25 March 2010

A Letter To My Family

Dear Family:

Now you all know. Your initial reactions were about what I expected, polite rejections of "the lifestyle" (which I've never lived) with disclaimer expressions of "we still love you." But over the last few months it's also become clear that all of you wish I'd never come out. You've gotten angry with me for "stirring up contention and division in the family" by simply telling you I was gay. You've urged me not to tell anyone else, and repeatedly called me "selfish" for simply speaking this truth about myself because it made everyone else so agitated. You've called me an "activist" who is trying to "pressure you" into "accepting an abnormal lifestyle" because I tried to share with you some information you didn't have about this topic. You've jumped to the conclusion that I have done something that justifies being kicked out of the church.

You know I'm not the type to play whining victim. So believe me when I say you have no comprehension of what it's been like, as someone said, "to spend years denying your own deepest truths, to sit silently through classes, meals, and church services while people you love toss off remarks that brutalize your soul." I finally reached the point where I just couldn't take that anymore.

We have always been a close-knit group. We've supported each other through a lifetime of ups and downs. I've been there for you, you've been there for me. No family is perfect, but I've always felt very lucky to be part of this one.

But now, for the first time in my life, I question whether my family is capable of unconditional love. I knew nobody would be thrilled at my news but I honestly didn't expect to encounter such hostility. The fact that I've seen such pushback, panic and anger at a short, simple statement of truth tells me that my evidently homophobic family is going to have a difficult time with my presence from now on. I'm sorry if that hurts anyone's feelings but I can't explain your reactions any other way. It sounds like you are willing to accept me only if I conform to your templates for living, and if I don't, well, I could still come round but I mustn't talk about anything you don't like. And when who I love and who my friends are and all that even hint at this thing that so agitates you, you're going to say--as you already have--that it's all off-limits. That's conditional love and it tells me you want me back in the closet.

I'm particularly puzzled by the "selfish" thing. I spoke a simple fact about myself, I'm otherwise unchanged from the same person you knew before, the only difference is that you know me a little better now. I wanted you to understand and know the real me. How on earth that's "selfish" I can't quite make out, unless you've all assumed that extreme agitation and anger over this is a normal reaction that anyone should expect, so I must be inflicting them on you all deliberately and that's selfish, is that it? But doesn't that really just indicate your own attitudes toward being gay, rather than my motives? How is it not "selfish" of you to say to me "It's not about you!" when I'm the one who's dealt with the slurs and homophobic jokes and hurtful attitudes all these years, and suddenly my disclosure tells you that you can't get away with that anymore?

I've heard of other active Mormon families who, when a son came out to them after years of frightened hiding in the closet, all rallied round and said "We had no idea you were wrestling with this for so long, we're so sorry you had to face it all alone, it must have been awful for you, and we're sorry if we said or did anything to keep you in there. Thanks for telling us." And then life went on as normal.

Why can't my family be like that? I think I know the answer, but I'd like to hear it from you.

Dear family, I love you all so much. I don't think you have any idea what I've been through with this. I'm not selfish, I'm just tired of a charade and want you to know who I really am. All of your hurt and anger and fear is so unnecessary. I wish you'd just calm down and listen to me explain why. I'm out of the closet and I'm never going back; we're all going to have to live with that reality. Please don't force me to choose between my own integrity and remaining part of the family. Other LDS families have done just fine after one of their kids came out, please listen to me and I'll tell you how. And how coming out made me a better Christian than I ever was before.

I know I've challenged your paradigms and I don't expect you to change your opinions overnight; God knows it took me long enough to come to terms with this myself. But please don't refuse even to talk about it. Please try to set aside your fear and anger and suspicion. I really do think I have the answer that will help you do that, but you have to be willing to listen first, to do what St. Paul said: investigate, search, don't be afraid to question a status quo. Don't be afraid to learn something new or to seriously question the bases for your own beliefs. Joseph Smith wasn't. If what you believe is true, then it can easily withstand examination. Don't be afraid. Please learn from my experience; I let myself stay afraid for far too long and I suffered needlessly for it. When you're ready to talk, I'll be there.



Quiet Song said...

