layouts, but Billy can actually do everything superbly. He is the master of the long-form at all story, especially profiles. I don’t wellknow how he got some of these t, and students to talk to him at such of my depth, but he has a knack for have getting people to tell him all sorts anding of things for publishing that make maybe UR ANGER his stories so interesting. In our most recent issue, ODUCTIVE for example, he wrote LY PROUD about how an overweight stories, young woman overcame a ies or lack of self-confidence in her reating body image and then became an example to others who now look up to her to build their own confidence.
“Billy’s work ethic in and outside of the classroom has been well above average. He often will ask me questions in class that go above and beyond what we are currently learning about and shows great interest while in class. In addition, he has attended every non-regular class I have offered and it is obvious that he takes great pride in his work. I’ve always thought that he thought he was better than the rest of us because he was the boss. He didn’t have a live
In addition to being an excellent student for himself, Billy also is very willing to help other students and participate in class discussions. He
consistently brings a positive and fun attitude to class and I am very glad to have him as a student in our program. I also know that Billy... started an independent studentrun newspaper this past year.
I’m mean, if you’re going to call anyone a detriment to the organization, it definitely would be him. He’s the one that left and tried to blow up the whole thing. outside of the office, so of course it was easy for him to find time to do extra things. It’s not like the rest of us weren’t able to do any
of these tasks, we just had other responsibilities besides living in the office.
“I have no doubt regarding the bright and successful future Billy has ahead of himself and I have full confidence in his ability to conquer the amazing and creative challenges he undoubtedly faces. He is talented, caring, dedicated,passionate, intuitive, and focused in his pursuits. His willingness to take risks coupled with ambition and excellence in all he approaches convinces me there is no limit to his growth, achievement, and successes in his undertakings. There is a no more deserving candidate for the honor of this scholarship than Billy Clouse.”
He is such a rude and totally self-centered person. He acts like a warrior fighting to help those who have bee silenced, but he really is just butt-hurt that the administra his articles weren’t appropriate for a conservative audien
“WE HAVE ALL MADE THIS JOURN FEW OF US SHARE OUR EXPERIE POIGNANT, HONEST, AUTHENTIC “Billy used the venue to tackle issues facing students and individuals of his generation that would have otherwise gone untouched. Billy is a social activist with a significant driving force toward the betterment of society overall. In his opinion piece, Being gay: a brutally
honest perspective he places himself o an appreciably diffi had, especially wi of the conservati is Southern Utah Cedar City itself. awed by his courag his bravery. Wher
“IT’S OKAY, I WORSHIP THE DEVIL TOO.
by Billy Clouse | 1
Book & design by Photography by
Dustin Pullman & Andrew Lloyd
Inspired by the work of
2 | It’s Not Slander if it’s True
Taylor Swift & Andrea Gibson
CONTENTS Simpler Times End of the Summer Across the Synapses Titanium Loss of Innocence Catfished Suicide Note The Smallest Glimmer of Hope Learning to Love Damaged Goods First Day of a New Life Jockey Drowning King of the Psych Ward Breaking Away Revolt New Horizons In My Not-so-Popular Opinion Never Forget Pride
by Billy Clouse | 3
4 | It’s Not Slander if it’s True
by Billy Clouse | 5
End of the Summer Where I’m from, summer is the worst part of
For my birthday, I went out to Denny’s for a
the year. It starts off hot, and by the time August
free breakfast. Later that afternoon, I went again
comes around, thirty seconds in the shade will
with my brother. He ordered the free food and I got
leave a person drenched in sweat.
an actual meal. The order was messed up and the
This heat attracts people to swimming pools,
price was much higher than it should have been,
where too many infants take their last breaths;
but the look from the manager, who I’m guessing
an entire life’s potential stolen by water. Other
assumed I was trying to use the free breakfast
children die of heat stroke next to pets left in the
twice, made me feel so guilty that I ended up just
car by a reckless parent.
paying double what I should have. And I didn’t
The older children climb fences to splash
even do anything wrong.
around in the flood controls, only to be swept
When it was time to start school for the first
away by a flash flood. When they are seen next,
time, I became more aware of time. This only
they are dead a couple of miles downstream.
made me love the summer more.
Amidst all this death and sorrow, my life
Unlike many students, I fell in love with school
began. And less than an hour later, my twin joined
at a young age. I realized it was easier to have fun
me in this cruel world.
doing assignments than complaining about them.
I don’t remember much from my early years,
The end of the summer, then, became one of my
save from the knowledge that I was loved. Like
favorite times of the year, because not only did I
any child, I was annoying and gross, especially
get to have a birthday party and receive presents,
because I hated taking baths, but I was probably
but I got to start packing my backpack for a new
cute every now and then.
For the first few years, my only concern was
At first it was just a place to go to kill some
watching cartoons. I freaked my cousins out one
time, but then I started getting excited to learn
day when Dragon Tales came on, because as
from my teacher. In middle school, the excitement
soon as I heard the theme song, I started taking
was even stronger because I had many teachers
off my clothes. The way I saw it, the dragons didn’t
and had the opportunity to personalize my locker.
wear anything, so why should I?
And after moving out, August became
I think back to these days and regret every
increasingly exciting because I was able to
nap I didn’t take. I would give just about anything
prepare not only for school, but also for a career.
to be able to spend the afternoon sleeping with
I went home a few months ago, and while
no responsibilities. These days, before anxiety
waiting for my blueberry-orange-watermelon-
was a dreadful part of my life, were the best and
flavored snow cone, my feet started to develop a
I reminisce on them frequently.
sunburn. I was outside for only five minutes.
6 | It’s Not Slander if it’s True
Living in a different state, I donâ€™t miss the scorching days where 108 degrees actually feels cool because it could be 115, but one advantage of everything burning is the opportunity to rebuild. A new school year brought the opportunity to improve myself; the short break broke down the routines and I was able to reconnect with my passions. In my journalism class, I would launch myself into planning magazines, recording interviews, and hammering out designs. We had a quote wall in the classroom, and I was documented one year when I said that over the summer, I went through page design withdrawals. Since purchasing a computer, I have no barriers to experimenting with publications, such as this one. Instead of waiting a few months to open Adobe inDesign, I use it almost every day. Experiments with branding and fine art and publications overflow in folders on my desktop. Without further ado, enjoy my latest experiment.
by Billy Clouseâ€ƒ |â€ƒ 7
Across the Synapses The computer I used to create this book is
Naively, we made the promise to never let
capable of holding two terabytes of storage, more
anything separate us, but we grew apart as we
than enough for most non-professional users.
This storage can hold around four years of music or well over half-a-million photos. This pales in comparison to the brain; my
As elementary school went on, I fell in love, or so I thought. The relationships were as strong as can be expected from the simple mind of a child.
computer can hold less than one tenth of a percent
Meghan, my first crush, broke her arm after
of what the brain can store. With this ability,
a boy accidentally pushed her to the ground while
I’m able to remember detailed moments but not
running to the bathroom. I felt special when I found
what Mondrian’s early works looked like.
out her mom said she could only tell one person
Although what I remember is quite patchy, there are some memories I will remember until my brain starts to deteriorate.
that she would be moving to the new elementary school, and that she chose me. Later on, my friend, Amanda, and I decided
The afternoon before I started kindergarten,
to date. This relationship consisted of phone calls
my brothers and I rode our bicycles and scooters
and hanging out on weekends and her breaking
around the cul-de-sac. At one point, my older
up with me at my birthday party. Of course, I was
brother told me to get out of the way when I was
crushed and thought I would never find love again.
walking on the sidewalk, but my five-year-old legs
Winnie was my closest friend, at times more so
couldn’t move me fast enough, so I got run over.
than my twin, and I would anticipate Wednesdays
The next day, a boy named Ryan asked me
when we would go to her house after school
about the bruises on my face and hands, and after
and eat pizza and swim and listen to “Dirty Little
a short conversation, he became the first friend
Secret” and “Just Dance.” Dressing up dolls
I ever made. It’s only now, almost fifteen years
on the red-pink carpet in her room and fighting
later, that I realize my teacher probably assumed
over the stupid castle piñata and the late-night
I was being abused at home.
LittleBigPlanet game marathons are as fresh in
Later on, I met a kid named Riley who would
my mind as if they happened a few hours ago.
become my first best friend. If memory serves, he
I still have the ceramic cat I painted and
didn’t like me too much at first, but before long, we
named Kassandra and the snowman figurine I
had invented a make-believe world constructed
made at her birthday parties, evidence of her
out of magic and imagination. It was a wholesome
mom choosing my twin and I as her favorite of
experience with two boys too young to know
they were gay, running around and laughing and fighting invisible monsters.
