Guest Post: You Can End My Waking Nightmare

By Abby Kidd

For the last year I’ve taught Sunday lessons to a class of eleven, twelve, and thirteen year-old young women in my ward. Each Tuesday they emerge from the sliding doors of minivans and hop down from the heights of their families’ suburbans and gather together searching for connection, belonging, and fun. Their scrunchied ponytails bob with their laughter. On Sundays they sit across from me in metal folding chairs and tell me about their lives—their victories and frustrations, their friends and fears, their hopes and disappointments. Together we look for ways to find God in all of it. Even when they are boisterous or noisy, when their young bodies move unthinkingly, fidgeting with trinkets in their hands, snapping gum between their teeth, they are always kind, always looking for ways to love each other. It is easy to love them, to want to protect them. They don’t know that I am queer, but I’ve tried to make it clear to them that I think queer people are good, worthy, lovable humans exactly as they are.

Recently I had a dream. Girls were piled into the back of another leader’s suburban. I chatted with the other leader as we drove and she explained the activity. The mid-tones of the girls’ chatter floated on the air as they visited contentedly on the back bench, connecting with each other as we drove. We came to a stop close to the entry of a narrow bridge, and my throat tightened. “We’re awfully close to the bridge,” I warned. “Oh yeah, there are bridges all over the place here; there’s really no avoiding them,” she answered, unconcerned. I glanced again at the roadway, at the arches between the waist-high railing. “They’ll jump,” I told her. This wasn’t speculation. In the dream, I knew they would jump, knew that some of them, many of them even, were having suicidal thoughts right now, and that at least one of them would jump if we didn’t take them someplace safer. “No way,” she waved me off. “They’re fine.” Girls piled out of the car and panic overcame me just before I woke.

This dream was a manifestation of something that is happening in real life. These girls dog sit for their neighbors, play in softball and basketball tournaments on the weekends, and reach out to friends they know are sad or lonely or struggling. But they have been taught something that will hurt them—something that could kill them. They’ve been told that if they are queer, they are broken. That if they are queer, their bodies and minds are created in a way that is sinful. “It’s okay to be gay, just as long as you don’t act on it,” they’ve been taught. “We love you as long as you don’t act like yourself” is the message they’ve received. “Your assigned gender is the right one—it’s eternal and unchangeable” transgender young women have heard, all the while praying they’ll wake up a different gender than they’ve been assigned.

These words are how I know they will jump, if not literally, then figuratively. I know, because these words are what broke me, what made me look longingly over the rail and dream of what it would feel like to fly. “But we love our queer members” you tell us. This doctrine isn’t loving. We are taught to know whether something is good by its fruit. The fruit of this teaching is PTSD. The fruit of this teaching is suicidal ideation. The fruit of this teaching is psychological, and far too often, physical death.

You wouldn’t tell a child in a fat body, “It’s not a sin to be fat, but it’s a sin to wear extra large clothing.” You wouldn’t tell a kid with brown hair, “It’s not a sin to have brown hair, but it’s a sin to let other people see it.” You wouldn’t, then, pontificate on how much we love our “brown-haired brothers and sisters even if we can’t condone that lifestyle.” Those things sound absurd because they are absurd. To queer people, hearing “It’s not a sin to be queer, it’s just a sin to act on it” sounds absurd because it is absurd.

I didn’t know, when I wore scrunchies in my own hair, that suicidal ideation wasn’t normal. I thought then, and through most of my adult life, that most teenagers are suicidal at some point. What I didn’t realize is that I was queer, and while for queer kids in the church that’s a pretty accurate view of things, suicidal ideation is not at all a part of normal, healthy development. Lesser degrees of suicidal ideation followed me through my teen years and well into adulthood. It still pops up once in awhile, but now I have the tools to deal with these thoughts. I was thirty-five when I recognized and got treatment for my suicidal ideation. That’s also the age I learned to love myself enough to accept that I am queer, that I am attracted to both women and men (and others on the spectrum of gender). This kind of self-acceptance and self-love feels radical for people my age, and I pray every day that it won’t be as radical for my young women, for my daughter, for the other kids I have the privilege of caring for in different ways at different times.

My nightmare didn’t end when I woke up. The kids are still surrounded by bridges and some of them are thinking about jumping the same way that I did. Now, I live in a state of panic, shuffling around chasing kids away from the ledges, trying to guide them by the elbow to safety before the temptation becomes too great. It isn’t enough. It will never be enough because there are so many of them and there’s only one of me. This is something that will take an effort from all of their safest adults. They need to hear from your mouth, whoever you are, however you interact with them, that whoever they are is the right person to be. They need to hear that God loves them and wants them to find joy in the full range of human experiences, including being comfortable in their gender identity and having fulfilling relationships with romantic and/or sexual partners if that is what they desire.

