“How do you balance what the Church has said with the revelation you’ve received?” my sister asked me once over the phone, her voice just on the edge of breaking.
It made me pause and I don’t even remember the answer I gave her anymore. But I know it wasn’t enough. So I’m trying again.
I first came out as bisexual in high school, to two or three close friends. I had no relationship with the Church and I loved that. By the time I came out to my family almost two years later, I was preparing for a mission (a story and journey for a different collection of essays), and I loved that.
I’ve never said out loud that I’d hoped my mission would make me forget my queerness. I still don’t count writing it down as saying it out loud. I didn’t want to be changed or “cured,” I just didn’t want to think about it for the duration of my mission and then maybe deal with it when I got home. Instead, my mission became the place I thought about my queerness more than ever.
A month into my mission, my companion read us an email from her mom. “The Church has released a policy saying children of gay parents cannot be blessed or baptized until they’re 18 and disavow their parents’ lifestyle.” My heart sunk, but it shattered when my companion continued, “Good for them. It’s about time, honestly,” her own words, not her mother’s.
It was the only time on my mission I wanted to go home. I prayed through sobs that night. Angry that God wouldn’t let me forget. Distraught that people just like me were suffering in the same way and I had no way to reach out and help them. Confused at the place of any of this in the grand scheme of things.
God has spoken to me exactly twice in my life. I mean, really spoken to me. This time, my Father said, “I promise it will all be ok. I need you to trust me.” It was a plea. I didn’t know God could plead with Their children. I didn’t know I was worthy of being plead for. But I listened. I stayed.
The rest of my mission saw me emerge from my pink, purple, and blue cocoon. To this day, I cannot accurately describe how incredibly beautiful Ukrainian women are. There was no more question of “Do I want to be you, or do I want to be with you?” It was always clear and I was falling in love several times a day. And each time, I would roll my eyes at God, knowing that They were absolutely getting a kick out of this. I prayed every night, at first frenzied questions of “Why do I still feel like this?” and “I’m trusting you, why aren’t you giving anything back?” but as time passed, I worried less and snarked more. “Well, woman was your ultimate creation, and who am I to not appreciate that?” I joked one night, and another, “I guess I should just be grateful you’ve only allowed me to develop crushes on strangers, not any of my companions,” (although this one backfired just a few weeks later).
My mission taught me that being bisexual was an integral, holy part of who I am and made me feel, maybe for the first time in my adult life, completely confident. Getting home, I knew that the next natural step was to publicly come out.
I didn’t spend much time on the post. The words flowed out more naturally than anything I’d ever written before, as if they’d just been waiting for me to open the floodgates. “Here I am,” I said, “I am bisexual. I am proud of who I am and if anybody has any questions, please ask me, I'm not hiding anything.” The comments trickled in slowly, mostly messages of love and support. My lesbian cousin joked about how excited she was to share the title of “token queer.” A former companion called me in tears asking if it meant I’d leave the church. I chuckled at her melodrama while explaining that I knew I was bi before my mission and I still went, so there was no reason for anything to change now.
And nothing changed. I moved back to Utah for school, I kissed boys, I gazed longingly at girls. My life was normal. Comfortable. I felt the same, only freer. I thanked God every night for blessing me with the confidence and support system to be the person They always knew I could be.
Then my father came to visit my sister and I for a long weekend. We went out to eat, caught a movie, chatted about his and my mother’s transition to being empty-nesters. Everything was normal. Comfortable. Until it wasn’t.
“Publicly coming out was a mistake.”
He sat on the bed across from mine, eyes fixed on the floor. He said the words softly enough that I almost think he didn’t want me to hear them. So I pretended like I didn’t. He cleared his throat and tried again:
“I mean, be true to yourself by all means, but what if a future employer sees that and doesn’t hire you because of it?”
My head set off spinning. Is this the new normal? I thought I’d gotten a clean coming out story. I’d been counting my blessings only to jinx myself. I should have known it was only a matter of time before the other shoe dropped.
“Then that’s not a company I want to work for.”
I barely felt myself come back with the rebuttal. It shut the conversation down, but his words hung in the air for as long as I lived in that apartment. He saved the comment until the very end of his trip and I wondered if it was to spare me the shame or save himself from confrontation. I didn’t have much time to contemplate before I drove him to the airport. He hugged me goodbye and said, “I love you… no matter what.” Like it should be normal.
As time passed, I realized the conversation with my dad had just been a bump in the road. My world still revolved. I still went to school. I still had crushes on men and women. I still cuffed my jeans. I fell in love with and started dating my best friend and didn’t feel like I was betraying any part of myself. I moved to Washington D.C. for an internship and so far away from my friends and family, I felt myself getting to know myself and I loved her.
In a fairly standard, “getting-to-know-you” interview, I told my new bishop about my bisexuality and my boyfriend. “You know,” he said exuberantly, “I’m really impressed that you chose to be with a man.” His voice echoed in my heart like my mission companion’s and my father’s. In just over ten words, he’d managed to invalidate my sexuality and my relationship and send me spiraling into the familiar caverns of self-doubt. Was I dating my boyfriend just to not continue crushing on women? Had the personal revelation I’d received on my mission expired? Was I wrong? Had I always been wrong?
The only thing that got me through that experience, and the experience with my father, and the experience with my companion, and every experience since, has been God’s plea: “Trust me.” While the words of others fill me with doubt and shame, God’s words have always been the soil in which my confidence grows. And the more I trust Them, the more I’m compelled to tell my own story and ask others to practice the same trust in me that I have in Them.
When my sister asked me how I balance what the Church has said with the revelation I have received, I told her, “I just trust.” But I wished I could have played her a recording of a daughter crying out for answers and a Father responding with compassion as bright as a rainbow. I wished I could have prayed every prayer over again with her so she could feel the warmth of every reply, every reassurance. I wished, as I often do, for the day when that question becomes obsolete, when we no longer have to rely on trust because God is there and They hold us and we all just know.
Instead I hoped that being created in the image of Heavenly Parents could somehow reach my voice so she could hear the plea I’ve been playing on repeat for years. That’s what I hope you all hear now.