8 | It’s Not Slander if it’s True
It’s funny how a small detail, like this, brings up more memories, like standing in awe of a
neighbor’s toy room and making mini hats and
cover of this book and a fleeting image of the hike
scarves using erasers in fourth grade and kicking
in Thunderbird Gardens will cross my mind. Or
my dog by mistake on the second day we had him.
maybe it will be the bizarre experience of sleeping
Whenever I think about my childhood, I start
during a photoshoot and feeling stressed with
to drown in existential awe at the stupid things my brain has held onto for so many years. There’s no reason I should remember playing one of the
each snap of the shutter. If I’m lucky, I will have so many more memories that these won’t even show up on the radar.
Mouse Kings in an elementary school assembly or the time Skylar called Jessica naked, and not knowing what it meant, I said “No, you are,” thinking it was some kind of insult. These details don’t influence my everyday life, but there are many aspects of my childhood that are present today, from my love of instrumental film-advertisement music to my ever-present desire to decorate spaces. As a child, I was obsessed with Pokémon, and I dreamed of the day I could catch a real-life Azurill. Although the obsession has faded, I’ll still listen to the music from the films, and despite my best efforts, I cry every time I listen to the second verse of “The Extra Mile.” Pavlovian response are strange. That song might make me cry, but any time I think about the days of my youth, a smile creeps onto my face. Perhaps it’s because these memories are more pleasurable than reality. Perhaps it’s because the patchwork of experiences remind me that the first twenty years of my life have flown by and I can’t afford to waste too much time on negativity. Either way, these details collect in my neural pathways. In a few years, I will look back at the
by Billy Clouse | 9
Titanium I can’t breathe. Why is my throat closed?
A few minutes later, the doctors moved me to
I need to sit up. I can’t sit up.
my hospital room, except it was actually two days
Coughing isn’t working. This is getting stupid.
later. I knew I would be heavily drugged in the
Breathe. Fuck. I’m sitting up.
intensive care unit, but I didn’t know I would have
I need air. I don’t want to suffocate. I need to
no memory of it. Even more strange, I saw a giant
breathe. This is inconvenient. Calm down. Don’t panic. Deep breaths.
stuffed bear walking down the hall toward my room. Now, before you think I was on too many
painkillers, I actually did see that. I realized it
This is the third consecutive night this has
was my best friend carrying a gift when I saw her
happened since I got home from the hospital.
mother walking next to the bear.
During the summer before my freshman year,
I wish I could say that the rest of the recovery
I went under the knife to correct a deformity—
went as planned, but after a week in the hospital
well—many deformities. Two cases of scoliosis,
and a week at home, I was rushed to the
a case of kyphosis, and the overall rotation of my
emergency room. Despite the hospital spending
spine forced me into surgery; no alternatives exist
thousands of dollars on sanitation, I developed an
to correct over one hundred twenty-five degrees
infection. On Independence Day, I went under the
of spinal curvature.
The news was difficult to stomach at first.
On the bright side, I already knew how to sit
I wouldn’t be able to bend or run normally again
up without bending my spine, but during the week
because, as it turns out, two rods and sixteen
I spent in the hospital, I found it harder and harder
screws can really screw up mobility.
to tolerate the bland food, and I found it harder
While spiraling into an episode of self-pity the
and harder to breathe.
night before the surgery, the tears running down
At a checkup with my pediatrician a few
my face morphed into not-so-quiet sobs. My twin
days later, I found out why. He walked in the
moved to my bed and hugged me as I cried.
room, complimented my posture, and grabbed
I was scared as incorrectly-sized needles
his clipboard. After realizing I couldn’t slouch
were dug into my hands and elbows the next
if I wanted to and dropping his pen, he said, “Oops.
morning, and I felt broken after saying goodbye to
That’s something you don’t want to do during
my parents. I had no tears left at this point.
a circumcision.” I didn’t appreciate his joke—genital
Before I knew it, I was asking for ice chips.
mutilation is no laughing matter—but he did help
As the clouds of drugs began to part, I realized
me discover that because I couldn’t bend normally
the trauma of having fourteen vertebrae fused
post-op, my extensive coughing pinched off the
lower lobe of my left lung, causing it to collapse.
10 | It’s Not Slander if it’s True
I laughed when I found out, because after
uncomfortably when I shiver, but the trauma
everything else, why not collapse part of my lung?
reinforces everything I stand for. It’s impossible to
Luckily I didn’t have to stay in the hospital too
crack under pressure when you have a backbone
long, and once I was home, my recovery started again. It was similar to before with my brothers
fortified by titanium. And if I, as a child, could rise from the ashes,
filling up my water bottles and my mom making
then I knew I can survive any inferno.
me dinner and my dad drying my legs off after
Or at least that’s what I thought.
a shower. It turns out going through extreme physical trauma has some advantages. At least until you pass out because you stood for too long. An x-ray showed that the fall caused the bottom screw to shift in my back. As the months dragged on, I started to sink back into self-pity. I hated having to wake up at all hours of the night to hook up to IV medications. I hated having a nurse come by to check that my PICC Line, which connected directly to my heart, was operating properly. And most of all, I hated not being able to leave the house. But eventually, I had an epiphany. It didn’t come after hearing an inspirational speech or being told to get over myself, so it doesn’t make for great literature. I just came to the conclusion that what happened to me at 13 couldn’t define who I would become. When you have to relearn how to walk before going to high school, your perspective changes quite a bit. Little things like showering by yourself and standing up without getting hit by a wave of nausea are no longer insignificant. The surgery, as it turns out, didn’t break me. Yes, I lost the ability to bend most of my back, and yes, the scar tracing my spine twitches
by Billy Clouse | 11
12 | It’s Not Slander if it’s True
by Billy Clouse | 13
Catfished Most people are afraid of the night, because
account a lot more during those months because
when the light and dark blend together, it becomes
it was the only way I had to spice up my seasonal,
nearly impossible to see the way forward, but
chronic masturbation problem.
I preferred being shut away, because whatever
And one day, out of the blue, I got a message
stood in the daylight was much more threatening
from a blank profile. Although he didn’t have any
than what lurked in the shadows. The only path to
photos, I figured it was a legitimate kink account
my happiness went outside, but I feared that the
based on the people he followed.
day I came out of the closet, I wouldn’t survive
As we chatted, he explained that he was a year younger than I and getting ready to start college,
long enough to go to bed that night. If I wanted to live, I must let my muscles atrophy.
which happened to be at my university. When
Unfortunately, wishing something away doesn’t
I asked, he said he currently lived with his parents
work, and despite my best efforts, I couldn’t keep
in a city not too far from where I was.
myself from wondering what it was like to be out.
This boy was charming and helped fill the time
So I made a private Instagram account to interact
when I would just sit on the couch and binge-watch
with the gay community.
Shameless. Every now and then, I would drop my
At first I just used it for observation, following
pants and send him a picture that he asked for—
since turning 18, I’ve had no reservations about
stimulating content. Later on, I started reposting
sending dirty pictures that a guy wants, because
photos and writing stories for them.
the way I see it, all penises are ugly, so it makes
Every so often, I would send a direct message
no difference to me if he sees mine.
to the pages I liked. In the back of my mind, I knew
Then came the day when my faith in people
there was a chance that the people I talked to
took a major blow, the last day I’ve ever fully
could be old men sitting in a La-Z-Boy desperately
opened up to someone.
trying to beat one out. But to a deeply-closeted 16-year-old, it didn’t matter.
Sprawled across the king-size bed in the afternoon, I messaged my buddy while only
I took breaks from the account sporadically,
wearing a pair of sexy underwear I recently
but it was always just a login away. My page was
bought. He had previously asked me to send him a
well-used in college as a place to channel my
picture of my face, but I declined out of fear of him
frustration of hiding who I was. And then came
spreading it. On this particular day, he got to me
the dark part.
by saying my other pictures were attractive and he
As a rule, I go through a bit of a depression
wanted to see the cute face that went with them.
each summer; without a full schedule, I end up
If I had trusted my better judgment, then
lying around doing nothing. I used the Instagram
perhaps I would be able to hold a man’s hand
14 | It’s Not Slander if it’s True
without having to fight off a panic attack. But my
coworkers that I was still friends with. I outed
lack of self-esteem was manipulated, and before
myself so he couldn’t do it.
