Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Naked Truth

Have you ever had a dream where you were naked in public?

I had one of those last night, but there was a twist. In my dream, I arrived at the scene of a terrible car accident. I followed my Red Cross emergency respondent training -- checking the scene and discovering two victims. The driver of the car, a woman, had been thrown clear of the car and was lying on the sidewalk with terrible injuries. Inside the car was a baby whose skull appeared crushed and who seemed dead to me. There was no one else around so I used my cell phone to call 911. Then I began to attend to the injured woman. In my dream that's when I realized that I was completely naked.

I had to make a choice: would I stay and attend to the wounded until help arrived, or would I flee the scene and find some clothes? In my dream, I made what I think was the right choice. I stayed to help, risking scandal and personal humiliation in order to make sure that the injured woman was cared for. Later in the dream, as if to vindicate my decision, the "dead" baby inside the car turned out not to be dead after all. He emerged from the car as an unharmed, fully grown adult. In other words, life was emerging from the wreckage of death.

Oddly, though, at the end of my dream I got no credit for tending to the wounded woman. The police implied that they were going to prosecute me for indecent exposure. So the dream ended on a disconcerting note. I was still going to have to pay a price for doing the right thing. In other words, my dream was teaching me something about the true principle of sacrifice.

After all, if Hollywood had written the Gospels, Jesus would somehow have been able to save humanity and miraculously avoid being crucified in some dramatic, by-the-skin-of-your-teeth ending. We typically want to believe that good can conquer evil without a price having to be paid. Very often in real life, however, as in my dream and as in the Gospels, the hero gets punished. I think that's what my dream was trying to warn me. If you want to do the right thing, prepare your mind and your soul. There's a price to pay.

The particular nude symbolism of this dream drew my attention to a phrase in the Gospel of Mark I read this morning that I'd never noticed before. In chapter 10, when blind Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus from the side of the road, after Jesus invites him to approach, the text continues (v. 50), "And he, casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus." I'm not sure what if anything Bartimaeus was wearing underneath the garment he cast aside. But the wording of the text was not "casting away his outer garment." The totality of the phrase "casting away his garment" suggests that this impoverished beggar was casting away his only piece of clothing in the world in order to stand before Jesus utterly naked and vulnerable.

This theme of casting aside one's covering is reinforced earlier in the chapter, when Jesus says, "How hardly shall they that trust in riches enter into the Kingdom of God!" (v. 24). When the disciples are "astonished beyond measure" at this saying (did they trust so much in riches?!), Jesus offered the analogy of the camel and the needle, invoking -- in at least one major exegesis of this text -- the image of unloading everything one possesses, in order to get down on one's knees and crawl through a small opening.

When Jesus explains to his disciples that "to sit on [his] right hand and on [his] left hand is not [his] to give," he then drives the point home by explaining that "even the son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister" (vs. 40 & 45). In other words, the way of Christ is not about having, not about possessing, but rather about giving up.

Jesus' teaching that "whosoever shall not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein" (v. 15) speaks both to the passivity and acceptance that saving faith requires, but also to the vulnerability. A child comes into the world naked. And so when blind Bartimaeus rose to receive the Kingdom -- in the form of healing from Christ -- he too cast aside his garment and received it naked. It seems significant that Bartimaeus' willingness to be vulnerable was a demonstration of precisely what was required in order for his eyes to be opened, in order for him to perceive the world as it is, in order to receive truth.

When we truly serve, we put ourselves on the line. There may be good we can do safely, behind the lines, not risking ourselves. But there will eventually come a time when we realize that we can't do enough unless we are willing to risk it all. To save lives, sometimes we will have to bare it all.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

People of Paradox

Terryl Givens describes Latter-day Saints as "people of paradox," because he sees Mormon culture straddling numerous irreconcilable contradictions, such as authoritarianism and individualism, intellectual certitude and intellectual insatiability, the sacred and the mundane, and exile and integration.

