Cultural Fusion: Merging Diverse Micro-Cultures at BYU

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Fission and fusion. 

Merriam Webster's Dictionary defines fission as "the splitting or breaking up into parts." Nuclear fission occurs when a "large, somewhat unstable isotope (atoms with the same number of protons, but different number of neutrons) is bombarded by high-speed particles, usually neutrons." This splitting of atoms results in a lot of heat energy. Cultural fission is when an unstable community with diverse micro-cultures is bombarded with divisive forces, creating a splitting of the community.

On the other hand, fusion is defined as "a merging of separate elements into a unified whole." Nuclear fusion is "the union of atomic nuclei to form heavier nuclei, resulting in the release of enormous amounts of energy." It occurs under conditions of extreme pressure and temperature. The sun is powered by nuclear fusion. Cultural fusion would be the merging of separate micro-cultures into a single, unified community-- usually resulting from pressure, but creating enormous amounts of energy and light. 

For our project, we focused on what we'll call a "micro-culture" within what we'll call a "macro-culture." The micro-culture we studied was the LGBT community within the macro-culture of BYU. We wanted to know how members of the micro-culture fit in and interacted with the macro-culture as a whole. The reference point in time or event we chose was that of the 2016 Presidential Election. Pre-Trump, did LGBT students feel they could be open about their orientation? Did they feel accepted by their peers? What was the effect (or following reactions) of Trump being elected to office-- fission (the breaking up or division between LGBT and straight students), or fusion (a unification of all members of the macro-culture, creating an influx of positive energy)? 

Speaking in terms of nuclear power, fission is more practical because it is more easily controlled, while fusion is difficult to controll and it is very expensive to create the right conditions. Culturally speaking, we wanted to analyze which reaction to the singular event we picked the students within the BYU macro-culture were more apt to create. Human nature tends to turn to fission, or divisiveness, in times of pressure. However, fusion is more desirable. 

In analyzing the type of energy created by this occurrence and how both LGBT and straight BYU students felt about it, we chose six very different individuals that identified all over the spectrum. As we listened to what they each had to say, we came to realize that, even though they were all very unique in their viewpoints and walks of life, they all wanted the same thing-- a more unified whole. Even though all discussed certain aspects of their experiences in which fission, or a breaking apart, was the result, without exception the overarching desire of each was fusion. Each wanted more dialogue, each wanted more peace, each wanted more coming together.


As a transgender student recently returned from a Texas mission, Aidan shares why, though he has witnessed fission reactions at BYU, he thinks Trump being elected to the presidency could have a fusion effect between LGBT and some straight students.

I’m about as publicly out as you can be. It makes me most comfortable. I don’t like feeling like I have something to hide. At least in my case it’s somewhat apparent because I’m in the middle of transitioning. It’s not as easy to hide as being gay. That might be one reason why I’m out.

I’m really lucky in that I have great roommates and a great ward. I have a small creative writing class in which I’ve written a nonfiction essay about trans-issues, so I was out to them all and they were all very nice about it. There are the fears that you’ll get reported. There are people who’ve been reported and kicked out, so there is some reality to that, but also there’s a lot of us that are out and we’re fine. People get reported for things they unintentionally do. If I were to hug someone, or if someone knew about me and saw me at lunch with another girl… I don’t know what they would think… “This person’s going on dates!” 

My roommate that is more conservative doesn’t engage as much [in political conversations], but we’ve discussed issues before, and it’s all fine and comfortable. I’ve really only engaged with the more liberal members of my ward. 

The first day after the election there was a professor who invited students who weren’t taking it well to come get cookies in her office. We just felt the sadness together and joked about it until we felt better. There was a peaceful protest in front of the JFSB. There were some signs that said, “We love you no matter your race/gender/sexuality…” And those things are nice to see— to see people that care how the minorities feel. And there are plenty of minorities here: plenty of women, plenty of people from other parts of the world, plenty of people who feel affected by it. But I’ve seen a general coming-together, which is the best. More love… a community feel. It’s like a wake-up call to say that we have a lot of problems in America! Feminism is still a relevant thing. We still have problems. That’s one thing I’ve seen that’s awesome. 

