It’s not that she has handled the news too poorly. It was difficult for her, but she has held up pretty well. The issue is with my expectations.
My mother has always been extremely close to me. The family always used to (note the past tense) joke that I was my mother’s favorite. A few years ago, that was very true. Now we have an extremely strained relationship that I consistently consider abandoning altogether. Clearly entertaining that thought is immature, but it’s something that goes through my head regularly.
Let me give a few details about my “coming out” to my mother. It started with an email from her:
It was good to talk to you the other night and hear about your sky diving escapade. Glad you are safe cause it scares me to death to think of jumping out of an airplane even with an instructor or parachute!! I'll leave that stuff to you!!
Last night as I lay awake in bed not able to sleep, I got thinking about you and how much I love you. One time, when we were on our mission, I remember you telling me that my job as your mother was to love you unconditionally. That is not my job, that comes naturally as your mother. From the moment I gave birth to you and held you in my arms, I have had that natural love for you. You were born perfect and whole, every little finger, toe, eyes, ears & nose and perfect little body. You don't know how many times I thanked Heavenly Father for that and still do. I'm so grateful to have you for a son. I have felt a special closeness to you thru all the fun projects we did in your youth and high school. But I realize that my job as your mother was to teach you to love your Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ so that you can return to him someday. I'm not sure I did that. I realize now that I didn't express my love & testimony to you of the Savior & Heavenly Father like I should have and how important the Gospel and family are in my life. The most important thing in my life is my family and having an eternal family by living the gospel. It took a mission for me to really understand the truthfulness of the Gospel. I was able to receive my personal witness of all the things I had believed all my life. I know that you once had a testimony of the Book of Mormon and gospel principles. I felt it as you returned home from your Mission. You have so much talent to be a great force in teaching and helping others. I hope you will use that talent in doing good and in living the way you should.
I hope you know I love you, GM, with all my heart, but my heart is broken over your choice to live the way of the world. I hope you will come back, just as you asked if Tim was coming back. That is so important to me. In the Book of Mormon, Alma was always counseling his sons to "Remember, Remember". In Alma 37:35-37, he gave some very wise counsel on remembering and I hope you will read it because it is wise counsel for us all. I hope you will remember where your blessings have come from all your life. You once wrote in letters that you couldn't believe how blessed you were. GM, you have had more opportunities and blessings than any of your siblings. Remember where they came from. You have had so many blessings come to you thru your Heavenly Father, don't forget them! I hope you will know that I write this because I love you and want you as my son now and thru all eternity. I love you.
My response to her email:
I love you so much. I am so grateful that I have you as my mother. I do not know a kinder, more patient, more humble human being on God's great Earth, and I can only hope to become half the person you are. You're an absolute angel, and I think that's why I've always been such a mama's boy -- I simply love being around angels. Plus, not only are you sweet, but you're also fun. Many of my fondest memories are of you and me laughing together. I, too, have always felt especially close to you, and because of your love I've always striven to make you proud.
But I've failed on one front. And I know that your heart is broken over me. I want you to know that you've been a perfect mother in the Gospel. I know that God smiles down on you for the job you've done as a parent. You taught me the Gospel, and I've always known how you feel about Heavenly Father, the Savior, and your family. You didn't fail to teach me these things -- on the contrary, you taught them every day in word and in deed. You simply could not have done more to teach me these things. I hope and pray you find peace in this because you're a wonderful mother -- always have been and still are.
But, at some point, your children will make decisions you disagree with or dislike. I've made unpopular decisions, and I want you to know that leaving the church wasn't an easy decision for me. I have very fond feelings for the church and for the principles it espouses. But, mom, there are reasons why I am no longer active. For years I was internally conflicted, trying to reconcile my emotions with church doctrine. Because of you and the family, I stayed in the church and on the Mormon path; however, after much thought and prayer, I made a decision to go with my feelings. I know it's hard for you, but I feel good about my decision. I feel peace. I actually feel that God is OK with my decision.
