20 November 2009

Next Letter To Dad

Thanks to everyone for your thoughts about my Dad's letter and how to respond. I agree it's going to be a long process and I can't expect him to instantly embrace something like this when it took me so long to do it, and his cultural . . . well, I'll call them what they are, prejudices, are a lot deeper than my reticence was. I realize that it's almost miraculous that he and I are even talking about this, since as a lot of you know, just a couple of months ago I expected we would both live the rest of our lives without any mention of it.

So I used the time during today's flight to draft the next letter to him. Thoughts and comments welcomed.

Dear Dad:

First of all let me say again how truly grateful I am that you're willing to continue our dialogue about a challenging subject. No two people ever see things exactly the same way all the time, but as long as we continue to talk and try to understand each other, that's what counts. It took me a long time to accept this part of myself and to learn that I really would be (and have been) happier since acknowledging that this is who I am, who I've always been. So having taken that long myself, I can't expect you or anyone else to instantly acclimatize and accept this disclosure, especially coming from the perspectives that I know you have. Patience will be a good thing for both of us.

I regret that my last letter made you sad and disappointed, and I understand your reaction based on the opinions you've expressed. This subject is giving not just you but the whole church fits right now, and it will continue to cause some of the greatest individual and collective wrestling matches and difficulties the church has faced in decades, as old notions and paradigms are challenged and changed. A friend of mine is well-acquainted with several members of the Quorum of the Twelve and quotes them as saying even the apostles and First Presidency have widely differing opinions over this whole issue and how the church should address it. Some people will choose to see the resulting current and inevitable future social changes as the biggest attack on the church and society in their lifetimes. I see them as an opportunity to participate in ending a history of centuries of terrible prejudice, abuse, and faith-based persecution of a group of God's children who've asked for nothing more than the simple freedom to be who they are and love who they love freely and without fear, things that everyone else takes for granted. Some decry that as "against the natural order of things." But remember that slavery, strict racial segregation and discrimination were also accepted for millennia as God's will too, part of the "natural order of things" and defended with scripture, even by LDS apostles and prophets who clung to their racism long after much of the rest of the country had abandoned it. Until suddenly all the LDS assumptions were completely up-ended. So there is precedent, Dad, for change that could well shock everyone.

It seems clear from your letter that you believe being gay is a choice: "It is also a choice and not something you were born with." You state that there is "not one scientifically valid longitudinal study that has been done that connects your DNA with homosexuality." We need to reach a common understanding on this point above all others.

Dad, do you really believe that after all I have learned and done and the ways I've served, the faithfulness I've exhibited, the desire to follow the Savior that has characterized my whole life, that I would suddenly choose to dump all of that and plunge headlong into a debauched "lifestyle"? What Mormon guy in his right mind, knowing what the church currently thinks of homosexuality, would consciously choose this? What sane person would say "Hey, I think it would be fun to volunteer for membership in a persecuted misunderstood minority that is shunned and ostracized and called perverts and feared and discriminated against and possibly beaten up and threatened with hellfire and loss of eternal blessings"?

I'm sorry but with all due respect, that just makes no sense! Only a crazed idiot would choose to be gay in such an environment, knowing those likely consequences. Homosexuality is as old as history. There is no eradicating it. Evidence shows it is consistent across all cultures in roughly consistent percentages of a given population. That sounds quite "natural" to me, as natural as hair color or any other consistently recurring biological feature.

But beyond that, Dad, beyond all the scientific studies which do say there is likely a genetic component, beyond the evidence that this feature of someone's personality can't really be changed, I ask that you simply trust me and my knowledge of my own heart. I don't know where my being gay came from. But I know it's always been there, as deep and as permanent as my musical talent or anything else about me. I didn't choose it. I was as surprised as anyone could be when I realized this was part of me. You accept the testimony of the witnesses who saw the gold plates; you've never met those witnesses but you accept what they wrote as true. Can you also accept the testimony of your own son, whose goodness and honesty of heart you've known all his life, that he never chose to be this way? Can you accept, based on what you know of him, that there are countless others who tell the truth when they say exactly the same thing? As a lawyer, I submit to you that such a body of witness testimony is as compelling as any group of Latter-day Saints testifying of the truths they know.

