A Tale of Two Coming Outs
Once upon a time (16 years ago) I came out. I was 18, in my freshman year of a woman’s college, and I had my first real girlfriend. I had a boyfriend in high school because I was a Mormon girl and that’s what you do. Though even then, I was pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable and expected. He was a different religion and from a different ethnic background, both of which caused grief for our families.
But once I was safely on the opposite side of the country, I broke up with that boy and came out, first to my sister, and then to my father. I told him that my friend Rebecca* was my girlfriend in the same way Michael* had been my boyfriend (*names changed). He said okay and we hung up the phone. Then he told my mother, who called me right back. She was NOT okay. I don’t remember many of the words that were spoken, but I remember crying. I remember she didn’t say she loved me when I hung up the phone.
I’m glad I came out to my sister first. We had always been close. I called her right after my call with my mother, distressed and bawling at what mom hadn’t said. I remember I couldn’t breathe. I had an asthma attack.
I found out later that my mother, in her own distress, called each of my three sisters to tell them about this terrible thing I had done. I felt so betrayed; but then, so did she. I don’t want to pretend that coming out should be easy for everyone – that parents and loved ones should automatically get it and be loving and supportive.
Especially for Mormons, with our doctrines of eternal life, eternal families, and kingdoms of heaven, it’s a trauma. I declared that I was threatening our family for eternity – I won’t be in the celestial kingdom, I won’t be sealed and having eternal children of my own, and our family seal is in jeopardy, because (particularly since November) I am an apostate. Apostates don’t go to heaven.
The experience was traumatic. For everyone. I was accused of lying, and the rift in our family lasted for years. In many ways, I feel like we’re still in recovery.
I’ve never again been so openly, publically out as I was in my safe, woman’s college haven. Until last weekend. I attended The Exponent retreat, as I very much wanted to meet all of the amazing ladies that I’ve become Facebook- and email-friends with. I had tentatively come out to one of the organizers and offered to assist with an ally-ship discussion. The next thing I knew, I was going to be leading the discussion! I was intimidated and very nervous. But I know myself, and I knew I had to get the worst part over with – establishing my credibility to the attendees of the discussion (pardon the formal turn of phrase – I used to teach public speaking, and that’s what we called it); I had to explain why I am qualified to lead this discussion. So I announced boldly, to an assembly of 140 strangers, that I am a queer Mormon.
So much time has passed since my first coming out, and the world is so different than it was. This time, I received an ovation! Attendees sought me out to tell me how brave I was. One woman told me that I had inspired her to also come out to this group; though she had been involved for a number of years, she had remained closeted – but not anymore. Another brave sister came out to me in private, not yet ready to speak the words publically, but finally finding the courage to speak the words out loud!
My discussion session was amazing. We had a new Momma Dragon, and I congratulated her! We talked about “standards” for single straight people vs. queer people. We talked about how to symbolize your ally status, so that those who are in pain know where they can reach out. We talked about the pain of the shift in perception for parents; we acknowledged and created space for that grief. We talked about the love of Christ. We talked about how my people, my queer tribe, are not yet safe; we desperately need allies. And we also need space for our own voices to be heard.
It was so beautiful. Most beautiful of all was that I attended the retreat with my sister, who attended my discussion and wears a rainbow bracelet to church every Sunday and teaches her son that LOVE makes a family. My sister, who can’t wait to throw me a proper coming out party with a rainbow cake, who isn’t “protecting” her son from me. I’ve never told her this, but when he was born, I feared she would. I feared I would be kept from my family because of my orientation. Happily, so happily, my fears never realized.
This is where I originally planned on concluding this post, but I feel the need to add a brief response to Elder Oak’s September 16 comments made in Maryland regarding LGBT people. There are actually a number of things I want to say about it, but for now I’d like to talk about labels. When I come out, I take on a label. Elder Oaks says that this is dangerous, but I vehemently disagree. We identify ourselves by labels every day, and we use labels to find others like ourselves. When I was growing up queer in Mormon culture, I felt utterly and completely alone. I had no idea that queer was a thing that I could be. And when I found a word to describe my experience, I found that I wasn’t alone.
That is the power of these words – finally discovering that I’m not alone. I’m not the only one. Words have so much power. Power to love and include and heal. And they have power to hurt. Finding my word was finding my home. That’s not dangerous. That saved my life.