Faces of Affirmation – Averyl Dietering
My story is a little different than most of the other stories I hear from LGBTQIA+ Mormons. Unlike many of my queer friends, I didn’t know that I was queer from a young age. I grew up Mormon, and I planned on doing all of the things that Mormons seemed required to do: go to college, go on a mission, get married in the temple, have children, etc. Growing up, I was interested in boys but I wasn’t as interested in them as my friends seemed to be, and I saw their crushes as juvenile and silly. I never understood what was so great about kissing and cuddling with a boy, and I assumed it was just because my thoughts were purer than theirs.
When it came time for me to go to college, I didn’t really want to attend BYU. I wanted to go to school in New York City, but my mother was convinced that I needed to go to BYU so I could find someone whom I could marry. I ended up going to BYU and dating several different guys. I had real feelings for a few of them, but my relationships with them never lasted very long.
Then, during my senior year at BYU, I became good friends with Kristen. Kristen was a great friend: she was clever, funny, intelligent, kind, and thoughtful. I enjoyed every minute that I spent with her, and the more time I spent with her, the more I grew to love her. At first, I thought that we were just good friends, but soon I came to realize that I was in love with her. I hoped that she returned my love, but I was also terrified of the thought–how could we express those emotions at a place like BYU?
As Kristen and I grew closer, our love for each other deepened, but we realized that in order to stay at BYU, we had to either stop loving each other or keep our relationship a secret. At first, we tried to stop loving each other. We both sincerely believed that our relationship would lead us to eternal damnation, and this viewpoint was also reiterated by our mentors and church leaders. As a result, we both fell into a deep depression. We loved to be with each other, but we felt such shame about our relationship that we couldn’t really enjoy the time we spent together. For several months, our relationship was a site of great pain, because we were constantly shamed and punished for our love for each other.
These months were some of the darkest of my life, and I am still amazed that we made it through alive. Luckily, we had some friends and mentors who did not shame us for our relationship, and were willing to empathize with us and learn what they could do to help us. Most importantly, we still had each other, and we had learned how to rely on each other and help each other through difficult times. During this time, I had graduated from BYU and moved to Tucson to complete a master’s degree. I remember calling Kristen to tell her that I really would like her to visit me in Tucson, but that I was too afraid that if she visited me, we would end up kissing each other and then we would feel so shameful about our actions. The line was silent for a while, and then Kristen suggested that since we knew we were going to kiss each other no matter how hard we tried not to, we might as well enjoy it instead of feel shame for it. Looking back, I laugh to think how simple the solution to our shame was. It took us a while to stop shaming ourselves–internalized homophobia is a difficult monster to fight–but on that day, Kristen taught me that my sexuality was nothing to be ashamed of, and that I did not have to listen to the voices that were telling me that my sexuality and my love made me less of a human being.
Our relationship improved greatly after that. It was still difficult: we lived far away from each other for several years, our families had a hard time with our relationship (and still do), and it was difficult for us to navigate our relationship with the Church (it still is). But when I began to let go of the shame that I was taught to feel about myself, I was able to be at peace with my sexuality and recognize the beauty and warmth and light of being queer.
Today, things still aren’t perfect, but I feel empowered by my sexuality and grateful to be a queer Mormon. Kristen and I married in June of 2015, and we’re currently living in Los Angeles where we are both pursuing PhDs in English. We’re planning on starting a family in the next few years, but for now, we are just so thrilled to be together. I often say that being married to Kristen seems like a fairy tale–if you would have told me three or four years ago that I’d be happily married to Kristen, I would have been just as shocked if you told me that I was going to grow wings and fly to Camelot. I am so grateful for the community that has helped me along in my journey; through them, I have found the strength to trust and honor myself, to see myself as a daughter of God who can navigate her own relationship with the Divine. Most of all, I am grateful for Kristen, who encouraged me to blaze my own path, and has been my constant companion ever since.