To illustrate one such Mormon paradox, Bro. Givens offers a couple of quotes by Brigham Young:
I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful that they settle down in a state of blind self security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwa[r]t the purposes of God. (Journal of Discourses 9: 150)
Yet that same Brigham Young who insisted that the purposes of God would be thwarted by too great a confidence in one's spiritual leaders, also once wrote, after wrestling with doubts about the Prophet Joseph's financial dealings,
Though I [knew] that Joseph was a human being and subject to err, still it was none of my business to look after his faults.... It was not my prerogative to call him in question with regard to any act of his life. He was God's servant, not mine. (Journal of Discourses 4: 297-298)

Givens points out that critics as well as adherents(!) of Mormonism all too frequently focus on one side of a Mormon paradox to the exclusion of the other side. For instance, disgruntled anti-Mormons would eagerly seize on the latter Brigham Young quote as proof that Mormons believe in mindlessly and blindly following their leaders. But to do so would fail to take into account the totality of Mormon faith, which includes an uncompromising commitment to individual freedom of conscience and the Mormon sense of obligation to work one's salvation out for oneself. Both seemingly irreconcilable tendencies -- the authoritarian and the individualistic -- are profoundly Mormon.

That's also why it is no better to focus on the first Brigham Young quote to the exclusion of the latter. Yes, Latter-day Saints are called to wrestle to find truth on their own, and to test and prove all things. Yes, it is our prerogative to question our leaders if called upon by conscience to do so. But we also need to learn to exercise faith, to sometimes walk without knowing, and to sustain and trust the Lord's anointed. Both sides of the paradox are what makes Mormon faith. And a commitment to take both sides of the paradox seriously is what makes Mormons. When do we insist on freedom of conscience, and when do we accept the surrender of faith? There is no easy answer to that question.

In reading Givens' analysis of what it means to be a Mormon, I find myself simultaneously anguished and comforted. Because to be gay and Mormon is to find oneself not merely straddling the various Mormon paradoxes, but to be literally torn apart by them. Perhaps that is the greatest source of discomfort for straight Latter-day Saints when confronting their gay sisters and brothers: because our flesh and bones and the spirits that reside in them are painful, tangible reminders that there's no comfortable resolution of the contradictions at the heart of their faith. We are the embarrassing reminder that -- just when they thought they could settle on a nice, easy, pat answer -- the big questions are still waiting at the threshold, with maws open wide to swallow it up.

I am anguished by Givens, because to read his account of Mormonism is to be reminded of all the sources of my greatest pain. But I am comforted by him, because to know that is also to realize that I stand where I need to stand. Not on one pat side or the other, but at the center where all the great truths that define us as a people messily collide. Sometimes I am so full of light and joy and hope, I know nothing will ever be able to touch me. But sometimes I feel so heartbroken I wonder how it is possible to take one more step forward. And I also find Givens comforting because he helps me to understand how both experiences of the paradox of my existence are not only possible but inevitable. And how that is a good thing.

So what are the paradoxes of being a gay Saint?

The Saints are a body-affirming people! Through modern-day revelation we understand that acquiring bodies so that we could become more like our embodied Heavenly Parents is a major if not the major purpose of creation; that in the union of spirit and matter is the fullness of joy! Latter-day Saints understand the sex-drive within this framework as having a divine purpose: to unite individuals within family organizations that will play an eternal role in the creation of worlds and the everlasting expansion of God's dominions and glories! Yet, gay saints are told the opposite. Our gay bodies don't have a role to play in the kingdom; we are told we must abstain from everything that Latter-day Saint kingdom building is about. Our bodies must become "dry trees" (Isaiah 56:3).

So in a religious culture that celebrates the bond between body and spirit, we find body and spirit caught in a war, a conflict, a place where there can be no earthly rest, where we are told there can be no resolution in this life, only in a life to come when God supposedly restores our proper heterosexual bodies to us, instead of these faulty gay bodies we have.

We are told that there is eternal gender, and that our eternal gender requires men to bond with women and women with men for all eternity. But we recognize that it's not just our bodies that don't seem to fit that paradigm. Because we experience all the spiritual aspects of love for members of the same sex. It is not just in bodily lust we experience our sexual orientation. It is in our spirits as well. If there is an eternal gender, we're not sure that ours is what we are told it must be.

