Thursday, September 27, 2007

Eternal Family

Something Chedner wrote got me to thinking...

In my journey of faith and same-sex attraction, and the struggles around this, my parents have been on a journey of their own. When I resigned from the Church, my parents were beside themselves with grief. In the letter I wrote them announcing my intention to leave Mormonism and be baptized into the Lutheran Church, I also mentioned that I believed I was "homosexual." When my parents called me long-distance, Boston to Helsinki, my dad was furious. I backed down and denied what I had written about my homosexuality. "I was just confused," I told him. It was what he wanted to hear, and he accepted it.

For three years, my parents and I barely ever talked. When I came home for holiday visits, it was often tense and uncomfortable. Gradually, though, we began to warm up to each other again. Then I decided it was time to come out to them. For good this time.

I decided the holidays were a terrible time to break the news to them. And I did not want to do it by letter this time, or over the phone. Such news must be delivered in person. So I decided to come home for Easter. This was 1989, after I had spent some time in a monastery in France exploring celibacy, and had decided that now I was ready to explore the possibility of a relationship. I knew that eventually a boyfriend would be part of the picture and I knew I needed to tell my parents. After making the travel arrangements, my parents somehow got the darn fool idea that I was coming home to announce my intention to come back to the Church. My brother called. He was concerned. He wanted to know what was up. I came out to my brother over the phone. He was upset. He was afraid that my announcement would devastate my parents. When I told him I had to do this, he insisted that if it was necessary to talk to them about it, I should at least let him break the news to them. Reluctantly I agreed.

I later concluded this was a good thing. My dad later told me that when Mark broke the news to them, he was so angry he said "a number of things" that he said he would have regretted for the rest of his life if he had said them directly to me. He's never told me what those things were that he said. By the time I arrived in Topsfield, my parents had recovered their calm. After I had told them my story, he told me how sorry they were that I had struggled with this since the age of fourteen, and never felt I could confide in them. They were horrified that I had almost committed suicide over this. They wanted me to go to a reparative therapist. They thought the bishop could recommend someone. I told them under no circumstances, never, ever, would I consider putting myself under the treatment of some witchdoctor.

My parents struggled with it for a long time. But finally one night, at 11 p.m. I was awakened in my Minneapolis apartment by the ringing of the phone. It was my dad. "Jukka," (they always called me by my Finnish name), "can you open up your scriptures with me?"

"Sure, Dad," I said. In my mind, I said, "Oh crap. Here it comes."

He asked me to open to Matthew 19:12. I already knew the verse. Jesus on the subject of eunuchs. "Do you think the Savior was talking about homosexuals here?" my dad asked me.

"Dad, I'm not sure what he's talking about here. But yes, if I had to guess, I do believe that is exactly what he is talking about there. Yes. Yes, I think there is a place for us in the Kingdom of Heaven."

After that, things shifted.

In time, I met Göran. He started coming home with me for family gatherings. Göran is one of the most beautiful, loving, generous, open-hearted people I know. My parents fell in love with him. Over time they started calling him son.

Since returning to the Church, my parents and I have a new, blessed level of love and trust. I believe that if I have a testimony now, it is because of their prayers on behalf of me. They support me implicitly, 100%. They believe in me. They support my relationship with my partner Göran, they want it to last, to succeed, to thrive. He is their son as much as I am. They do not doubt my revelations. They know that the Spirit is at work in my life. We have felt the Spirit together. We have prayed together. We have born our testimonies to each other. With the exception of Göran, there is no one on the face of this planet I am closer to or feel more connected to. My parents believe that I will someday be in the Celestial Kingdom together with them. They do not know all things, but they know that God loveth his children.

In thinking about my relationship with my parents, I think of Joseph Smith's relationship with his. When he came home and started telling them crazy stories about visitations from the King of Heaven himself, about angels and gold plates, about "joining none of them" and starting his own Church, did they kick him out of the house? No. They believed him. They knew their son. They trusted him. They believed every word. They became his first converts. That's the kind of parents I have.

I know that in some ways I have been very lucky. Not all gay men and lesbians have parents who are willing to go the distance with them. I know of parental nightmare stories. But I am not unique either. I think, more often than not, the parents eventually go the distance, like mine do. Everywhere there are parents of gay kids, there is a chapter of PFLAG. (Or in Utah, "Family Fellowship.") Why is that? Why do our parents become our first believers?