Unfortunately, you've never asked for the reasons. I've always felt that you know why, but that you're afraid to confront it. Perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps you sincerely have no idea why I might choose to walk a different path. Either way, I think we should discuss these reasons sometime very soon. I want to be completely candid and honest with you about my life. I've always feared that your heart's not strong enough to handle it; otherwise, I would have talked to you long ago.
In any case, this is a conversation that would be better suited for the phone. Let me know when you're ready to talk -- hopefully sooner than later.
I love you.
A few days later, she and I connected on the phone. The conversation needed little preface. I told her that I wanted to discuss why I am no longer active in the church, and then I proceeded to tell her about my sexuality. She listened, and I asked her if she had known. She said my father told her about 6 months prior.
Our conversation was a little intense at one point. She was suggesting (as my family has all suggested) that my sexuality was caused by gay porn. I was enraged at this un-crushable rumor, so I told her to never suggest that to me ever again. I even threatened to cut ties all together if I heard such an insult repeated.
One other highlight: She wanted to make sure I was still saying my prayers, going to church, abstaining from alcohol, etc. I told her, “Mom, you’re missing the central issue here: I have physical relationships with men. All that other stuff is not keeping from being a good member of the church. My sexuality prevents me from being a good Mormon. Let’s focus on the core issue.” Turns out, the phrase “physical relationships” was too descriptive (story to come).
Overall, our conversation went fine. We both walked away a bit sad and frustrated with the situation, but our talk was pretty cordial and smooth. She was certainly still clinging to hope that I would abandon my sexuality, decide to abstain from intimacy all together, and return to the church. It’s amazing how activity in the church trumps all. My parents would be MUCH happier if I were living a dual life – wife and kids on the outside, male encounters on the side. So long as they didn’t have to know about it. (That might be an unfair assessment, but that’s how it seems to me.)
Fast forward to Thanksgiving. I return home, but I had to work a ton (because of meetings the following week), so I didn’t spend much quality time with them. Found out later they perceived me as “distancing myself.” Sigh. Besides that, the week went fine. At the end, I did get annoyed that my brothers wouldn’t play games with the rest of the family, so I took off without saying goodbye to those three brothers. An immature move, for sure. Chalk that up to my list of regrets relative to my family.
Then comes Christmas. I went home again. This time I had tons of time with my parents. The other sibs couldn’t make it to my hometown, except for one brother. The night before Sunday, my mother asks if I am going to church. I tell her that I wouldn’t be able to go. I explained that I was profoundly disappointed and frustrated with the church’s involvement in Prop 8, and this was my small way of protesting its actions. Very very small way.
She immediately launched into a defense for the church. Absolutely no sympathy shown to me. None. But she sure had a ton to say on behalf of the church. I remained civil and disagreed with her on every point. We moved on to other topics, which were equally frustrating, and then we returned to Prop 8.
At this time, my brother comes up stairs and says, “What’s going on? Is GM blaming the church for Prop 8? You should blame the blacks and Mexicans for losing Prop 8 – not the church.”
I was already pretty worked up because of the nature of this conversation, but my brother’s comment made my blood boil within a split second. I lost it.
“Are you kidding me? Seriously. That’s what you have to say to me right now? Go to fucking bed! This is precisely the reason I hate coming home, because I have to deal with asshole comments like that. I’m done with this.” And I left the room.
My mother ran after me, apologizing for my brother. “You know he means well. He loves you. Blah blah blah.” She was doing her motherly duty, again. But, again, it comes across as my mother seeing everyone’s side but mine. I explained why his comments were completely inappropriate, and then I addressed the main issue I’ve been having over the past year.
I resent my mother. And I told her that. I love her, but I absolutely resent her. This woman, who loves me so much, and whom I love so dearly, is incapable of showing empathy. That’s clearly a biased statement and untrue, but that’s how I perceive it.
I told her, “Mom, I resent you because you know me so well, you care for me, you worry for me, yet you have never said to me, ‘wow, that must be hard’ or ‘I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through this’ or ‘I’ve never thought about it from that perspective.’”
All I hear is her defending the church, my family, and the whole Mormon perspective. I just want her to acknowledge that I am a reasonable person who makes logical decisions. I want her to recognize that I took more than a decade to make this decision. I want her to acknowledge that the struggle was very difficult for me. I want to hear from her that she can’t understand how I feel (because she can’t), and that she is sympathetic to my situation. That’s what I want to hear.