Having lived both sides of this in one poor frail human body, I say cut your family a bit of slack. You've had time to work through your fear, they have a flood of stereotypes and "what ifs" hitting them right now with very little time to process what it really means. And maybe a little real life history and experience that you don't necessarily know of.

Tim Trent said...

While it's a good letter, it's the wrong letter, and it's too early.

They are grieving for the little boy they lost and have to do that before they can consider accepting the man that you are. So the timing is too soon.

The letter is also a plea for acceptance. That means that you are bargaining for something that they can refuse to grant. Instead you need to take the quiet and honourable moral high ground and act assertively. I see why you plead, but you are the adult here, and they are the children.

So consider this the first draft, and rewrite it as the man of the family, not the child of the family.

Justin said...

I think it's a beautiful letter. You express gratitude for how they have treated you before (until you came out), and have laid out your expectations.

(I just came across your blog on the Moho Directory.)

Sean said...

A great letter. Tim has some interesting points but conflicting ideas.

Tim - if they haven't figured out Rob's adulthood yet, they have serious issues beyond his gayness. I don't see in this letter the little boy begging for a lollipop you seem to suggest. Their reaction is an attempt to marginalize something they disagree with or fear and then justify doing so by suggesting he chose this and some how deserves the backlash. That's not ok.

You mention that he should wait to spring such a thing on the family. Mormon families that don't accept one's coming out at the beginning aren't likely to accept such a thing for many many years if ever. It is them that has the problem accepting him - not him accepting them.

Rob's feelings of needing to be validated for the suffering he has been put through his entire life are more valid than those of the family's disapproval of how he leads his adult life.

To suggest he should take the "quiet and honorable moral high ground" yet "act assertively" are contradictory statements. This letter is a very assertive action in my opinion. While I would phrase things differently for my family, this may be just how they need to hear him express his feelings of clearly a family that seems to love only on their terms so long as you conform to their standards, which is part and parcel against the teachings of the church.

Pomoprophet said...

I hope that one day your family comes around and that religion is no longer used to oppress anyone. Come Jesus come!

MoHoHawaii said...

I'm with Quiet Song and Tim Trent on this one. Your family needs time to adjust.

While I like the letter you wrote, I can see it clarifying the battle lines rather than defusing the tension. You have to ask yourself what your goal is with this piece of communication.

MoHoHawaii said...

Also, check out Dan Savage's advice about coming out to family members who are religious conservatives.

Rob said...

Thanks all for your comments. Let me clarify one thing that perhaps I should have specified in the original post.

I have no intention of sending this letter to my family right now. Only one family member knows about the blog and that person isn't going to say anything else to anyone else about it.

At this point in time, the letter was a cathartic exercise for me to clarify my thoughts in response to the family's actions, to say what I'd like to say to them if the time were right.

I know the time's not right, at this point. When it will be right, I don't know. But if one of them runs across the blog before then, the letter will be there and they'll be able to see how I feel. I hope they'll see that I'm trying to communicate in a peaceful way, but I'm not willing to back down or compromise. It's a fine line to walk.

I expect to refine the letter further before I actually send it, if I ever do. Thanks to all for your insights.

Tim Trent said...

Ah, Sean, I think you missed the metaphors.

A parent always thinks of their son as a little boy. They have to see that he is an adult. That isn't achieved by saying "please recognise me, accept me." Rob's feelings will not be validated unless they choose to accept him for the out gay man he is. That will take time.

You're putting a load of words into my mouth. Did I say "spring such a thing on the family?" No I did not. I suggested leaving them to think a bit and to grieve for the loss of the son and brother they lost. This has to happen before they can accept the son and brother that they have. Mormon families may have a shedload of religion and rules, but they still go through the same grieving and acceptance processes that all folks do.

The letter appears assertive, but it does something quote different. It pleads for acceptance and puts the family firmly in the driving seat. We should be looking at Rob's ability to accept them, not their willingness to accept him. I see this letter as potentially divisive, however well written.

Sean said...

Ah well Rob has set us all straight (so to speak) as to the intentions. Since I'm not the successful lawyer he is I probably would be crass enough to send my family such a thing. I'm such a word smith reactionary.