By: Chris Azzopardi*/Special to TRT—
Neon Trees frontman Tyler Glenn is still figuring out what it means to be a gay Mormon. Not just how both modifiers can exist simultaneously, but if it’s even possible that they do.
The alt musician spoke candidly on the heels of the band’s latest album, Pop Psychology, revealing how he’s not letting other people—even the Mormon Church—define his relationship with God, the gay atheists who lambasted him for standing by his beliefs and one of the reasons he recently came out: to find love.
Chris Azzopardi: What does being a gay Mormon mean to you? How are you able to be both without feeling like a contradiction?
Tyler Glenn: Yeah, it’s interesting. Because there were things about the church they didn’t agree with, or they decided they wanted to live a different lifestyle regardless of sexuality, I had seen so many of my friends fall away from the church, even if they didn’t necessarily want to. They just felt like they had to pick one or the other.
In my life, I’ve never felt like I totally wanted to do everything that I was told I had to. I’ve always been that way, and I still have a lot of faith in God and in a lot of the teachings of the church. Obviously there are things I scratch my head at, but I’ve always been that way. I just wasn’t so quick to throw away that part of me and accept this other part of me, so I guess my situation is, I want to be open and honest and say I have these beliefs, that I have these feelings and I’ve acted on these feelings and this is who I am. I’m not ashamed of it. There have been a lot of people that have come up to me since (I came out) and said, “Thank you for being that way, because a lot of other people feel that way too.”
Q. The Mormon Church is tolerant of homosexuality as long as you abstain from homosexual relations. That said, how are you able to reconcile Mormonism and homosexuality in terms of establishing physical relationships? What happens when you’re in a relationship, and are you in one?
A. I wish I could find a relationship. I don’t want to sound like I’m on the prowl, but when I came out, part of it was because I want to find love. I want to find somebody. I’ve never been all about the random hook-ups, although I’ve had those experiences, but that’s just not who I am. Coming out was a release. I want to meet someone in a more open, normal setting and not just have to be covert on apps and online–hiding it.
I think reconciling—I don’t know. I guess when it comes to it, I will. You know, I identify as Mormon because I believe in it, and regardless if, at some point, they decide to say, you can’t be (Mormon), I still won’t let someone here on Earth define my faith or my relationship with God and my beliefs. I will still identify with those beliefs.
Q. So, if your bishop does not approve of your relationship with another man, you wouldn’t walk away from the church?
A. I don’t think I would be the one walking away, but I would probably be removed from the records. I mean, I do go occasionally, but I haven’t actively gone to church in about seven or eight years. I’ve always kind of felt like I didn’t fit in, but at the same time I love serving the mission, I love the teachings, I love The Book of Mormon. There are a lot of things I really, really believe in. It’s funny. Coming out as gay–it was almost harder to come out as Mormon. I was surprised how many people didn’t know I was Mormon, that I was raised that way. I got a lot of flak from atheists, which is interesting. A lot of gay atheists were applauding that I was coming out, but bashing me because I decided to still remain Mormon.
Q. Of all the people you’ve come out to in your life–your family, the church, the whole world—whose acceptance meant the most to you?
A. I don’t know if it meant the most, but at the time it did. My producer (Tim Pagnotta) and one of my really close friends who I’ve written so much music with was the first person I came out to. I really wanted him to know what the songs were about. I got the courage to tell him and his reaction was so loving and so caring. I never associated any sort of love with being gay, and then he congratulated me and it changed my world. It encouraged me to tell my parents, my family and my band. It really gave me the courage to come out publicly. I don’t know if it means the most in retrospect, but it definitely had the biggest impact on me.
Q. You mentioned hooking up and how it’s really not your thing. Has your religion made sex a struggle for you?
A. My situation was really odd. I got really good at compartmentalizing. I assume a lot of gay men who aren’t out get really good at that. There were times when I didn’t feel guilt. It was more just the anxiety from hiding it. In my 20s, I really started to express and explore that (sexual) side of me. It got to the point where I was 25, 26 and I was OK with being gay, but I was just at a crossroads with how to live that way, if it was even anyone’s business. There was a long period of time where I thought, “I don’t have to come out; it’s not a big deal.” But then watching so many gay documentaries and seeing the pain and frustration and sadness—that there’s still not full equality—made me see why it’s important to come out, because it is important.
Q. You’re not dating anyone now, but do you see yourself getting married?
A. Yeah, I want a family. I do. I know my parents support that. I think they’re a little unprepared for me to bring someone home. I didn’t know if it was something that would be a part of my reality, but I’m really happy. I don’t know how to meet that man as of yet, but I would like to.
Q. You’ve done some browsing on gay apps, presumably Grindr and Scruff. Are you on the apps often these days?
A. I actually try to stay off the apps, but I have been on them before.
Q. Do you get recognized?
A. When I was on them I didn’t ever have a face photo, but I currently have GROWLr because I like masculine, hairy guys—I guess we call them bears—so I have the app for that. But I’m not actively on it, so I don’t know if people are recognizing me or not.
Q. From what you’ve said, it doesn’t sound like the Mormon Church had anything to say about your coming out.
A. Right, no one said anything.
Q. Do you think the church lets you get away with more as a gay Mormon because you’re in the limelight?
A. I think they’ve dealt with so much PR backlash and that I’m pretty inconsequential to that. I heard from a lot of members and I’ve heard a lot from local leaders and they’ve said it’s a good thing that I did this, but there’s been no official stance.
Q. Do you think the Mormon Church will one day support gay marriage?
A. I know that in recent years there’s a lot more acceptance. I really hate that the overall doctrine uses the word “tolerance,” because I hate that word, but I think it’s a step in the right direction. There are a lot of gay couples that actually live in my mom’s city who are also Mormon that go to church and hold callings, so that’s something you don’t see in the media. They’re actually actively able to serve; they’re not married, but they live together and they’re able to hold callings. But I don’t know, man. I would love that, of course.
Q. What would you tell a gay Mormon kid who’s experiencing the same struggle you once did?
A. I actually have talked to a lot of them. I would hate to tell them “come out” only to find themselves in a situation where they’re kicked out of their homes, because that happens still, even in Utah. But I do remind people that it’s important to be themselves. I think that there’s a time and a place to come out, and I don’t know if waiting till I was 30 was the best thing, but it definitely has turned out fine and I’m a happy person. I’ve encouraged (kids) to just get a good support group and make sure they’re telling people that will support them. Then, when they have that support, eventually it becomes easier to tell the people who maybe aren’t as supportive.
Q. How has being an openly gay man influenced you on stage? Now that you’re not hiding, can you be yourself more than ever?
A. Oh yeah. Man, it’s crazy. Just being able to say, “I think that guy is cute” around my friends— just normal things that people get to do—I get to do that now. Not having to lead a different identity every time I’m around a different person is really freeing and it’s made performing really effortless.
*Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him via his website at www.chris-azzopardi.com.