Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mommy Dearest

My siblings and I always had a running joke about how when we were growing up my mom was the quintessential Mommy Dearest (if you haven't seen the movie, you should have your gay card revoked). My mom and I have sort of had an up and down relationship throughout the years. The first real downturn was when I was in my first year of high school and was trying to assert some level of independence. She didn’t like that very much. There was a time where she was very adamant about controlling what clothes I wore, which friends I got close to, how I cut my hair, and what activities I got involved with. She was the type of mother that would make me re-clean an entire bathroom because there was one hair left on the bathtub, would never let me out of the house on a school night, and gave me a ridiculously early curfew because she “couldn’t sleep if [I] was out of the house.”

I still remember the first time one of my best friends gave me a pair of baggy pants so that I would stop being made fun of for my inability to dress in style (and as a young gay boy, I certainly knew what the style was, which just made the fact that I wasn’t allowed to dress accordingly even more frustrating). I would sneak the jenas into my book bag and change once I got to school. Then, one day, they just disappeared. I’m still not sure exactly how my mom found them, but I have no doubt she did. She never said anything. I never said anything. I even searched for them in the garbage can to no avail. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out she went as far as eating them to keep them away from me, with some liver and fava beans followed by a nice (non-alcoholic?) Chianti.

Then, when I was in college I bought a boot knife. It had about a four and a half inch blade, and was perfectly balanced. I brought it home to show my dad, and we had a bit of fun the next few hours as he taught me how to throw it without cutting my hands (I’ll talk about how this was one of the few bonding experiences I’ve had with my dad later. This post is about my mom). Just as I was getting the hang of it my mom came out into the yard, and asked what we were doing. As soon as she saw the knife she said something along the lines of “That knife looks like it was designed to kill people? Why would you have something like that?”

Having the dry sense of humor I do, I said something along the lines of “Well, I was going to get a gun, but then I decided it wasn’t personal enough. If I’m going to kill someone, I want them to be close enough so I can see the light go out of their eyes.”

Dad laughed. Mom didn’t find it too amusing. The knife disappeared. How she magically whisked it away from my college dorm room in Ogden (yes, it was within the legal acceptable limit of the dorm rooms) to Salt Lake is beyond me. Sometimes I wonder if she didn’t borrow my dad’s priesthood authority and command it to come to her. Accio knife! (By the way, I got it back a few years ago, not because she gave it back, but because I found where she hid it).

Of course, I’m telling you the amusing stories and leaving out some of the darker ones. Hopefully you’ll think after reading up to this point that any issue I had with my mother was simply the usual teenage rebellion/angst. And that’s fine. I do think it was more than that, but the downtimes aren’t as important as the uptimes, so I prefer to look at the bad moments as learning experiences to be laughed at.

But something changed when I got back from my mission. I still remember driving with my mom in a car in a canyon somewhere, although I don’t remember where we had been or where we were going. She turned to me and started talking about the changes our house had gone through while I was gone – all the stuff she didn’t want to tell me while I was on my mission because she didn’t want to distract me from the Lord's work. I learned that my father and her had some major issues, and that both of my sisters had screaming matches with him. She admitted to me how hard she was on us as kids, but that her problems with my father had taught her to let things go. She had learned how to mellow out.

It was odd to hear my mom apologize. It wasn’t something I had ever had happen to me while growing up. She was never wrong, or, at least never admitted it.

And we grew close. Really close. We would take the dogs for a walk every night, and chat on the porch for hours after the sun set. She lent me money for a failed business venture, and invested in my published novel. I’m still not sure what happened during those two years that I was gone to change her so much, or maybe I had just grown up and started appreciating her more (probably a combination of the two), but suddenly our relationship was amazing. I don’t remember her ever yelling at me after I got back from my mission.

About a year later, and after yet another failed relationship attempt with a woman, I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to “fix” my sexuality on my own. I was having a hard time “holding on,” so I confided in my mom that I was gay. One of the first things she said to me was, “This is the worst thing a mother could hear.” Since that time, she has tried to explain to me what she meant when she said that, insisting that it wasn’t meant as I took it, and that she meant something along the lines of it being the worst thing that she could conceive of in regards to my internal struggle, and the fact that she didn’t know about the struggle and allowed me to suffer alone. The negative part was not the fact that I was gay – but that she didn’t know how to fix it for me. It is still hard for me to accept that reasoning, but I have worked hard to put that comment behind me regardless of how it was intended.

The very next day I had an appointment with LDS Social Services, and entered into the grand ‘ole world of reparative therapy.

To make a long story short, it was about two years later that I left home, broken, rejected, putting on a fa├žade of smugness as I announced that I was dating another man. My dad announced that he would rather have a dead son than I gay one, while my mom pleaded with me to “please not do this.”

And our relationship has never fully recovered.