So we are caught in Givens' "individualism" vs. "authority" paradox with double force. Do we prioritize the self-knowledge that wells up from our spirits, from our souls, from the intersection of body and spirit? Or do we prioritize the messages about us that are given us by the culture, by the doctrines we are taught, by our leaders, which don't seem to speak to us, to the condition we know so well because it is in between our joints, in the marrow of our bones?

Like the Saints in history, we're in a kind of exile. Exiles within exiles. We sit in the same pews, we serve and worship the same God. But our own brothers, our own sisters, our own mothers, our own fathers do not know us. They do not know the silent anguish we experience. They do not know why we cry in Sacrament Meeting.

We so often have to choose between being in silent exile, experiencing the ultimate kinds of loneliness. Or "coming out of the closet" (coming out of Babylon?) only to be exiled again by Saints who don't or won't understand us.

We want knowledge, we want understanding. We begin by struggling to know ourselves, know who we are, why we are the way we are, what grand purpose it serves. That's why we are killing ourselves. For lack of knowledge, for lack of purpose. Without vision, the people perish, and we have been without vision too long.

Yet we are told we can't know. So we wrestle angels and demons in the darkness between not-knowing and knowing.

Sometimes it seems that the Gospel doesn't work for us. It doesn't speak to us. And yet it does... It speaks to us who are lost more profoundly, more urgently, more truthfully than it does to those who are "found," to those who are comfortable, to those who have all the answers they need.

Monday, April 5, 2010


Though I usually make at least two or three sessions of General Conference, if not all four general sessions, I did not make it to any conference sessions this past weekend. We had our foster son's mom visiting from last Wednesday through yesterday afternoon, and so I was committed to being a good host and spending time with family. And being the only Latter-day Saint in my family means that family time is usually time away from Church.

It being Easter, both Glen and Göran were united in wanting to take Glen's mom to church on Sunday, so Sunday morning the entire family put on our Easter best and headed off to worship at Lyndale United Church of Christ.

It had literally been a year since we'd attended church at Lyndale UCC. I've been attending church at my LDS ward, and Göran and Glen have simply not been going to church at all. Perhaps this is partially my fault. They refuse to go to the LDS Church (except on very special occasions when I make a point of asking them very, very nicely, and they are in a generous mood). Perhaps if I provided more leadership in going to church as a family at some church where they felt more welcome, they wouldn't have lapsed into their current, heathen level of church activity.

Be that as it may, when we showed up at Lyndale UCC for the first time in an entire year, we were treated like the proverbial returning prodigals. One after another, all our old friends at the church rushed us, giving us long, warm hugs and teary kisses and enthusiastic greetings of "Happy Easter!" and "Where have you been?" and "We've missed you SOOO much!" Rarely have I ever felt so welcome in a place, and it was simultaneously embarrassing me, and making me wonder if once yearly attendance is the way to go.

During the communion portion of the service, it also occurred to me that it had been a year since I had partaken of any sort of sacrament. The pastor made his usual announcement before communion, "We invite all to partake, because here at Lyndale we believe that Christ sets the table, and Christ invites all." For a second I debated whether I would partake. In my head I was carrying on a mental debate about whether my personal theology and/or lack of participation in the UCC permits me any more to partake of a communion other than the LDS sacrament -- which I'm barred from taking because of my excommunicated status. But something larger than myself and my intellectual quibbles drew me to my feet and sent me down toward the front of the congregation where the pastor and a lay leader were holding bread and a chalice of grape juice.

Pastor Don tore off a piece of bread for me, and handed it to me with the words, "The body of Christ, given for you." I dipped the bread into the chalice, turning part of it red with the grape juice and put it in my mouth and began to eat. At that point, my eyes were clouding with tears.

I chewed and swallowed the communion, and made my way back to my seat, next to my friend of over twenty years, Kayla. She put her arm around me, and at that point I just began to weep. I hugged my friend and buried my face in her shoulder and just began to sob, my whole frame shaking. She was not the least bit uncomfortable with my tears, but simply accepted them as a gift. By this time, Göran had finished taking communion too and sat down beside me. He saw me weeping and put his arm around me. I put my hand in his, and continued to weep silently, Göran and my dear friend on either side of me comforting me. I felt deeply comforted, but at the same time disconsolate over what to me seemed so emblematic of the brokenness of the world I inhabit. Göran was getting a bit teary himself.

