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.
Do not underestimate the power of confidence.
Thanks to my parents, growing up I was devout in the Latter-Day Saints Church. I was very involved in the church and believed everything it taught religiously. Church was important to my parents — but going to it was such a chore. It was so boring. Three hours was too much.
Even though I hated it, I believed it.
It was always, always clear that I was different. Instead of Hot Wheels and Nerf guns, I was Polly Pockets and dress-up. My mom never let me know that she cared about what my interests were, but I got yelled at by my dad every day for playing with dolls or playing dress-up.
One day I was playing dress-up with my sister, and we were having a lot of fun until she heard my dad coming home. She immediately yelled and tattled on me, even though she had been doing it with me. I was like, WTF, girl, we were just having so much fun and you gotta ruin it all by telling Dad?! She was allowed to do it, but I wasn’t.
My dad talked to me about it and said that dressing in girls' clothes was wrong and I shouldn’t play with dolls. He would have to grind this into my brain for a long while before it eventually stuck. When I asked him why it was wrong, he said just because.
It was frustrating for me because I knew how I was supposed to be, and I really tried hard to fit the mold. I didn’t understand why what I enjoyed doing was bad, I just understood that it made people around me angry. So I had to play a part and be a perfect son.
For a while I played the part well. Everyone around me was happy, but I wasn’t.
As I grew older there was always a part of me that said “Hey, you’re different,” and this thought gave me so much fear. I hated thinking it. I knew that people chose to be gay, so why did I feel so different from everybody else when I could just choose to be straight?
This dilemma had me shook. If the church is 100 percent true, and it says that gay people choose their lifestyle, and choose to have those feelings, why do I still get these feelings that I can’t control? Why am I the only one at school who doesn’t really get crushes? Why do I pretend that I want to date the girls at my school?
For a long bit I tried making my faith and my feelings compatible. It was like trying to get two puzzle pieces from different puzzles to fit together. I could be gay, have good mental health, or stay in the church. But I could not have all three.
Losing faith brought me salvation.
I came out at school first. My first boyfriend was the love of my life, a 6’4" basketball player theater geek who was already in high school. I was new to relationships, and the whole thing lasted a lot longer than it should have. When he broke up with me I was devastated. My mom knew something was wrong, and it didn’t take much for her to get it out of me. I told my mom I was gay. She wasn’t surprised. Out of fear, I didn’t tell my father until much later.
When I first came out I loved being a victim. I loved the attention I got and fed off of the conflict I got into when people told me to "tone down the gay." On the last day of school in eighth grade, I came in drag just to see what people would say. I was so gay that my eighth-grade history teacher told me maybe I should go back into the closet in order to avoid getting bullied.
There were a lot of people who had problems with it. Mormons talked about me behind my back, about how much I had strayed from the church. It sickens me how grown-ass people can talk about their 14-year-old nephew behind his back as if he’s not even family.
One day as a big ‘fuck you’ to all of my family members, I posted a busted photo of me in drag (trust and believe you do not want to see it). My aunts and uncles were shaken. They didn’t know what to do. They used the scripture that I no longer believed in to try and get me to become the perfect Mormon boy I once was. Little did they know that I was just as perfect as I used to be. Now I was a beautiful glamazon of the earth because drag stuck with me.
It is so draining to let people get to you. Don’t let people get to you.
The thing is, bullies are looking for a reaction. They feed off of the look on your face when they call you a faggot or tell you to kill yourself. So if you can make yourself numb to all of it, or make yourself appear numb to all of it, nobody will care anymore, and they will stop trying. Confidence is key. If you can make a bully feel like their existence in your life is 100 percent irrelevant, they are powerless.
I wish someone had told me this when I was younger.
Through drag I found this confidence. I could look gorgeous every so often but also be my authentic real self most of the time. I started my YouTube channel once I felt like I was getting good at it.
When I started building an audience I realized that I was inspiring people to be their authentic selves. If I could come out here and let everyone know who I am and do drag and be this confident and still be 14, 15, 16 years old, what was to stop them? And that is the reaction I now feed off of.
I want people to realize that even though it doesn’t always get better, we do become stronger.
My extended family still may not fully understand me, but instead of focusing on the negative people in my life, I have created a new family with the friendships I have built. Even if your biological family isn’t there for you, being gay automatically gives you the advantage of a much larger family that can't be replaced.
If growing up gay in Utah has taught me anything, it’s taught me to be confident, and to give zero fucks.
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 isthe Utah Department of Health. It 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 protected]. Again, if you are in other locations please look up your nearest LGBTQ center for help and support.
You can see more of Maxwell Poth's work here: The Adorable Life and Exquisite Photos of Maxwell Poth and on his website. Read Maxwell's coming-out story here. See Carter and Holden's stories and photos over the next two days.