Is All Your Fault, Henry David Thoreau
(And You Didn't Help Much Either, Robert Frost)
1st Place Winner of the 2000 Affirmation Writing Awards Contest
By Anne Sacson
"The frontiers are not east or west, north or south, but wherever a man fronts a fact."
On the New Frontier
--Henry David Thoreau
They appeared at my door one day early in 2000; two Relief Society sisters from our new ward in California. A moment of panic struck me as I saw them through the living room window, coming up our walkway. One of them held several lightweight metal sign-holders, shaped like squared inverted "U"s; the other had a number of plastic signs draped over one arm. I knew what the signs were without looking at them, warnings to "PROTECT MARRIAGE, Vote Yes on Proposition 22." I also knew that I would never have one of those signs posted on my front lawn. The muscles in my neck and shoulders instantly knotted, and my hands began to sweat profusely, but I swallowed my panic, opened the door and said a friendly hello. They began to giggle, perhaps because the purpose of their call was obvious? Or was I misreading them? Maybe they were just about to say something funny on a completely unrelated topic. But just in case my first impression was right, I responded to their giggles with, "I'm sorry, but I can't have one of those signs in my yard." Suddenly their eyes opened wide and it was silent.
"No, I can't."
"Because I don't believe in it."
"You really don't?"
"I really don't."
"Oh, we're so sorry. We didn't mean to offend you!"
"You haven't offended me. Don't worry about it. Can you come in for a minute, have a drink?"
"Oh, no, no. We've got to keep going."
"We just stopped to say hi. We didn't mean to offend you..."
Later, one of the sisters called and apologized again. I tried to reassure her that I was not at all offended. I understood. Not very long ago, I might have been doing the same thing...
But I had changed. Maybe I should have known that some of the writers I fell in love with during my college days would lead me to a spot like this. After hearing me quote Thoreau many times over, a friend made a gorgeous original cross-stitch for me, containing my favorite of his words. Her beautiful artwork has hung in our living room ever since. It reads, "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away." I doubt that very many Latter-day Saints would have something that subversive hanging in a place of honor...
Preparation For a New Road
I remember the dream. I awoke with a sweet feeling of joy. I had the impression that it had been a long dream, as dreams go, but I could remember only the very end of it. My last visual image was of all of my children and their mates in the temple. Although I couldn't see their faces, or even remember how many there were, I knew they were all there, and my joy was complete. At the end of the dream, I heard a voice, a male voice, whether the voice of the Lord or His angel, I could not tell, but I will never forget the words: "Men are that they might have joy; or in other words, that they might have children." Being familiar with the scripture, I of course noticed the new addition to it, but just as surely, I knew the words were from the Lord. Immediately I awoke my husband, and whispering very quietly to avoid waking our first and so far only child, who shared our bedroom, I told him what I could remember, and the sweet, peaceful feeling that came with it. Then I lay awake pondering upon the experience I had just had. I knew we were to have more children, but what I didn't know until several days later was that I was already pregnant with our second child when I had the dream and heard the voice. Once the pregnancy was confirmed, I thought I knew exactly why the Lord had given me that dream.
Danielle, our first child, was born just over preemie weight at 5 lbs. 11 ounces, and like many preemies, she had lots of problems. Small and weak, it would take her about 45 minutes to complete a feeding, after which she would sleep for twenty minutes. Then she would be hungry again, and we'd start all over. This went on for weeks, leading to complete exhaustion for me. As Danielle grew and matured, feedings began to stretch out, but she developed colic. She still slept only about twenty to thirty minutes at a time, and then cried in misery until the next feeding. Many nights my husband took her out for a walk bundled in his arms, so that I could get a little sleep. Several nights we drove for two hours to get her to fall asleep in the car, only to have her awaken screaming the moment we got home, where we hoped to rest. Nothing the pediatrician suggested worked. I took catnaps when she did. The house fell apart because I had no energy to do anything but care for her. Bitterly, I asked the women at church why no one had told me what motherhood was really like. They told me that they'd never had such a difficult time. We couldn't even get a regular babysitter to relieve us. No one would baby-sit twice for us. Even adults dared it only once, and then no more. This continued through her first year of life. Don't misunderstand me; we loved Danielle with all our hearts. It was just a very difficult time.
That's why I thought the dream was a message of reassurance from the Lord, so I wouldn't worry about how I would survive a second child. I simply knew that this experience would be different. Women in our ward, upon learning of the pregnancy, expressed their shock that I would be willing to try again, having seen some of what I'd gone through with our first. But I reassured them that everything would be fine. I was sure of it. And I was right. Our second born, Mark was so easy. He nursed immediately and without difficulty, and slept normal amounts of time. Three days after his birth, I felt so good, I moved everything in my kitchen to our new house, and put it all away. Everyone said to slow down, that I was doing too much and would get sick, but I felt great and knew that everything would be all right. And it was. Several years later, we had Matthew, then Desiree, and our family was complete. Like every family, we've had our sublime times and our hellish times. Overall, life has been very good. And now, twenty-three years later, I have a much more complete and deeper understanding of the import of my dream. You see it is that second child, our beloved son Mark, with whom I was pregnant at the time of my dream, who is gay...
