“Don’t tell your conservative friends,” I reassure myself frequently. “They won’t understand,” I iterate to myself. Never until recently did it occur to me that the division between liberal and conservative is not scientific or mathematic. There are no controls for who and who will not be supportive. There are no equations to predict who will and who will not be your friend. And you never know which of your conservative friends will turn out to be statistically significant.
Recently, I decided to let my secret out in a public way. (I’m gay). I didn’t march down the street wearing a flamboyant feather boa. I just typed a few words, posted it to my blog, and posted a link on my Facebook page along with a new profile picture that would capture attention. Within hours my blog hit 100 views, which is 100 more views than prior. The most surprising thing is, most of the people who have commented — the largest group of people in fact — are those I met while living in Estonia.
“Don’t talk about it with your liberal friends. It will just confuse them,” I say to myself. Never until recently did it occur to me that maybe they don’t have any problem with it. You see, there’s just no way of knowing in advance who will care and who will not care and who will be confused and who will not be confused. I guess you could say I want to believe life is more simple when I label people based on where they come from, what they believe, who they associate with, where they hang out, and how much schooling they have to decide if they could possibly understand another secret I’ve keep from people.
Recently, a secular friend confronted me on this topic.
“You’re from Utah?”
“And you were born here and raised here?”
“So doesn’t that make you a … Mormon?”
“But you’re gay!”
“How can you be Mormon and gay? Don’t you know what the Mormon Church does to gay people? Did you see any of the Yes on 8 campaign material!?”
“Well… I just… turned it off…”
That’s not actually how the conversation went. But that’s how I expected it to go. I guess you could say I have a difficult time understanding how two of my worlds are compatible. My friends are Mormon. My family is Mormon. My co-workers are Mormon. So in most settings I wear my Mormon clothes and put on my Mormon face.
But… I’m no longer Mormon (or still am depending on how you define Mormon). I proselytized for the LDS Church in Estonia for two years. While there I built friendships with fellow missionaries and with the locals — all of whom knew me in a very different context. And, as expected, sometimes that context leaves me feeling like they can never know what’s going on in my life right now. “They’ll judge me. They’ll try to convince me I’m wrong. They’ll send the missionaries to my house. They’ll preach to me from The Miracle of Forgiveness (a Mormon classic which has some very strong wording against homosexuality) and tell me I’m going to hell.”
That’s not what happened, however, when I wrote my last blog post and let the secret out. I was surprised by the number of emails and comments from fellow missionaries and locals that were positive and supportive. Here are just a few of my favorites:
“Wow Ryan, what a wonderful, thoughtful post. Also, LOVE the picture of you and Dan holding hands.”
“Good post, well written… I hope everyone respects and accepts you.”
“Ryan, this is great! I love and support you!”
“You have always been and will continue to be an exceptional person.”
And my most favorite:
“I don’t know where your relationship with the Church is in all of this, but I want you to know that it doesn’t matter to me in the slightest. I’m proud of you for having come out… I have zero doubts you will always be the good man I knew in Estonia…”
“Don’t tell them the truth. It will just confuse them; they won’t understand.” That’s what I’m thinking right now as I consider what I want to communicate to anyone who reads this blog that has concerns about what Mormons think and believe about people who fall into the LGBTQ category. It makes sense to me that people have concerns given the number of gay and lesbian Mormons who commit suicide. It makes sense that people are concerned given the frequency of prophetic announcements that gays and lesbians are a threat to the family and to religious freedom. Their concerns are valid and justified given the vigorous politicking of the LDS Church.
Despite all the horror stories I’ve heard (e.g., Mormon parents kicking gay and lesbian children out of their homes), and despite the concerns above, the Mormons I know are exceptionally supportive and accepting. I’ve tried to pin down and identify the characteristics of supportive and non-supportive Mormons. I can’t seem to pin down any common characteristics. You can’t tell by the way someone wears their hair that they will be supportive. You can’t tell by the way someone dresses that they won’t be supportive. It seems, rather, there are devils and angels among all groups of people. And when it comes to my Mormon friends and family, when you really love someone, you love them despite their sexual orientation. “It doesn’t change anything,” they reassure me as they grapple to understand and make sense of a world that doesn’t always fit into their belief system.
To all my Mormon friends and family who have been supportive, accepting, and encouraging: I’m glad I put my biases behind me and gave you the opportunity to demonstrate how statistically significant you are in my life.
I guess all it took to change my mind was getting to know you a little better by letting you get to know me a little better.
“As The Book of Mormon’s Elder Cunningham accidentally discovers, it doesn’t matter what people believe in if what they believe has the ability to unite them and inspire them to serve one another and love each other freely.”