3.01.2012

No More Goodbyes



Last week I read No More Goodbyes: Circling the Wagons around our Gay Loved Ones by Carol Lynn Pearson. I'd been hearing her name a lot lately, and I'd never read her before. This was the book that was checked in at the library, so I picked it up, could not put it down, and then kept cornering people and making them talk about it with me.

Much of the book consists of letters written to her by people (lots of gay Mormons and their family members) who see her as someone who understands what they are going through. (She wrote a book in the 1980s about her husband, who hoped that temple marriage and a family would help him overcome his attraction to other men. It didn't. They eventually divorced but remained close until he died of AIDS.) 

Some of these letters just about broke my heart--from kids who are disowned by their parents, boys and girls who feel so ashamed and unloved that they attempt (or commit) suicide, men and women who attend church faithfully but feel like outcasts, wondering what more they need to do before Heavenly Father will answer their prayers and make them "normal." The ones that hit closest for me were about mothers and how they responded to their children. Some simply shut down and severed the relationship, unable to reconcile their beliefs and hopes for their sons or daughters with the reality in front of them. Other mothers believed that, regardless of the pain or confusion they felt, the most important thing they could do was love their children. The more hopeful letters were at the end, which was good, because you kind of need some hope by then. 

Here is the review I posted at Goodreads a few days later:

I wish every member of the LDS church would read this book. 
It's a painful read, but I like to think it could help us think about, talk about, and talk TO our gay brothers and sisters in a kinder, more loving and supportive way. Because we ALL have gay brothers or sisters, or sons or daughters, or parents, or friends, or missionaries, or Scouts, or Primary students, even if we don't realize it. 
When I hear people make dismissive or derisive comments about "the gays" in Sunday School, or bring up Proposition 8 for the eleventy-millionth time, I wonder how many members of the class feel the knife twist--if not for themselves, then maybe on behalf of a much-loved child or friend who does not feel welcome at church because of comments like these. 
When you KNOW who you are talking about, it's harder to be dismissive, or to see things as being purely black and white. After reading this book with its letters and stories, we can't say that we don't know who we are talking about anymore. 
Even if my feelings about homosexuality are complicated, I don't ever want to inflict additional pain or feelings of isolation (whether intended or not) on children of God who are already lonely and hurting in ways I will likely never understand. 


I would love to hear if anybody else has thoughts about this. Do be warned--I absolutely will delete homophobic comments. Let's keep it civil, friends, even if we disagree with each other.

34 comments:

Señora H-B said... [reply]

I will never understand why people think it's ok to treat another human being as less than they are. It makes me physically ill to think about the treatment that people receive for being 'abnormal'. I don't have anything to add to what you've said so beautifully, just that I agree that we need to seriously reconsider the way that we treat ANYONE who lives differently than our ideal, or looks different than us, or professes different ideas than us, etc. Just. BE NICE.

Therese said... [reply]

You must read her book "goodbye, I love you." I will watch this space for your review.

Kayla @ Freckles in April said... [reply]

My personal politics are usually something I keep very much to myself but I am staunchly pro-gay rights. My mom is a convert and she has a gay brother whom we all absolutely adore (as well as his gay best friend/roommate) and having to reconcile our church, my uncle, and our personal beliefs has always been a struggle for my mom and I. I'm going to have to pick up this book!

Rachael said... [reply]

I love this post. I'm going to read the book and recommend it enthusiastically, because you're right. "The gays" are individual humans who are being hurt all over the place right now.

Sherry said... [reply]

Two summers ago a guy who was my husband's first friend when he moved to Orem committed suicide. He and my husband hadn't really been close since they were 15, so roughly 15 years, but it really struck a chord with both of us. (The man was gay and had recently broken up with his long-time boyfriend. Although his family hadn't completely cut him off, from what I understand there was a lot of tension and he certainly didn't feel like he could turn to his family at the time.) I could write a lot about what I do and don't know about the situation, but I don't want to hijack the comments. I will say that the suicide prompted Eric and I to have many long discussions about how to handle this sort of thing if it happens in our family. I don't know that we have a 100% solution, but I hope that if nothing else we can approach the situation with love and patience.

