13 March 2010

Zeus Flings A Thunderbolt

This is going to be a lot harder than I thought.

I recently came out to another sister, a staunch TBM and cultural conservative. She was polite, gave me the standard PC Mormon line about "I still love you," and also "I will never accept 'the behavior' or 'the lifestyle.'" She also forbade me to say anything to her husband or kids, insisting she would tell them the way she wanted, when she wanted. While I have to respect her family prerogative, I also knew this was codespeak for "I want to be sure this information is spun to them through a Church-approved filter." And we all know what that means.

Today I had lunch with my dad and stepmom. After lunch he took me aside and said he'd had a call from this sister who told him all about our conversation. Remember, when I came out to my dad he begged me not to tell anyone else in the family, so he's already going to be displeased about this. "How do you think she reacted," he asked.

Suspecting she'd sugar-coated things when talking to me, I said what I was almost certain of: "She was angry and frightened and upset." Bingo. From that point my conversation with dad lasted another 20 minutes or so and I can't hope to rehearse it all here. But the highlights from him were as follows, much of it said with such urgency and earnestness--and sometimes a raised voice--that I could see the tears in his eyes.

"You must not tell any more family members about this. I have the cohesion of a very large family to think about and your telling anyone else will threaten that unity. This is not about you, it's about the feelings of those you talk to. The other sister you came out to over a year ago now says she resents your crusade to pressure all the rest of us into accepting your abnormal lifestyle choices. There are gay people in the church who serve in callings and even in the temple, I have no problem with that, but they know what lines not to cross. So you must stop pushing this in everyone's faces, I don't advertise the fact that I'm straight and you should stop pushing the fact that you're gay onto everyone else. If you tell your other sister it will fracture your relationship with her and if you think she will figure it out by exploring your Facebook profile or the identities of your Facebook friends then you had better remove all that material from your Facebook page. Please don't send me any more articles or information about this issue, I don't need to read them. You are causing discord in the family with your campaign to push us to accept your abnormality as if it were proper. It doesn't matter if our feelings are irrational or have no factual basis, they are our feelings and you must defer to them."

I was stunned at this. The sister I first came out to over a year ago always seemed totally accepting and I've laughed and joked with her about it since then, feeling completely safe to open my heart to her. Apparently that trust was misplaced. The sister I just recently came out to pretended to be tolerant and loving when we talked, but then went running to daddy to vent what I guess I suspected would be her true feelings anyway, ones far harsher and more judgmental than she expressed to me.

For the first time in my life I have cause to question whether I am loved unconditionally within my own extended family. This is bewildering, to say the least. My father is a wonderful man in many respects; he has worked hard all his life to provide for us, to overcome some great challenges in his own childhood, and I have great respect and love for him. But with all due respect to his many admirable qualities, I don't believe him when he says he has no problem with gay people in the Church even if they "toe the line." He keeps talking about my "abnormal lifestyle choices." I've never even held another guy's hand, let alone kissed one or done anything more than that. So far my "abnormal choices" consist of simply saying "I'm gay" and associating with gay friends. Yet apparently that is enough to freak him out and bring him to the edge of tears as he accuses me of threatening to fracture the family if I so much as talk about this anymore.

He and my sisters would not act like this if they really believed just the status of being gay was okay. It's obvious that they aren't able to walk the talk and that they have a huge problem with this, far more than any of them have been willing to admit.

What did I say to dad in response to all this? Again, I can't hope to capture everything, but basically I said the following.

"It sounds like you are trying to push me back into the closet. Well forget it, I'm not going back. I have spent most of my life making decisions about that life based in part on fear of what the rest of you might think, and I'm not going to do that anymore. This is a data point, that's all. It changes nothing about who I have always been. The only difference is that you know me better now. I have never shoved this in anyone's face but I'm not going to stop talking about it either if it's relevant, because it's a part of my life. Oh yes you do advertise your heterosexuality every single day, you just don't think of it that way when you do it. We already had that conversation and you acknowledged I was right. Why is it selfish of me to want to trust my own family with this very personal disclosure if it will upset their prejudices and make them feel uncomfortable? Is preserving their sense of security in their homophobia more important than my ability to be honest and open with the ones I should be able to rely on the most? Out of respect for you I will defer the conversation with my remaining sister, but she is going to learn about it in time regardless, and she may be even more angry then that I wasn't the one who told her. And why haven't you answered all the questions I asked you before about why you believe various things like the Greek and Roman civilizations collapsed because they tolerated The Gays?"

