"Your pain is the breaking of the shell which encloses your understanding"
When my son Ross came out to our family as gay eight years ago, my hurdle towards a major crisis of faith began. I had to re-examine everything I had previously thought and at times thought I knew with certainty to be true. There is nothing like seeing a precious child in despair over the knowledge that the plan of happiness he had been taught to strive for, which included the opportunity for temple marriage and parenthood, the plan that is the bedrock of our theology, would be impossible for him to attain as his authentic self. It upended my notions of truth, happiness, obedience, loyalty, and in fact all that I held dear, including my perception of the character of God. And I, for a long moment, wondered if I would be able to stay with a theology that had unintentionally made my child feel inherently unworthy of God's choicest blessings.
Ross began having panic attacks in February of 2007, his senior year of high school, shortly after being offered a scholarship to BYU and the nagging fear that had been encroaching on my sense of well-being began to loom larger. My suspicions were confirmed when I sat him down at the kitchen table one warm June night that year, while his brother and father were away at scout camp.
I asked and he answered, pouring out years of grief and heartache and shame. Wishing it wasn't so, wanting to be just like "everyone else" and knowing he was not. I assured him of our love and understanding, our unwavering support and loyalty, but when in absolute despair he said, "What's the point of going on? I can't ever marry in the temple and have a family. How do I get to the Celestial Kingdom? What happens to me?" I had no answers. I could not advise him to keep coming to church, to hope for peace in the next life. There are graveyards full of young Latter-Day-Saints who have tried. I would rather have him alive, living an authentic life, true to who he is, than to live a stalwart steadfast lie that backs him in to a suicidal corner.
If I had previously entertained any doubt that sexual preference was a choice, those doubts were completely erased as I held my sobbing teenager that night in the kitchen, as he chanted over and over, "I just want to be normal, go on a mission, get married, like everyone else." And all I could think of was, "What kid in their right mind would choose ridicule over acceptance, would choose to be a pariah in his own religious community?" I received a firm conviction that night as I held him in my arms, that this was my beloved child and that our family would rally around him and support him, and we have.
He no longer attends church. He had to walk away, to find his own path that would somehow help him want to stay alive by not asking of him to be alone all his life, but affirm his desire for love and companionship. He has spent the last eight years as an out gay man, trying to make up for all those years he felt he had to hide his painful secret, and he is learning to discard the shame and self-loathing that his religious doctrine and culture imposed upon him all those years. I am hoping that he can finally see himself as I know God sees him.
My conventional faith has taken a hit since my child came out, but my capacity for love and empathy has increased ten-fold. All of my beliefs have been upended and rearranged. Here in my community people have been incredible supportive, including a fabulously affirming bishop and an incredibly well-educated and enlightened stake presidency, but the doctrine remains the same. And young gay Mormons are dying to get to heaven where they hope life won't be so cruel. We are losing whole families who are pushed out by intolerance and bigotry.
I had no answers back in 2007, but I have answers now. And they are loud and clear and not just for my child, but for all the gay kids I have learned to advocate for. I want to find every struggling gay Mormon child and cup their faces in my hands, and tell them how loved they are, AS they are. After having a front row seat to the anguish of my own beloved child, I must work to prevent others from having to face a potentially even more perilous situation, wherein their church leaders or even their own families reject them. Because this does happen. It happens in our church.
That is not part of God's plan for them. This is not their test or trial here on earth. They will not become straight in the next life. This is how a loving father created them, with the desire and capacity to form a lifelong bond of love and companionship with someone they are madly in love with. This is my testimony, and I will fight for love and acceptance. For compassion and Christ-like understanding for these valiant souls from their fellow saints and the community at large.
Perhaps then families like mine will not feel torn between a church they love and a child they would give their life for. I stay in the faith of my childhood with the desire to be a voice of compassion and mercy, an obligation to be a comforter, an advisor, a friend, to any who have suffered as we have, as Ross has. Maybe I can encourage a parent to affirm their child. Perhaps I can help a gay Mormon child want to stay alive. This is what my Savior expects of me. This is why I breathe fire. I am a Mama Dragon.
The Morning Email helps you start your workday with everything you need to know: breaking news, entertainment and a dash of fun. Learn more