I hope you'll read the materials I put on that CD for you, particularly the pieces by Gary Watts. He has two gay children and has studied this issue for a very long time from your same perspective, that of a traditional conservative LDS parent. I hope you will therefore trust his observations and conclusions. Please Dad be willing to consider that some things may not be as you have thought or been taught. I don't expect that you will ever fully comprehend my perspective on this issue, because you're not gay. And that's fine. But I hope you will keep in mind that I haven't told you anything new. Yes, I did make a choice. But that choice wasn't whether I should be gay or not. The choice was simply to be honest with myself and my family about who I've always been. I chose to no longer live my life in fear, but to embrace everything about the way I was created. I was gay when I was in high school, when I served a mission, when I went to college and law school, when I embarked on my career, as I've built that career and accomplished all of the things I have. Think of every time I've ever said or done anything to make you proud, any achievement I've reached, any service I've rendered, and then please also remind yourself "that was my gay son." Everything in my last letter to you was as true years ago and all along that path as it is now. The only choice that's been made now is to acknowledge it to myself and to tell you about it too.

You've asked a number of valid and pointed questions. I'm going to defer those until after you've read all the materials on that CD, because I think they will give you many of the answers you seek. So please let me know when you've finished reading all that stuff and I'll be delighted to continue our discussion. Looking forward to seeing you next week.



MoHoHawaii said...

Wow! Great letter!

Anonymous said...

When I was receiving support from my bishop about being a gay member of the Church, he also said that several of the "Brethern" now have children who are gay and they (the parents) are wondering how it is they will reconcile everything with the Church. I was telling my bishop that my parents would rather have a dead daughter than have a gay daughter. He shook his head and said that it is sad that that generation has such fear of this topic. He gave nothing but support and compassion as we continued talking about the struggles caused by being gay.

Continued best love to you and your father. As always, thank you SO much for sharing your personal story here. You do not know HOW many lives you help by doing so. Bless you!

Daniel said...

This was a beautiful letter. You were able to ignore so many hurtful things and zero in on the one point that really matters--that one misconception on which all his prejudice really hangs. This letter, over time, will change lives.

I got your message, by the way, and had already read your dad's letter. I'm sorry I couldn't comment. The letter was really discouraging to me, and I didn't want to spread the hopelessness to you when you were writting your response. Your response is full of hope--and love, sincerity, clarity, honesty, and fairness. It has put my heart at ease, and I can only hope it will do the same for your dad.

Gay LDS Actor said...

I think the entire letter is very well-written.

Just my two cents: I would delete the paragraph about the Quorum of the 12 and racism in the church and save it for another time. In no way am I minimizing the importance and truth of what you say in that paragraph, nor do I feel that those things shouldn't be said eventually. However, I think that anything that puts your dad on the defense or minimizes the feelings and beliefs he has toward the Church may not be helpful at this time.

I think in order to help your dad understand you, you need to concentrate on areas of common ground (for now). I think all the points in that paragraph are completely valid, but I have a feeling it will antagonize your dad rather than help him see your side. I don't want to downplay the need to be true to yourself,and I obviously don't know your dad like you do, but I think your dad will bristle and be put on the defense with those words, and I'm imagining that isn't your goal.

Again, I wish to stress that I think those words will need to be spoken eventually, but I'm not sure now is the right time if you're trying to get your dad to see your point-of-view.

I think the rest of the letter is great, and I especially like the paragraphs on whether this is a choice and also your testimony of your gay-ness.

Again, take my advice for whatever its worth to you. I'm only an outside observer looking in, so I obviously don't know your own situation as well as you do.

Joe Conflict said...

I think this is one of your best writings Alan. Great stuff.