Maggie B. said... [reply]

I haven't read this book, but you review was amazing. My belief is that God made everyone the way they are, and if you are questioning the way someone lives their life you are questing God's choice. God is love. And how can loving be wrong? (unless it's abusive, of course)

I'm pro-gay and proud of it. My church (mostly) is and we have even had a gay bishop or two.

A friend of a friend said... [reply]

I really agree with what you said, that we must love all people. But, that doesn't mean that I have to agree with their choices or think what they are doing is right.

We're not to judge others, but we can't condone sin either. I think that why so many members have a difficult time with this issue, those options seem to be mutually exclusive.

My personal belief is that because we are mortal, we all have imperfections that we have to overcome. Remembering this makes it easier to love without judging (casting the first stone, for example). God loves us all, and we should do the same. Let Him sort out the rest.

goddessdivine said... [reply]

Love the sinner, hate the sin. I can never accept the gay lifestyle; but I would never condone any cruelty towards a gay person. They are people. We can love everyone without agreeing with the choices they make.

I'm curious. When you say you feel like a knife is twisting in you when you hear prop 8 being brought in SS, is it because you don't agree with prop 8? I guess I'm just asking because it is also brought up from time to time in my SS or RS, but for various reasons....none of which to condemn or bash the gay community. It might be to show the Church's staunch position on marriage or how some members lost their testimonies and fell away because the Church asked them to canvas or how many members of the Church were severely persecuted by others for their involvement....or something along those lines. Sometimes I wish I still resided in CA so that I could have helped on that front.

Nemesis said... [reply]

Goddess, thanks for asking for the clarification--unfortunately, in a lot of the wards I have been in, Prop 8 mention has been more about gay-bashing. Or about criticizing members of the church in CA who felt conflicted about participating because of situations within their own families. One time I was attending with my mother-in-law when the discussion started going downhill and she tried to speak up in favor of remembering to be kind and trying to understand why this is such a personal issue for a lot of people. The TEACHER shot down what she said. He was kind of an A-hole about it, sadly. But later people came up and thanked her for her comment because they were feeling uncomfortable with the ugly tone too.

Suedles said... [reply]

Thank you for this post. I've been looking for something to read on this very subject for 2 years when one of my very good friends told me he was gay. He tried very hard to stay in the church, but found it too difficult because he didn't have very much support. I was sad when he decided to leave the church, but I knew that it wouldn't affect our friendship at all. I will definitely read this book.

perkiwindy said... [reply]

Oh my...I could.NOT.AGREE.MORE! I have been so discouraged by this whole topic. These are PEOPLE too, sons and daughters of the same God. I like (and maybe you have read it as well), what this blogger had to say about it: http://www.danoah.com/2011/11/im-christian-unless-youre-gay.html
We will get so much farther with our beliefs as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints if we just do that...follow Jesus Christ and do as he would. I doubt he would hate. He wouldn't bend his beliefs, but he would NOT hate.

Nemesis said... [reply]

Perkiwendy, just followed your link to the "I'm Christian . . . unless you're gay" article and WOW. Am now reading some of the comments he posted afterwards and it's kind of stunning to see the disparity.

Emily said... [reply]

A couple years ago my brother-in-law realized that he is gay. He read everything he could find, and then he compiled a book called "Gay Mormons?" which has stories from a bunch of gay Mormons. (It was published about a year ago, on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Gay-Mormons-Latter-day-Experiences-Same-Gender/dp/1461034221/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1330635561&sr=8-1 )

I read most of his book, and it was very interesting to me.