I knew it, a few-months old photo I took after getting a new haircut was sitting in the chat. I received a notification saying he opened the photo. Then I received one that said, “Billy?”
There’s a reason I stayed friends with these people; they were overwhelmingly supportive and wanted nothing more than for me to be happy. But somehow, this made me feel worse.
My face burned red as pure terror coursed
To some extent, it invalidated the fear I felt
through my veins. Hands shaking, I typed back
about coming out, because at least with this
a response saying I didn’t know what he meant
group, it wasn’t the end of the world, just an easy
by that. When he sent a screenshot of the same
conversation. The harder part of their acceptance
photo from my personal Instagram account, I had
was that I could drop the weight of hiding who
what felt like an out-of-body experience.
I was, but only for a few people in one specific
My vision blurred as the drum of my heartbeat
setting. For the rest of the world, I still had to hide.
took over. The weight of my chest made it hard
One of my friends, who I love and adore,
to move. Fear caused my brain to throw thoughts
mentioned that she and her husband had
around, but I wasn’t able to land on any of them.
suspected that I might be gay. Knowing I didn’t
In less than a minute, I was in the next stage
even do a good job at hiding it hurt a little bit, but
of grief; denial wasn’t exactly going to help me
I knew she said it as a way to keep the dialogue
at this point. After calming down for a moment,
fun and lighthearted.
I erupted in rage. I demanded he send me a
And then the asshole that catfished me decided
picture of his face, and when I found out he was a
to chime in. I wanted to make a new group chat that
former coworker, I started crying.
didn’t include him, but I didn’t want anyone asking
I’m still not sure how he found the account,
why I specifically excluded him when coming out.
but I imagine it happened when I left my iPod
He said that he had also predicted my sexual
in the office while I used the restroom. If I got
orientation, which infuriated me. How dare he feel
a notification when he walked by, he could have
entitled to share his thoughts after he ripped my
easily found my no-longer private account.
heart out? I wanted to scream and break a mirror
Again, I moved on quickly to bargaining, but there was no feasible way around this. He had
and punch him in the face and kick him in the crotch until he felt half the pain I was in.
proof that I owned the account, he knew my kinky
He robbed me of not only my faith in humanity;
desires, and he used my insecurities against me.
he took away my ability to come out on my own terms.
Less than an hour after giving him the photo,
In that moment, I realized he also stole my will
I sent a message to a group chat of former-
by Billy Clouse | 15
Suicide Note Have you ever felt so scared that you wanted
I honestly don’t care if you judge me because
to run away to a place no one could find you?
I’m dead. It makes no difference to me. Just know
Have you ever felt so alone that you wished you
that although events triggered this choice, they
could disappear without a trace? Have you ever
weren’t the reason I’ve given up hope.
felt so unloved that you decided to end it all?
To understand depression, imagine this.
Because I have.
You’re sitting on a beach in the rain. It’s not great,
I came to peace with the idea of an eternal
but it’s livable. Then the waves start to build until
nothingness, with a void as empty as the holes in
they form a tsunami crashing upon you all at once.
my heart. I longed to be in a place where I could
It’s overwhelming. You need to breathe
feel no pain or sorrow or heartbreak.
but there’s no air. You need a break but there’s
To me, it sounded amazing. A place where
no end in sight. You need something to bring you
flowers don’t bloom just to die and get handed
happiness, but the things that once brought joy and
to a girl by a horny boy. A place where God
laughter into your life only make it worse, because
doesn’t allow children to be beaten and starved
they remind you of feelings you haven’t had in ages.
and neglected. A place where even depression
And without warning, the waves are gone.
can’t reach. This is what I prayed for Heaven to be like.
They disappear rather than recede. And you’re alone and empty.
Nothingness becomes your drug when you
You’re not sad but you’re not happy. You’re not
realize you’re a burden to everyone around you.
anxious but you’re not calm. You have no emotion.
And like an addiction, you do formerly-unthinkable
You don’t want to die, but you have no will to live.
things to get it. I thought my heart couldn’t feel
And it’s a scary feeling.
anything until I realized that while many addicts
If you’ve ever passed out, you know there’s
die in pursuit of their cravings, the thing I craved
a brief moment when you realize what’s about to
most was death.
happen, a moment where the weight of your legs
In our lives, we break others down to build ourselves up. Except this never actually helps and if we have a conscience, we feel even worse. And if we open our eyes long enough to cut through the idealistic crap, it becomes clear that there’s no such thing as rock bottom.
vanish and the light fades from your eyes and the air lingers in your lungs. This lasts less than a second. Being empty can last for weeks. I’ve been going through this for about a year at this point, and knowing that no matter what,
It can always get worse, and I can’t handle
the cycle will soon start again, it becomes hard
any more trauma. Deciding to die is the only
to actually live. I tried to push on, hoping it would
16 | It’s Not Slander if it’s True
But hitting a new low took away that hope. It might seem trivial, but I knew I was screwed when I saw a puppy while driving and didn’t feel a flood of joy. My lips didn’t curl into a smile. My brain didn’t even register seeing it as a positive experience. This insignificant event was so powerful because ever since I got over my childhood fear of dogs, I can’t help but get excited when I see one. And if one of those precious angels can’t make me feel anything, why would I think it would ever get better? And what sucks is that there is no way to recover from this. When treated early, most diseases can be cured, but when you put off talking to a mental health professional like I did, you allow the problem to grow into one of existential proportions. I was too late. Wishing you all the best, and hoping you don’t make the same mistakes I did, I bid you farewell. Oh, and if you couldn’t tell by now, the car crash was intentional.
If you or someone you know is in dire need, please visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org or call 1 (800) 273-8255. Stay safe.
by Billy Clouse | 17
The Smallest Glimmer of Hope On days I can manage to pull myself out of bed on time, I enjoy looking toward the mountains
problems faced by raindrops amidst a downpour. What a dick.
surrounding the canyon to see the sun climb to
The whole art thing might seem dumb, but
the peak. But on the morning after I started writing
hear me out. Writing this essay while sitting in my
my suicide note, I was too late.
car off the side of the highway, the wind blowing
The night before, I hated the place where my
off the mountains fill my lungs with the scent
mind had spiraled to, so I took a post-surgery
of rain and pine. Stronger gusts fly through the
pain pill because I couldn’t kill myself if I was
windows and slam against my legs.
unconscious. But the rejuvenation that comes from a long rest didn’t last. I had visited a store to buy some groceries— turns out hunger can cut through depression. But
Many would see this as just a scenic overlook before a mountain pass, but for me, it’s a sign that regardless of what’s going on in my life, I will always be able to find something beautiful.
on the way back home, I realized the desire to
Maybe time not stopping for us is a good thing.
continue living hadn’t returned.
Nothing brings a smile to my face like the
And in that moment, the choice was simple.
rawness of the outdoors. Some parts are too
I didn’t have the willpower to pull a trigger or
hot, some parts are ugly, but like me, these so-
swallow a ton pills. Luckily, I was already in a car.
called flaws make it beautiful. And what makes
It would take some courage, but blowing
nature so amazing is that it encompases all of
through an intersection would be easy, because after a certain point, it’s impossible to stop. I could just close my eyes and give into the void.
the senses. But it doesn’t have the best of everything. Although the sound of leaves rustling and
But then something fortunate happened.
brooks babbling are peaceful, music will always
The only reason I’m not dead right now if
reign supreme. I’m not talking about electronic,
because of a moment of guilt. I so desperately wanted to die, but it wouldn’t be right to kill others in the process.
autotuned bullshit, but like, real music. Instruments are so under-appreciated; I don’t understand why someone would want to listen to
So I drove home instead, and I eventually
a choir of digitally synthesized noises when they
allowed myself to see that even if it wouldn’t get
could hear the resolution of an orchestral chord.
better, something made living worthwhile.
Or a triumphant reprise sung with a full choir.