He said he thought he had answered all those questions, but he hadn't. So he agreed I should re-send them, which I will. When I told him of all the professional associations who said homosexuality was a normal part of human sexuality, he said "it's a fringe thing, it's out there on the edges, and by that standard alcoholism is normal too because it's always been there but it's never been acceptable."

If I had answered his question directly, I would have said Yes, absolutely I DO want you all to accept my being gay and my seeking happiness in a gay relationship as good and normal. Because you are all shot through with more homophobia than I thought and you need to get over it. You are so locked into your sealed systems of thinking that you won't even consider that there may be more information or other ways of looking at this.

But that would have done no good. First I have to get him to stop crying in panic that the mere mention of my being gay is going to splinter the family he's worked hard all his life to build. Line upon line, precept on precept, here a little and there a little. Rome wasn't built in a day. I have myself acknowledged that if coming out to someone will damage the relationship, then perhaps it should be deferred. So I will do so with my remaining sister, for now.

Meantime, I think the best thing is for me to back away from the rest of the family for a while and count my blessings elsewhere, as those family members take time to reflect and, I hope, adjust. I have plenty on my plate work-wise, I have wonderful kids who love their dad and are solidly with me on this issue, and they'd be plenty pissed off if they knew how the rest of the family is reacting. I have wonderful friends who I love so very much, two of whom have already this evening patiently listened to my rants and frustrations and offered solace and comfort (thanks and hugs and love to you both).

And if one of these sisters eventually notices that they haven't heard from me for a while and pings me to ask where I've been, I'll tell her. I don't trust you anymore. I am not trying to shove your nose in this but you have to accept that I am not going back into the closet and you're going to have to deal with this openly, as is every member of your family eventually. Will you do it as a Christian with true kindness and tolerance and charity? Or will you continue to feign politeness while privately still believing that I have deliberately chosen an evil abnormality? Will you allow yourself to believe when I say I am happier and more authentic and more of a true Christian now than I ever was before, because I came out? Will you believe your own eyes if I find a partner to love and share my life with, and you see how happy we are together? Because you're going to have to confront all of that eventually. I have tried to respect you and trust you by sharing this part of my life with you, and I don't think you comprehend how difficult it was to do that. It looks like my trust may have been misplaced, but I hope not. Was it?

I will never again be as I was. If you want me in the family from here on out, you're going to have to accept me as I am now, and that may (I hope) include a husband in the future. How you feel about this is your choice, your issue, not mine. I won't be ashamed of the way God made me, or of what I know is my best way to happiness. Deal with it.

Your move.


Brody said...

If you can get up in the morning, look in the mirror, and say, "Morning Rob, You're a loving & decent human being," and you believe it and in yourself?
Then my friend, that's 3/4's of the battle won.

A wiseman once said that family is truly made, not created... so the old saw about 'blood is thicker than water' can be a crock of, well, let's just say a crock eh?

The honest truth is that ultimately they lose out Rob, not you. But hey! It's more than okay to rant.[ I do it all the time. ]

Hang In There and take the twins out to the San Diego Zoo, have fun, drown yourself in your loving progeny, treat them to an Ice cream, and all will be well.

One last thought Rob- This too shall pass! :)


Grant Haws said...

Red flags went up for me at the part where he stated that you coming out is going to break the family up. Shouldn't a family be held together by love and thus, be able to handle this? If coming out could truly break up a family, then that family is built on mutual denial of reality...nothing more.

I am sorry that this happened, and it makes me sad because it is somewhat similar to the reaction of many of my family members. But I am glad that you have other family that supports you and that you are confident enough in yourself to draw the line and stand firm for yourself.

TGD said...

Giving an ultimatum like that to my family and friends was the best thing I ever did for myself. If it had any effect on them I wouldn't know. I needed to do it to remind myself that I'm the source of my happiness not them. They can come along and share the joy if they want but I can not and will not sit around and wait for their acceptance.

Tim Trent said...

Oh Rob, my heart goes out to you.

One thing struck me. Your father says he does not advertise that he is straight. But he does. Within five minutes of meeting him everyone knows he is heterosexual. He speaks of his family, his children.

I'm sorry you were raised in this manner. Keep your faith but consider your religion. No deity wants people to suffer for something that is inbuilt, assuming that there is a deity at all. Have quiet prayer with your god with pleasure, but think wisely about those who practice any formal religion and consider why they require to be told how to live their lives.

I think they love you. I think they even accept you. But they quote their religion, something that seems to come first, and above their ties to you.