It's easy to feel like gays are sinners, or whatever, when they're big into the pride parades and gay rights and in-your-face stuff...but the Gay Mormons? book has several guys who shared journal entries from when they were little kids. Even back then they liked "neat" boys in their classes and stuff. It's just so innocent. And, some of them write about trying so hard to change, or not be different. Some of the stories are just so sincere, and the guys are so eager to be good...and some of them face such hard situations--exclusion from their families or communities, etc.

In the end, I just really felt a lot of compassion towards gay people. I don't know what makes people gay, or what God expects from them, but I have a pretty clear understanding of what God expects from me in this regard: I need to be inclusive, and not judge at all. That doesn't mean I need to support gay marriage politically (I really think it should be up to churches, actually, and not a state issue at all). But yeah, being inclusive and not judging have been my takeaways from that.

AmyJane said... [reply]

Didn't you ever read Goodbye, I love You? I picked it up for my mom's shelves in HS and could not put it down. Huge part of my opinions on this whole subject,

AmyJane said... [reply]

Sorry, posted before I was done. Anyway, somehow I thought you had read her earlier book and recollected talking to you about it. I'm crazy.
Anyway. This is just such a hard issue because loving the people and accepting/condoning the sin is a really fine line to walk. I think at this point nearly everyone I know has a cousin/uncle/brother/sister and is personally touched by the issue. It's a hard thing. Will definitely look into this book!

Nemesis said... [reply]

Amyjane, you aren't crazy. We probably absolutely had a conversation about the book and then later I probably forgot the specifics. But I really have not read it yet, which is amazing considering how much time I spent at your house and how I probably COULD have gone through all the books. :-)

MJ said... [reply]

My opinion has evolved from a "love the sinner hate the sin" stance to "it's none of my business". I disagree with Prop 8 for this reason--the government SHOULD recognize unions be they married, gay, or just old friends who are old, retired, and roommates. If you're cohabitating with someone, and sharing a life together, be it of a sexual nature or completely platonic, you should be recognized as an important person in each other's lives. Marriage, on the other hand, should be a completely religious thing, and up to the church to decide who they will and won't marry.

My issue with Prop 8 is that it's not up to me to tell someone how to live their life. If someone is gay, that is their lot in life, and it is not my responsiblity to "set them straight". Pun not intended. Sorry, my friends.

I have many gay friends, and I'm sorry to say that when I was young, and my best friend first came out to me, I told him I didn't want him to be around my future kids, because I was afraid they'd "catch" being gay; I was sadly mistaken.

I know better now. And should one of my sons be gay, well, he's still my son, and he'll always be welcome in my house. So will his boyfriends. All I can do is teach my children to pray, and read the scriptures with them, and teach them as best I can to be good, upstanding members of the community, and leave the rest to God.

Liz Johnson said... [reply]

An unequivocal AMEN to what MJ has said. And I think it's important for people to realize that being gay is NOT a sin. We often say we "love the sinner, hate the sin," but then we eschew all gay people as though they're somehow a bad influence by simply being gay. And that is absolutely ridiculous.

Science Teacher Mommy said... [reply]

FAIR did a series of podcasts late last year through early this year in which they interviewed a lot of people on all sides of this issues--mothers, fathers, gay members, formerly gay members. The message of love is reiterated so forcefully in those remarkable interviews in a first hand way. In addition, the though has struck me so powerfully that nobody's story is written yet.

In college I spoke with a loving bishop about the Church's stand on homosexuality because I had a roommate who was getting serious with a wannabe seminary teacher was vocally and cruelly anti-gay (it was 1993). I was confused. My wonderful bishop said plainly, "But won't we ALL die in our sins? I hope to the Heavens that your roommate's young man is NEVER a seminary teacher." It was enough for me then. It has often been enough for me since. Won't we all die in our sins? Are we not all beggars for God's mercy? The people in our generation had better figure out ways to understand/deal/approach/whatever the issue. It will effect every single one of us in some way before this life is over.