Art. We spend so much time trying to feel alive but
Music transcends language, able to be understood
we end up just wasting it. Time just flies through
something we all do, whether it’s singing nursery
the vast nothingness, blissfully unaware of the
rhymes in childhood or drumming on our steering
18 | It’s Not Slander if it’s True
wheels. We express ourselves through the music we create and consume. I’ve never met a Broadway finale that I don’t like. Singing, albeit off-key, fills the darkest parts of myself, allowing me to experience some happiness. Even a somber ballad will make me smile more than any amusement park can. Luckily, art doesn’t need a large production to make a difference; a smartphone photo can fill my heart as much as a soundtrack or an art installation. You see, I think the little things are what make life so beautiful, because even though seeing family at Christmas can bring about smiles and hugs, we just put on a mask as if our problems have gone away, and despite the fun that comes from a night on the town, we know we can’t outrun our demons. But regardless of what’s happening elsewhere, we can pull back inside ourselves and become whole again through art, which has been part of human society for thousands of years, with some pieces dated at over 100,000 years old. Its purpose has changed throughout time, from record-keeping to exaltation to expression, but it has been ever-present and will continue to inspire. Being able to see beauty so close to my own life might not seem like a strong motivator to stay alive, but it gives me the smallest glimmer of hope that perhaps there is meaning in all of this craziness.
by Billy Clouse | 19
20 | It’s Not Slander if it’s True
by Billy Clouse | 21
Damaged Goods If the source of the fallout was identifiable,
In the event that I match with someone on
it would be easier to isolate. The more I think about
Tinder or get a message back, I have a hard time
what caused it, the more hopeless it becomes,
believing it’s genuine. My mind instantly jumps to
because it’s nearly impossible to quarantine an
the conclusion that he’s just super horny or feels
sympathy for me.
Third grade was the first time I realized my
Most of the men on dating apps come off as
handwriting was awful. Fifth grade was the first
shallow, only interested in the fit, young athlete
time I realized I wasn’t popular. Sixth grade was
or the slim, flamboyant twink. But then I realize
the first time I realized my body was unattractive.
I’m just as superficial; I frequently swipe left on
These firsts kept happening, until I was just
guys who are old or stocky or feminine or—most
shamefully—not white. Oh, deeply-ingrained
I was the kid that did his best to fit in but
racism, you are a bitch.
always felt like he was watching from the outside.
Sometimes I think that if I go out with a man
You see, I had a major secret I was holding onto.
more unattractive than myself, he can’t judge
And unfortunately, you can’t selectively numb
me because I won’t be the uglier one, as if not
emotions, so during what should have been the
aligning with society’s toxic beauty expectations
highlights of my childhood, my joy was dampened.
means you can’t have standards or desires or
If I got too excited, the inflection in my voice
would slip through and my classmates might think
Everyone is conditioned from an early age
I was gay. If I laughed too hard at a joke, my guy
that looks are valuable, and gay men are in
friends might realize I was attracted to them.
a unique spot. We get to deal with a small part of
The years when I first started to realize I was
a woman’s experience, the part where the most
gay were lonely, but they would have been so
valuable aspect of ourselves isn’t personality or
much worse if Riley or Ricky or Easton or Zachary
intelligence or creativity, but physical appearance.
or Kaden or Jacob or Joel knew that I would do
When I was younger, I thought I would move
just about anything to be able to lay my head on their shoulder during a movie date.
past these shallow standards. For years, I’ve written about people who stand
In the closet, dating wasn’t an option, but it
with one hand on their hip and the other straight
was something I could do after coming out. But
up in the air, tipped by a protruding middle finger,
possibilities don’t always lead to actualities. Living
proclaiming to the world, “Fuck you, I’m happy
in a small town and having zero body-positivity,
with who I am.” These people who weren’t afraid
the likelihood of landing a date is slim to none.
to be lesbian or fat or admit they have mental
So far, my average is one date every two months.
illnesses made me feel like I was on the forefront
22 | It’s Not Slander if it’s True
of self-acceptance. But it’s become clear that I don’t even accept myself.
In most areas of my life, I put up walls that I know must come crashing down eventually. And
Upon entering a room, I became uncomfortably
perhaps even worse, I know my life will benefit
aware of the fat in my cheeks and chin and neck,
when they come down. The day I admitted to
how it moves with every step I take. When I put
myself that I was a gay atheist was the most
on an outfit, I remember that my belly will always
freeing day of pre-collegiate life. But still, I’ll try to
make me feel ugly. With every compliment, I try
postpone the inevitable.
not to smile, uncomfortable with the shade of my
Isn’t that sad?
teeth. I feel pathetic every time I want to spend
Perhaps the reason I’m so afraid to be
hundreds of dollars to whiten them, I feel stupid
vulnerable, so afraid to love, is because I don’t feel
every time I decide not to.
loved. I know that I am supported, but negative
When I feel happy about my haircut, I’m told
experiences hold much more weight in my mind.
“it’s definitely different.” When I finally get out of
So even though my mother told me she would
the days-long depression that comment caused,
be there for me no matter what, even though
I’m asked, “Oh, you’re wearing that?”
she cried when I left for college, I think about
For years, I’ve thought—and even said—that
how she couldn’t make eye contact for days
there shouldn’t be a stigma around mental illness.
after I came out to her. Despite the fact that my
There’s nothing wrong with it, but I can’t seem
dad inconvenienced himself to stay with me in
to internalize this idea. When interviewing the
the hospital during one of my most trying times,
director of my university’s counseling services for
I relive the moments he would respond to LGBTQ
a newspaper article, I couldn’t help but feel myself
news stories by saying “we should round up all
close up, trying to say as little as possible when
the gays and shoot them,” even though I know
he asked how my day was going.
they love me.
The same thing happened at the LGBTQ
On a similar, potentially-as-impactful note,
support group hosted on campus; I would avoid
I think about the times I made jokes no one
contributing to any conversation that dealt with
laughed at rather than the times where my
mental illness so I wouldn’t be discovered. There’s
coworkers stayed by my side, saying if “anybody
a chance that my self-diagnosed bipolar disorder
does try and hurt you, you always have us fighting
doesn’t exist, but I’m afraid to find out. Afraid that
for you no matter what.”
others will discover I need medication. Afraid that
Possibly the most heartbreaking part is that
they might try to connect any decision I’ve made
I would be happier and healthier if choice and
that they disapprove of to the disorder rather than
circumstance didn’t keep me in the closet for
my own volition.
by Billy Clouse | 23
The First Day of a New Life Pacing through the paved lot, I feel like I’m going to be sick. How long can I avoid saying it? My heart drops as my feet pass the weeds
Coming out should be a beautiful experience full of sunshine and rainbows and smiles, but I never had that until my public announcement.
poking through the pavement. Dad just asked if
My first time coming out was to my mother in
I have anything else to talk about. How long can
December 2015, and it wasn’t exactly fair to her.
I elongate one sentence?
On the way home from the store, I blurted out that
“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking,” Oh my god,
the reason I wasn’t feeling the Christmas spirit
I don’t want to do this. Why did I think this was
was because I’m a gay atheist. She had around
a good idea?
half a minute to process this before we were
“I’ve known in the back of my mind for years-”
home and had to start unloading groceries. Months later, I came out to this girl who was on
Oh fuck, I’m screwed. I am totally screwed. “I want to tell you that-” Will he yell or hang up?
the border of an admirer and a stalker. I told her out of necessity rather than because I wanted to
Well, I guess there’s no turning back now.
be my authentic self around her.
“I’m gay.” In that moment, time stopped and I was just
A few weeks into college, I came out during a class discussion about gay rights. Before I realized
a scared kid surrounded by asphalt and sky. Then my father said, “That’s not good. Well, at
what I was doing, I was ugly crying, explaining what it feels like to hide yourself. After class, my professor
least for me.” blur.
pulled me aside to explain some resources for
I remember my dad saying something about how
LGBTQ students on campus. I utilized none of them.
I should get a prostitute to see if I’m sexually
Sporadically, I started coming out. Sometimes
attracted to women since I never had sex with
it was to be honest, sometimes it was when asking
one. I explained how scientifically, sexual and
a guy, who turned out to be straight, on a date.
gender orientation aren’t a choice.
Before telling my father, I had one other major
My dad didn’t want me telling people I was gay
coming out experience, which was immediately
because it could be dangerous, and if I “changed
after being catfished. I outed myself to my former
my mind,” no woman in Utah would ever have sex
coworkers so I couldn’t be outed by someone else.
with me. At the end of the conversation, he said
The night before telling my dad, I reached
he loved me before hanging up.
out to close friends. My plan was to publicly
Walking back toward my apartment, I wanted
announce who I was five days after telling
to dance and jump for joy and scream. I imagined
him—I wanted some time in case he reacted
the conversation going a million ways, but I never
badly—but I had to tell a few people first. The
anticipated it going so smoothly.
response was overwhelmingly positive.
