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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 impactful Wal-Mart errand. Behind us in the check-out line, a veiled woman was speaking Arabic on a phone call. Completely unprovoked, my dad began loudly making racial slurs, and stormed out of the store. Never before had I encountered someone who shared in my identity struggle, and instantly, I empathized with her. The emotion I felt caused an intangible attraction within me towards her culture. I became obsessed with Middle Eastern society, as this women symbolized my life’s dilemma. I soon began taking secretive trips to our public library to research the Middle East. Hidden under my mattress at home, library books like “The First Muslim” and “Reading Lolita in Tehran” became the foundation of my knowledge of the region.
Although reading about the Middle East had stimulated my curiosity exceedingly, I felt disengaged from the real Arab world. I strongly desired a perspective which extends beyond rural Idaho. While connecting with random exchange students on Facebook, I learned about the perfect opportunity: Atlantic College. AC is an international residential school in the United Kingdom: the first United World College, and the only one which offers Arabic as a second language IB course. Soon, I realized that the only way I could afford attending Atlantic College was through participating in the extremely competitive American UWC National Committee selection process. Those who are admitted are awarded full-tuition scholarships, and although the AC scholarship’s acceptance rate was around 0.4% the year before I applied, I decided to put in an application, against all odds. For six intense months, I participated in an extremely intense selection process which even led me to New Mexico for in-person group evaluations. On April 14th at 2:53pm, I received an email stating that I’d been offered the AC Davis Scholarship. Immediately, I started working every odd job available to save for a one-way ticket to London, and that August, I moved to the United Kingdom.
Regardless of my long-term aspirations, I have discovered the one overarching goal I hold: when I decide to come out, I don’t want to be defined by my sexuality. I want my parents to pat me on the back with looks of approval in their eyes, and not be ashamed in my identity, even if it contradicts their own ideologies. Ultimately, I want my contribution to society to counteract even the strongest prejudices, so I’m not referred to as “Nate, my gay son”, but rather, “Nate, my son, who makes me proud.”
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