Janssen said... [reply]

I love this post so much. This has been much on my mind of late and I think so often about what a woman in my ward said about how she would never want someone to hear a comment in church that would make them feel unwelcome or unloved. If only everyone could have that in mind when they raise their hand to say something in Sunday School.

perkiwindy said... [reply]

Nemesis...I mostly liked how he suggested how we follow what Jesus would do and like they teach in primary "love One Another". Made it so simple for me. We don't need to condone what we don't believe, but we don't have any right to judge. :) Glad to have read your post today!

Desmama said... [reply]

Excellent post, my friend. The discussions I've been privy to in Church have never taken on the loving, compassionate tone they should have and it's been shameful (well, except when my friend spoke up and then had to leave the room because she got so worked up.) I also like what someone previously said about how just being gay is not a sin, and it's ridiculous to paint it as such.

G said... [reply]

I love what Desmama said. Being gay isn't a sin.

Fornication and adultery are sins. It must be so painful for gay members of the LDS church that they are often treated as though they are automatically sinners. As long as they are remaining chaste, they've done nothing wrong. I'm not saying it would be easy to lead a celibate life, but God asks the same thing of many single members who can't find someone to marry. I'm not trying to make light of the unique struggle of not even being ABLE to marry a person you are attracted to, I'm just pointing out that people are often very unfair in their sympathies toward single members who are heterosexual versus homosexual. My heart goes out to ALL of them their valiant efforts to be sexually pure.

goddessdivine said... [reply]

Lest people mistook my first comment--of course sin doesn't occur until feelings are acted upon. I use this phrase to reiterate that we love everyone regardless of the choices s/he has made....be it adultery, drug abuse, pornography, dishonesty, etc, etc. I would have used the same terminology had this post been about those struggling with a dangerous addiction.

Anonymous said... [reply]

Gosh, this is a tough issue for me. I pretty much try to ignore it. Which is stupid. My first husband is now gay, and for years I felt like I was his "experiment" to try to be straight. I was deeply hurt by the fact that I went into the marriage completely blind to his struggles. I was young and stupid and have since moved on to build a wonderful family. I have a feeling this book would feel like ripping my heart out just a little bit. I loved him and I wanted what was best for him, but I also felt horribly lied-to. I don't know if I'll ever get up the gumption to read it.

Nemesis said... [reply]

@Anonymous

Oh, Anonymous. I'm so sorry. I can't tell you how you would react to the book, but I do know that the author talks about women just like you. She says it's wrong to "sacrifice" (her word) women into marriages like the one you experienced. Because like you said--it's painful for the gay person, but it's also terrible for their spouses and children, especially if they had no idea what they were getting into.

I'm so glad you are in a better situation now.

Mrs. Clark said... [reply]

I am astounded at the stuff that goes on in Utah Church meetings. Here on the East Coast, there would be a ton of people who would jump all over you for making a biased political comment.

I heard in a Sacrament meeting in my son's ward (in Orem, but mostly students) that the Lord is just as interested in your neighbor's happiness and well-being as he is in yours. So true.

morgan said... [reply]

As you touched on, the reconciliation between what my religion tells me and what my heart believes has always been my biggest struggle.

The documentary "For the Bible Tells Me So" (currently streaming instantly on Netflix) obviously has an agenda (as any documentary does), but I thought it was fascinating, and certainly got me thinking....

Holly said... [reply]

I'm trying not to cry.

I left the church over a different issue and am now married to a transgendered male. He was born as a female. My family is still very active in the LDS church and can't wrap their heads around how I could do this to them.

It has left huge scars on our relationship; my kids don't see as much of my parents as I always imagined they would.

I did not plan to love a member of the GLBT community. I did not plan to become a member of the community by loving him. I am still a child of God. I am still a great person of worth. I still got my medallions in YW. I still know what it takes to be a good and honest person. I am not a sinner.

I think everyone has something to learn. My mom says that it's something to overcome and surpress. I can't help but wonder, though, what if my husband's cross to bear is different? What if it is to be brave enough to live out loud and help make it easier for someone else who is not brave enough to do it on their own? What if he is saving lives by living his reality true to himself and leaving the rest up to God, too?