Fronting the Facts and Getting Pushed Down the Road
I remember how he first told us. My husband, an Air Force officer close to retirement, our two younger children, and I were living in Germany, our last duty station. Danielle and Mark had returned to the states in August of 1998 to attend the University of Utah. During a routine errand-run one day in September, I picked up the mail at the post office. In with the bills and junk mail I found an envelope from Mark, now twenty years old. Immediately I had a sense of foreboding. I opened the envelope and brought out a lightweight set of tri-folded pages. The outer leaf of yellow legal paper said simply, "For Mom and Dad only; read this together." My heart began to pound. I knew it couldn't be good news. My mind raced, trying to prepare myself for what it might be about. My hands clutched the steering wheel and I tingled all over. Everything felt surreal, as I looked back in my mind, remembering Mark's birth, his childhood, and his youth, and the only announcements I could fathom, knowing him as I do, were either that he was to become a father, or that he was gay. Why would I think either one? For the first possibility, not because he had ever had a previous problem with immorality; I just knew how loving and affectionate he was, and how easily and quickly feelings and actions can get out of control. For the second possibility, I had kept some concerns about him to myself; concerns based on my observations of him growing up.
With my heart sinking, I put the letter back in the envelope and drove home. I have no memory of what I cooked for dinner. I just went through the motions--helping kids with homework, family prayer, getting children tucked in, desperately waiting for a quiet time alone with my husband. Finally we were alone in our room. I told him about the letter, as well as my feelings of foreboding. He asked me to read it aloud. I peeled the outer layer of yellow paper off, and opened the fine onionskin paper within. In Mark's own hand, this is what I read:
Dearest Mom and Dad,
We cried and held each other, aching for our son, and for ourselves too. But we also felt the Holy Ghost witness to the truthfulness of his letter. In fact, it felt like we were reading scriptures. It was a difficult, but sacred experience. As we lay there talking about the letter, we discussed what we should do. We concluded that the only Christ-like option was total acceptance and love. Any other alternative was unthinkable to us, even though we knew that most members of the church would consider the path we were choosing apostate. Doggone you, Robert Frost--
I want you to know that I love you very deeply. I love you so much, and I respect you for the wonderful job you have done and are doing in raising your children. I have something to tell you that you may find shocking. I want you to know that this is not your fault in any way. I am gay. I have known this for years. Ever since I was about twelve I have felt attracted to males. I feel no attraction for females. I have prayed for years for this not to be so, but it is so.
I have prayed and agonized for years, and last spring I came to the the (sic) conclusion that I could no longer live in hiding or fear. You know that in the past several people have judged me correctly in this, and it always disturbed, not because what they said was untrue, rather because I was afraid that they might tell others, and then everyone would hate me. As I was saying, I had decided that where ever I went to school in the fall, I would come out. When I finally decided upon the U, I planned to tell Emily first, because we have talked with her parents before, and I knew their stance on homosexuality. As of writing this letter, I have told Emily and her family and attended a support group here on campus. Dad, Mom, the people I met there are wonderful people, just like heterosexual people.
I want you to know that I am the same person I have always been; I am just much more happy and a lot less depressed. I have been so unhappy for so long; I hope you can realize how relieved I am to get this off of my chest.
I love you so much, and I want you to be happy. Please, talk to Brother and Sister Hughes; they want you to be happy, too. I know that they respect your abilities as parents, and they in no way view either you or me in less esteem because I am gay. Please accept me; I still need you as much as I ever did. I am still your son.
With greatest love,
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
We'll Walk With You
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Worried now about how much he must have suffered before coming out to himself, and then to us, we hurried downstairs to call Mark. Neither of us could stand the thought of him suffering one more minute, wondering if we would accept him. He wasn't home. I left a cheery non-message on his answering machine, and then went straight from the phone to the internet, to learn all I could in one sitting about homosexuality. Tom went to bed, but too wound up to sleep, he spent the night tossing and turning, getting up and pacing, dozing now and then. As I searched and studied, I was led to the unwanted conclusion that what I had been taught by church leaders, and accepted as true, could not be reconciled with the obvious truth of our son's words, nor with the latest scientific information available. The conflict this generated within me soon became a tangible buzzing sensation within me. My confidence in the "official" church policies and pronouncements on this subject were shaken to the core. My relationship to the church changed, fundamentally and forever, that night.
