Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Coming Out: What About the Kids?

Coming out of a mixed-orientation marriage presents special challenges for gay Mormon men (such as Ben Visser, president of Utah Gay Fathers, pictured above with two of his sons).  I was reminded of this the other day when I had lunch with a group of new friends that included (yet) another middle-aged gay Mormon man who had come out of both the closet and his marriage a few years ago.

Not that I needed to be reminded, really.  As anyone who has followed this blog for a while knows, I have children ranging in age from their early 20’s on down.  I started the process of coming out to my older children in early December, and for the most part, those initial coming out experiences were positive.  Subsequent developments with respect to some of these children, however, have not been quite so positive.

My wife and I always tried to raise our kids to be open-minded and accepting of differences.   Some of them have even paid a price for being tolerant and open-minded among some of their peers here in the heart of Zion:  even in high school, different ways of thinking were and are suspect among the next generation of TBM’s.  As a result, a couple of our kids were labeled and sidelined as being, at best, not quite orthodox enough.

However, we also raised our children to be faithful members of the LDS Church, to seek to establish a personal relationship with God, to follow the prophet, to sustain the general authorities and to basically do what they are taught to do in Sunday School, Seminary and Mutual.

Therein lies the rub.  One of my older children who is probably our most “staunch” child, has not been able to accept my coming out.  I received what I hope will be the most painful letter of my life (because I cannot imagine receiving anything more hurtful) from this child a few months ago, accusing me of a multitude of sins, denouncing me for finally accepting who I am.  

Every sentence of this deeply wounding letter was tinged by a moral standard taught to her by the Church.  It was difficult, in the face of this onslaught, to not retaliate, to not hate the belief system that I had been complicit in instilling in this child.  In a way, I felt like it was the ultimate betrayal by something to which I had given most of my life.

A couple of my other children also currently want little to do with me because of the “choices” I have made.  Again, although there are other issues involved, the prime culprit is what these kids have been “taught” about homosexuality by the Church.  My wife, with whom I am currently in a good place, has tried to encourage me to be patient, to recognize the conflict that these kids face, i.e., how difficult it is for them to accept something in their own father that they have been taught to believe (not by us, but by the Church) is a “choice”, and a deviant, evil one at that.

So, I am working at being patient, long-suffering, understanding and loving in the face of anger, resentment and (frankly) learned bigotry. 

I am also trying to keep a healthy perspective.  Though I have children who do not accept me, I have others who do.  Interestingly, and perhaps not surprisingly, these are the children who – through either life experience or temperament – are less devoted to the Church. 

I am also grateful that things are as good as they are in my own situation.  In talking with my new friend the other day, as well as numerous other gay (formerly active) Mormon men, I heard of some of the challenges he has faced with his children and former wife:  non-acceptance by children; “accepting” a father’s “gay lifestyle,” but never wanting to hear anything about it (don’t ask, don’t tell); double standards applied to homosexual vs. heterosexual “lifestyles”; the insidious non-spoken assumption that gay men cannot be trusted around children (i.e., that they are all pedophiles); the ever-present but carefully hidden belief that homosexuality is a serious sin that automatically transforms a moral, good man (who was, e.g., deemed worthy to serve faithfully in a bishopric) into an immoral, indecent sub-human creature; and, perhaps the worst of all, the invisible hand of bigotry that touches, constrains and sometimes chokes the life out of relationships with his children, his former wife and his former church associates.

I try not to become bitter in the face of such offenses.  In the end, all I can do – which is not insignificant – is to keep trying to not become embittered, to keep reaching out to my own children, to keep seeking to support other men in similar situations, and to keep trying to educate other members of the Church and provide information and perspective to younger gay Mormon men who find themselves on the threshold of a mixed-orientation marriage … and wonder.


  1. Thanks for posting this. Our response to religiously motivated rejection cannot be to return it in kind. Rather, I think one just has to move on and always keep the door open to eventual reconciliation. It is often the case that over time people's hearts will soften. The wait can be a long and painful one. In the meantime, fill your life with friends and family who love you.

    It has been my own experience, and that of many other people I know, that some level of rejection by orthodox LDS family members is likely. It's not true that orthodox Mormons are "better" Mormons or somehow more faithful. There is a huge difference between orthodoxy and devotion. It's the degree of orthodoxy (acceptance of Church teachings in a black-and-white, literal way) rather than devotion (commitment, intensity of faith) that seems to be correlated to harsh anti-gay attitudes. I've met some utterly devoted LDS people whose compassion for gay people is large. These folks accept and cherish their gay family members and friends. (Both Bill Bradshaw and Carol Lynn Pearson are devoted to their faith.)

    I know the situation with some of your kids and ward members is painful. I admire your patience, courage and love.

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  3. Thanks, MoHoHawaii. I appreciate your thoughts and words of support. I agree that there are many wonderful people in the Church who are able to express and extend compassion to gay people. There are also many other wonderful people whose compassion and Christ-like love does not quite extend that far, but probably would with increased education, understanding and exposure. As I continue to gain strength in my new identity, I hope to be able to reach out to some of those people who have been in my own circle. But I still have processing and healing to do before I can get to that point.

  4. Oh, wow, I really feel for you. I've started sensing this from my parents as I've opened up to them more about my sexuality lately. I think the hard thing is, we *experience* this and think about it constantly, but even we take years to become comfortable with it ourselves and finally open up to others; I've realized with my parents that I can't just expect them to come to the same "level of understanding" because they simply don't experience it and are forced to deal with it first-hand. Even if they were, would they need the same 10+ years I did to get to my "level of understanding."

    That's something I thought of relating to how family members react to homosexuality. Sorry, I don't want it to sound harsh or like I understand what you're going through with wife and children. I really do feel for you and hope that things get better for all of you. You seem like a really great guy, and I'll bet there's a good chance your kids will come around, even if it takes a while.

  5. Thanks, Trev. I appreciate and take your point: I need to allow my children time to process this, to observe me and to go through their own grieving process. It takes time, and I am learning some important lessons about patience.