Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Baby Steps Out of the Closet

My goal for this post: get our "story" up to date. I've written about it here and here  Rachel and I spent the next several months just being okay with being us. We didn't come out to anyone for a while, I think because we just really wanted to be 100% sure that we were both okay with us being together. And we were. We knew eventually we'd need to figure out what we were going to do about the church, and how we were going to tell folks, but we just enjoyed our time together for a while.

Finally, we knew that it was time to get the ball rolling and move on, whatever that meant. Rachel had a Family Reunion, and I stayed behind. That was torture for both of us. She was tired of pretending like we weren't a family. One night she took the plunge and came out to one of her brothers, "Bobby". He couldn't have been more supportive. He started to share that he'd enjoyed listening to different perspectives on sites like Mormon Stories. When Rachel came back, we decided to check it out. We found this interview with Benji Schwimmer and were captivated by his story and experience. We forgot all about whatever it was we were going to do that afternoon and watched the 3rd part of his interview from start to finish, completely mesmerized. While his story was clearly his own, some of the similarities between our experiences and his were plain uncanny. As affirming as it was to actually hear someone else's story, there was a moment that jolted me deeply. Benji explained how after being disfellowshipped and working his way back to being fully in "good standing" his stake president informed him that he would always have an asterisk on his records. This asterisk would prevent him from ever holding a church calling around children or youth. Ever. I was a Sunbeam teacher at the time, so as I heard him describe his shock and hurt learning about this new policy, I couldn't believe it. I started Googling like crazy, and then read this great post on the Moho Directory. I've worked with children throughout my career, and in my entire time in "family wards". To think that if anyone *found out* who I loved they would decide that I was too much of a risk was just beyond insulting and infuriating.

Listening to Benji's interview just opened the flood gates. We started reading blogposts. I think I read through 2 years of posts from Kiley on We Were Going To Be Queens within 2 days. We began watching every documentary on Netflix about gay rights, gay issues, etc., starting with "8" and going to "Because the Bible Tells Us So", "Fish Out of Water" and "Outrage". And we started considering for the first time that not only was the church not really working out for us, but it may not have been strictly *true*. Stepping back and taking a look at questions about the church's truth claims, it was shocking how quickly our whole belief system was shattered. Between the polygamy and polyandry, Book of Abraham, DNA evidence, changes in central doctrines, teachings about Blacks and the priesthood, our Mormon lenses just started shattering. Rachel got an iPad app with different sound effects and would start using the shattering glass sounds for each new concern or fact that didn't align with the neatly correlated church we'd grown up in. Crack, crack, crack.

At the same time we started Skyping with Bobby and his wife Fiona. The whole world started to shift. It was amazing to be open and honest, not just finally with ourselves, but now with other people. Within a few weeks we decided to come out to the rest of our immediate families. The response from all was initially warm and reassuring. In the time since, there has been some distance from certain family members and for me I'm definitely still finding my footing. I asked to be released from primary teaching and haven't set foot back in a church building. I have no intention of being bitter-- I don't want to be bitter about the church because I know how much it means in the lives of my siblings and parents, and there was a lot that I did enjoy about my experiences in the church. I don't want to be bitter about having spent years of my life in limbo because the truth is I have a great life. And I don't want to be bitter about suddenly realizing that I'm in a minority group and don't have some of the basic rights and protections that my heterosexual friends and family members enjoy because I believe that as a country we eventually get things right. Overall, the process to now of coming out has been far better than I ever could have imagined. I've started coming out to friends at work and will keep working through this process. The best way I've been able to explain my current status to friends and coworkers is that I'm now a little less Mormon and a little more gay.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Next Chapter

I'm finding it hard to write the next part of our story. I've tried several times over the past few days, but I keep hitting a wall. I don't know if it's because of the deep pain that is interwoven over this part of our story. Maybe it's that I don't think I can actually explain it in a way that makes sense. But the truth of the matter is that after Rachel and I put "Same Sex Attraction" on the table (see here and here), the next several years were spent living a life with two competing and antagonistic parts.

During our final months at BYU we spent countless hours talking about how to reconcile SSA and our belief in the gospel. I dated a guy that I genuinely cared for and Rachel played the part of the ever supportive best friend. At the same time, her jealousy and confusion caused deep pain for both of us. Looking back, it's clear that she felt on some level that I was being unfaithful to our relationship, even though we both genuinely believed that we wanted the other to find our Prince Charming and get whisked away to an eternal marriage. But neither of us really realized that at the time. Friends looked at my relationship with Rachel with jealousy which I also didn't understand at the time. Taken altogether, that last year at BYU was the most difficult time of my life in many ways. At the end of the year, Rachel and I decided to move to different states, remaining friends but exploring life in different parts of the country.