I’ve seen some things on Facebook from people around here that seem to be hateful— that’s the thing with Trump, that somehow he’s promoted this culture of hating or misunderstanding people. Intolerance. It’s unfortunate. I hear stuff, and when you hear stuff that happens nearby it makes you shiver it your boots a bit. Who knows who thinks that way or who might do something? It makes me more uneasy if I am out at an event in Provo with friends. I hear people say awful things, like using the “f—“ slur. The fear is irrational, but it makes you nervous when people start talking like that. What I’ve personally seen is more than unifying effect. My hope is that we’ll put more love out there than they can put hate. 

I’ve heard plenty of things that are hurtful. People don’t mean it. They tend to not thing there are LGBT people on campus. They don’t think it matters what they say because they’re all like, “Why would they want to go to BYU?” But there are plenty of us here. Also in classes, especially religion classes— like allusions to destroying the family. We hear that a lot. 


Though he desires fusion, Caleb shares his experiences of fission within the BYU macro-culture that lead him to search for a different community.

I’m from Rexburg, ID, and it’s my second or third year here at BYU, but I don’t have a major [yet] because I’m going to transfer to the U next semester… I hope to go into set design. BYU is not really the safest place for me to be myself or to explore my life options so I’m gonna go somewhere else. I used to feel like I wasn’t sure if I was safe or not talking about my orientation--I wanted to come out a long time before I did. I came out in public on Facebook in April, but I told everyone a few months before that. So I spent a year here where I just tried to hide it completely. I don’t know if I’ve ever really felt unsafe but sometimes I felt uncomfortable because of things professors say or how students react to those things. I think it’s mostly religion professors who talk about gay people as this non-human other [that’s] trying to destroy the family and I’m sitting there like, “Hey, I’m right here…”

So that ma[kes] me a little uncomfortable, but I’ve never felt unsafe—which is good, I guess. There have been times since then where, I’ve never felt physically unsafe, but the two big things are the policy change and the election, and those have definitely heightened my discomfort and feeling of emotional unsafe-ness because everyone talks about this dissonance when you are gay and Mormon. I feel like BYU is kind of like that because this generation is more accepting and wants to be supportive, but they don’t exactly know how. Then something like the policy change or the election happens and it seems to tip the scale away from the LGBT community. 

I had a friend who sat beside someone in a class and they really hit it off and started a great conversation. Another peer came in and sat down the two students found out they were both Trump supporters and [initiated] a pretty serious conversation, and it left my friend [feeling left] out because she didn’t know if she could or should continue the conversation and it just cut off the line of communication... 

I feel like a lot of people make sincere efforts to include LGBT people and, while they might not be perfect at it, as long as they will take advice to be more inclusive, it turns into a good environment. 

Realizing everyone has their own path and their own way of learning things is essential to creating a good environment and the path to learning is equally important for all people. Many LGBT people had an attitude of “he’ll grow out of it” when I was trying to balance my religious beliefs with my sexual orientation and I found that offensive. Likewise, people on the other side had equally dismissive attitudes about my journey. What is most important is that people learn their lessons and they learn them in the way they are intended to learn them. Discouragement hinders the learning experience. 


As a conservative business student at BYU, Logan shares how he feels students should foster more friendships and create more fusion between LGBT and straight students.

LGBT [students] should feel more open now that Trump is elected. I think that the vast majority of BYU students, even if they voted for him, don’t agree with Trump and his social opinions. I think Trump getting elected is more of a rallying cry to conservatives to say, ‘Yeah, we’re conservative, but we don’t agree with him.” Even though I’m conservative and not apart of the LGBT community, and in the past haven’t supported it, now that Trump has been elected, I feel more of a responsibility to be nurturing and caring and accepting because I understand that we need to show them that we are not like that, and that they are loved and accepted.”

If I [were] gay and I saw that the people around me were a lot less supportive of my values, I would be a lot less likely to be open. 