Throughout the years, I’ve received the obligatory “I want you in the celestial kingdom with us” conversations through tears and anger. I’ve watched as my family has rejected my partner, set rules as to what “behavior” they will tolerate from us (not only in their homes, but in public, as if we aren’t capable of controlling our carnal beastly desires). Just last year I finally told them I wasn’t about to have another birthday without my partner being invited so if they wanted to celebrate with me they would have to come to our house. I didn’t realize how big of a request this was. My family took a vote to decide whether or not I was worthy of a birthday. I guess everyone was on pins and needles, afraid that my partner and I might walk out into the living room naked and decide to put on a show right then and there. My older sister told my mom she fears that being around me will turn her son gay.

But the surprising thing is that it is my mother who has made the most progress over the last four years. She argued for the birthday party at our house. She has been pressing the family to allow my partner to be invited on family vacations (the fact that I won’t go without him doesn’t seem to faze the others). She has fought for more inclusivity. And since this blog is about her, I want so share with you our most recent conversation.

Just the Sunday after General Conference, I made a comment to my mom, my dad, and my little sister about how I had received a lot of backlash from friends, community members, and church members in relation to President Packer’s conference talk.

A few days ago, my mom called me to ask me what I meant, and to share some of the things people had been saying to me.

It isn’t anything we gay Mormon’s haven’t heard before (and I’m sure plenty of you have heard these things too), but I commented on how many members took his talk to the logical conclusion of “if your sexual orientation isn’t changing then obviously you don’t have enough faith,” or “see, you must have made a choice to be gay, and if you would only come to Christ he would heal you,” or, “if you are faithful in this life you will be rewarded with a great heterosexual life in the world to come,” etc. etc.

I was surprised to find my mom a bit flabbergasted at the other end of the phone. Finally she said, “You didn’t choose this, and you are a good man. I wish the church leaders would listen to you. I really think you should see your stake president and have him pass your story on to Thomas S Monson (who is in my ward).”

I just had to chuckle a bit. “So you disagree with sexuality being a choice, and that it can be changed?”

She responded something to the effect of “Well, I think the behavior can be controlled, but that isn’t the point is it. I don’t think the temptations or tendencies can be changed, no.”

It was funny that she chose to use those words, the exact same words President Packer used in his talk (both the original, and the changed version).

So I said, “Mom, you realize that you disagree with President Packer then, and that all the people who have been berating me would be berating you for not following the prophets and apostles. To them, you are on your way to apostasy.”

She laughed and said, “Well, maybe I am then, because he’s wrong.”

Now, I don’t think my mom is anywhere near on her way out of the church. In fact, I know better. But it was nice to hear her agree with and trust me when I say I didn’t choose to be gay. It was nice to hear her admit that the church that she loves so much can be wrong… even if it is just slightly wrong.

It was, perhaps, one of the most honest conversations I’ve had with her in a long time. We didn’t have to shy away from the subject. I didn’t have to find other things to talk about like my job, my skating, or anything and everything BESIDES my relationship. We just talked.

While I realize that she may never truly appreciate and be proud of my for the decisions I’ve made, I am happy that we are starting to heal.

One of my mom’s most poignant concerns after I came out was that I would turn my back on her and my family. I admit there have been times when I have wanted to. Sometimes people need the ultimatum to “accept me as I am or I’m gone,” but I don’t think that would work well with my family. And frankly, I couldn’t let her be right this time. I couldn’t let her prophesy that I would go off the deep end and turn my back on them become the truth.

For a long time I worried that the opposite was true, and for a time, it was. I care very deeply for my mother. I love her and know that our relationship is unique and special. She may not be able to walk in gay pride parades or join PFLAG yet, and she may never be able to, but I love her, and accept that she is doing the best she can with a situation that is very difficult. I know. I’ve been there. It’s difficult for me too – which is why I understand how it affects her so much.

I wish I could convince her that it isn’t her fault. She first blamed herself because all of the church material she read said an “overbearing mother and absent father” are the causes of homosexuality. I don’t believe that, and I don’t believe she fits the definition… Ok… maybe while I was in high school, but I was gay long long long before that.

Now she blames herself because she didn’t see me suffering, and because I wasn’t able to trust her enough to tell her when I was younger. I think that is good progression, but still isn’t sufficient. That isn’t her fault either. I lied, and I did it well.

To my mother (who doesn’t read this blog as far as I know, but who may run across it one day. I also mean this for all of the other mothers of gay sons): I love you. You didn’t turn your back on me, and because of that I cannot and will not turn my back on you. I am so grateful for all of the special moments, all the conversations, all the tears we’ve shed, and all of the laughs. It is the pride of every son to be recognized by their mother as a good man, and because of that you are right about what you told me on the phone a few days ago… that is enough.

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