Don preached the sermon in his usual peripatetic way, wandering about the front of the sanctuary both literally and figuratively. He spoke about the resurrection of Jesus in terms that could easily be assimilated to a view of the resurrection as some kind of grand metaphor or symbol, not necessarily a literal Jesus literally back from the dead eating literal fish with his disciples on the shore of Galilee. Though Don spoke in terms that didn't exclude that understanding of the resurrection either.

As I listened to his sermon I was vividly aware of my own experience of the resurrected Christ. And I was thinking of the texts I'd read recently in the Gospel of Matthew describing in very general terms Christ's appearance to his disciples on the mount in Galilee, his words to them so very similar to what the living Christ had shown me without words: "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth." And I remembered Matthew's cryptic turn of phrase: "And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted." Seeing is not necessarily believing, though it would be easier to believe that my whole life is an illusion than to believe that the Christ I saw was not alive and real. And I wanted to raise my hand and ask Don to let me share a word of good news with the saints gathered here on Easter morning, liturgically referring to themselves as "an Easter people." I wanted to get up and say, "Easter is real! He's actually alive. It really happened. I know, because I've seen him."

I didn't. I observed the decorum expected in mainline Protestant worship. And yet, perhaps I shouldn't have. Perhaps decorum is blasphemous in the face of such truths, and in a world as broken as the one we all inhabit, a brokenness I experience as not being entirely at home anywhere any more. I find rest and comfort and my spiritual home in God, on my knees. When the contradictions in my life become most outwardly overwhelming, that is when God often seems nearest to me, when I receive the most poignant reassurances that in his eternal kingdom there's a place for me that makes sense, even if there's no place down here.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Chariot Wheels on the Bottom of the Red Sea

Glen's mom has been visiting this weekend. We drove to Iowa and picked her up on Wednesday, and she's staying with us till Sunday.

Her brother recently relocated to the Twin Cities area, and as we were driving back to Minneapolis Wednesday evening, she told us that she hoped she would be able to see him while visiting with us. So we invited Glen's uncle to come for a visit yesterday evening.

The reason Glen's uncle is in the Twin Cities area is because he is looking for work. He was invited to stay at the home of a friend, while he searched for a job and until he was financially able to get a place of his own. The generosity of this friend extended to driving Glen's uncle to our home, which is about fifteen miles from where they are staying in one of the northern suburbs. So naturally the roommate as well as the uncle was invited to stay for the entire visit.

The night before, Glen was worried. "Did you tell them about John and Göran?" he asked his mom.

She shrugged her shoulders. I.e., No, they had received no advanced warning that they were going to be spending the evening in a gay home. Glen started to fret.

"Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" Göran sighed, smiling mischievously. After chuckling a bit about the Sidney Poitier reference, we reassured Glen that there was nothing to worry about. We would just be ourselves, and we were sure that everybody could behave like grown-ups and get along just fine.

Last night, the guests arrived and we all sat down in the living room and started to talk. Göran served coffee, and made sure everybody felt at home. Conversation began with the usual kinds of small talk: work, weather, life in the Twin Cities, etc. Glen's mom and his uncle chatted about family and friends back in Iowa, and Glen's uncle complimented Glen on how well he was doing in school and on getting accepted to the University of Minnesota, and he thanked us for taking such good care of Glen. Everything was going swimmingly. Until at some point the uncle's roommate chimed in and started talking about religion.

The roommate, it was evident from the way he had participated in the conversation up to that point in the evening, reveled in story-telling. He clearly enjoyed being at the center of attention. And he also didn't seem to be the type of person who filtered much anything of what he was saying. He would start telling a story, and the telling of that story would trigger some association to another story. And so he'd careen on to the next topic, seemingly at random, and keep on going until somebody interrupted with a story of their own. In the course of the evening, he apparently didn't mind telling us, among other things, that he enjoyed playing blood-'n'-gore-type horror video games on the PlayStation; that up until about five years ago he was a drug addict but has been clean since he became a Christian; that he periodically irritates his supervisor at work with noisy arguments about religion in the lunchroom; and that he (at some unspecified time in the recent past) assaulted and beat up a man as the culmination of some road rage incident (which he swears he didn't start, but was glad to finish). That's the context.