I didn’t vote for Trump, but I prefer Trump to Hilary… on the basis of small government, [fewer[ government-funded programs, and conservative values like the traditional family… then yeah, I support Trump in that aspect. Do I support his personal and actual plans on his opinions? No, that’s why I didn’t vote for him. 

I think that your political candidate should reflect what you hope would happen in society, but that didn’t happen this year, I don’t think, for Democrats or Republicans. I have a friend who’s a member of the LGBT community who voted for Trump. He’s openly gay and he voted for Trump because he knows that Trump stands for the very basics of what [my friend] believes in [about government.] Not that I’ve heard that Trump has every said anything specifically targeting the LGBT community. In fact, in his Republican National Convention speech, he said he would do whatever he could to protect them. So I don’t think he has anything against the LGBT community. You do see that more against Muslim, and what he says about them I totally disagree with as well.  I think that members of the LGBT community need to look more into what that person believes in personally, not necessarily who they voted for. 

I would love to see the LGBTQ community hold a meet-and-greet, or a panel, where I can get to know them. I have no hard feelings against them, and I would hope that they would have no hard feelings against me either, and that we would be friends. I do have friends that are part of this community. I would like to see for BYU, a coming-together event where we get to know each other. I know that the LGBTQ community is hidden at BYU— I would like it to be public. Maybe get the student body involved in an unofficial BYU event, where anyone who wants to could come and we can get together and talk. I’m here because I want to be your friend.


As a gay father trying to live an LDS lifestyle, Randall shares why he feels the LGBT community should not be afraid of Trump and why he wants to have more transparency at church about problems and differences-- the lack of which, he feels, creates fission within the community.

I didn’t know I was gay until I was thirty-two. My ex-wife approached me and said, “Look at what you do— you’re gay!” And she gave me some examples, and I was like, “Oh… maybe I am…” That kind of blew my mind. I grew up in the ’70’s  where the word “gay” was thrown around as a naughty word. So they called everybody gay— I didn’t even know what it meant at first. I grew up with this idea that, “I’m LDS. I’m supposed to marry women. I’m supposed to go on a mission.” And now that I know I’m gay, I can look back across my life and see that I dated women only to take a girl to prom. I wasn’t interested, really. Back then, though, I wouldn’t have been comfortable coming out. The people my age were so slanderous about gay people. But now, at work I work mostly with young people, people who just came home from or about to go on missions, and those people I have no problem coming out to. But my peers, it’s much harder to come out to. They don’t understand. It’s really weird to them. It’s harder to be accepted with my peers. 

My personal viewpoint is that I don’t want to get into a personal relationship with a guy. I believe in the LDS beliefs and that marriage is sacred between a man and a woman, and I don’t want to break that. I hold those values very strongly. That’s just who I am. I don’t want to date guys because it will lead to emotional stuff, and it will lead to me hurting them and myself because I can’t marry them. For me, I prayed and I felt like God said I could date guys, but not have eternal life with them. And that’s important to me. But I can’t judge others and their experiences, because I don’t know. 

I haven’t come out to anybody [in my mid-singles ward]. But if I came out, I think the people would be really accepting and fine with it. 

All my gay friends are freaking out, but I voted for Trump and I like Trump. I don’t see an issue. He’s from New York and he’s used to gay people being around. I don’t think he’s going to go into office and change all these laws. I think everyone in the gay community is safe. Honestly, my Republican friends, and everyone who did vote for Trump in my ward, and my parents— it’s not really an issue with them either. They’re not paying attention to that side of it. They’re paying more attention to changes he’s going to make in the government and society, trying to encourage job growth and lowering taxes and making sure the constitution is upheld. But none of that has anything to do with whether gays get married or not. I think that the way that it happened was wrong. I think that it should be a state issue. But I don’t think Trump is even going to have that on his radar. 

