In the decade since I've left the LDS church I've struggled to find a balance between my inherent need to give back to the people and community I love, and still stay true to my values and new found knowledge. I loved serving while I was LDS but didn't love the many restrictions and arbitrary rules that governed how, where, and when I could contribute. I do miss many of my LDS friends and would give them the shirt off my back, as long as they don't ask me to go to church or listen to the dogmatic beliefs.
One thing that is so complicated when one leaves the church is to find a community where all that energy, all the creativity and talent can flourish and be appreciated but not be extorted in exchange for silence. I have found some of that with my Unitarian Universalist connections. I've found some in giving to my little community in Utah in assisting with the various fund raisers and parks projects.
But one place where I feel like I've found a great deal of fulfillment and connection is when people from my own Postmormon and Exmormonforums communities contact me and seek my experience or advice regarding their own exit process or family dilemmas. I have learned a lot from the years of making fairly obvious errors and tripping over my own lack of tact and grace. I've also learned that patience in all these matters is probably the most important element to incorporate in any communication with the remaining LDS family. So when someone asks for my help or insight I'm compelled to try to impart them with the best of what I've gleaned in all those experiences.
Following is an outline of a letter I wrote to a young friend that is facing very complex challenges in telling his devout LDS family that he's not only left the church, but he's also Gay. Their reaction has been textbook typical and painfully predictable. The young man is writhing in pain from the rejection he feels from his family and that's all before he's been completely open with who he is. I ache with what he's dealing with and wish I could help his parents know how amazing he is and to accept him for who he has become.
So in my unprofessional but well meaning way this letter will help him present some information to his parents. I don't know how they'll receive it but this is the best I can offer knowing what I know about where they stand and where this young man stands.
Outline for response to Dads letter
Objective-to reflect appreciation and respect for parents contributions and to open doors of communication regarding
autonomy and freedom to make my his life choices. To help parents see xxx as whole intelligent adult deserving of respectful acceptance and continued friendship.
Ideal reaction-Parents read entire letter and find resonance with the writing, contemplate the ideas offered, and a peaceful acceptance of unique differences with respect to deep familial love and connections.
Base reaction-We agree to disagree and maintain a careful connection based on necessary respect and continuity of family unity.
A. One page of tender and specific recognition of parents love and contribution to xxx upbringing and values. Some reverence for some values gleaned from the LDS experience without too much critical examination or defensive statements. (remember, your parents do love you xxx, even if they struggle to reflect it in a way that helps you feel accepted or understood. They are as much victims of the church and their generation as anyone).
B. One page of a carefully crafted specific explanation of who you are, and who you've become, even aside from the gay and non-LDS stuff. Specifically highlight your intellectual side, your creative and insightful sides, your deeply sensitive and finely tuned awareness. Celebrate these things without attacking the church or going into too much detail about your recognition of your homosexuality.
C. One page of discussion about the importance of your family in your life and how you plan to continue to show some reserved respect for their beliefs (not drawing siblings into the fights) and yet maintain your independence and personal convictions. Indicate that you love and need their support and that you hope to remain a vital and contributing member of the family throughout your life, in spite of the unique differences that are obvious. If you have to pretend then pretend on the side of optimism and assume that they will honor your rights to make your own choices and be a whole human being the best way you know how. Use their own scriptures (we believe in allowing all men to worship how, where, what they may... and some stuff from Jesus about accepting and tolerating other human beings). This is where you should show gratitude and kind words for what your parents mean to you (even if you have to really pull a rabbit out of your hat for this). Its important that the letter end on a good note and that your parents feel loved otherwise they will reject the whole thing. Remember the goal is to get them to respect and understand you and they won't be likely to do that from a position of defensiveness. The issues with the LDS church are complicated but this might not be the time to get into an argument over those specifics. It is usually unproductive anyway.
D. One page of information and sources. Not the whole dissertation but just links and suggestions to how they can educate themselves on the issues of homosexuality, the damage done to those who aren't accepted, and how important it is to you to have them accept you as you are and not try to change or manipulate you away from your natural humanity. Perhaps you could present it with a comparison like, "Mom and Dad, if I'd been born with a unique genetic anomaly that impacted my physical health or mental health you would be quick to read up and understand every aspect of that part of who I was born to be. You'd not blame me or God or yourselves. You'd deal with it and do your best to help me deal with it in ways that are healthy and productive. Imagine for a moment that Gay is a genetic reality in a portion of the population. Imagine that it makes me different from you but not inherently immoral. Imagine that you want to understand all the factors that naturally dictate my mind and body. Imagine that you love me no matter what and hope to understand who I really am and who I really want to be. Imagine that your love for me can super cede your own bias and indoctrination."
Don't dwell on a lot of the negative stuff xxx. Offer the information and lots of gratitude and love and let them deal with their own ignorance afterward.
Here's some links and book suggestions that might help you if you decide to offer information to your parents on accepting gays. I know it's tricky xxx. It's core to having a relationship with them but try to remember that they're dealing with a lifetime of indoctrination and rejection of information that contradicts what they are taught from the pulpit. I'll try to use mostly LDS sources so that there is some familiarity for your parents. They will instantly reject anything from more liberal sources so we just have to ease them into this.
