I don't have many pictures of myself from my BYU days. But since Joanna Brooks has become the media's go-to person on Mormonism -- and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has reacted by spraying her with condescending snark -- the following picture has gone from being "Here's me with some of my fellow staff members at a Student Review party" to "Here's my brush with fame!"
That said, I don't claim I was ever good friends with Joanna. We were more like colleagues or acquaintances. (She was really good friends with my brother John, though.)
Then -- as now -- she believed in the CoJCoL-dS a lot more than I did. I don't know if she really believes the church is true or that it is good, but she's clearly a lot more invested believing it's true and making it good than I am.
Back in my BYU days, I liked the Student Review staffers for their independent streak, but I couldn't really relate to their earnest desire to try to carve out a space for themselves in the church, and improve it, if possible. I asked a lot of different people just enough leading questions to try to feel out if any of them were closet non-believers, but (aside from myself and my brother) it seemed that none of the SR staffers were. Personally, I just wanted to get out of the church's clutches, off its radar, and start my real life. Which I did, a year or so after these pictures were taken.
In the Student Review chapter of my novel I tried to capture a bit of what I felt the staffers were like: They were believers, but they were cool. Which helped hit home the point that the problem with the church isn't that it's not cool. It's that it's not true.
When reading blogs like Godless at BYU, I sometimes feel jealous of the way the Internet allows people to find other like-minded folks. Back then, I would have given anything to have a support system of like-minded non-believers. My brother John found himself a gay support network -- which probably included lots of non-believers -- but that didn't help me much because their main unifying experience was being gay. If they were non-believers, that was a bit of a side concern, at best. It's another example of how the atheist movement is generally a couple decades behind the gay movement, but following in the same tracks.
On the other hand, I don't think I'd go back in time and simplify life for my past self even if I could. BYU didn't kill me or even traumatize me. It was a learning experience, and if it had been easier, I think perhaps I would have learned less.