Her reaction: “You can’t expect me to accept this.” What does that even mean? I have no idea. (She even repeated that statement numerous times throughout our conversation.) I’m not asking for her to carry rainbow flags in parades. I’m simply asking for empathy, and I don’t feel any from her. Does that mean she hasn’t shown me empathy? No. But perception is reality, and I do not perceive any empathy.
When I put it to her that way, she gave me the courtesy “I do feel bad for you” talk. Of course, she’s quick to follow up with the “you know where I stand” talk, which nullifies everything she said previously. She even went so far as to ask if I would start reading the scriptures again and going to church and living the church's teachings.
That’s the whole problem. I know where she stands and what she believes. I don’t need her constant reminding. I don’t need her perspective on homosexuality or the church. I know it. I lived it. I’m over it.
She then launches into her big “it’s my fault your gay” talk. Again, back to my mother. It’s so ridiculous how my sexuality always comes back to her. I have told her countless times that she was a perfect mother and taught me everything perfectly. She did. She was a perfect mother growing up. But now she blames herself for all her children’s faults and alleged “sins.”
I explained that she needed counseling. I insisted that she needed counseling. I offered to pay for said counseling. She refused. “I’m fine. I don’t need counseling. I’m fine.” That was her mantra for the night. I told her I needed counseling, too. My expectations with my family are clearly overboard. I want too much and I expect too much. It’s not fair to them. All I ever think about is abandoning them. I know that’s a ridiculous thought, and I don’t really want to do that, but that’s what I think about all the time.
Who knew I would get to this point. I was discussing my situation with friends, and I realized that I’m lucky. I live in this beautiful bubble called “San Francisco.” In this bubble, being gay is no big deal. People don’t think about it. It’s completely normal. It’s just another trait to describe a person. Then I leave the bubble and go to another bubble called “Utah.” (It’s not fair to clump all of Utah together, but it fits the analogy, so I’m keeping it.) In Utah, being gay is weird. It’s different. It’s sinful. It’s a really hard thing for my family to deal with. I’m not used to people treating it that way, so I immediately get annoyed with people and situations. I end up in emotionally intense conversations with family members. It’s just not pretty. I need counseling.
I suggested to my mother that she and I take a “break” ... avoid each other for a few months to figure things out. That suggestion was apparently the worst thing I could suggest. She lost it. She started crying so intensely that I immediately backpedalled on the suggestion. She “couldn’t handle” that. It was frightening to see her react that way.
I walked away from the conversation feeling the same way I usually feel after a conversation with my family – questioning whether the convo did more good than harm. It’s so hard to tell.
Before I forget, during the convo, I asked my mom if we’d ever get to a point where she could ask who I’m dating. She said maybe eventually, but she doesn’t want to hear about my sex life. I was caught off guard entirely.
“Huh? Why would I tell you about my sex life? Who do you think I am? Don’t you know me better than that?” Those were my immediate questions.
“Last time we spoke about this, you told me too many details about your sex life,” she responds.
Because I was very cautious with my words in our previous conversation, I knew exactly what she was referring to.
“Mother. I told you that I had ‘physical relationships’ with other men," I said matter of factly. "Nothing about that phrase is detailed or graphic. I simply used it to make a point, and apparently it worked.”
She felt it was too much information. I agreed to never mention it again. Sometimes I feel that I’m demanding too much; other times I feel like I make far too many concessions. That’s so ridiculous that I can’t even hint to the reality that I have sexual relationships with men. I have no plans on giving details. Sheesh.
Anyhow, I do feel a little better now that I’ve gotten this down in writing. The truth is I don’t know what to do. I think I do need therapy to figure this out. It’s just not working for me. I am actually beginning to avoid conversations and interactions with my family members, and I hate that I am doing that. Clearly I have let my feelings build up to an unhealthy state. My goal for 2009 is to find a way to have positive relationships with my family. I have to figure it out. I’m pretty sure I will, and the answer might be time. Time heals all, right?