I’m a gay post-Mormon trying to get along with my LDS family. Help?

Dear Ask Mormon Girl:

I grew up in a conservative Mormon home in a small rural town of southern Idaho. I am also gay. After serving a mission in Russia and graduating from BYU, I am now attending a graduate school in the Bay Area. I stopped attending church within the last few years and now consider myself agnostic or atheist (depending on the day). Without going into details about my transition out of the church—which is rather complicated—I think it is sufficient to say that I am very happy with the path in life I have chosen.

While I am at peace with myself and happy with the relationship I am in, I find it difficult, as a non-Mormon (or post-Mormon) interacting with my devout Mormon family. I have to give my family credit for still loving and accepting me and how well they have adjusted. I think they generally understand that being gay was never a choice I made and not something any of us can change. I see that they also want me to be happy but I am unsure how they feel about my relationship and lifestyle.

I generally try really hard to respect my family’s religious beliefs and hope for the same in return. Recently, while traveling with my brother I was waiting for a very early morning flight. I stopped to get breakfast and without thinking bought coffee. My brother was deeply offended. Several days later, my parents called requesting that I do not drink coffee in front of them because of its offensive nature. I understand that some behaviors may be offensive to them, but to what degree should I change my life to accommodate them?

I am personally a little uncomfortable going to church, reading scriptures, and having family prayer with them. I never refuse to do so because I do not want to cause drama. I now try to avoid situations where things like this are an issue, such as not visit my family on Sundays. I love my family very much and want to be close and involved in their lives, but what is the appropriate boundary between respect for their religious beliefs and compromising my lifestyle?

–JM


Dear JM:

Thanks for writing.  To start, let me say I can only imagine how much you’ve been through as a Mormon growing up gay in a predominantly LDS environment.  You have likely carried a great deal of pain, loss, anger, and sadness over the years, and I am glad to hear you have established a path in life that is making you happy.

Your family too is wrestling with its own set of incredibly deep feelings.  They are torn between the teachings of a Church that has given them their entire world and their love for their son. They are probably terrified that they will lose you for the eternities.

And now introduce into this potent emotional mix a cup of airport coffee.  It was early in the morning.  You didn’t mean to offend anyone.  You just forgot in that bleary-eyed airport moment to “straighten up” or edit your life the way you’ve been editing it for so many years to protect them.

Please understand this:  when your brother and parents reacted so strongly to the coffee, it was not entirely about a simple cup of coffee.  In Mormonism, there is no such thing as a simple cup of coffee.  For even though my Idaho-born LDS pioneer stock great-grandparents drank coffee (and perhaps yours did too) coffee has become in the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries a major boundary marker between inside and out.  When your parents reacted so strongly to your drinking a cup of coffee, they were probably sublimating or displacing onto the coffee their larger anxieties about you being gay.

Both you and your family are facing one of the most wrenching family situations in Mormon life.  Many LDS parents reject or cut off their gay children entirely, and many gay Mormons find they cannot continue their relationships with their parents.  But it sounds like you all are doing remarkably well.  You are all trying to continue a loving relationship with each other while figuring out complicated new sets of boundaries.  There will be rough patches, even mistakes.

I wish they hadn’t come down on you so hard for a simple cup of coffee.  Heaven knows, you’ve carried a great deal of shame over the years, and your parents’ heavy-handed phone call may have brought up those old feelings.  No one likes to feel that they have disappointed their parents.  Everyone wants their parents to appreciate and understand them.  But I think that in this instance you may have to be the one who extends the deeper understanding.  Try to forgive them.  Sooner, or later:  it’s up to you.

Forgiveness, forgiveness, forgiveness.  It is the greatest gift we can give one another.  Try to put the heavy-handed phone call behind you.  Continue to live your truths.  Continue to find ways to relate with your family that spare you all as much drama as possible.  We can’t change the cards we are dealt to play.  We can only play them with as much grace, dignity, and love as possible.

Readers, what has your experience been with shame, disappointment, understanding, and forgiveness as adult children of LDS parents, or as adult parents of LDS children?  What compassion and encouragement can you offer JM?

Send your query to askmormongirl@gmail.com, or follow askmormongirl on Twitter.

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12 Comments

Filed under faith transition, family, lgbt

12 responses to “I’m a gay post-Mormon trying to get along with my LDS family. Help?

  1. I’m also an RM who stopped attending and believing in the LDS church in my 20s. I admit that I was dumbfounded by this. I guess I was pretty lucky, because my parents not only didn’t protest when I drank coffee, they let me brew it in their home.