The next morning, we both felt like we'd been punched in the gut--hard. Before my husband left for work, we tried to phone Mark again, but he still wasn't home. This time Dad left the cheery non-message. Military wives are accustomed to having most of their crises occur as soon as their husbands leave for duty far away, and true to form, as soon as Tom left for work, the phone rang, and it was Mark. I was nervous and didn't know how to start, but Mark said hello, and that he got our messages. I told him, "Mark, we got your letter, and we just want you to know that we accept you and love you just the way you are." A textbook answer. The only problem was that the words didn't sound real, they didn't come out right. Instead of sounding warm and loving, they sounded wooden, void of any emotion at all. I hated the way I sounded, but couldn't seem to do any better. Mark's voice was calm and matter-of-fact as he thanked me, and then told me to expect another letter soon, a follow-up letter that was less announcement, and more of a begging for acceptance. He wrote it because he couldn't bear the thought that his family might reject him. We went on talking for awhile, and it got a little easier. I asked him if he was sure, and he said he was. I asked him if maybe it was all the name-calling he had endured that made him think he was gay. "No, Mom," he said, "they were right." I told him that I knew one thing for sure, it wasn't a choice he made. Why would anyone choose the kind of suffering he'd already endured, the suffering that the future undoubtedly held? We talked in more detail about the eight years he struggled with himself, his fervent prayers for change, his despair, and how from my view point, his life had seemed to come to a stand-still at about age eighteen. I told him how glad I was that he had lived to tell us, that he had not taken his own life in despair.
Although I was shocked at his revelation, I was not surprised. I had wondered since he was little, four or five years old maybe, if his differences meant that he might become homosexual (I thought at the time that he or I might have some control over whether or not this would happen). He always had loved silky fabrics and laces. He didn't understand why boys couldn't wear frilly, silky shirts. I would tell him that he was just born in a time when that wasn't accepted. I explained that at an earlier time, men did indeed wear such clothes. I remember him going outside to play with his older sister, she in a pair of shorts, he in one of her dresses. Knowing the scorn and ugly comments he would get from kids in the neighborhood, I would ask him, "Are you sure you want to wear a dress outside to play? Wouldn't you rather wear a pair of pants? You know the other kids will tease you."
"Yes, Mom. This is what I want to wear. I don't care what the other kids say."
I didn't want to make a big issue of his unusual choice of play clothes. I thought that perhaps this was just a normal exploration that other, less enlightened parents would never allow, like not allowing their boys to play with dolls. I came to the conclusion that I must simply watch, and wait, and love...
His coming out explained why the little boy who wanted to serve a mission never went, and why the teenager didn't seem interested in getting his patriarchal blessing (I found out later that he did want his blessing, but he couldn't bear to go through an interview with the homophobic bishop we had at that time), and why the son who had a strong testimony at age eleven, now wondered if the church could indeed be the Lord's true church.
It was amazing to me how isolated I felt after reading Mark's letter and talking to him. "This is just a small taste of what Mark has gone through for years," I thought. With Tom gone to work, I soon had the kids off to school, then went to the gym as usual. The buzzing of the night before was still there as I plodded along on the treadmill. I felt an urgent need to talk to someone, but there was no one among my family and friends that I felt safe talking to. All of my family and best friends were members of the church...
Marching to His Own Drummer
During his growing up years, Mark broke up several of my rigid views, little by little. When he was in elementary school, he began begging me to homeschool him. He was miserable at school, though obviously very bright. At the time, I didn't believe any sane person homeschooled, plus I knew I couldn't handle it, but I felt guilty about refusing him again and again. I felt doubly guilty when he began to tell us about the regular physical abuse he got at school. I talked to his teacher, and to the principal. Both of them noted how interesting it was that certain kids just seemed to attract this kind of treatment, and that was about the extent of their concern. Whereas before we had always taught Mark not to fight, we now encouraged him to defend himself if attacked. I taught him a few boxing moves that my dad had taught me. His new attitude did reduce the abuse, though it didn't end it. In middle school, he dealt with the usual abuse, plus a cruel jock PE teacher, who made fun of him because he wasn't athletic. He didn't tell us about this teacher until he began attending a new school.
Finally, when he was fourteen, we began homeschooling. We were living in a state where it was expressly legal to homeschool then, at a time when I was better able to cope with stress. Immediately he was happier. During the next two years, Mark studied Latin, Algebra and Geometry in the mornings after returning home from seminary, high school choir practice, and in the second year, chemistry. Several days a week, he then took a bus down town, and explored bookstores, the library, and whatever else he had a mind to. He spent a great deal of time reading. During this time, he began to let his hair grow out, causing another mini-panic. Fortunately, I had read Chieko Okazaki's book, Lighten Up, which included her story about her own son's long hair experiment while her husband served as mission president in Japan, where long hair was associated almost totally with gangs and drugs. Nevertheless, they allowed their son the freedom to choose. We did too, and endured the questions and snide comments that came from members of our ward. Mark took excellent care of his hair, and it was actually very beautiful. And so, my not-as-rigid-as-some-people's views loosened up a little more. He freed me from a bit more of my need for approval from my own peers.
Snares and Traps?
Two years later, at age sixteen, Mark began attending the local community college. Now he was happier than he'd ever been, and found friends he truly enjoyed being with. One of these was a young woman, a little older than he. She invited him to her house, and he went. Later, I found out that no parent was at home during this visit, and I spent a good deal of time explaining to Mark how dangerous this was, and that it could not happen again (seems pretty funny now that I know there was no danger whatsoever). With a tired, resigned sigh, he agreed to abide by my counsel, and tried to find other ways to enjoy friendship.