24 | It’s Not Slander if it’s True
One of the people who helped me through so much hardship the previous year told me that he was happy and wished me luck. He also gave me advice I now reflect on regularly: “Life isn’t easy,” he said. “Actually you get a lot of black eyes from it. However, some moments in life brighten and get better. Hold onto those. It will help you keep moving forward.” Another friend, whose kindness knows no bounds, told me that she loved and supported me, and was proud that I was letting others know who I was. These messages helped to calm my nerves enough to come out to my father. On the morning of October 20, 2017, I woke up with a smile on my face. It seemed like an insignificant response to the joy I felt, but that’s just it; this was one of the first times I felt so completely happy in far too long. Sitting at my computer in just my boxer briefs, I copied the text from a document into Facebook, added a photo, and pressed the button to upload the post. Nothing changed in that moment. I didn’t feel overwhelmed with grief or joy, just a light relief when I exhaled. When I inhaled, the realization that I hadn’t breathed in eight years flooded my lungs. Throwing on a pair pants that my mother thought was ugly and some rainbow accessories, I headed to school as the social media comments lit up my iPod. Nothing but fireworks illuminated the sky that day, and for the first time in forever, I was happy.
by Billy Clouse | 25
Jockey It didn’t take long to figure out I was a little
On the first day of class, he stood out because
atypical. After watching a Pokémon movie in
he was the adorable bearded blond boy who
elementary school, I ran around the playground
couldn’t stop smiling and laughing. I don’t really
with my arms down and my hands sticking out,
remember when exactly I fell for him, but by the
attempting to imitate one of the female characters.
time we were in a group project, I was smitten.
An older boy stopped me and told me to stop running like a girl.
I brought him something to wear for the presentation, and I nearly died when he took
While changing in a locker room, I stopped
off his shirt in front of me. He had a tiny amount
looking down when changing for a moment.
of chub and a pale treasure trail that led down
A not-so-cute boy asked if I was a faggot after my
from his bellybutton into the waistband of the
eyes drifted to the yellow-green plaid pattern on
underwear that stuck out just above his pants.
In that moment, I wanted to lie down on the couch
Following a few years of self-discovery,
and rest my head on his chest.
it became clear that I didn’t fit the straight mold.
He was the first guy I ever tried to ask out, but
I thought by coming out, I would escape the
it turned out that he was straight. If he was gay
boxes, but that expectation was as naive as
and wanted to go out with me, I would have come
believing communism would naturally succeed
out of the closet six months earlier than I did.
This shattered the picture I had in my head of the
I’m not thin and flamboyant. I’m not large and
two of us holding hands while sleeping.
cuddly. I’m not toned and dominant. You see, the
Even now, I daydream about him asking me
gay community is just as full of stereotypes and
to come to his apartment to fool around. Before
falling for him, I never wanted to suck a guy off,
However, I eventually found guys to date. But I didn’t have a spark with the fun guy. And the
but I’d gladly do just about anything he asked. Hopefully he’s not a sadist.
handsy not-actually-18-year-old moved too fast,
The probably-straight-boy in my drawing class
and the guy that did everything right fell victim to
became the next object of my affection. He moved
to sit next to me after the first few classes, which in
And then I was alone, time and time again. So eventually, I created a fantasy, and willingly jumped down the rabbit hole.
my mind obviously meant he was attracted to me. Thoughts began to spiral until I couldn’t tell if he smiled every time he saw me because he
The first boy I obsessed over was perfect in
was gay or because he was homosexual. It got
just about every way, from his looks to his religious
infinitely worse when he bent over to pick up the
views to his dedication to academics.
charcoal stick he dropped.
26 | It’s Not Slander if it’s True
Now that we have same-sex marriage,
question, he handed me a Macintosh Install CD
we should petition the Supreme Court to make
that was lying around as a reward. It’s stupid, but
straight men with cute butts a violation of the
I have it hanging on the wall behind my computer.
8th Amendment. I wouldn’t classify it as a hate
In class when he saw the progress I made
crime, but it’s undoubtedly cruel and unusual
on a project, he pat me on the back and told me
punishment. I’m not really into butts, but some
I was doing a good job. His touch, less than half-
guys make me want to mount them like a horse
a-second, sent my mind spinning faster than
and go for a ride.
a whirling dervish at midnight.
By this point in the semester, I walked home
I saw his beard, ever-so-slightly scraggly,
with my drawing buddy because his apartment
move closer to me until our lips met. He would
was on the way to mine. During a rainstorm,
take control of the moment, using his tongue to
I considered asking if I could come inside to wait it
work magic in my mouth, keeping me warm as
out, not because I objected to walking in the rain,
the breeze drifted from the mountains to the front
but because I wanted an excuse to be near him.
door of my apartment.
I went home instead, thinking about what it would
I heard the shallow breaths that told me he
be like to spoon after a date. I would give just about
was still asleep, and I would sneak out of his bed.
anything to have him lying behind me with his arms
He woke to the smell of bacon and peppers and
wrapped around my torso in a night-long hug.
potatoes, the glee evident on his face when he
As a demisexual, I have to develop an emotional bond with someone before romantic or
walked into the kitchen wearing just a flannel shirt and my underwear.
intimate thoughts form. The problem with this is
I felt the cuts and blisters on his palms while
that I only fall for guys I know well. It sucks when
we clasped hands on the walk toward the banquet
that person is a college professor.
hall. He pulled me closer when he realized
Like many of my other crushes, I can’t remember when the feelings started, just that his
everyone was staring at the only two guys wearing floral-print, designer shirts.
face showed up in my thoughts one afternoon
But as soon as it started, the daydream
when playing with my foreskin. And since then,
dissolved and I was sitting at my computer with
I can’t seem to forget him.
a noticeable erection.
More than his looks, what makes him so
Fuck, I need to get fucked.
attractive is his kindness. He smiles constantly, he stays patient when students are confused, and he lets us know when we’re doing well; when I was the first one to figure out a technicality in a
by Billy Clouse | 27
28 | It’s Not Slander if it’s True
by Billy Clouse | 29
King of the Psych Ward When he cried moments after birth, did his
perturbed me. It was probably his idolization of
parents know he would learn to bottle up
an unhinged billionaire. Or it might have been his
his emotions, attempting to kill his feminine side?
unwillingness to acknowledge and understand
When he took his first steps, did they know he
White Privilege. Or it could have been the fact that
would one day use a yellow ribbon with white
he knew Somalian children were the cheapest
polka dots to create a fashion accessory?
to buy on the dark web. But we still spent time
When he punched his sister, did his cousins
together in and out of work.
know he would seduce band girls with low self-
He would rig camera equipment to help bring
esteem, emboldened after losing his virginity at
one of my design concepts to life and I would
the age of 13? When he played outside, did they
drive him home from the lake while he passed
know he would one day join a church set up by
out, drunk, in the passenger seat. He would try to
a more-than-likely fraud?
convince me to ask the cute waiter for his number
When he struggled in his math classes, did
and I would buy him birthday gifts. He would give
his teachers know he would become a teenage
me an insider look at a rival organization and
alcoholic, spending most of his senior year
I would feed and snuggle with his pets while he went
intoxicated? When he ran track in just Nike
gallivanting around Florida during spring break.
compression shorts, did they know he would one day own a miniature zoo? When he proposed on a boat in the middle
He even managed to get me to join him and another coworker on a weekend hike. The view compensated for the effort it took to climb.
of the lake, did his fiancé know he would get
As I looked over the cliff, he was nervous
black-out drunk at his first college party, waking
I would fall off if I moved any closer. I laughed,
up wearing only a condom next to a girl he thought
knowing my fear of slipping would keep me from
was ugly? When he moved across the country,
getting too close, but I fell head-over-heels so
did she know he would one day help a gay friend
slowly that I didn’t realize I was in freefall until my
with craft projects?
skull shattered on the floor of Zion Canyon.
Perhaps they could have seen the warning signs, but I had no idea that knowing him would make me go insane.
That night, the sunset was alight with fire and passion. And slowly, I began to lose my mind. A few months later when I approached a fork
Within days of meeting him, he discussed his
in the road, I turned the right way, and when he
many sexcapades. I had to remind him that he
took the easy route, we began to drift apart. He
probably shouldn’t talk about underage drinking
must have sensed it first, because he turned and
and statutory rape in front of his boss.
walked away. I figured he was upset with me, so
Although he was a diligent employee, he
30 | It’s Not Slander if it’s True
I followed suit. He picked up a sword to sever all
ties, so I grabbed a torch and burned the bridge before he had a chance.
