Coming Out: Growing Up Mormon & Queer [Part 2]

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Photo Credit: Kirsten Anderson

The feedback and outreach that I’ve received since publishing Part 1 of this series has been mind blowing.  Thank you for reaching out.  Thank you for sharing your stories.  And thank you, most of all, for sharing the work.  I hope that my story can help other LGBTQIA youth and their families.[CONTENT WARNING: SUICIDE]

We left off on me coming out to my therapist, Alesia.

As our sessions progressed, Alesia would bring up coming out to my family.  “How are you going to tell them?” she’d ask while leaning forward, her eyes wide and interested behind her gold frames.

“What, you mean write a letter?” I asked.

“Yeah!  Or you could sit them down and –”

I cut her off.

“Alesia, ” I began, and then crossed my legs – leaning back into the coziness of her Therapist Couch™.  “I can tell you exactly how this is going to go.  I’m going to have a blowout fight with my mom, and whip out this truth bomb.  My parents are going to freak the fuck out, and there is no situation, that I can imagine, where they’ll take this news well.”

But First: Financial Security

[CONTENT WARNING: SUICIDE]

In the movie, MILK, there are various scenes where Harvey Milk pressures people into coming out to their families.  From teenagers to men in their 50’s, Harvey puts “coming out” near the forefront of the LGBT rights movement.

I totally get why he did that, but I think his push was incredibly harmful.

For me, I had to wait to come out until I knew I could financially take care of myself.  

You see, getting kicked out of my home was a real possibility. Attending parties with other semi-closeted queer folks in Utah, I cannot tell you the number of coming out stories I’ve heard that included homelessness.  From bishops and stake presidents leaving a gay child’s belongings neatly boxed up on the front porch to inactive Mormons throwing their kids out of the house immediately (with only the clothes on their backs) when they came out – these stories are the norm.

This. Happens. All. Of. The. Time.

Sorry, Harvey.  But a LGBTQIA person’s #1 job is to take care of themselves first.  If that means spending a little extra time in the closet, so fucking be it. 

I realize there’s more to Harvey’s campaign than what I’ve shared.  In the 1980’s, it was imperative to have adults come out.  But that “COME OUT NOW!” directive can have devastating consequences to at-risk youth.

A study published in 2013 found that 40% of Utah’s homeless youth identified as LGBT.  And, while data isn’t available that links youth suicide to an LGBTQIA identity – Utah is 5th in the nation (after other conservative states) for youth suicide.  The youth suicide rate has tripled since 2007, making suicide the leading cause of youth mortality in Utah.

Correlation doesn’t prove causation, but 2007 was also the year that the LDS Church dumped millions of dollars into Prop 8 in California.  I remember being told in Seminary that “God would strike down homosexuals” and “AIDS was a plague God sent as a consequence for homosexuality” aaaand that “Proposition 8 would tear apart the family unit,” and unleash a watershed movement that would trigger disasters around the world. 

Like, gays go to brunch – we don’t bring about The End of Times.

So, back to the story.  I knew I needed to have a pretty steady income, and a place to LIVE if I got kicked out.  Before telling my parents, I secured 3 different places to live, longterm, in the event I was disowned.

A Family Baptism

I attended a family baptism a few hours away from my house.  Several of my cousins were being baptized, and I was, well, not happy to be there.  Baptisms are a BIG FAMILY EVENT, and not attending was not worth the emotional hurt it would cause.

During the baptism, I found it difficult to breathe.  I started breathing shallowly, taking in the symbols of the patriarchy, familiar foldout chairs and the smell of the church.  

Mormon practice “baptism by immersion,” and there are these sort of giant bathtubs (in churches) that are used  for baptisms.

I’d rather not get sued for using photos of a Mormon baptism, so here’s a different image!

I stuck out the service, headed back to my Grandma’s house for the family luncheon that always followed.  I must’ve been there 15 minutes before begging for my dad’s keys.

On the 2 hour drive back, I just… cried.  Not body wracking sobs, just tears making their way down my cheeks intermittently.  I cried for myself at 8 years old, being congratulated on being baptized – and thinking to myself, “I never asked to be baptized?  Nobody asked me if I wanted to do this.”

I cried for my family members, and the heavy expectations and limitations placed on Mormon women.  Be smart, but not outspoken.  Go to college, but stay home.  The Brethren are always right.  Dream now, but know those dreams won’t be allowed to stay.

Causing a Scene

Apparently, I accidentally caused a bit of a scene after leaving.  Family members asked where I was, other folks saw me crying on the way to my dad’s car.  I thought I had done a good job of sleuthing away, but, well, let’s just say I’ve never been good at the French Leave.  