Live your life for yourself. Tell those whom you need to tell and those whom you want to tell. Coming out is not a moment when we stand on a podium and proclaim our sexuality, it is a number of small events, all done selfishly, for ourselves. So be truly selfish. And by that I mean also choose not to tell those where you judge the risk to outweigh the benefits, whatever those benefits may be.

I have a very small experience of your religion. A friend is an LDS Bishop in Edinburgh, and, while gentle about homosexuality, he has explained clearly the LDS view of love the sinner, hate the sin. I find it patronising in the extreme because, if your god, who is infallible, has created you as homosexual, then that is what you are by his divine creation. Thus homosexuality cannot be a sin. Instead the sin is perpetrated by those who accuse you of being sinful.

I know how vitally important this is to you and how important love and acceptance from your family is. Simply know who is truly important to you and love them unconiditinally.

Chedner said...

Been there, as I'm sure many of us gay Mormons have been...

I've been trying not to get too anxious or too hopeful about my family as I really don't know what their true feelings are.

Daniel said...

This news will put stress on your family, but they will bounce back. Families are incredibly resilient. They are also incredibly fragile. Siblings easily offend each other and family fights hurt more than other fights. But over time, you can't undo family relationships. They are permanent, and so however long it takes, your sister will still be your sister whenever she comes around. Giver her and everyone else the time they need to sort this out.

I think it's fair to expect that they know from you that you are gay, especially since they could find out otherwise (which is not new, btw, they could have figured it out at any time over the past many years). I would give them space, though, to figure out what to do with that knowledge. I don't think trying to change your dad's opinion with articles is going to work. He's going to believe what he wants to believe, and right now he wants to believe that this scary concept that in his mind newly took over his family is wrong. When the idea isn't so new, and when after he has observed that you are a good, reasonable person over time, then he will want to believe that what you are is not wrong, and he will find his own material at that point to support that changed belief. It's not your responsibility to eradicate homophobia in your family. It's just your responsibility to be honest and respectful. If you take the high road now, it will give them less fuel for their homophobic prejudices and reactions.

Hang in there! I know how much it hurts when your family rejects your exit out of the closet! It does get better.

Shem said...

I'm a gay ex-mormon.

But I can kinda understand what you're going through.

When I came out at 17, mum's reaction was "what about our family". She seemed to think, at the time, that me being gay was a bigger deal to them than it was to me, or something.

Since then she's actually left the church. Which has improved our relationship so much.

The hypocrisy of most mormons was too much for me. And even if I stayed in the church a bit longer I would have left over the prop 8 debacle.

I cannot deal with a church that teaches "all or nothing" then has divinely inspired leaders take such a flawed position.

Troy said...

geesh! i couldn't imagine having to deal with that, but i think you've handled it very well!

Quinn said...

Gosh man, I'm sorry. Sounds like your family are being jerks. :(

Ned said...

Rob, Please know that you and all of your loved ones are in my prayers this day.

El Genio said...

I'm sorry you had to sit through such a terrible conversation.

"This is not about you." Uhg. I can almost feel the pain in this paragraph. It feels like the only thing that matters are the feelings of everyone else, and the family unit as a whole, but your feelings.... well they don't really matter. I think your idea to pull back a bit is wise. Hopefully in time they will realize how hateful and un-Christlike their stance really is.

For what it's worth, you may want to still consider telling your other sister. There is a lot of value in being able to control the initial conversation. Of course, the moment, timing, etc. all have to be right, but it's something to keep in the back of your brain.

Beck said...

I'm learning lots from your example. Please keep sharing. Your coming out step-by-step experiences are priceless for those of us who will follow.

Paul S. said...

This sounds so familiar. Knowing the LDS church's views on homosexuality, I was too fearful to ever come out. I remained, unhappily, in the closet throughout my adolescence and most of my adult life. When I finally got tired of 'living a lie' in order to conform, I left the church and was baptized in another Protestant faith. I now belong to a church family that knows I am a gay man and accepts me for who I am. I feel closer to God today than ever before.

Your blog is about your family's acceptance or lack of it. But of course their views are shaped by the faith and beliefs they were raised in. I applaud you in remaining within that faith and expecting others to deal with the real you or not. I'm sure you understand that you can face possible excommunication if the leadership of the church finds you an embarrassment - as in being a little too loud in expressing your opinion or too open in your 'unacceptable' lifestyle. If that happens then they will have made a mockery of Joseph Smith's statement that you have listed under 'Words To Live By'. Ironic isn't it?