After I moved to Arizona, I struggled to start a new life. Things ended with the guy I'd been dating on and off over the previous months. I talked on the phone with Rachel nearly every day. Eventually, we decided that it was madness for us to live apart, and Rachel moved to Arizona. We were committed to supporting each other in overcoming our challenges and living the life we'd always hoped for. Over the next several years we constantly tried to balance these two competing inner agendas. We attended singles wards and would go through a cycle of diligently trying to date, then taking a break from dating. There were moments of expressing physical affection, then deep guilt and self-loathing for "messing up." We both threw ourselves into our work, each of us seeking fulfillment in working for a cause. As our lives became more and more entwined- we bought a condo together, bought furniture together, lost track of who owed what money to who and for what, we would *joke* about the upcoming "divorce" when we would have to separate our stuff in order to move forward with our lives with a new partner. Looking back, there was always an underlying sense of uncertainty and confusion about our relationship and our future together, and this insecurity would burst to the surface in really volatile ways. When we fought, our fights would explode into epic events.

Throughout all of this, we always thought that we were the only ones who felt this way. I know now how egocentric and naive that sounds, but that's really what we thought. We never thought to look on the internet to see others stories. At church, all we saw were our fellow "LDS single adults" who were striving to (and obsessing over) getting married. After getting worn out by several years of hearing "I just can't wait to overcome this struggle and finally be married" over the pulpit, we transitioned to a "family ward". Imagine our surprise when we started to hear, from married people no less, about the constant struggles that these people were facing as well. Surrounded by people *struggling*, I believed that this was just the way life was, and that the struggles Rachel and I were facing just needed to be borne and overcome like anyone else's. As the years passed I knew a few things: that I loved Rachel, that I was committed to my testimony, that to remain Mormon meant remaining celibate, and that dating held little allure for me.

Cracks in these tightly held beliefs started in 2008. The year of Proposition 8 in California was also the year that a similar bill came before the voters of Arizona. I was shocked by the outright hysteria I heard at church and from my family in California about gays and gay rights. Now, to be clear, I had never identified myself as gay, nor even taken that under consideration. Neither had Rachel. That was not a term that we had ever considered for ourselves. And yet, as I heard the rhetoric it seemed overblown, hysterical, and hypocritical. Those months made me start questioning the church's stance in a way I never thought I would. The next crack was the infamous President Packer talk in October, 2010. Rachel had been attending church more and more infrequently as she struggled to feel comfortable in a church centered on families as a single woman (I could go on and on about this, but I won't). So, we settled in together to listen to the living prophets. And then, President Packer said this: "Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and the unnatural. Not so. Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?" Upon hearing that, Rachel picked up the remote control, turned the TV off, and threw the remote onto the ground. That was the last moment of General Conference that I've seen. My heart broke in that moment as she yelled at the TV and hurled unanswerable questions to a distant "apostle". This was indefensible. I didn't know about those gay rights protesters shown on TV in flamboyant costumes, but I did know about Rachel. I knew how believing and sincere she was. I knew how invested she was in the church. And I knew that she knew she had been attracted to girls since her early teen years. I had to come to terms with the fact that the church just didn't have an answer for her questions.

I kept holding on to both the church and my love for Rachel for the next several months. After nearly 10 years of battling though, I have to admit that my belief that God would answer my prayers and show us a way to lay claim to the life of a faithful Mormon as I understood it (temple marriage, kids, happily ever after into the eternities) was fading to say the least. Then, one day a simple misunderstanding between us blew up into a huge argument, and something in me snapped. I decided I'd had enough. I'd had enough of feeling myself pulled into two. I'd had enough of waiting around for someone to appear in my life. I'd had enough of acting like my relationship with Rachel wasn't a truly significant and defining relationship in my life. I'd had enough of trying to figure something out that wasn't figure-out-able. Most of all, I'd had enough of focusing on what it was that I was lacking. I had a great job which I enjoyed, good health, a nice house, was financially stable, had the luxury of being able to travel. More importantly, I already had someone in my life who loved me unconditionally, and who I loved and adored. What in the world was I waiting for? How selfish and ungrateful was I for feeling like my life was somehow incomplete.

I told Rachel that I was done *struggling*. I just wanted to be with her. I wasn't going to sit around waiting for something else and beating myself up when we just love each other. She said something to the effect of, "um, okay!" We didn't know where that left the church in our lives, but in that moment I just stopped worrying about it. My hand which had been holding onto the church so tightly just let go and I wondered what the future would hold. But the most amazing thing happened: in the moment since making the decision to just love each other, the underlying angst, depressions, anxiety, worry, insecurity, and anger have virtually disappeared. I never expected that. I never thought that would be possible. I never thought that just allowing myself to love and be loved would be such a freeing experience.

By Theresa