The road had been hit with lightning and caught fire and killed everything beautiful until
Cognitive dissonance had kept my hope that
all that remained were parasites and scum,
we might one day be together alive. I’m sure
which grew until they had taken over. Going back
some part of me knew I could never date an ultra-
was a short-lived idea, but just seeing what had
masculine, blue-collar, Trump-supporting, sex-
happened hit me harder than he hit the pole he
addicted man-child, but I was desperate for love.
backed my car into.
During my teenage years, I put on the mask of
Picking myself up off the scorched Earth,
a confident scholar to hide the earthquakes and
I clutched the only two things I had to remember
rubble lying beneath the facade. During his, he put
him by. As I walked forward, the tears washed
on the mask of a horny, borderline sociopath, but
away the ashes.
if there’s one thing I know with absolute certainty, it’s that whatever lies beneath the surface is much worse that anyone will admit. Come to think of it, he’s lucky he was temporarily institutionalized rather than remain in the civilian world, because while I was losing the battle with my demons, he became the King of the Psych Ward. Falling out of love with him was easier when I looked at all the flaws I previously ignored. The fact that he had been engaged twice only two years into college didn’t make the grief go away, but it helped me avoid thinking about the time he made me grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup on the day I turned 19. Even though our falling out was largely my fault, I chose to blame him, leaving me with memories clouded by hatred and sympathy and ecstasy and regret. A few months ago, I came to a crossroad, and I foolishly tried to head back toward him. But too much had changed.
by Billy Clouse | 31
Breaking Away Starting a new chapter in my life, I wanted to go
Not entirely sure of my gameplan, we climbed
down a challenging road. I hit the ground running,
down the side of the mountain, leading to a
joining a caravan of like-minded people. The path
was simple at first, but it soon meandered toward the mountains. The crisp air was liberating. I was free, and I had a chance to do something meaningful. I spent so much time enjoying myself that I didn’t pay attention to my surroundings.
Soon after entering the woods, obsidian clouds rolled in from the direction of the volcano. No canopy could have shielded us from that downpour. To my surprise, a woman I had mixed feelings about stepped forward. Like me, she
I noticed the snow-capped summits, but I
was covered in scars, but she shimmered like a
overlooked the cliffs that plummeted thousands
diamond. With her vast knowledge, she showed
of feet. I saw the deer grazing in open pastures,
us how to make shelter, and more importantly,
but l failed to see the wolves lurking in the
gave us hope.
treeline. I heard the songs of chirping birds, but
As we continued on, we grew closer
I missed the earth-shaking rumble of something
together, and eventually I opened up about my
struggles since entering the forest. Because I
I continued on, blissfully unaware until we were about to call it a night. Then my heart dropped. What appeared as an innocent mountain
was unexpectedly thrown into the leadership position, I had no time to myself, and the physical and mental drain was astronomical.
turned out to be an active and unstable volcano.
I hated sneaking away at midnight so I could
It erupted with no warning, and I had to lead the
sob uncontrollably. I hated sleeping for only four
caravan. Now, we had no time to rest.
hours each night because I had to get up early to
Continuing forward on the path was easy
plan for the next day. I hated considering extreme
enough in theory. All we had to do was move
and permanent solutions to temporary problems.
forward and avoid the lava being hurled at us
The only thing that got me through was this
from every direction. And not get engulfed by a
woman. She kept the group afloat and we all
pyroclastic flow. And run through the molten lava
became a family.
that was literally covering the entire road. I knew the path so many previous leaders had
I eventually came to terms with everything I had been through and was ready to move forward.
made wasn’t an option if we wanted to survive;
But all good things must come to an end.
we had already lost too many members of the
When I was happiest, the woman who held us
caravan. Some hated change and voluntarily left.
all together fell ill. I knew her days were limited, but
Others fell victim to the volcano’s polluted air.
we couldn’t rest until we were out of the woods.
32 | It’s Not Slander if it’s True
After making it to the treeline, we saw the most
A cave was carved into the side of one of the
breathtaking kingdom. Relief flooded my veins
hills. Its darkness was a bit eerie, and it looked
when we arrived.
unnatural. Despite the potential for disaster,
The woman who meant so much to me
I walked toward it, and although I didn’t know
eventually passed away one night, and before
where it would lead, I knew it would take me
her burial, I stole the podium to thank her for
everything she had done for myself and my peers. Eventually, we had to move on; the rest was rejuvenating, but we had work to do. Standing at the top of the hill outside of the kingdom walls, I saw what lie ahead. The road was visibly rocky, and I couldn’t trust any of the jagged mountains. Seeing that my life would only get more painful if I went forward, my eyes drifted left toward a serene beach. It stretched on before being cut off by rolling hills. In this moment, I decide to make my own path. With a heavy heart, I told my friends I would not continue forward, letting them know they could join me if they wanted. I would have loved to stay with all of them, but I just couldn’t bring myself to when the forecast was so bleak. After a final group hug, I moved on. Sunlight splashed on my face as the breeze blew my hair around. The waves lapped against my ankles and washed the sand from between my toes. I was alone except for the hope that I would one day be happy again. Within a few miles of the end of the sand, I gazed toward the grass-covered hills. I could have stayed on the shore and stared at them forever, but something caught my eye.
by Billy Clouse | 33
Revolt Most of the time, I hate bragging, but it’s time for some real talk.
you can’t put in more than 20 hours a week, and despite working between 30 and 40 hours,
As a freshman in high school, my attempt at
I only documented 10. This sounds stupid, but
journalism was quite pathetic; my articles were
others needed the money more than I did, and I
garbage, my photos were overexposed, and my
didn’t want to stop them from receiving raises or
design was underwhelming. Instead of staying
working extra hours.
stagnant, I worked my ass off to improve.
Contrary to what these previous statements
It clearly paid off; between my sophomore
might portray, my purpose for working at the
and senior years, I earned 45 awards for
newspaper wasn’t for the (non-existent) fame
writing, photography, and design. In addition to
and glory but rather because my heart lied,
recognition for my work, these awards helped me
and still lies, with written and visual storytelling.
land a job at the University Journal. I was the only
And accepting promotions opened doors to
freshman on staff.
Within a week, I was asked to take on the role
By writing my first controversial opinion
of News Editor and train to become the Editor-in-
piece, however, I started down a path that would
Chief my junior year. A month later, I had the job.
eventually lead to my break with the organization.
In this position, I provided a fresh perspective
Two years earlier, while sitting at my computer
that the newspaper desperately needed, and with
in the back of the high school journalism
the help of my team, we more than tripled the
readership, established a social media presence,
administration didn’t like a classmate’s article on
and created a magazine edition.
LDS missionaries. It talked about alumni from our
These achievements look great on a resume,
school in a non-preachy way, but they were afraid
but my proudest accomplishment was creating
it was “too religious.” This was my first experience
a culture of cooperation. When I took on the job,
previous EICs told me I should rule with an iron
When administrators tried to censor my work,
fist. No joke, one of them told me that the students
I fought them and published it anyway. They
in the news writing practicum should start shaking
weren’t happy, but I, as a student, actually had
when I walk in the room.
respect for the First Amendment. Unfortunately,
Instead, I did my best to become friends
this wasn’t the only time we experienced attempted
with each one of my team members. There was
censorship. Administrators — or students speaking
still professional expectations, but we weren’t
on behalf of them — tried to block opinion articles
afraid to joke around while working. In addition,
that discussed uncomfortable topics or leaned too
I underlogged my hours; as a student worker,
34 | It’s Not Slander if it’s True
It became clear, however, that I would no longer be able to fight the school; a professor
and we will likely have to make many new paths along the way if we want to succeed.
in the Communication Department told me that
It’s important, however, to note that success
pieces similar to ones we wrote that year would be
isn’t black and white; like the photos in this book,
blocked going forward. Rather than stay and have
there is a lot of grey. After creating the path that led
to file a lawsuit against the university, I resigned.
to Thunderground, I more-or-less discontinued it
As fate had it, I heard about Thunderground,
after a semester, but that doesn’t mean I failed.
an independent student media organization with
For example, the school-sponsored student
historical ties to the university, and I knew making
media organization of more than 15 paid students
my own path was the right decision.
produced 224 magazine pages, but I created
Those who tried to control what the press said
over a hundred more pages with the help of
almost killed my love of journalism and almost
only one regular contributor. My organization
silenced the voices of students. But I did what
also published hard-hitting opinions rather than
I had to to prevent that.
lukewarm articles that can’t offend anyone.