So the roommate started talking about the Bible and having a personal relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As he was doing so, the tone of his voice was rising, and he was getting more and more excited, leaning forward in his seat and gesticulating. And as he got louder and more emphatic, Glen, I noticed, was looking more and more uncomfortable, slowly sinking lower and lower in his chair, with anguish in his eyes. Göran too was looking more and more tight-lipped and impatient. Just at the point when I thought either Glen or Göran wasn't going to be able to take it anymore, our guest launched into a tirade about the evils of homosexuality, and how America was going to be under judgment from God for tolerating it.

For those of you who have never been guests in the Gustav-Wrathall home, I will point out that there are plenty of clues about exactly what kind of home this is and what kind of couple we are. On the video shelf there's Queer Son and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (right next to Jesus Christ Superstar and Mormon Scientist). There's the framed cover of my book hanging on the wall: Take the Young Stranger by the Hand: Same-Sex Relations and the YMCA. But apart from that there are no less than twelve (12) family portraits of me and Göran as a couple hanging on the walls of the living room, including a large, three-foot-wide, hand-drawn charcoal portrait that we posed nine hours for, and a very intimate, black and white photo of us shirtless, embracing, and gazing lovingly into each other's eyes. Then of course there's us, and the guileless way we refer to each other as "honey" and "sweetheart."

So when a house guest who's been sitting in our living room and conversing with us for approximately two hours launches into an anti-homosexual tirade, you must conclude one of two things. He's either incredibly clueless and unobservant. Or he just doesn't care. And based on what I'd observed, both were equally possible explanations under the circumstances.

Now from past experience, I knew there was only one way to handle this situation. I took a deep breath, said a silent prayer, and asked the Spirit to help me say what needed to be said, and do what needed to be done. What ensued, I think, was proof that not only I but my husband were both receiving an abundance of spiritual help that night.

Göran was sitting on the love seat next to Glen's uncle. And he simply turned to the uncle and began a quiet side conversation, simply ignoring the roommate's tirade. The roommate was so involved in his speech, he didn't even seem to notice that others were tuning out. Göran simply started telling the uncle about the artwork on the walls. He pointed to the book cover, and started telling the uncle about my research on the role of gay men in the history of the YMCA. Then he started pointing to artwork on the walls that had been created by Glen. Then he asked the uncle if he'd like to see Glen's room, and look at some more of his art. The uncle agreed, and when Göran and the uncle got up, that was Glen's cue that it was OK for him to leave now and he didn't need to listen to what this other man was saying any more. That left me and Glen's mom to deal with the roommate.

He continued to bluster on for a while, and we politely let him. At an appropriate point, I steered the conversation to the general problem of sin. I shared with him my understanding of Christ's teaching that the most dangerous kinds of sin are always the sins of the heart. I shared some of my own wrestling with the sin of anger. That seemed to trigger an association for him, and it was at that point he began to regale us with an account of the above-mentioned road-rage incident. Glen's mom helped by occasionally adding a comment or two about the importance of focusing on faith and patience and charity as the heart of Christian faith. And that led us to a discussion of prayer, and the ways in which the Holy Spirit can help us to pray for what we need, even when we don't know ourselves what we need. There was no more discussion of homosexuality for the rest of the evening.

Eventually the conversation meandered on (I'm not sure how) to the topic of Moses and the Exodus, and the crossing of the Red Sea. Our guest was very excited about a book he'd read entitled The Exodus Case, in which archaeologists claimed to have found the actual site of the Red Sea crossing, and the actual Mount Sinai in northwestern Arabia, not in the Sinai Peninsula. Apparently at sites identified by the author of this book, the remains of chariot wheels and human and horse bones have been found all along the floor of the Gulf of Aqaba, from the Sinai to Arabia. At one point, the roommate and I were sitting on the couch together chatting in a friendly manner, while he showed me the supposed route to freedom followed by the children of Israel on Google Earth.