This is a podcast http://mormonstories.org/?p=1158 from a respected tenured BYU professor who has studied the gay issue in great depth. He has a gay son and has gone through his own struggle to understand the many complex issues. It's a fascinating podcast but can be difficult to understand if one is completely unfamiliar with the science behind DNA and genetic makeup. One thing it does do is take the blame from the parents and places the whole issue on the randomness of genetic makeup. Once it can be accepted as a natural phenomenon then the doors to accepting gays as just unique humans is less painful.
This is Bill Bradshaws own site and he offers some fascinating links to help LDS parents accept their homosexual children: http://www.ldsresources.info/professionals/bradshaw.shtml
Perhaps you could offer a list of well known and respected artists, musicians, inventors, writers, etc. that are/were gay and a short paragraph on how many have contributed very wonderful things to the world. Indicate that their homosexuality was not the reason they were creative or intelligent but just one aspect of them as whole deserving human beings. Associate your own creativity and brilliance with people your parents may unknowingly already respect and admire. (note, choose a few that they might actually recognize. Most LDS are pretty naive and ignorant when understanding famous authors, playwrights, inventors, and philosophers)
Carol Lynne Pearson has written numerous books and music regarding the pain and complexities of heterosexual marriage among homosexuals. She is still LDS and has reverence for many of the important Christian aspects of the gospel, especially love and tolerance. She was married to a man that struggled with his homosexuality for decades and eventually came out. He died of AIDS after experimenting and resorting to a less than moral lifestyle. Part of what drove him to such deviance and promiscuity was the lifetime of oppression and denial of his true self. Her accounts of what he went through and the things it did to her own family are important reflections on the errors of coercing homosexuals to engage in heterosexual marriage.
Goodbye, I Love You: The Story of a Wife, Her Homosexual Husband, and a Love Honored For Time And All Eternity (1987) ISBN: 1-55517-984-3
This site http://www.affirmation.org/ will nearly break your heart and certainly be a bit of a thorn in your parents side but it's something they need to recognize and see how they can contribute to the pain and misery of their own child. The numbers of gay suicides is on the rise and the pain they go through prior to that awful choice is hard to watch. I think more Mormon parents need to see these stories so that they will stop the cruel denial and behaviors that negate their own children. Shunning, humiliation, and cold expulsion from the home, family or support have very real consequences. Mormons claim to honor the loving teachings of Jesus Christ yet will spurn their own children for being born different than they are or think they are. This practice is horrific and more attention needs to be given so that they stop hurting the ones they love.
The affirmation site offers a ton of really great topics that would help you and your family (if they were to actually research them) to understand the complexities of who you really are and what you're going through. I wish the LDS church would recognize how damaging their leaders words are because the members see such bigotry and then consider it a licence to impose that bigotry on their own family members.
Here's a link to a biblical perspective on homosexuality that might help your parents ease into the idea that God does love and did make you this way and there's nothing wrong with it. http://www.affirmation.org/scriptures/a_discussion.shtml
Before you write this XXX please read and listen to the podcasts I recommended and do a little research on your own. The affirmation site http://www.affirmation.org/coming_out/ will be a huge help to you.
Your parents may not accept any of what you might offer but it's vital to your own mental health to love and accept yourself as you really are and not try to conform that to the expectations of a backward and ill informed religion that will only chew you up and spit you out. Know that many people love and admire you and will be there when you think you can't carry things alone. Reach out, spread your talents among those that are open to receiving them. If you experiment in adult relationships protect your health and your feelings. Don't beat yourself up when you make the typical mistakes and blunders that all lovers make when they're learning about the game. It IS a game and requires a lot of skill to navigate successfully. I lost many times before I finally figured out how to win at love. You will too. It's normal, natural, and so common it's boring. That's Ok too.
Ok, there's the basis of what I'm suggesting you craft in a response to your folks. Make it very specific and very optimistic XXX. Even if you don't feel the love right now, project that into your words so that your parents will feel it and receive your words. Then review it and review it and then when you feel it reflects the very best you have to offer, send it and let it stand as a testament to what you hoped to do. If they reject it it's their loss, although the loss of support will certainly sting for a while. You'll recover. We all do.
P.S.when you send the letter, send it on nice paper in the mail. If its in an e-mail they can claim they didn't get it or not bother to read it. This is a biggy XXX and deserves some formality.
This blog is a pre-cursor to an upcoming book where I chronicle my experiences in the LDS church, interspersed with some well placed essays, parodies, and observations about various cultural aspects of the LDS culture and people. I do not dig into deep doctrinal issues here but offer this as an insider voice to what many creative fun loving people experience while in the LDS church.
This stuff isn't for the devout believers. For those, feel free to go to LDS.org.. They'll charge you 10% of your income. I'm just hoping for a onetime fee of $19.95 from some of you someday when the book becomes available.
Feel free to browse the titles or start in the beginning (February 2010) and read along chronologically. If you aren't having fun, you're doing it wrong.