How a Gay Mormon Fell in Love with the Middle East

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I am the complete contradiction of what I was expected to be, and I couldn’t be more proud. As a gay ex-Mormon who left home at sixteen, moved across the world, and began learning Arabic, I’m may well be the most unconventional person from Rigby, Idaho. These eccentricities stem from my life’s greatest conundrum: I’m inconveniently homosexual, and my family has rooted itself fully in Mormon Church doctrine. To anyone unsure of the Church’s stance on homosexuality, I’ll admit that coming out to my family has been virtually impossible for me.

For my entire childhood, my parents avidly expressed their discontent towards “the damn gays”. They painted the queer community as a small, homogenous group of militant social rebels living in San Francisco, or “Hell on Earth”. My parents adamantly believe that sexuality is a choice, and throughout my childhood, I was told I’d be kicked out if I ever decide to “become” gay. I feared for my own safety: if my parents found out, they would’ve cut me off completely. My situation motivated me to become extremely critical of my family’s radical homophobia, which ultimately led me to question everything my family expected me to believe.

Several years ago, I accompanied my dad on a particularly...

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