Having something to fight against is effective
The school-sponsored organization lacked
ammunition, but once you’re three months into
real leadership, so by time they finally allowed
unnatural sleep cycles and consider stress to
individual journalists write their own op-eds,
be a personality trait, you have to reevaluate the
the articles resembled editorialized news more
situation. What they don’t tell you is that while
than opinion. So while a few disgruntled former-
you’re on the edge of glory, you’re also on the
coworkers said I was wasting my time, students
edge of a cliff. And no one knows how it will end
said they were “rather disappointed to see the
until it’s too late.
crappy, cheap-feeling magazine (my competitor)
In our lives, almost every one of us has been
put out” and professors pulled me aside at invite-
told that we are selfish simply because we want
only lunches to say my content was far superior to
to pursue our dreams and passions. Yes, when
what the university published.
taken at face value, it is selfish, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. During
ourselves—who we are and who we want to be. We shouldn’t let anyone define our choices for us. We
organizations that don’t value our opinions. We might have to create the path that we want to take,
by Billy Clouse | 35
36 | It’s Not Slander if it’s True
by Billy Clouse | 37
In My Not-So-Popular Opinion Powerlessness is difficult to overcome. Years
afterlife where justice is served? Well, yes, those
are required to get into a position where change
who use rational thought, but that’s not the point.
can be affected, and even then, the potential to
Using this foundation, scriptures can be
control is limited.
rewritten and then used to build a new cult.
Business doesn’t interest me, so economic
While forming it, money and followers will be
corruption is out of the picture. Politics suck, so
my top priorities, so once I build a solid group,
that’s a no-go. Religion is unbelievable—wait,
I will make it a spiritual requirement to shove the
that might work.
religion down the throats of non-members. No
Getting desperate people to buy into religion
advertisement will be too small; even a URL in a
isn’t too difficult. Starting a cult sounds insane,
social media bio will work. The real trick, however,
and it would take some time, but it’s a high-reward
is to get my minions—or, I mean, followers—to
commit to prophesying for years at a time.
Think about it: an animal’s main instinct is
And if a price is attached to it, both goals can
to survive, and humans learn quickly how many
be accomplished; once a culture is created that
threats there are. Other people and predators
makes the service a social prerequisite for a date,
and monsters. Earthquakes and tornadoes and
the “church” can rake in the cash. But we’ll have to
volcanoes. Famine and drought. Disease and
make sure that the money already given through
radiation. Nuclear war and biological weapons.
required tithing doesn’t count toward the payment
Allergic reactions. Supernovae. Poison. Meteors.
of the mission.
Now, similar to song lyrics, scriptures are the
These threats could end our lives at any point.
least important aspect of gaining and keeping
Starvation doesn’t stay away from newlyweds.
followers; people could find meaning in a horse
Meteors don’t aim for the spot with the fewest
that falls off a cliff after eating a kiwi. The real trick
children. Heart attacks don’t wait to strike until the
to building up followers is establishing a culture
life insurance policy is purchased.
curated from “family values.”
At some point, likely without warning, each
First of all, gender roles will be essential. Men
of us will go from happy and healthy to dead or
will be the providers with the ability to perform
on their way to the grave. The disadvantaged,
ordinances and make decisions. Women will cook
robbed of opportunity, suffer until death while the
and bare children and be inferior overall.
privileged get richer by screwing everyone else. This allows the skeptical to be manipulated.
Ignorants say there are only two genders, so pick one.
Who can refuse an all-powerful protector with
Speaking of the queers, it’s important to
a plan, especially when they provide eternal
establish them as the outcast group because
38 | It’s Not Slander if it’s True
there’s nothing White people love more than a group to marginalize and discriminate against. At this point, these people who identify by an alphabet soup of acronyms are the only ones that it’s socially acceptable to talk down to, so they should work nicely. One slight problem is that more and more people are realizing that gender and sexual orientation aren’t choices, which makes it hard for the average conservative rural man to explain that watching two guys hold hands is as bad as watching them have butt sex in the middle of an elementary school classroom. But a “revelation” from me—I mean God—might do the trick, because who can argue with an allpowerful imaginary friend? Yes, this might work. Unlike our views on plural marriage and men of African descent in the priesthood, we won’t change this view when it becomes socially dated. And as more and more queer children take their own lives by suicide, we’ll just deny our role in the problem instead of trying to fix it. Now, I would never actually do any of this. First, taking advantage of the desperate and uneducated is disturbing in every imaginable way. Second, it’s a lot easier and much more fun to acquire a sense of power by becoming the boss in only five weeks. And perhaps most importantly, I want to avoid a lawsuit for plagiarizing the business model of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
by Billy Clouse | 39
Never Forget It’s not that it’s easy to accept death as a
She loved me unconditionally, and while
child — when you’re old enough to realize that
family members told happy stories about her at
the person lying in the casket will never open
the funeral, I couldn’t help but sob. Eventually,
their eyes again, the permanence still brings
though, I was able to smile, knowing in my heart
you to tears, but there’s relief in knowing that
that she was in a better place.
they’re in a better place, in the paradise your parents described.
A few years later, I discovered that Brandee Mitchell, a teacher at my former middle school,
I don’t remember too much of it, but I know
lost her life to cancer. I wasn’t lucky enough to
that tears streamed down my face at the first
be her student, but it was clear that she loved
funeral I attended. Although I didn’t really know
teaching, as well as her students. A memorial was
the cousin everyone mourned, their grief hit me in
held at the school, and I cried during a slideshow
waves. However, I quickly moved on after a meal
at the meeting hall attached to the church.
Everyone knew that Ms. Mitchell loved frogs
Years later when my Mema, Madeline Lucero,
and she had stuffed animals of them filling her
passed, I struggled a bit more. Although she was
classroom. After the memorial, we were allowed
the wife of a great uncle, she functioned more as
to take one to remember her by. That night,
a grandmother to me, and I loved visiting her
I held the little green frog with black speckles,
house. Looking at her in the mortuary, I wanted
and before lying down, I turned on the battery-
nothing more than to be sitting on the old couch,
operated candle I was given, letting the magenta
looking at the tacky 80s portraits with the same
LED light fill my room. Every so often, I’ll flip the
person at two different angles. I wanted to put
switch and let the glow calm me.
together a puzzle on the daybed in the back room.
As I grew, I started to question religion, but
I wanted to just run around the house and pick
I didn’t know anything different. I started to pull
berries off the bushes and stare at the motifs on
back the string of the bow, aiming for the heavens.
the bars on the outside of the windows.
Eventually, despite my best efforts, I realized
It was with Mema that I discovered that
I didn’t believe in what I was raised to, and the day
pork chops taste great, and it was with her that
I shot God out of the sky was the first day I lived
I remember rolling a burrito that was way too
my life for myself. It was a weird feeling, knowing
overstuffed. And although I don’t remember it, I’m
there is no real reason why we are flying through
told she was one of the first people I sweared at.
space on a giant rock, but it was also calming.
I didn’t know what it meant at the time, but I should
At least for a few weeks.
have never called her an ass, because she was
During my senior year of high school, I found
one of the kindest people I knew.
40 | It’s Not Slander if it’s True
out that Natalie Patterson, a classmate since
elementary school, lost her fight to depression.
When I wasn’t crying, I was pissed at how
She was sweet and beautiful and talented and
quickly the murder of 58 people became a political
loved, and her life was cut short.
spectacle, and how a local news blog used the
I wanted so badly to believe in an afterlife because there is something fundamentally wrong with a world where a girl can work to treat her
massacre as a marketing opportunity. Personally, I didn’t know any of the people lost, but I felt for them on October 2.
mental illnesses, only to have the darkness crush
More recently, my friend Shon WIlson took his
her. A teenager should be full of hope, excitement,
life, choosing to go out on his own terms after a
wonder. No one, especially a child, should have
long battle with fibromyalgia. I met him through
to battle demons that make life unlivable. But
his wife and sister-in-law, who to this day feel like
despite my desire to believe, I couldn’t ignore the
part of my family.
rational part of my brain telling me she was gone for time and eternity.
He was a pillar in the community, a loving husband, a devoted brother, and an all-around
One of the most difficult aspects of death is the
kind person. Whether a celebration was in order
lack of warning. I woke up one morning and found
or if I was having a tough day, I knew I was always
out we lost Natalie, I woke up a few years later
welcome in his home.
to discover that a gunman fired into a crowd at a
Although they are no longer living, these
country music festival. As soon as I opened my eyes,
people live on in my memories. Because of
I was in a panic, confused about all the notifications
Mema, I know the importance of being there for
from Facebook saying my friends were marking
people whether they’re having a good day or in
themselves safe in what the social networking site
crisis, and I hope to develop her capacity for love.
called “The Tragic Incident in Las Vegas.”