`My big beef is with the “Happy Valley” mentality of LDS Mormons and how they’re so judgmental. You go to church and everybody puts on their perfect outfits with their perfect life, and they have no problems and everything is wonderful. But when I get to know them, everyone has problems but they don’t want you to see their problems. And they don’t want to talk about their problems in church, even though church is where we should be talking about our problems and sharing our problems and getting support for our problems. My home bishop has done a really good job of trying to encourage that. There are certain people that are more open now that they’ve overcome they’re problems, but those amidst their problems are not talking about them. And that just makes me more afraid to come out, because of people being judgmental, and the lack of openness. I think that culture still pervades our macro-culture  here in Utah Valley, and that makes me sad because that’s not how we make friends and that’s not how we encourage people to go to church. I think that hurts the open dialogue of anything.


Harrison shares his unique perspective as a student living in the freshman dorms, and how he has observed fission-promoting behaviors within this even smaller BYU micro-community.

This is an issue that’s close to me. With my gay friends, it’s something you kind of have to keep under wraps here, which is really hard because sexuality is something so integral to who you are. Having to suppress that, or find people who are cool with that, is really hard. Especially recently, with the change in church policies and Trump. Now that he’s been elected, people now have a platform to say things that previously would have been offensive. I live on campus in Helaman Halls with a bunch of other guys, and I know people who support Trump. Amongst guys, they take it as a excuse to say things that aren’t PC. Some guys have flags and signs out and everything. 

I remember this vividly: I was walking to my room, and there were three guys talking about Trump. And one of them said, “I’m not sexist, I’m not racist, but I gotta stand up for what I believe in.” I just think that sounds kind of silly, but I think that’s the line of thinking. I don’t think these people think of themselves as being racist, or sexist, or homophobic. 

I think that Trump is just a way for people to express their frustration. He doesn’t really stand for anything— I mean, he is whoever you want him to be. I think it’s a lot of people reacting to PC culture. I don’t think PC culture is going away. I think Trump got elected because people are mad about it, that they used to be able to say certain things, or that certain views used to be acceptable. And they’re frustrated they can’t say those things anymore.

I feel like BYU has a way of being kind of closed-off. It’s not especially diverse. I think it has a way of, even though it’s already insular, becoming even more insular by the people it brings in to give lectures. My professors talk about these lectures on campus. I’ve been to some, and they generally are more conservative. I know that BYU isn’t an explicitly conservative school… but it tends to self-select and create a conservative atmosphere. It creates a sense that there’s this group and everyone has to think the same.  


Having a fear of cultural fission, Morgan discusses her experiences with LGBT family members and how they were able to achieve fusion-- something she hopes to inspire in the BYU community.

I have friends from high school who are gay and I have some family members who are gay so I also wanted to be reassured there are people at BYU who are supportive of the LGBT community because it’s kind of a gray area in the church.

There was an event outside the JFBS in which people from BYU Democrats or Students International had a pledge that people could sign to be kind to all racial minorities, religious minorities-- just to be kind to all people no matter what. People passed by wondering if it was an anti-Trump thing, and it might have been spurned by them because it was the day after the election. It wasn’t like we were trying to protest Trump, but people took it as being anti-Trump. People would still sign it because you can’t look at the pledge and not sign it. I just feel like there is a divide between [Hillary supporters and Trump supporters] and I feel like it would have been very hard to be a part of the LGBT community at BYU during the election because Utah voted 50% for Trump.

[Some] people use slang terms like gay meaning dumb. I feel like people should be more sensitive about those things like how people threw around the word retard-- just be self-aware. There are people who are dealing with things around you, so don't make derogatory jokes-- not just about gays but about anyone. It’s a little easier for me since I have grown up with people that I knew who were gay, but [regardless of whether or not you did], everyone should remember that everyone needs to feel love and accepted. That’s like number one in the hierarchy of needs: to feel connected to others. Just in day-to-day living, never be derogatory of other people. Love them so they feel they can trust you.


Though each of the remarkable individuals we talked with had very different backgrounds and points of view, each wanted more unifying resolutions. We feel that as we continue to open up this conversation we will be able to find the most effective solutions to ignite a fusion reaction within the BYU macro-community so that all will be able to find love and acceptance regardless of viewpoint or orientation. 

Morgan Reber and Russell Hitchcock

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