All ended well. Our guests eventually began to wend their way home another three and a half hours later, but only after Göran had pulled out the family album and shown them pictures of Glen and all our travels and adventures, including our trip to California in the summer of 2008, and pictures from our wedding, with me and Göran in First Congregational Church in Riverside, CA in our tuxedos.

As we bid them good night, Glen's uncle was almost teary in his expressions of gratitude to me and Göran. From some of the things he'd said throughout the evening, he is evidently a man of deep faith, whose personal relationship with God has helped him weather the storms of his own life, including his present struggle to come to grips with a painful divorce and find a job in a still creaky economy. For him, as for his roommate, and his sister, and me, Jesus Christ is real. We shared something significant, I felt, in that we knew of Christ's reality from his interventions in our lives. I don't know if Glen's uncle felt any embarrassment about how his roommate had behaved. But he went out of his way to repeatedly thank me and Göran for everything we'd done to care for and love Glen, and help him mature and find his bearings in the world. I was genuinely moved, and Göran and I told him he is always welcome in our home, and that we hope he'll always feel free to come and visit his nephew any time he wants.

This morning as I woke up, I was thinking about the events of the night before. I was thinking of all the things I might have said in that situation that I am very glad I did not say.

I mostly kept silent because what the Spirit was whispering to me in that moment was to remind me of the Lord's promise that if we trust him, he will fight our battles for us. So it is up to me be faithful by obeying Christ's commandment not to judge, to be patient, to love. God will take care of us if we let him. If there are chariot wheels at the bottom of the Red Sea, they are a concrete, physical reminder of nothing less than that.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Does God Work through Confusion? No! Yes! Maybe!

April Fool's day is as good a day as any to tell this story...

Last summer, as I was working on my Trial of Faith book manuscript, I mentioned to my brother Mark my recollection of his role in my coming out to my parents. When I came out to my parents, I made a special trip from Minneapolis to Massachusetts (where my parents were living at the time) so I could talk to them about it in person. By my recollection, my brother, in whom I had confided my plan, strongly urged me to reconsider coming out to them. When I insisted on going forward with my plan, he proposed that I let him break the news to them first. I reluctantly acquiesced. So my brother paid a visit to my parents the night before my arrival in Boston, and told them I was gay.

I was so certain of this version of the story, my brother's reaction to my account of it came to me as quite a shock. No, he told me, that's not how it happened at all. He had certainly not begged me to let him give my parents the news. It was the other way around. I had called him specifically for the purpose of putting him up to the task. I was the one who had asked him to tell my parents.

When we discussed it last summer, I simply assumed that my brother was confused. This was my coming out story, and surely I had to have the more accurate recollection of what transpired. Coming out to my parents was a major milestone in my life's journey. How could I remember it incorrectly? And on such a significant point! Obviously, I thought, this could not have been as important to my brother, so naturally his memories would be a bit more hazy than mine. He had to be wrong.

But recently, we discussed it again. And in the course of our discussion, I realized that he had very distinct, strong memories this episode. He was adamant that he did not remember it incorrectly.

To buttress his position, Mark went to his wife, and asked her to share her recollection of the incident, and her memory was similar to his. I had asked him to tell my parents. He had not been happy about it -- it required a special trip to my parents' home at a time when he was very busy with school, and he resented having to be the bearer of news that he knew would devastate my parents.

I on the other hand went to my sister Tina, and asked her what her recollection was. She remembered me talking to her about it shortly after my visit to Boston, and clearly remembered me telling her at the time that Mark had insisted on telling our parents for me, and that I was unhappy that he had interposed himself between me and my parents in this way.

So Mark and I each had witnesses who corroborated our versions of the story! Who was right? Both of us could not be!

A series of lengthy emails between me and my brother ensued in which we each shared more and more details of what happened. Gradually, we arrived at a version of the event that made sense to both of us, and seems to explain how we could each have such a different recollection of the story.


I was very anxious about coming out to my parents, and very worried about how they would react to me. I knew of individuals who had had disastrous experiences coming out to parents, and I knew that if I experienced utter rejection from my parents it would devastate me. Apparently I decided to test the waters by coming out to my brother first.

