Monday, May 14, 2012

When a Church is More Important than Your Child

Photo by BingBing
I'm writing a book about growing up Mormon and gay.  Some of you may know this, many of you do not.  Below is the first draft of one of the chapters; it charts the first conversation I've had with my mother since coming out to her in a letter two weeks ago.

More than anything, this experience illustrates to me how much the LDS Church (and religion in general) holds families and their relationships hostage.  I cannot understand why so many members of the Church believe they have a monopoly on God's love. Furthermore, if you don't fit the Church's mold, you are unworthy of His affection and grace. I don't understand it and I refuse to believe it.

This post is not a plea for your affection or an attempt to fish for your compassion. It's not an attempt to condemn or vilify my mother, either.  It is simply a recollection of my personal experience and an attempted illustration of the damage that can happen when religious dogma supersedes a faith's foundation of love and charity.

Anyway, thank you for joining me in my journey - it is my goal to help ease others' burdens by sharing some of my pain and experiences.


 On Deaf Ears

“Where do you want to sit; we can talk at the table or here in the living room?”

“I don’t care, mom,” I replied. “Wherever you want is fine.”

“Okay,” she said. “Let’s just sit in here on the couches then.”

As we sat down we never broke eye contact.  We looked at each other, carefully sizing the other up, not knowing where to start. 
Several moments of the most awkward silence of my life followed.

Over the last two weeks I thought I had prepared myself for whatever argument my mother would throw at me.  In my mind, I had endured my trials with the patience of Job and I felt as though nothing she could say to me, no hurtful insult she could scream at me, would change how I felt or affect me or my resolve moving forward.

I was wrong.

The electric silence came to a halting stop as flood gates opened simultaneously for both of us.

“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” she demanded through clenched teeth and tear-stained eyes.

“Because nobody in this family is bashful about how much they hate gay people,” I similarly responded.

“Yeah, that’s because I believe in the scriptures, Michael,” she replied. “I know how evil this path is and I know people, firsthand, who have chosen to live the homosexual lifestyle and it has destroyed them. If you choose this path, it will chew you up and spit you out.

“How could you do this to me?” she continued. “The first three days I couldn’t eat.  I couldn’t sleep.  I couldn’t even breathe.  I wake up every hour on the hour panicked that I’m going to lose you to this sinful path.  I’ve started having evil, satanic dreams.  I know the devil has a hold of you.  And in my dreams he is pulling you away from me. But I’ve got you and I am not going to let you do this.  You are a part of this celestial family and I will not let you do this to yourself or this family.”

I wished she had screamed at me.  I wished she’d hurled every British and American insult she could come up with.  I wish she’d said anything but what she did. I couldn’t respond; I didn’t know how to.

My lack of response seemed to fuel her momentum so she continued.

“How long have you been ‘dealing’ with this?”

“I don’t have an exact idea but at least since I was 11 or 12 and started going through puberty,” I meekly replied.

“Did anyone ever touch you?  Were you ever molested or sexually abused by anyone?” she demanded.


“Did someone ever expose themselves to you or to anything else?”

“No, mom, not that I can remember,” I responded with an irritated edge to my voice.

“I think this happened when you were a sophomore in high school and saw those naked images of men on the Internet,” she replied.

(I had convinced my parents that an image search of “muscle men” that I neglected to delete off our computer’s Internet history was part of an assignment for my health and team sports class.  For better or worse, I guess, I’m a pretty good liar – especially when it comes to covering my butt and keeping myself out of trouble.)

Actively rolling my eyes and trying to share my dissatisfaction with the direction of the conversation, I said, “Please mom, give me a break.  That wasn’t the first time I’d seen a naked man or woman and it sure wasn’t the last time.  Beyond that, our society and culture is filled with sexuality and sexual imagery. Everywhere! And there’re way more heterosexual messages and images in the world around us than any type of gay propaganda.”

“Why didn’t you come to us sooner, so we could help you overcome this; get you the help you need” she pushed forward, undeterred.

“Mom, did you read my letter?” I shot back. “I have spent thousands on counseling and prescription medications to try and 'get help.'  I am who I am and I can’t be fixed or changed.  I’ve tried.”