Erica said... [reply]

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Not for any particular reason other than trying to sort out my particular feelings about this. And while I still have a lot of personal confusion about this, these are the conclusions I've come up with:

Most importantly, Christ taught us to love everyone and to treat everyone with love. If we are saying anything hateful or demeaning someone because we don't agree with them, that is not Christ-like.

Second, right now the prophet, who I do believe speaks for God, tells us that the act of homosexuality is a sin. But that doesn't mean you hate or mistreat those who practice homosexuality (see 1). In fact, we all sin. We all have friends who sin. Do we start hating them because they sin in a way we don't? (Ex: many of my friends out here drink, co-habitat, etc., but that doesn't mean I'm better than they because I DON'T do those things.)

Third: I don't think the gov't should grant marriages to ANYONE. I think the gov't should only do civil unions and marriages are solely by churches. Many, if not all, Europeans countries and Canada are like this.

Last: It bothers me when people refer to homosexuals as if that is who they are. Their same-gender attraction doesn't define them just as my heterosexual feelings don't define me. We are all more than our sexual feelings! I think there would be less discrimination if people could stop labeling and boxing people in like they do.

emandtrev said... [reply]

Great post, Nem. Like Kayla, my personal politics are usually something I keep to myself, but I am also of the school of thought that (a) church is not the place to bring such politics into discussion and assume that everyone feels the exact same way as whomever is doing the talking (or to resort to bashing, etc.), and (b) to discriminate or treat someone differently just because they are different than you is wrong. Period.

annie (the annilygreen one) said... [reply]

my two (or more) cents: sometimes i try to imagine it the other way around. what if i had gone to my parents when i was a teenager (as a straight female) and told them that i like boys. mom and dad, i'm attracted to boys and want to have sex with boys. at that point in my life, having sex with boys would have been a horrible sin. but does that mean they would have disowned me or told me i was disgusting or stopped letting me be around people's kids? no. so what in the world makes us think that it's an appropriate response to someone who is gay? and i don't want to offend anyone, but the whole "don't judge but don't condone sin" and "love the sin, hate the sinner" stuff makes me sick to my stomach with rage. there is nothing about acting on homosexuality that is worse than a straight person's sexual sins or more our business than a straight person's sins (if a girl has sex as a teenager and gets pregnant, no one is keeping their kids away from her like they're going to catch her straight sex drive). it's a condescending thing to say, and if someone said it to me about any of the things i do wrong every day, i'd be hurt. so i'm not going to say it about anyone else.

Suzette said... [reply]

I'm glad you blogged about this. Not only is Carol Lynn Pearson WONDERFUL, I wish anyone in a church class would remember that SOMEONE in there can/will be hurt by their comments. My sister is gay, and my mother (one of only 2 still active members in my family) loves her unconditionally like a mother should, and our family is still intact and wonderful. My mom still likes to go to church. But I know people in her ward make it so much harder for her to keep attending by making comments about "the GAYS." She is not the type to be combative or confrontational about it, nor does she feel the need to advertise "MY DAUGHTER IS GAY, PEOPLE."

Someone next to you is gay, or has a family member is gay. Is that so hard to remember?

Thanks for bringing this up.

The Atomic Mom said... [reply]

I can sympathize with Anon 1:14 on this. I have this book on my shelf, but I can't read it. I don't know if I will ever be able to read it. Having a gay sibling has been one of the hardest things I have ever had to experience. It is one thing that no church lesson has ever prepared you for. It is hard to watch your loved ones struggle with same-gender attraction and watch the misunderstadings in the Church push them away and make them feel less than a person, but it is also hard to see "the world" view of being gay pull at your sibling as well. You fear for them and for their choices and what the consequences of those choices are, and there are no easy answers out there. I'm thankful for the recent website the church put out for SSA members and their families. There does need to be a lot more compassion on the part of members of the church and also from the gay community if an LDS person wants to stay active in the church.

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