So the day before leaving, I called my brother, and announced to him that I was gay, and that the purpose of my impending visit (around Easter of 1989) was to come out to my parents. I told him that it would be unbearable to me if my parents rejected me because of this, and I told him I wished I could know how they would react to me before I flew out to Boston. When he heard the anxiety and dread in my voice, and when he heard me say I wished I knew how they would respond before going out there, he took this as a request to tell them for me, before I arrived, so he could report to me how they would respond.

In response to my question about how he thought they would respond, my brother told me he was certain they would not take it well. In fact, the news would be devastating. He expressed concern about the impact the news would have on them, even mentioning that my father's health had been poor lately, and that this would be a tremendous source of added stress for him. Of course, my brother was still in shock about the news that I was gay, which he had only just heard from me. So I heard the shock and distress in his voice, and I heard him tell me what a negative impact that this would have on my parents, and I took this as him urging me not to come out to my parents.

As my brother confirmed what he believed he had heard me asking him to do -- namely, that he should tell my parents I was gay before I arrived in Boston the next day -- I thought he was telling me that was what he felt he should do. I didn't like it. I had always felt that I should be the one to tell my parents. But hearing the urgency in my brother's voice, I acquiesced.

So we ended the phone call, each believing that the other had insisted that Mark should come out to my parents for me. Mark's sense that I was the one doing the requesting was confirmed when I asked him to call me after talking to my parents, and let me know if they still wanted me to come for a visit.

Mark regarded this as an inconvenience and a burden. His heart was heavy when he called my parents and told them he would come by later that day to share some news with them about my visit. He did not want to do this, but he believed that I had asked him to do it, and out of love for me and my parents he did.

I regarded this as unnecessary interference. I felt he had pushed himself into a process over which I wanted complete control. That was why I had planned a special trip in the first place -- so that I could tell my parents in person, and tell them my story my way. I felt frustrated and anxious that the manner in which my parents would learn I was gay was now out of my control.

My brother was right about how my parents would react. My dad in particular was furious. I don't know exactly what was said. No one has ever told me. Later, though, my dad said he was glad that I was not present to hear what he said. He had said some things that he would have regretted for the rest of his life if I had heard them. In our recent discussion, my brother confirmed that it was harsh. I probably would have been devastated by it.

The fact that my brother had come out to them for me gave them space and time to think things over before they had to react to me in person. By the time I arrived in Boston, my parents were calm. I told them my story -- about how I had wrestled with this knowledge about myself since I was 12 or 13, and how I had nearly committed suicide at the end of my junior year in college. The first words out of their mouths were expressions of sorrow that I had had to struggle with this all alone for so many years, and that I had been afraid to confide in them. During my visit in Massachusetts, we went for long walks, and talked more.

By the time I returned to Minneapolis, I felt that my coming out visit had been a success. I felt accepted and loved by my parents, and felt that their reaction to me had been as positive as I could have hoped.

All because of a complete misunderstanding.


Neither I nor my brother liked the idea of him telling my parents for me. Both of us thought the other had proposed the idea. If either of us had recognized the nature of our misunderstanding before my visit, I would have been the one breaking the news to them. And I would have witnessed a reaction that might have undermined our relationship with one another for years to come.

Was God at work in the confusion between me and my brother?

I'm not sure.

But I know this... When I left the Church, my parents and I literally almost never spoke to one another for almost three years. Our relationship was just starting to mend when I decided to come out to them. Had the interaction been disastrous, we might not have talked to each other again for another three years, or longer.

As it is, my relationship with my parents has grown steadily stronger since I came out to them. And that relationship was the main vehicle through which I gradually came to reappraise my relationship with the Church and with God. My relationship with my parents today is a major source of strength and happiness to me.

I'm glad I had to try to sort the truth of this story out, because my sister Tina reminded me of an incident that is of tremendous comfort to me. She recalled talking to my dad shortly after I had come out to them, and he was weeping. She asked him why he was crying, and he explained that it was not because I was gay, but because during my visit he couldn't remember ever having told me he loved me. He said he was afraid I might have left Massachusetts not knowing if he loved me.

I knew. And it was thanks to my brother. And a moment of confusion over the phone.