One day he announced that he wanted to join the Society for Creative Anachronism (the SCA). Wary, I asked what it was. Mark explained that it is a group that re-enacts Medieval times, including governments, clothing, culture and activities, from jousts to minstrels to dancing. The SCA has the entire world divided into kingdoms with elected officials, and holds regular events all over the world. Locally, they met one evening a week at various locations depending on what activities the members chose to participate in. Mark chose dancing. Again he had found people that he truly enjoyed being with. After practices, they would all go to a coffee shop, where they chatted till a fairly late hour (at least for a boy of sixteen, who had to get up for seminary in the morning). Almost all members of the dance troupe drank coffee, and several drank stronger stuff. Many of them smoked, and Mark came home reeking. They weren't big into seatbelts, either. I worried a great deal that these folks, whom he liked so much, would lead him away from the church, and maybe into moral or physical danger as well. I picked him up each night after their coffee shop visits. I didn't want him in the car with anyone who had been drinking. After one of the many times I expressed my concerns about this activity and these people to Mark, he burst into tears and accused me of never approving of anything he did, or any friends he had. He said that I didn't trust him, and was taking away what little joy he could experience. This stung me deeply, first because I wanted him to be happy and enjoy life, and second because I had exercised such a struggle to let him be who he was, while attempting to protect him as much as possible at the same time.
When Mark was eighteen, we moved to Germany for my husband's Air Force career. At our new duty station, Mark met other people who were involved in the SCA. He told me that one of them was a witch. Alarms began going off all over my head. He said she was very nice and no one to fear at all. Meanwhile, members of the ward informed me that my son was interested in a group that promoted witchcraft; they thought I should know. I asked Mark about this, and he said it wasn't promoted, but that some members were witches. However, he wasn't planning to participate here anyway, he said, because their meetings were on Sunday. Grateful that he chose to honor the Sabbath, I thanked God for the reprieve. What a continual struggle between trust and fear!
Mark went back to school at Ricks College on an academic scholarship the following fall. He had a hard time there, because he found the student body to be very rigid, close-minded, and full of prejudices, and the course work less than challenging. But he hung in, and received his associate degree. Then he came back home, we thought to earn money for his mission. That's what we told everyone. But then his nineteenth birthday came and went, and he had not set up an interview with the bishop (the same homophobe mentioned earlier).
He did have very good friends in the ward, all female, and a couple of families in particular that he loved, and that loved him. The Hughes family, mentioned in Mark's coming out letter, was involved in the world of opera, the dad, Merrill a great singer. They seemed to understand Mark better than anyone. They had a daughter his age to whom he became very close, though they never dated. When we got together socially with our "opera family," Merrill, always brought up the subject of the church leaders' stance regarding homosexuals, and how unfriendly it was. I always countered with the fact that I had heard a speaker in general conference once express that they honestly don't know what causes homosexuality, and expressing compassion, not judgment, while reiterating the need for celibacy. I can't remember who spoke these words, or when. But I do remember being impressed with the lack of judging in his comments. Merrill and I agreed that a celibate life was a difficult one, and that history through various cultures has shown that attempts at celibacy are usually unsuccessful. That was as far as our conversation on this topic went each time, and then we'd all be off to other topics. I wondered at the time why he always seemed to want to talk about this issue. After Mark came out, I understood that Merrill had known that Mark was gay right from our first association, and was trying to get a sense of how we would handle it once we knew, and perhaps trying to prepare us by stirring up our minds on the topic. No wonder Mark had first come out to them, and asked them to be our "support group." Later, Tom and I served as support group to our three other children as Mark came out to them.
A Road Not Taken
During our time in Germany, we also renewed association with some other old friends that we had known since Mark was four years old. They have a daughter Mark attended elementary school with, and whom he had loved dearly all through childhood. The two of them thoroughly enjoyed each other's company. I loved this girl too, now a young woman. Secretly I hoped that she and Mark would marry someday. I think her parents also hoped for a serious romance to bloom between them. They made large efforts to involve him in family vacations, and to send the two of them off together to do things. Though he enjoyed every minute he was with her, he never followed up with efforts of his own to pursue a romantic relationship. I'm sad that she'll never be my daughter-in-law, because I'm sure we would have been close. Looking back now, though, it's pretty amazing how dense I was, how unable I was to put two and two together to come up with four. I wish I had caught on sooner-maybe I could've shortened Mark's years of intense suffering...
Lights On a Dark Road
Wanting to ease his pain following his "coming out," I turned to the scriptures, particularly the Bible, since I loved its language. When I needed help quickly at very difficult times in my own past, I would ask the Lord to open to me the scripture that I needed at that time, then close my eyes, let my Bible fall open, and read what lay before my eyes. Time after time, this had met my needs, and given me comfort and strength. So again, I asked the Lord to open to me a scripture that would be of comfort, and fill Mark's need at this time. The Bible fell open to Isaiah, chapter 56. I could hardly believe what I read there, starting in verse 3:
3 Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the Lord, speak, saying, The LORD hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold I am a dry tree.
