A smile forms on his face and a glimmering in his eyes cannot go by unnoticed.
“When I was three years old, I didn’t know what ‘hot’ was,” says Santa Monica College student Trevor Pop. “But while watching a scene of ‘George of the Jungle’ in which George’s female interest quickly ran into frame to cover him up because he was naked, I remember all too well wishing that she wouldn’t do that.”
Growing up in a Pentecostal household with seven uncles, Pop always felt out of place among the men in his family. He spent most of his time with his aunts in the kitchen or secretly read science fiction books in the library or on the rooftop of his house.
“We weren’t allowed to watch a lot of TV and so ever since I can remember, reading became an escape from reality for me,” says Pop. “I loved reading and dreaming about magical places far away. The Harry Potter series were one of my favorites.”
Pop did not know what gay was until a visit to his step-grandfather’s home when he was 11 years old. The visit turned into an aggressive conversation in which his grandfather expressed his belief that homosexuality is a sin and that every gay person would burn in hell.
“After we left, I remember asking my dad what a ‘gay’ was and he said it was a boy who liked other boys. I remember thinking, well, that explains me,” recalls Pop.
Religion plays an important role in the life of Pop’s family. His father is a deacon and his mother one of the female elders at their local Romanian church in Anaheim.
“When my dad told me that being gay was a sin I grew very afraid for myself because I found boys physically attractive,” he shares.
It wasn’t until his senior year in high school that Pop would come out to his friends. His main inspiration was his best friend and love interest at the time, Connor, who had already come out and received positive reactions from friends and family.
At the age of 17, Pop came out of the closet to his close friends and the news spread like wildfire, everybody at his high school found out. Aside from a few negative remarks, he received a lot of positive reactions. His good friend Barbee was very excited to learn that she had a gay best friend.
While the positive responses were of great relief, Pop was not ready to come out to his parents yet. Finals were soon over and he was going to study at California Baptist University after his graduation. He and his friends would go to different schools and he had no clue what the future had in store for him.
During the fall semester of his first year at college, his life took a different course and Pop became very depressed. His parents were paying for his education and wanted him to become a doctor.
As a result he started studying biology with a concentration in pre-med but did not feel fulfilled. On top of that, he also felt frustrated that he couldn’t come out to his parents.
“At this time in my life, I had literally come out to everyone that I could come out to without it being someone that would talk to my parents about my sexuality,” says Pop. “Being that my family is extremely religious, I knew that it would not only be unacceptable for them to have a gay son, but it would also be a cause of embarrassment for them if anyone at their church found out.”
Pop started to think that it would be better for his parents to not have a son at all as opposed to having a gay one. This line of thinking triggered suicidal thoughts resulting into several attempts to kill himself.
“The first time I tried to kill myself I drank two full bottles of hard liquor and several different size bottles of ibuprofen while taking inhalants. The second time, I tried to bleed myself to death,” reveals Pop. “The third time I attempted to kill myself, I was out drinking with my dorm-mates up at our hangout spot and tried to throw myself off the edge of a precipice.”
One of Pop’s dorm-mates talked him out of jumping and helped him home that night. The next morning one of his professors was alerted of Pop’s suicidal attempt and contacted the dean of students.
The dean sat down with Pop and informed his parents. They were shocked by the news. Despite having been aware that he was going through a difficult time, they didn’t realize the full extent of his inner struggle. Pop decided to come out to them at the end of that winter break.
He first told his father who cried all day. In the evening, as his mother was preparing dinner, she asked him if he knew why his father had been crying and Pop came out to her as well. She had been peeling potatoes and started throwing them at him as he ran away.
His parents had a difficult time coming to terms with the fact that their oldest son was gay. Once the school semester ended Pop was urged to go home to his parents house and start a form of conversion therapy to cleanse him of the “demon of homosexuality.”
He would go to church for regular therapy sessions with the youth pastor and one of the senior pastors. These sessions were then continued by evening services which in turn were followed by prayer. Aside from the countless services, he also spent about 40 hours volunteering for the church on a weekly basis and underwent a total of two exorcisms.
“There would usually be a group of about four or five people who would lay their hands on me and start praying in tongues and chanting for my freedom from the demons that were possessing me while either my father or one of the pastors would be anointing my head with oil. This process would go on for hours.” recalls Pop.
His parents decided to send him to an ex-gay camp. However, before they could send him away, Pop decided to take matters into his own hands and climbed on a bus that drove out to Los Angeles.
In Los Angeles, a place he describes as his personal “Hogwarts,” Pop received help from the LA Gay and Lesbian Center. After getting into their Transitional Living Program for homeless youth, Pop became involved with LifeWorks, an organization that offers free services to support its members in managing personal issues at work or home.
Pop now volunteers at the LifeWorks youth space on a daily basis and works with his fellow peer mentors to provide a safe homophobic-free space for LGBTQ youth to come. He is excited to move soon into a place by himself and has come to better terms with his family whom he sees on a monthly basis. He looks forward to introducing his boyfriend to them and has good hopes that they will get along and one day accept him as his partner.
Pop advises individuals with similar struggles to surround themselves with people that love them.
“There are people who will love you in the world just the way you are and want to be,” says Pop. “Don’t be afraid to be you, because at the end of the day, if you can’t be you, then who will be.”