“Well, was this at BYU?” she countered. “I read an article just last week in the Deseret News that those methods don’t work.  You said you were suicidal? That was why, I’m sure!”

“I was suicidal in high school.  I told you, I’ve been dealing with this since I was in seventh grade! Counseling at BYU was my final effort because nothing else worked up to that point.  I have done everything to try and change, mom.  Everything.”

“Well, we need to get you better help.  Someone who knows how to deal with this; we need to get you over to LDS Family Services.  I'll help pay for it,” she announced.  “Are you on antidepressants right now?  You need to be.  They will help you beat this.”

“No, they make things worse,” was all I could muster.

And then she went in for the kill.

“If I could take this from you, I would,” she said through choked sobs. “I would take away all of your pain, and sorrow, and temptation.  I would take whatever lies you’ve been told and I would take every unrighteous desire you had away, too.  I have prayed to Heavenly Father and asked Him for this.  When I go in for my operation next month, I begged Him to let me die on the operating table if it meant you could be whole and our eternal family could be kept together forever and you could keep your covenants.”

I was dumbstruck.  My mother had just told me she had prayed to die on my behalf; to literally become my own personal savior. I just stared into her tear-streaked face as my own 15 years of raw, religious emotion came boiling to the brim.  I couldn’t respond, I told myself I needed to calm down before moving forward because I didn't know what would come out.

So, without my response, she continued.

“I didn’t get married until I was 27 but I can promise you that there were times I wondered if I was ever going to get married,” she said, believing she was making headroom with me. “If I hadn’t gotten married, I would NEVER have gone out and done ‘anything’ just because I was lonely.  The gospel is that important to me.”

Finally she said something that sparked me out of my silent stupor.

“That’s completely different, you can’t compare the two, mom,” I countered. “You would go through this life with the hope that maybe, someday, you would get married. You could hold onto the hope that you COULD get married.  You aren’t told by the church to live alone, single, and celibate for the rest of your life with no hope of companionship and love.”

“It is too the same thing, covenants are covenants,” she countered. “I have a friend who I’ve known for 30 years who deals with this issue. You don’t need to know who it is (I wonder who the hell that is, you only have one single, male, gay friend and he ran away to New York in the ‘90s and then a few years later to San Francisco to get away from his family and the church.  If he’s active in the church now, you can be sure as shit he sowed his ‘wild oats’ before settling back down in to his churchly routine [no, his name isn’t Mitch Mayne] I thought to myself.) but he’s found meaningful service in the church by doing genealogy and serving in the temple.  He’s accepted his cross and lives within the bounds of his covenants.

“If you never marry and just become the favorite uncle to your sisters’ kids, so be it.  At least I would know that you have stayed true to the gospel and the promises you have made in the House of the Lord. Now, I know you think members of the church can be mean…”

“No, mom, stop,” I demanded! “The members of the church are bad enough but you don’t understand the hell I’ve been through. I did everything the church demanded.  Every prayer I’ve uttered over the last 15 years was a desperate plea with God to fix me and take away this burden.  Every time I fasted, I held true to the hope that I would be cured of my unrighteous desires. Growing up, when these feelings didn’t go away but only got stronger, I researched everything and received promises from church leaders that if I only gave more of myself I would be strengthened and that this curse would be broken."

Tears freely flowing down my face; great, heaving sobs rocking my entire body I continued.

“I was president of every quorum.  I did sports and joined nearly every club and group in high school to prove I was worth something. I graduated at the top of my seminary class with a 4.0 and spoke at seminary graduation. I went on a mission and served faithfully.  I graduated from BYU and dated girls and even got engaged.  But for what? I would wake up in cold sweats, terrified that I was going to ruin everyone’s lives.  That if I did get married, I would destroy her hopes and dreams for happiness because I wasn’t worthy; it wouldn’t be fair to her.  I have lived my life terrified that I was going to destroy our family and disappoint you; that I would never be good enough for anyone.