My gay son is not a eunuch, but this scripture seems to indicate that eunuchs then shared a common place with GLBTM people of today. Even though many eunuchs were in positions of great power and authority, it appears that many were downcast and outcasts in the house of Israel because of their inability to beget children. That they had not chosen to be castrated apparently made no difference to others in the house of Israel who judged them as unworthy of association. Their castration didn't make any difference to the Lord, either, because he clearly indicates that if they are faithful to him, they will receive temple blessings, blessings greater than that of sons or of daughters.
4 For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant;
5 Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.
6 Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant;
7 Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.
8 The LORD GOD which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him....
10 His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber.
11 Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter. (italics mine)
While pondering this promise, I began to feel electrified. Wait a minute! My mind rushed back to my original dream of all my children in the temple. The Lord will gather my son to him. At some point in time if he continues obedient, my son will enter the temple with his spouse. I don't know if that spouse will be male or female, because I don't know if homosexuality is a special mortal condition, or if it is eternal. It is just as plausible to me either way. And it doesn't matter to me. God loves him totally and unconditionally. Now that I know that nothing will be denied him, I just pray that his loss of faith in the church won't lead to a loss of faith in everything we taught him. I want Mark to keep the commandments, including the moral commandment to be celibate before marriage(or domestic partnership, committed relationship, or civil union), and completely faithful to his partner after marriage. I trust the Lord to make all things right in due time.
The latter part of the chapter condemns the Lord's watchmen and shepherds that are ignorant and will not understand, too interested in their own gain to seek the truth. I can't say whether these verses apply to today's watchmen and shepherds-I don't know enough to judge righteously. I certainly don't think they are interested only in their own gain. But perhaps it will take a younger generation of watchmen and shepherds to be open not only to scientific evidence, but also to asking the Lord if the "traditions of their fathers" regarding homosexuality are true...
Fighting Fears While Pushing Forward
So there I was, and here I am, in a rather awkward position. After the sisters left, I couldn't help but wonder if they would report my comments and refusal to post a sign to anyone else. Would it become a topic of ward gossip? Would they report it to the Relief Society president...the bishop....stake president? Would someone call me in to plumb the depths of my testimony and faithfulness? Suddenly I realized that I was experiencing the kind of fear that oppressed people feel, not in the same degree at all, but nevertheless the same fear. My mind flashed back to a topic that had come up repeatedly in gospel doctrine classes over the years. Somewhere in a lesson on government and citizenship, someone would regurgitate the statement made by some church leader in times past that those who obey the laws of God have no need to disobey the laws of the land, and then rest their case on the twelfth Article of Faith. Usually a discussion of the importance of obeying the speed limit would follow. A little irritated at the superficiality of the discussion, I ventured to ask in various wards over the years, "What if your government is evil? What if you were a citizen in a country like Nazi Germany, and you witnessed hatred and brutality regularly? What if you knew innocent people were suffering torture and murder? Would it then be right to refuse to obey your government officials? What would be more right-obeying the law of the land, or saving as many people as you could, even at the risk of your own life?" Questions like these were always disturbing to the class, but I didn't ask them just to play devil's advocate. I knew that as Latter-day Saints, we needed to think about such things, situations that didn't fit our pat answers. Sad to say, I discovered that most people in my Sunday School classes hadn't, didn't, and wouldn't think about them or discuss them. It was too uncomfortable. It's so much easier to let someone else do the thinking and deciding, so scary to be fully accountable for actions based on our own inner wrestlings. By sticking to pat answers, we don't have to look at the hard issues. But wasn't it Satan's plan to do our thinking and deciding for us? Didn't we learn that his plan would forever prevent us from developing into gods?
Even from my awkward spot on the fringes of Mormon thought, my fears of being reported were largely mitigated because I felt that I had a friend in our bishop. I was pretty sure that if this were reported to him, it would go no further, because of an earlier conversation my husband and I'd had with him. When we were new in the ward, and expecting a visit from Danielle and Mark, we set up a meeting with our bishop to discuss Mark with him. At the meeting, once the pleasantries were out of the way, we launched right into why we wanted to see him. My husband explained that our older children were coming, and that Mark had recently informed us that he was gay. We knew that he might experience some unpleasantness that Sunday, but we hoped the bishop would understand and help him to feel comfortable. I can't express our relief when the bishop did express understanding, confiding to us that he also had a relative who was gay, and that he worked with many gay people at his employment, and that he knew they were no different in goodness that straight people. He said he would be delighted to meet both of our children, and would especially try to make Mark feel welcome. On our way home, we wondered aloud if we had been brought to this location just for the support of this wonderful man. And so, when I was worrying slightly about getting "reported," his former kindness was reassuring. It was also reassuring that when he read letters over the pulpit soliciting support for the passage of Proposition 22, he was always careful to mention that those "who felt so inclined" were invited to do so. I knew he said this just for us, while still attempting to follow the directions given to him by those in authority over him. I imagined that he personally did not support Proposition 22.