Because of Ms. Mitchell, I strive to live each day
That day, I made it to one of three classes.
with the mindset to do the most good.
After off-and-on crying for two hours in the
Natalie taught me to be resilient and the
campus museum, I went to the store, and then
importance of fighting for myself as long as
spent most of the afternoon watching the Las
possible. The victims of the 1 October Massacre
Vegas broadcast stations while eating pizza
showed me, indirectly, that life is shorter than
I realize, and I must share love while I still can.
I’ve never cried more than I did that day.
Shon personified what it means to live selflessly
Every terrorist attack, whether it’s a school
and to give to those I love and those less
shooting or a suicide bombing, slams me with grief, but knowing my home was attacked filled every fiber of my being with unbearable pain.
fortunate than myself. As long as I am of sound body and mind, I will never forget the angels who preceded me in death.
by Billy Clouse | 41
Pride In a gay men’s health survey, I was asked if I think of LGBTQ individuals as superior to straight people. It was difficult to answer, mainly because it was hard to admit that I did.
in me—either way, I can’t seem to stop fighting for justice. To save some of the mental energy it takes to educate people who so desperately want to
It’s not so much that we are better in some
remain ignorant, I find more subtle ways to push
intrinsic way; everyone is born with the potential
my agenda. One of these is by expressing myself
to be kind and successful. But the experiences of
in a flamboyant way.
LGBTQ people, at least in my mind, give us the ability to live life more fully.
Having people stare at you for having painted nails can be annoying, but there’s also some fun
Like many of my queer family, Gilbert Baker’s
to being obnoxious. I can’t help but smile thinking
rainbow flag encompasses the many aspects of
about the cashier who blushed when he saw
my experience as a member of the community.
my pin that said “I love orgasms.” And one day,
It also shows who I am on a fundamental level.
I might even have the courage to wear a dress
Despite everything I’ve been through, my natural instinct is to express kindness to strangers.
or blouse, because after all, there’s no reason to force a gender on pieces of fabric.
I want to understand their stories, share in their
Because of this, I am orange.
experiences, and become part of the fabric of
Seeing my people represented in media, or
their lives. Because I numbed my emotions in the closet, I had no idea how many types of love there are— as I continue to grow, I realize I can love friends and teachers and coworkers differently.
the love a gay or lesbian couple, fills me with joy. Seeing themselves living their best lives publicly creates a warm sensation in my heart. But at the same time, I often feel like I betray my LGBTQ family. A conversation with a bisexual
On the flipside, however, I harbor a lot of
friend showed me that the community often
hatred and resentment. Rage courses through
overlooks them; if they are monogamous, we are
me when I think about how we have treated those
none the wiser to their sexuality. And although I
different than ourselves, how we currently treat
try to understand the experience of transgender
those different than ourselves, and how we will
individuals, I often find it hard.
continue to treat those different than ourselves.
When someone who appears as male
In these ways, I am red.
expresses themself with female or non-binary
It takes quite a bit of energy to keep up the fight
pronouns, I find myself getting uncomfortable,
to help the disenfranchised. Maybe it’s because I
even though I know their identities are as valid
know what it’s like to be part of a minority group
as my own.
or maybe it’s because I actually have some good
42 | It’s Not Slander if it’s True
For these reasons, I am yellow.
Perhaps the reason I have complicated
Thankfully, I can rely on femininity to help me
thoughts for the people who express themselves
out of these ruts—when you wake up feeling like
too far outside of gender norms is because I’m
a fierce force of nature, no one can rain on your
envious of them. Currently, I identify my gender
parade. There’s something about saying “not
on the non-binary scale, but I end up expressing
today, world, I’m not taking any of your shit” that
myself on the more masculine side because I’m
makes me giddy like a child.
unsure how to fully be who I am.
All my life, I have been transforming, and now
Expressing my feminine side, the part of me
that I’ve opened myself up to letting the world take
that wants to do my hair and wear fashion-forward
the wheel, my life has been so full of exploration
clothing and paint my nails, scares me. As a demiboy,
and euphoria. With maturity, I’ve realized that I don’t
one of my biggest pet peeves is having to wear a
need to hide away in a cocoon in order to burst forth
suit and tie to fancy events, but I’m too anxious to
as a new and improved version of myself.
wear something more feminine or androgynous.
I started as an infant unable to control my
As I try to figure myself out, I give back when
bladder, but now I’m a beautiful mess of traumas
I have the time. It may just be by designing
and triumphs. Just imagine where the next 20
logos for LGBTQ organizations or flyers for drag
years will take me.
performances, but it’s my somewhat-selfish
For these reasons, I am violet.
attempt to feel generous.
Every one of us has grown unlike any human
In these ways, I am green.
on earth, and regardless of sex, gender, religion,
Although it is usually a way to hide my fears, I
sexual orientation, or any other aspect that makes
often try to exude confidence. I’m an experienced
us who we are, we have a story so complicatedly
writer, photographer, designer, and life liver, and
beautiful. And it needs to be celebrated.
there are healthy ways to show it. One of my biggest flaws is that I too often take it too far.
We are born of the stars, with rainbows and history embedded in our bodies. Our lives expand
Luckily, I control my masculinity better. True, I
these histories until we are returned to the ground.
get a rush from accelerating my car and working
When I die, I want the grass and flowers that
with my hands, but that doesn’t mean I have to
are nourished by my corpse to grow from the
hide the side of me that wants to be pretty.
person I was; I want the beauty of my imperfect
Reconciling competing forces can be difficult,
life to create something beautiful.
and feeling like a shallow person can lead to deep
By living my best life, one full of pride, I can
depressions. Too many of my queer family know
make the child that picks a sunflower near my
this feeling all too well.
tombstone smile. And if that isn’t the point of life,
Because of this, I am blue.
then I don’t know what is.
by Billy Clouse | 43
Kate, Kendra, Daysa, Diana, & Kirk, within a few months of meeting you, I felt a level of love and support that I didn’t know existed. When life got tough, you were in my corner. When life got easier, you would always find a way to make it more joyful and fun and entertaining. I am forever indebted to you for
Rachel, you’ve loved me
the compassion and acceptance you showed me — I probably wouldn’t be
for years, unconditionally.
alive today without it.
Andrea Gibson, it’s impossible to know the extent
Jared, Colin, & Ben, I appreciate your kindness,
to which your poetry has influenced the world,
even though I probably did an awful job at hiding
but I can tell you that the euphoria I’ve felt since
my attraction for you. When most heterosexual
coming out is a direct result of the poem, “Your Life.”
men find out you have a crush on them, they
I hope to meet you one day so I can explain how
go running in the opposite direction. You three
much your words have changed my life.
showed me that true Allies exist and maybe men aren’t the worst.
Mom & Dad, you gave me the gift of life, and since I can remember, you loved and supported me in all
And finally to myself, I implore
my academic and personal endeavors. Whether
I was recovering from surgery or trying to figure out my
unapologetic life. Keep painting
values, you were there even when I felt alone. I love you.
your nails, continue to advocate for social justice, and feel free to love openly.
A Redress of Grievances
a world of misleading,
response to my messages, I realize that after I let you into my life, you
someone just because
forced me out of the closet to the people I cared for most, and I will
you don’t like what
never forgive you for that. When I finally get over the crippling trust
issues you gave me, I will
After everything that
If you do, I guarantee you will save a life. You know who you are, the more I look back at your
Arthur & Hayden, in downright-fake news, you shouldn’t censor
never pass them on. Here’s
Samantha & Samuel, you managed
has happened over
some advice: try not being a
to make my life a living hell, which is
the past year, I hope
trash person, it feels great.
crazy considering I was struggling to
live a lie. I won’t ever bury the hatchet,
you can’t silence me
The bigots, you’ve destroyed
but I would love to meet up one day to
just because you’re
families with your hate. I hope
hear about what it feels like to have your
insecure about your
that haunts your soul.
ignorance inspire the title of this book.
44 | It’s Not Slander if it’s True
In the end, all we have is our life. Live yours with purpose.
by Billy Clouse | 45
46 | It’s Not Slander if it’s True
Inspired by his reflective opinion article, "Being gay: a brutally honest perspective on coming out," Thunderground's Editor-in-Chief has wr...
Published on Aug 14, 2018
Inspired by his reflective opinion article, "Being gay: a brutally honest perspective on coming out," Thunderground's Editor-in-Chief has wr...