Why have the General Authorities tried to drive a wedge between gay folks and their parents, by encouraging parents to exclude "inappropriate behavior" from their homes?

My family is the only unit of the Church from which I am not excommunicated. It is the only place where I can pray out loud with other Saints. Where we can worship our Heavenly Father together without distraction, without fear, without the painful disconnects. My family is the first place I learned to trust in God, and it is the place where I still feel the love of God most directly, most purely, and with the deepest assurance. It is where I know I can trust the most.

Thank God for my eternal family.


Beck said...

This is absolutely beautiful! How blessed you are to have such unconditionally loving and "believing" parents as you have!

My parents are now octogennerians... they are not in the best of health. I have not allowed them to know of my gayness. But, they know me as their son. I have chosen to not reveal these things in the spirit of not unnecessarily burdening them with this. Am I in error? Am I robbing them of the unique relationship you have with your parents?

This gives me much to think about. Thanks for the example you continue to be to me. Next time we meet, I'd love to pray with you!

J G-W said...

Thanks, Beck.

I came out to my grandma when she was in her eighties. People warned me against it, said don't do it, it'll be too hard on her, she doesn't need to know. She handled it better than anybody else. As I have written elsewhere, I cherish my relationship with her.

If you ever decide to come out in the sphere which is not cyber, perhaps your parents should be among those you tell first. Better coming from you first, I suppose, rather than hearing it from someone else. (That's what they always say about parents.)

Bill McA said...

Thank you for sharing this. It means a lot to me, especially since I know all of people involved. I think it was 1990 when your brother Mark moved into the Manhattan First Ward in NYC to attend law school. I was in the bishopric and I remember your parents and Joseph visiting him. This must have been around the time much of what you describe here was going on.

I do have one question about something you said:

Why have the General Authorities tried to drive a wedge between gay folks and their parents, by encouraging parents to exclude "inappropriate behavior" from their homes?

This doesn't sound like something the general authorities would still be doing. What type of behavior do you mean?

J G-W said...

Bill - I probably shouldn't have put it quite like that. I'm sure "driving a wedge between gay folks and their families" was not the motivation in the statements in question... I've come down with a cold and am feeling irritable, so I'll blame the uncharitable twist of wording on that.

In Jeffrey Holland's recent statement in the October 2007 Ensign, he wrote "Your children are welcome to stay in your home, of course, but you have every right to exclude from your dwelling any behavior that offends the Spirit of the Lord." This is a reiteration of a similar statement that was made in the Oaks and Wickman interview on "Same-Sex Attraction" published on the Church web site in August 2006.

I suppose the statement is open to interpretation... I believe (and my parents would certainly agree) that Göran and I have never behaved in such a way as to "offend the Spirit of the Lord" while visiting my parents.

But if someone interpreted this statement to mean that a son or daughter could not sleep in the same bed with their committed partner while visiting (say, from Minnesota to Utah), the end result would be to put stress on the relationship between the parent and the child. I can pretty much say that if my parents had been strict about enforcing a "no shared bed" rule on me and Göran, especially when my relationship with them was more tenuous, the end result probably would have been for me to say, "OK, maybe we won't visit then." Heck, even now that my parents and I are extremely close, if they suddenly decided to enforce such a rule, it would cause serious stress in my relationship with them. Maybe we would opt to stay at a nearby hotel. More likely we just wouldn't visit so often. (We couldn't afford to if we had to add in hotel bills.) To us it would feel like a very serious un-invitation.

Of course there's no fear of that. My parents would not dream of anything like that. And as I said, a more generous interpretation of that statement would acknowledge that when Göran and I visit my parents, Göran helps Mom cook in the kitchen, Dad and I have spiritual conversations. Göran and I help babysit kids. We participate in family activities, including daily family prayer. We are loving and kind in all our words and deeds. We also share the same bed (just like other married kids when they come to visit). And no, there is absolutely nothing that we do that offends the Spirit of the Lord while we are under their roof.

playasinmar said...

Everyone is always talking about how your posts make them cry. I never uhderstood it before this post.

Now I know.

Knight of Nothing said...

Thank you for sharing this new angle of your story, John.