It caught me by surprise then, when I drove over to his house on some errand, to see not one, but two signs supporting Proposition 22 posted out front. I felt so disappointed! I shouldn't have judged, but I did. I felt that he had not taken the high moral ground, but had compromised what he knew to be true in deference to authority. I felt that he had allowed his integrity to slip. And yet I understood, too. In many ways, he was in a tougher spot than we were. We could quietly keep our opinions to ourselves and opt not to participate as invited, but in his position of authority, ward members or stake leaders surely would question him if he didn't tow the line. More thoughts about Nazism, and insistence upon unquestioning obedience reared their ugly heads. The thought occurred to me that perhaps prior to the "call to arms" he may have been of one opinion, but that "when the prophet spoke, the discussion was over," so to speak, and that he believed the call was from the Lord. Or maybe he had been sympathetic before, and still was, but also believed that unions of same gender couples were wrong. It was all pure speculation, and I wasn't sure I wanted to broach the subject with him anyway. I was afraid that whatever he might say in response to my questions might create a distance between us that would be greater than the distance I suddenly felt just seeing those signs in his yard. If I talked about the political issue with him, I might also let slip the fact that I was actively working through the local gay and lesbian center to defeat Proposition 22, and I wasn't sure how understanding he would be of that. The subject had been moved out of the privacy of his office and into a public arena by outside forces, and that changed everything. The last and only support I felt in church was gone...
Hiding Behind the Bushes on the Road Less Traveled
My work at the telephone bank at the Gay and Lesbian Center was an eye opener. Our goal was to educate and influence the "movable middle" to vote no on Proposition 22. Our phone lists came from the list of registered voters in our city and county. The planners had limited our lists to members of the Democratic Party, since those people are generally more liberal politically, and therefore most likely to listen. I worked two nights a week, for three hours each night; that was all the time I felt I could spare away from my children since I was already teaching at a local middle school. Each night the other volunteers and I called names on the lists, asked how the people felt about Prop. 22, educated them as to its dangers, and asked them to vote NO. The first night I volunteered, I was anxious, and my anxiety wasn't alleviated when I saw the building and the neighborhood it was in. It was an old, rundown building in an old, rundown neighborhood. The parking lot and nearby areas were not well lighted. I confess I was scared-not only for my safety, but also because I thought I might stick out like a sore thumb, maybe even be rejected. Now that I think about it, that was good. It gave me a taste of what the GLBT community experiences all the time.
As though designed to add to my discomfort, that first night happened to be the one night that the Gay and Lesbian Times reporter and photographer came to prepare a story about opposition efforts. Somebody made a wisecrack about a Mormon bishop. "Oh geeze," I thought, "I was afraid of this. What do I do now?" What I did was speak up.
"Not all Mormons feel that way. I'm a Mormon and I don't."
"Oh, we know that. Just the other day we had a gay couple come in--returned Mormon missionaries--to get some signs to put up."
That was the end of it. They treated me as sweetly as could be-totally accepting. In fact, before the photographer started shooting, he asked if anyone did not want his or her picture taken for any reason. I was the only one who raised a hand. Since he already knew I was a Mormon, I didn't have to explain. He completely understood and was very careful to work around me. I could sense no judgment in him or anyone else there. I wish I felt reciprocal acceptance in members of the church.
There were usually about eight to ten of us working each night. It was obvious to me that I was not only the only Mormon, but also the only straight person involved. One night the two sharp, professional young men, who were working in the same room with me, overheard me telling another young man that the shirt he was admiring was actually my husband's shirt that I had borrowed. Looking surprised, one of the other two asked me what had gotten me involved in this cause. We put our phones down for a minute, and I told them about Mark. We had a wonderful conversation, sharing our stories. It didn't take me long to find out that my son wasn't the only fine person in the GLBT community. In contrast to these well dressed, white-collar types, one of the young, college-aged people in charge of the phone bank had purple, semi-spiked hair, studs in her nose and tongue, and a ring in one eyebrow. She was incredibly sweet and helpful, and we too had a very pleasant conversation. We got in the habit of hugging and it felt good.
Back on the Main Road
In contrast, Sacrament meetings during this time became exercises in grief and anger, and struggles to forgive. For me it became unbearably ironic to partake of the Lord's sacrament, symbol of his total unconditional love, and then to listen to requests from the pulpit to support Prop. 22 financially and otherwise. I was so thankful when each Sacrament meeting was over, and I could go to Primary where I am chorister, to the purity of children not yet corrupted with prejudices. I was so grateful that I was not forced into the position of an acquaintance of mine, a friend and advocate of gays and lesbians, and a MIA Maid leader in another region, who arrived at Mutual, and without prior warning or consultation, was told that she would be taking her class of young women out that night to put up pro-Proposition 22 signs in the community! I was pretty safe in Primary. But the informal comments about gays that my son and husband were exposed to in priesthood classes and activities were very disturbing to my husband and I. My husband, as Young Men's President, had been working hard to call a halt to discriminatory remarks toward gays, minorities, and all other targets of prejudice among the young men, and to teach them that all people are God's children, and deserving of our respect and love. The excitement over Proposition 22 didn't make his work any easier. Our son Matt kept his feelings to himself. It is for his sake that we have stayed in the closet among the general ward membership. He's not ready to deal with what might follow, because there is a lot of prejudice here.