    I would say that if your family can’t tolerate a simple cup of coffee, they’re going to have HUGE problems with more important decisions in your life. And those will be THEIR problems–but that won’t stop your family from treating each problem as if it’s really yours.

    I would suggest that eventually you point this out to them. You let some time pass; you call them; you say, “I love you very much, but you have to understand that to most of the world, coffee is not offensive. It’s a mundane beverage. I drink it, often. If you can’t love me and accept that I drink it, if you expect me to live a lie in front of you, how can I trust that you love me and accept me for the other choices I have made? Do you love me only if I live exactly as you do, or do you love me if I make my own choices? And if the answer is that we have to censor ourselves and live dishonest lives, to what extent will you alter who you are around me? Will you be willing to avoid, entirely, topics I find uncomfortable? Or am I the only one who must change?” I don’t think they’ll confront the issues involved unless you make them explicit.

    I wish you well with this. It’s tough.

  2. First off, this was an excellent answer to a difficult question. I’m currently confronting similar challenges in my own life. My only advice would be to not sweat the small stuff, and save your capital for those issues that really do matter. Avoiding coffee, swearing, & being respectful during prayers are all small things that you can do to show your respect & love for them, and that you are willing to compromise to help the relationship. Bigger issues, like how they treat your partner, are things that you should not compromise on.

    Once my parents noticed I was avoiding Sunday visits, they actually mentioned that I was more than welcome to visit on Sundays without attending church or any related meetings.

  3. Nick

    I think you need to be open with your parents about how you feel, even though it may seem like an alienating move. They have been very open with you by calling and making it clear that they struggle with your decision to drink coffee and you deserve the same right to voice your concerns. You can always open by telling them that you appreciate their love and concern for you even though you no longer attend church or are a practicing Mormon. But let them know that just as they aren’t comfortable with your coffee you aren’t comfortable participating in certain Mormon activities either. I think if they realize that you are avoiding their house on Sundays or that you feel uncomfortable in certain situations they will have no choice but to reevaluate their own actions. My guess is that they want you to be part of the family no matter what, as evidenced by their love and support thus far. Honest communication isn’t always easy, but I still believe it is the best policy in the end. That being said, I certainly can’t speak from a position of any authority on this–nor can I imagine how difficult it is to face these types of issues within your own family. Best of luck!

  4. If there is anything that has the potential to teach us patience and forgiveness and love and move us towards the place we should be going, it is all of us learning to gracefully grapple with and navigate the issues brought up by homosexuality as individuals and as a church and community.

  5. Len

    If I were in your shoes (and I’m sure they aren’t always comfortable to wear), I would have a gentle but penetrating heart-to-heart with my parents and siblings about conditional love and judgment. Such a talk will need to address intention – should offense be taken when there is no intention of malice? Just as you don’t want to be judged by their standards, do they want to be judged by your standards of right and wrong? Do they even want to be judged by their owns standards? (This can always be interesting, especially since LDS will often shun coffee drinkers all the while chugging a Diet Coke or Mountain Dew or eating obscene amounts of food that is not aligned with the spirit of moderation in the Word of Wisdom). I’m sure your parents don’t want to alienate you and make you feel as though you need to leave the room every time their belief system comes up. But that means they too should have the compassion to remain open to what you may wish to express about your new life. It’s a two way street. It’s best to walk down that street slowly, cautiously, hand-in-hand. It will probably take some time to walk with them and you should expect occasional set backs, but it will be worth it. Time will tell.

  6. Jon (only my mom calls me JonJon)

    I am one of 6 children, now all adults, who were raised in the LDS faith, but now only me and my older sister remain in the LDS faith. I would say that the direction that both you and your parents would find greater happiness is getting less sensitive to each other’s differences. My non-LDS siblings do things such as drinking coffee, alcohol, tea and other innocuous activities, which I find no more offensive or shocking than my best friends, who are not LDS, doing. Likewise, I expect my non-LDS siblings to remain un-offended and unsurprised when I continue to live the LDS lifestyle they have seen me live. They are free to opt-out of such LDS activities and behavior, as am I free to opt-out of their non-LDS activities and behavior, with impunity running both ways. This is just the way that human beings, of equal value (obviously) co-exist happily. After giving this topic some consideration, I would imagine that the vast majority of LDS believers would recognize this fact. As far as your parents’ feelings of disappointment go, perhaps you do not need to concern yourself much there. You own your feelings and they (your parents) own theirs. Since you have siblings, you may find that your parents exhibit profound disappointment, initially, with your siblings’ choice of profession, spouses/partners, place to reside, number of children to bring into this world, income, place to reside, marital status, etc. Parents want what they view as the best for their children, regardless of what their children want for themselves. I’m gonna guess that such a dilema is more of a ‘parent thing’ than it is a ‘gay thing’ or an ‘LDS thing.’ It may not bring you much consolation, but perhaps it will bring you some perspective. In time, even your parents will do some growing up. Life is good. -Maybe even better than you think right now. Whatever insights you can glean from the current situation, you will be able to use towards helping others you may know later on, who face similar challenges.