It is a scary thing to stand up against someone you’ve been told is a mouth-piece for God. You might risk judgment from friends, family, ward members, and spiritual leaders. You might face ostracism from your community by asking God (the Mother and the Father) what they really want for their children by looking inside yourself to find what is moral, then standing up for that even if it doesn’t fit with what church leaders have said. In my view, it’s worth the risk. It is worth every risk if it means our kids can live.

The Savior taught that we should leave the ninety and nine to save the life of the one. That was always framed for me as venturing out to minister to the “spiritually lost,” but maybe that framing is too narrow. Maybe when I include queer families in my Sunday lessons on the family knowing it could mean having my calling or temple recommend challenged, I’m walking out into the night for that one sheep. I think the Savior would happily make every sacrifice to keep them alive—to keep me alive.

Abby is a queer Mormon educator and writer. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, daughter, and a revolving door of other young friends who need a temporary safe place to land.

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7 Responses

  1. Abby Hansen says:

    That’s a beautiful post. Thanks for leaving the ninety-nine to get the one. Also, nice name. 🙂

  2. Elisa says:

    I’m a YW leader to this same age. I would love suggestions on ways to express support. I know what *not* to say – I never teach proclamation stuff, I never teach anything about being gay being a sin or any of the ridiculous things (“you can be gay but don’t act on it”) that you highlight, and I tell my advisors not to teach that either. I really don’t teach about marriage (come on, these girls are young anyway!) and in lessons on “the family” (such as this last week’s) we focused on ways we can support our families now (being a good sister/friend/daughter). I wear a rainbow necklace almost every day. I make frequent references to God and me loving them no matter what including no matter their sexual orientation, and I try to reference my brother and his husband in a casual/loving/nonjudgmental way. That said, I would be reluctant to straight up teach them “prophets are wrong on this.” I personally believe that, but that’s a line I don’t cross when acting in an official capacity (although if girls came to me privately I would tell them that or at least tell them it’s OK to think that and I certainly tell my kids that). Part of that is I feel like if I openly spoke against the church’s position in Sunday class I wouldn’t have the opportunity to work with them and try to do some good. Part of it is because I guess I do expect that teachers at church will not openly speak against teachings. But I’m open to being challenged on that and for other suggestions on things to say and to show support.

    • Abby Kidd says:

      What you are doing sounds perfect. I’m the same. I don’t straight up teach that the prophets are wrong on this, but in our lesson on the family this week we talked about different kinds of families (specifically including same sex couples and parents) and I made sure to emphasize that all families are valid and important. The overarching messages that “whoever you are is the right person to be” and “the commandments are about expanding our love, not checking boxes or fitting a certain mold” are also really super important to me.

      On the one hand, I make sure all of what I teach is affirming. On the other hand, I don’t want to lose my calling and opportunity to teach those things, so flat out saying the prophets are wrong about something is not a line I’m willing to cross right now either. One day I may feel like I have no other choice, but for today teaching what I believe is right and ignoring the rest and keeping my calling feels like the right thing to do.

      Thank you so much for your comment and your loving work with these girls.

  3. No Regrets says:

    Eventually, I could not sacrifice my integrity on this altar anymore; I was never on the church’s side on this issue. I walked. I walked for myself, but also for my kids. Some of them are LGBTQIA+, and I could not sleep at night if I were subjecting them to those teachings, or allowing their siblings to be poisoned. I toed the line so carefully as a youth leader and an ally, but when it was time, I chose god and my family.

    • Elisa says:

      I’m so sorry you were forced out of your church community. I think I would do the same thing if I were in your shoes. Sometimes I feel like it is selfish to stay just because I may not have an LGBT kid who is directly impacted, but right now I feel like it’s good for people like me to stay since it’s it’s not a hurtful place for me or my family to be–so maybe we can be supportive to those for whom it is hurtful who have not left.

      I hope people know why you left. I hope some of that trickles to the top. I hope they know they are hurting and losing people over this.

  4. Chiaroscuro says:

    I had suicidal ideation as a teen and it breaks my heart to think of my own children going through that kind of tormented self-hatred. i wish the church would change. there are so many problems. it is impossible to live a perfect life and when we add on to that unrealistic pressure the idea that someone is inherently flawed, they lose hope. I had to step away to protect my own family from the toxic messaging of the church. I appreciate those in the trenches who stay and try to make things better for young people. You are needed! May you change the world! thank you!

  5. Ziff says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Abby. This line in particular is just heartbreaking:

    “I didn’t know, when I wore scrunchies in my own hair, that suicidal ideation wasn’t normal. I thought then, and through most of my adult life, that most teenagers are suicidal at some point.”

    I love that you’re pushing back on the church teachings and norms to try to keep the LGBT youth you teach from coming to this same conclusion.

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