I really didn't want to go to church at all. I lost my desire to pray and to read the scriptures for months. I wrestled mightily with what was better for our two children still at home. Should we continue our activity in the church, but caution them that in this area, we feel the brethren are wrong, and counsel them to be patient till the Lord sets all things right? If we follow this course we know that they will hear many prejudicial, ignorant comments made by good members of the church along the way, and may actually develop the same prejudices themselves. This certainly wouldn't strengthen our family. Would our teachings of love and acceptance be strong enough to counteract what they hear at church?
Maybe it would be better to withdraw the family from activity in the church. Could we declare our testimonies of the church as the Lord's kingdom on earth, and at the same time refuse to be part of this community? Could the children fully understand that our inactivity was temporary, and only because the church at this time actively seeks to deny civil rights and ecclesiastical rites to their brother, and at this time falsely maintains that he has chosen to become homosexual? And if we lost our temple recommends through inactivity, how could we handle missing our oldest daughter's wedding? This whole thing put us in the spot of choosing between our children. And could we expect the Lord to honor our temple sealing if we do not keep our covenants to serve and build his kingdom? What effects would these actions have upon the development of our younger children's testimonies? I still can't see any completely satisfactory path...
A Difficult Turn in the Road
Like most mothers, I love to get phone calls from both of our adult children. They call regularly to chat and tell us what's going on in their lives. Mark knew that I regularly visit the Affirmation web site (I had introduced him to Affirmation after I had discovered it online back in Germany). During several phone conversations last fall, Mark pointed out that the web site had information on how to withdraw from membership in the church, and how to do it in such a way that one doesn't get harassed or excommunicated along the way. I was struggling with my feelings about the church and its leaders, but I wasn't ready to withdraw my membership, and I repeatedly pointed that out to Mark when the subject came up. Again, looking back, I am amazed at my own inability to read between the lines of other people's comments. And so, somewhere about February of this year, Mark finally told me that he had requested that his name be removed from the records of the church back in October. He had promised me when he first came out to us that he would not become bitter toward the church and its leaders. This became much more difficult when the church entered the political arena in opposition to gay rights. He no longer believed in the church, so why stick around to be kicked around?
This new revelation filled me with horror and pride. But more pride. Why the pride? Because he is so courageous. Even if he is wrong, he acts upon the strength of his convictions. To me Mark's situation is somewhat like that of the Lamanites referred to in Helaman 15:10-13:
10 And now, because of their steadfastness when they do believe in that thing which they do believe, for because of their firmness when they are once enlightened, behold, the Lord shall bless them and prolong their days, notwithstanding their iniquity-
Verses like those before also diminish my horror, because although I believe The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord's true church, I also believe that Jesus and Heavenly Father understand that Mark loves them, and they understand the difficult position he is in. They will sort it all out eventually. This may sound flippant, but it isn't. I have come to these conclusions through lots of thought, consulting of my own patriarchal blessing, and returning to prayer and scripture study.
11 Yea, even if they should dwindle in unbelief the Lord shall prolong their days, until the time shall come which hath been spoken of by our fathers, and also by the prophet Zenos, and many other prophets, concerning the restoration of our brethren, the Lamanites, again to the knowledge of the truth-
12 Yea, I say unto you, that in the latter times the promises of the Lord have been extended to our brethren, the Lamanites; and notwithstanding the many afflictions which they shall have, and notwithstanding they shall be driven to and fro upon the face of the earth, and be hunted, and smitten and scattered abroad, having no place for refuge, the Lord shall be merciful unto them.
13 And this is according to the prophecy, that they shall again be brought to the true knowledge, which is the knowledge of their Redeemer, and their great and true shepherd, and be numbered among his sheep. (italics mine)
First Steps in the Light of Day
What else has happened since Mark's coming out? Lots. One thing is that my entire parental family and a few close friends now know, and are more supportive than I would have guessed possible. Oh, and I marched in the local PRIDE Parade yesterday. I almost backed out. As the day of the parade approached I got more and more anxious, having a hard time getting to sleep at night, and waking with a headache from clenching my jaws all night. Torn between my promise to carry a placard in the parade, and my desire to see what a PRIDE parade is like before participating in one, the morning of the parade found me stewing and fussing, and dragging my feet. My mind carried on a running debate:
"You agreed to carry one. If you don't, that placard, which could have been used by someone else will be wasted."
