to be removed from the list because I wasn’t comfortable mixing religion and politics.
Partly true, but also I was breaking inside. Because they, everyone at church, at school, at the grocery store, they were all talking about me. And when people don’t know there’s an “other” near them, they say the worst things. They said terrible things, anyway, because I wouldn’t do as the leadership commanded. They told me to my face, over the phone, through messenger apps, that if I didn’t follow the prophet, that there was no place for me in the church.
All these years later… maybe they’re right. I stayed active, kept my head down, and kept my broken heart to myself for the years I was enrolled at BYU. But for my mental health, I tuned out. Yes, I attended, but I wrote in my journal or read books so that I wouldn’t get triggered and so my panic and broken heart wouldn’t spill out of me and make a scene. A scene sure to prompt questions.
I didn’t tune back in until I was safely graduated. And when I did… oh, the hurt! I tried. I tried every week. I got up, I got dressed. I put on makeup. I did my hair. I went to church. And each week I stayed as long as I could. And each week I found myself on the verge of breakdown. I cried in the parking lot so many times – nasty, ugly, heaving tears.
And I can’t hear it anymore. I can’t sit in a house of worship, however much it used to be my home, and hear how I am unwanted. Somehow, at some point, we both changed and we don’t fit together anymore. I still want the home I remember. But like my alma mater, it doesn’t look or feel quite like it used to. When I go, I don’t see or feel my nourishing mother. But Lord in Heaven, I want her back. These halls are empty of her. But She is home. Not the walls, nor the chairs, nor the organ. And while I don’t fit in the place anymore, She will always be my home.