“And then you add apostles who say horrid, hateful things.  Do you know what it’s like being told you are unnatural, that you should be cast out, that you are an ‘enemy to the family’ and that a loving heavenly father would never make one of his children, in his image, with these feelings.  No, you don’t, you don’t know what it’s like to give your life to a church and have it spit in your face and cast you out. To hear that they prefer child rapists and sex offenders in their fold over you, that somehow these monsters are better than you – more worthy. You don’t, you don’t know what it’s like to feel so abandoned.”

And that was it.  Every particle of strength and resolve I had was expended. I sat, hunched over, silent tears streaming down my face, literally bathing my hands in their warmth.

My mother finally came over to my couch and sat down next to me, placing her arm around me and continued her crusade for my soul.

“Oh baby, my sweet baby boy,” she cooed. “It’s okay, together we’ll beat this. We all have our trials in this life.  I don’t know what the rest of my life holds but I can promise you that we all have things we struggle with; we all have burdens to bear.  I have things, your dad has things he struggles with, which is why we’re not going to tell him.  It’s just how he was raised.  He couldn’t handle it.”

I sat silently staring at my hands unable to respond.  Everything I had said in my letter, everything I had said in this wretched conversation had fallen on deaf ears. Every word.

Perceiving my silence as a form of agreement, she continued with a hint of a smile in her voice.

“Everything makes sense, now, at least.  Your anger and frustration over the years, the acne and bad skin; and if that wasn’t bad enough, all the many other trials you’ve been given.  Of all my kids, you had to have the worst teeth, the bad eyesight, the blemishes and be the worst l… well, I mean, you’ve always had a hard time losing weight.  All these things add up, you know? They really drag down on your soul.”

Really, mom, on top of being the gay child, I was apparently the ugly one, too.  If the conversation wasn’t enough of an open wound, hearing your mother call you the “worst looking” of her kids while pointing out your many physical faults definitely was the proverbial “salt.”

Her final sting was the necessary nudge I needed to jump ship and abandon the situation.

I stood up to break my mother’s partial embrace as the doorbell rang.  Fortunately, for my sake, this was the interruption I needed to leave. I gathered my wits, straightened the pillows, and cordially acknowledged our visitor before taking my leave as graciously as possible.

Empty, broken, and lost, I got in my car and drove away.


In light of this week's events, I think it’s time to leave.  Maybe I'm running away.  Maybe it’s just a new adventure. Either way, if I am going to live my life authentically and for myself, I need to leave. At least for now, I  cannot do that in Utah.  It’s time to move on – hopefully this time next week I’ll have a definitive answer to where that will be - here's hoping, anyway. Wish me luck!

PS - If you haven't read enough, I have another post today at that further illustrates my two worlds colliding and slowly merging into one.  It's all about one tiny step out of the closet at a time, right?


  1. In my experience the conversions you have with your parents in the first days and weeks after coming out aren't the same ones that you'll have later on. Give her time. Good luck! to you both.

    1. I hope so. I have read so many other stories and I hope that as hearts soften I will be able to rebuild the relationship that was once there. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Oh MJ, I am so sorry. I can't imagine what you are feeling right now. That was so unfair of her. That hurt, that cruelty, that has nothing to do with God. God loves you and He DID make you this way. He did it on purpose because it is beautiful to Him. He does not see you the way your mother is seeing you right now. And it is she that needs to rid herself of the influence of Satan, because it is only Satan that could make a person turn so violently against their own son. I am so sorry for all you are going through. I hope you find a great place to move. One where you can be yourself. You are one of the kindest, most loving caring people I know. I don't know how anyone can deny that, especially your mom. You are loving, caring, God-like and handsome. She was WRONG! Leave. Go until they figure out how hurtful they have become. Be beautiful, wonderful, just the way you are, you:)

    1. Well, you are incredibly kind and generous. Thank you for your kind words. Like I said, it isn't my intention to make my mother sound horrible, sharing this experience in my book is just part of my process. Likewise, I hope that the story helps other parents, too.

  3. I echo what Mohohawaii says: Give her time; she is using her natural and motherly instincts to 'fix' whatever is wrong with her child the best way she knows how so in time she'll see how silly she was. A lot of parents make this about themselves and how having a gay child reflects on their parenting more than the issue itself so again, let time teach her. If it might help, tell her to contact a PFLAG chapter and talk to other parents about their experiences.