"Yes, but I don't want to be associated with anything lewd and licentious; I've never seen a PRIDE Parade before, and I don't know what I've gotten myself into."
"You know you need to be part of the process of change."
"Yes, but, what if someone in the church sees me, and loses respect for me or reports me?"
"You're not announcing that you are a member, so there will be no 'open opposition' to worry about. As for losing respect for you, what do you think gays and lesbians in the church have been dealing with for years?"
"Yes, but what about Matt? What if someone who knows our family sees me, and the word gets out among his friends? How will he cope with what might follow?"
"You are straining at gnats! Come on!"
"Oh, I wish I'd never agreed to do this!"
"What will you say to Mark tomorrow if you don't go? What will he think of you?"
"I've got to do this for him. That's the bottom line."
After a couple of hours of this routine, I was on my way, with my placard in the back of the station wagon. I arrived in the area of the parade line-up at the start time, and couldn't find a parking spot. After a long search for miles in three directions, and a prayer for help if I was supposed to do this, I finally found one on the line-up street, just three blocks away from the back of the line. I squeezed into the little spot on the fourth attempt even though the men in the car behind me laughed and called out, "It's too small!" Then I jumped out, pulled my placard out, and hurried down the street. I stopped at the first volunteer canopy.
"Five blocks down on the right side of the street, by a church."
I hurried as fast as I could, but the crowd of spectators was six people deep, so going was slow. By the time I got to the church, PFLAG was long gone. I didn't want to get out on the parade route itself. I was afraid that I would stand out as a sore thumb, and that it would increase my chances of ending up with my picture in the paper by a hundredfold. But when I realized there was no hope of catching up at the rate I was going, I did "join the parade." As soon as I stepped into the street people began to cheer all around me. Pleasantly surprised, I looked around, only to discover that they were cheering for the entry next to me, and didn't even notice me. So much for my inflated sense of my own importance!
Still, I couldn't catch up, even though I trotted part of the way. When I saw a volunteer easing the crowd back, I noticed he had a golf cart parked nearby. Breathless, I went up to him and asked if he could catch me up to PFLAG, and he was happy to oblige. As he drove, we did get applause. My placard read simply,
"I (a red heart to symbolize love) MY GAY SON."
He said, "They think I'm your son!" I gave him a hug, patted him on the back and let them think whatever. Anyway, he dropped me off and I joined PFLAG for the remainder of the parade. As we marched, waving and yelling, something in me responded to the need for love out there, and I began waving the three-fingered sign for "I Love You." Most of the people on the receiving end of my message were very normal and circumspect in appearance. But some were outlandish, brazen, and some even wanton in their suggestive sexuality. I saw more flesh than I'd ever seen congregated in one place. It was truly an exercise in unconditional love for me, and a constant struggle against my own ego, because some of these people were so far from anything I had associated with before.
Love Leads the Way
But I did and do recognize that gays, like straights, live on different planes of spirituality and understanding of life's purposes. I also know that much outlandishness results from "normal" society's rejection. Ironically, the outlandishness then leads to further condemnation. This cycle of events reminds me of a scene from the movie, "Ever After." In this scene Cinderella confronts Prince Charming over his kingdom's treatment of the poor. Echoing Sir Thomas More in his Utopia, she declares, "If you suffer your people to be ill-educated and their manners corrupted from infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded, sire, but that you first make thieves, and then punish them?"
Still carrying my placard on my way back to the car after the parade, I got several comments from people I passed, everything from the suggestive "We luuuuv your son too!" to the sincere "I wish you were my mother." One man stopped and gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek, which I gave right back to him. He said, "I wish you could meet my mother." Touched, I told him I wished I could I meet her too...
Maybe it's time to start a Family Fellowship group. It's been tried before here without much success. Some members have their heads stuck in the sand in a state of denial, some have rejected their children, some may even be afraid for their own membership in the church. We hope we can help. It's pretty ironic that we are at this point in this place. We didn't want to come to California in the first place, but as Tom neared retirement, the only job opening for him in a career field full of shortages was right here. We felt as though the Lord was forcing us here. And then, still struggling with our feelings about homosexuality in general, and with the church policies in relation to homosexuals, still mostly in the closet and suffering because of our isolation, still reeling from the stresses of moving, we were hit with Proposition 22. Why? Maybe because there is work for us to do on this frontier. Maybe to help us develop the pure love of Christ. One thing I know for sure, being a pioneer is rough, but the rewards are great. Looking back at the pioneers marching across the plains, I realize that tough times often make great people. I hope as I step to the music I hear, down a road less traveled, that I will live up to their legacy. In the meantime, amid confusion and conflict, I take comfort and hope from the promise of further revelation mentioned in the ninth Article of Faith: "We believe all that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal, and we believe that he will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God." And while I wait and work, I want to sing with the psalmist,
Lead kindly light, amid the encircling gloom; Lead thou me on!
Oh, and one more word--Thanks a bunch, Hank and Bob.
The night is dark, and I am far from home; Lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene-one step enough for me!
--Hymn #97, Lead Kindly Light