In this four-part series Maxwell Poth tells his own story as well as sharing the stories of three other Mormon teens. All photography courtesy of Maxwell Poth.
My name is Carter McMillan and I am a 15-year-old gay teen living in Bountiful, Utah. Growing up I always knew something about me was different; I felt like the odd one out. Playing with Barbie dolls with the girls next door, wanting Littlest Pet Shops for toys, forcing myself to have a girlfriend -- I never really understood what was wrong with me.
In a society where being a boy meant you had to play sports, do karate, run fast, be strong, and play tough, I never felt comfortable and hated it. I remember thinking about being gay in sixth-grade but quickly put that thought out of my head. I was afraid and not really aware of what being gay was all about. I continued to do all of the things boys "normally" do like play soccer, go to boys' activities in my church, wear sport shorts and T-shirts and hang out with other boys -- all the time feeling awkward. I was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, so being gay is even more awkward.
Starting junior high was very rough for me. I was constantly harassed for being gay even though I didn't know I was gay. This continued up until the end of eighth grade. When I finally figured out that the reason I felt so awkward was that I indeed was gay, I felt free!
This realization of my sexuality happened just prior to my ninth-grade year. I came out publicly first to my mom; it was easy because she was already so accepting and I knew that. Since my dad was more involved in our church and a little more uptight about things, I had a feeling he wouldn't be as accepting. Even though my coming-out was a pretty smooth process, we decided as a family that going to a counselor would be a good idea. I was lucky to get an amazing counselor who also has a gay son. Through this therapy both my parents and I gained a better understanding and acceptance of who I am.
People at my junior high were surprisingly pretty accepting. I did not hold back on my identity; I was gay and I was proud. It was really strange, because I think I was a sort of idol for some of my peers, and I felt like some hated me because they didn't have my confidence. I'm in high school now and people are used to me walking in with eight-inch heels, tight leather jeans, and painted nails. I feel like it is very important to be able to express yourself, whether it's through fashion, art, singing, dance, or whatever will define you as an individual.
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or other problems that may be affecting your mental health, there are places that can help you. One is the Utah Department of Health, which provides a 24/7 hotline, (801) 587-3000. If you do not live in Utah, you may call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, (800) 273-TALK (8255). Utah also is home to the Utah Pride Center, which offers specialized counseling, therapy, support groups, and much more. You can call the center or make an appointment at (801) 539-8800 or email email@example.com. Again, if you are in other locations please look up your nearest LGBTQ center for help and support.