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.