  7. JA de Mexico

    Oh how familiar your story sounds. I am not married to my life partner and we have a beautiful, beloved child. My family is half orthodox Mormon and half post/unorthodox/exploration Mormon. My partner is Quaker, and coffee is a staple. I asked my mother if we could buy a coffeemaker and keep it at her house for when the 50% of her family who drink coffee are in town. She thought about it, and she said “no.” That was too much for her. Over the years, she has sloooooowly come around to letting us go buy coffee and bring it back and she has even been known to buy coffee for her son-in-law, bless her heart. I read the comments and I think everyone is right, it is about a cup of coffee and about much, much more. For my mother, looking back, I think it was about the sanctity of her home. I found it rather inhospitable, still do. But I am also grateful for the small but important fact that I found a way to ask the question and she took a whole night and day to think about it and then she responded. I respect that process. We have talked about the big stuff, but our family together forever-ness grows (in spite of official doctrine/rhetoric) through these little, mutually honest negotiations. Conversations like that one, one coffee at a time (or not), make all the difference. And, thank goodness, we are all still loving and talking.

  8. GP

    Joanna:

    Thank you for your balanced words here. I am gay and not a Mormon. One of my dearest friends was raised LDS. He and his family are struggling as they navigate these new waters.

    Seeing more folks have some positive dialog is really encouraging. I think it helps us all to keep grace and find our way.

    Again, thank you.

  9. Pingback: I’m a gay post-Mormon trying to get along with my LDS family. Help? (via Ask Mormon Girl) « BubbleGum GraveYard

  10. Ed Bohrer

    What is in the Book of Mormon that make most Mormons right wing? I see the message of love and concern for others, not doctrinaire Calvinistic Conservatism!!

    • Matt

      You need to study liberalism and conservatism.

      Liberalism is actually the ideology that is completely devoid of love for the fellow man as they want to force the government to take care of people. They effectively eliminate charity. And in fact they steal from people to accomplish their welfare. Taxing one person to give the money to another is nothing more than a government sanctioned burglary. It is bad for everyone involved as it steals one persons resources and teaches the other person to get ahead by exploiting others and pretending that their problems should be taken care of by others and to avoid getting out of their problematic situations through their own work. The worst part of liberalism is that it takes away peoples opportunities to care about and love and serve others because it removes the need for charity. As far as social issues are concerned, sexual promiscuity always leads to disease, unhappiness, a lack of fulfillment, more crime in societies, more babies born into horrible situations, more poverty. And most importantly, sexual promiscuity causes people to become more lustful and selfish and to lose their ability to truly love another person. These are statistically proven to be true, so though liberalism fights for peoples “rights” to do whatever they want, in reality they are only removing the social barriers that stood there protecting people from hurting themselves and others.

      Conservatism is full of charity. It is based on the principle that people have property and you cannot take that away from them. So it makes government distribution of wealth policies immoral because they are based on theft. However, it has a very strong proclivity towards personal charity. Lets make an example:

      Lets say democrats want to increase the tax rate by 10% in order to fund a welfare system. From that 10% most would go to bureaucratic waste, and what did finally make it to the poor would help. But also, the people contributing would not have the opportunity to serve those poor people themselves and to see the effects of that charity, so they would not grow in their love towards them. Instead a portion of their paycheck is taken from them and thats it as far as they are concerned. What is worse, those who receive the help from the government would not be those who need it most, but those who are the most expert at exploiting the political system. This system is entirely devoid of service or love.

      However, lets take conservatives they eliminiate the welfare program. But then, all of them contribute 10% of their salaries to charity (actually, the national average is like 17%) Since they are contributing it directly to charity there is less waste, more poor people will be helped. And since they themselves are contributing their time and money they will grow in their love towards the poor as they serve them. What is more they will provide a wonderful example for those poor people.

  11. Matt

    I would feel very disappointed if I ever met a Mormon who disowned a member of their family for being gay. There is never an appropriate reason to disown your children. Look to God for an example, he never forsakes any of his children.

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