Later that evening, my mom came home.  I popped into her office to ask a question – and it devolved into a screaming match.  It started off innocently with a, “Why did you leave early and cause a scene?” and slowly moved into screaming about Mormon doctrine.  I pointed out the power structure and treatment of men vs women in the church, the lack of equality, the gaping holes and inconsistencies in Mormon doctrine, the shit work women got, etc.  My mom didn’t agree, to say the least.

An org chart of Mormon leadership.  The addition of African and African American faces are quite new.  Notice where women are (and are not). 

[[Aside:  This is where it gets difficult.  Currently, I’m incredibly close to my mom.  We’ve worked through these issues, and I don’t want to drag her through the muck of telling people how this went down.  But during this time period, we could barely be in the same room without ending up at each other’s throats.]]

My mom shared that she knew I would “eventually come back to the fold,” and she couldn’t understand why I continued to be stuck “in this phase.”

My mom was very good at hearing what she wanted to hear and seeing what she wanted to see.  Despite my debates and eventual refusal to attend Mormon meetings or events for YEARS, she was convinced I’d come back.

My god,” I thought to myself.  “She needs to know I’m never coming back.”

Screaming My Way Out of the Closet

“MOM,” I shrieked.  “I’M GAY.  I’M GAY, AND I’M NOT DOING THIS ANY MORE.”

Aaaand cue stunned silence.

My mom went to the office door, and ripped it open, crying “JOHN! John get up here!” My dad raced upstairs, thinking someone was seriously injured.

“DID YOU KNOW?” she cried out to him, and the hurt in her heart broke mine.  “Did Brianne tell you?

My dad was bewildered.  

“Did Bri tell me what?” he asked.

“TELL HIM!” my mom said gesturing to me.  “Tell him what you just told me.”

“Dad,” I started.  I cleared my throat.  “Dad, I’m a lesbian.”

And he sagged against the wall, covering half of his face with his hands.

“Can I stay here?”

From there, the evening wore long and hard.  My mom figured out who I had told (basicallyyyy, everyone ele) and was upset that I hadn’t told her.  She accused me of lying.  Some incredibly hurtful things were said.  For hours.

Eventually, we needed to go to bed.  And I struck up the courage to ask, “Can I stay here?” I asked.

“What does that mean?” my mom asked, tiredly rubbing her forehead.

“I mean, are you going to kick me out?  I need to know if I need to pack.”

And, while I know that I had to ask that question – the look of grief on her face broke my heart, for probably the third time that evening.

“You think we would kick you out?” she asked softly, not meeting my eyes.  “You think we would do that?”

“Mom,” I said, “I don’t know what comes next.”

My mom looked to my dad, at loss for words to say.  “Bri,” he said.  “Of course you can stay here.”

And I texted my friend, whose home was my backup: It’s okay.  I can stay.

Queer People Don’t Owe Anyone Shit.

Over the course of the next few weeks, more blowups happened.  Confusion at not sharing my feelings, connecting the anxiety meltdowns to keeping this secret – my parents felt lied to.

But here’s the thing.  I don’t regret, for one minute, not coming out to my parents until I could support myself.  “Reparative Therapy” or “Ex Gay Therapy” or “Conversion Therapy” is still practiced in Utah, and it’s still recommended by Mormon ecclesiastical leaders..  Think “But I’m a Cheerleader” without on-point aesthetics.

I have had friends subjected to electroshock therapy (while being forced to watch gay porn), prayer circles and blessings, medication and a host of other abuses in an effort to bring them back to the path of righteousness.

And I know, that my parents would’ve sent me to reparative therapy.  They would’ve done it out of love, they would’ve done it because their level of knowledge 15 years ago is not what it is today.  

Friends still suffer from PTSD decades after conversion therapy.  It has ruined lives.  People self-harm for years or commit suicide.

So, no.  I don’t regret lying.  And if you’re an LGBTQIA youth living in a Mormon household, I want you to know that I support you doing what you need to do to stay alive – so you can eventually leave.

I think Harvey Milk was a great man, but fuck anyone who believes that you owe “coming out” to anyone.  Your job is to take care of you.

*** To Be Continued *** 

Thank you for reading!  As I write this series, I may edit this post (and others in the series).  If you enjoyed this post, please *share* it! 

The goal of this series is to share my queer experience, and the more folks that share it the better conversations we can have around queerness, politics and faith. If you’d like to keep in touch, be sure to subscribe to weekly my newsletterAgain, thank you for reading. <3