    Don't give up on your mom, but also, don't apologize for your decisions, don't ask for permission to be you--I know parents see all their kids being 8 years old in their eyes regardless of their ages--in time they have to learn that kids grow and make their own decisions even if they're not the kind of decisions that they would like. Love yourself, celebrate yourself and live the best life you can--that's the best way to show your parents that you are alright and not all the things she is able to see now.

  4. First of all, I love you. A lot. My heart hurts for the ache you are feeling. I also fully support an adventure. You can call it running away if you want, but sometimes it's necessary to step away from it all to really let your true, authentic self blossom. Sometimes the voices and opinions of others, even those you love the most, aren't in alignment with what your soul needs. It's okay to give yourself room to grow.

    1. Jo, I could just say ditto and that would be better than anything I can think of to say. I agree with what you said about running...sometimes you just need distance or space to figure things out. It's not necessarily running away. Families should be supportive, but that's not always how it works. After getting to know MJ, I'm very grateful he has you as a friend.

  5. Sometimes letting go of a relationship is the best thing, especially if keeping it is detrimental to your own well-being. If it's meant to be that your mother comes around, that would be the ideal, but don't drain any more of your emotional resources that would be better used on living what you know to be your authentic life.

  6. Adventures are fun! If you feel like you need to take some time to peace out and get the hell out of Mormon Valley, Utah, I think that is completely wonderful. Have fun! Thanks for sharing this with us; it sounds like you and your mom are both going through a horrible time, and I wish for your sake she were dealing with this better. I'm really sorry that she isn't; I wish you the best. Good luck with whatever you decide to do, and thanks for sharing, as always--it helps.

  7. I'm so sorry you are going through this right now. I hope that your mom will understand more in time. Sometimes family can be kind of toxic, and physically giving yourself space might help you find a happier, more peaceful life. I don't think you're running away. You've tried something and it's not working, so you're trying something else. You can always come back if and when you feel ready. I hope this new adventure is a happier one. In the meantime, you're probably helping a lot of people by sharing your story...maybe some parents will read this and react differently when their children come out to them.

  8. MJ, I'm rooting for you. I don't know what else to say, but I'm rooting for you.

  9. I agree with Bailey on this one. I don't know what else to tell you other than I love you and I hope everything works out.

  10. I feel heartbroken. Sending love your way - I wish I had something else to offer.

    My parents were really upset when I first told them I was leaving the church, and they eventually came around to supporting me - maybe your mom will be supportive someday... or at least not as openly hostile as she was in this conversation.

    In the meantime, she's wrong. She's very very wrong. She doesn't know what she's talking about, even though she thinks she does.

  11. This is such a heartbreaking experience. I wish it would have gone differently. I wish your mom would have put her arms around you and told you she loves you no matter what. I wish she told you that she'll support you in your life and in the decisions you choose to make for it.

    I'm with MoHoHawaii. Give her time. Remember that she wishes things had gone differently too and she wishes she could change your response every bit as much as you wish you could change hers. Maybe it seems heartless, but she is your mom and as much as moms are imperfect, they really do love their children. That's not to say she's in the right, just that her experience is real as well. Perhaps the first step to her respecting your choices is to reciprocate.

  12. My mom responded similarly, even implying I would become a child molester. It was aweful and I'm so sorry you were bullied in the name of the church. If it helps at all things did get better with my mom, but it was not overnight, I left the west and moved to the east coast for a few years and sought therapy, both of those actions on my part saved my life. I can't bring my boyfriend to my moms house to stay but she does ask how he is doing when we talk. She even suggested I could adopt children as a single man. Never speak without love, but that must include love of yourself, draw appropriate boundaries out of love (not anger) and eventually you will be able to make progress. For what its worth my cowboy, trucker dad has been way better about it than my mom.
    Good luck, remember they love you even if it has conditions. Only Christ has pure love.

  13. wow. I'm sorry I missed this before. This is what I always feared my family or friends would say to me. I've been lucky enough to have more open minded people in my life, but even so it's unfortunate that that would be a fear. More unfortunate that this happens to people.

    I really want to read your book. :)