Easy Conversations, by Jaclyn Foster
[For the prequel, see this post] Utah, 2018 It was one of our last weeks in married housing south of BYU campus before moving to the suburbs of Salt Lake. I had just arrived home from a trip to visit my parents, and I knew it had been lonely for my spouse staying behind to work. We cuddled in bed, when our conversation took an unexpected turn. The crux of it was: “I — I don’t think I’m cis. I don’t know what yet.” I tried hard not to pause. “Well, I’m bisexual,” I said in what I hoped was a reassuringly casual tone, “I’m sure I’ll be okay with whatever you land on.” A few days later, we did our makeup together for the Provo Freedom Festival — Queer Meals had set up a flamboyantly defiant rainbow tent along the parade route, and we turned out to help Make America Gay Again. I had ordered a rainbow dress just for the occasion, my pale shoulders burning in the July heat. We posted smiling pictures to twitter, and my mom called me, crying. “Of course I still wear my garments,” I reassured, not wanting to have this conversation, “The rainbow dress was for the event. Like a costume.” “I have friends who wear Halloween costumes without garments,” my mom responded, “that’s a personal choice. But you’re not wearing your garments in your haircut selfie from the other day either.”
Shit. How had she even noticed that — I’d worn that t-shirt over garments plenty of times before. I had lied, again, to avoid a conversation about the church — and not only had it not gotten me out of discussing it, but now she knew I had lied. I sent my parents a lengthy and remorseful email a few days later. In answer to prayer, I explained, I was Marie Kondo-ing my relationship with the church. “All my life, anything that made me feel like I'd made you sad, or angry, or disappointed, has been disproportionately painful to me,” I wrote. “Making you feel any of these things is my number one fear and I don't understand why no matter how hard I try to figure it out.” I tried to explain, “I don’t like lying to you… but I simply wasn't ready to talk about it yet, and I didn't know how to set that boundary without starting a conversation that would paradoxically cross that boundary.” My dad sent an equally lengthy response on behalf of them both. They weren’t particularly surprised, and expressed the difficulty of knowing when to say something and when to stay silent. He could relate to the fear of disappointing parents, and asked me not to equate differences with disappointment. A largely accepting email, it turned frustrating towards the end, closing “don’t abandon all things that don’t immediately yield you joy.” I had a lengthy shower argument in my head about the differences between the Marie Kondo method and instant gratification — but I let the topic drop.
Arizona, 2019 “The church doesn’t teach that, though,” my aunt protested, seemingly perplexed. “Well not officially, but a lot of people give that impression,” my mom explained. I took some selfies on the couch, trying to mentally check out of the conversation I had accidentally started. I had called a few weeks before my cousin’s wedding, knowing I couldn’t just make up a convenient excuse to skip the temple ceremony when there were so many willing younger cousins to watch my toddler for me. “Do you still believe in a higher power?” was her first question when I said I didn’t have a recommend. “Yeah, I still believe in God and Jesus and all that stuff…I just can’t do church anymore.” The conversation had gone well, the first time we’d both been emotional in a conversation without making me panic about our relationship. “I believe progression between kingdoms is possible,” she had cried, and I held myself back from asking if she assumed I’d be starting at a lower one. But now with the extended family I was watching her take my side, even if only she and I knew that’s what was happening. The next evening, I found myself alone with that same aunt during the reception. She asked about my in-laws, and I made a reference to my brother-in-law’s boyfriend. “He grew up Jehovah’s Witness, so he kind of got how hard it was for Luke to grow up Mormon.” “Wait, why was it hard for him? I thought he was closeted until recently,” she asked. I did the internal equivalent of a spit-take, remained carefully composed on the outside, and set about explaining internalized homophobia. I must have done it a little too well, because she immediately asked with sincere concern, “So how are you doing?” The previous evening’s conversation flashed through my mind. “Oh, I’m good,” I lied. She raised her eyes at the blatant contradiction. “Oh yeah?” “Yeah.” My favorite aunt from childhood, and I couldn’t even bring myself to have that conversation. Canada, 2019 “The premier is supposed to be at the barbecue tomorrow,” my mom said. “Oh yeah?” “Yeah, they want all the Relief Society presidents to be in the picture to look like the party and the church have women in leadership, I guess.” I gave a polite chuckle, waiting to see where this went. “So if they’re going to make me be in the picture, I was thinking we could go to the mall and see if they have any pride shirts left I could wear.” “Uh…yeah. Yeah that would be great.” Making it through the mall before it closed would be tight. We power walked through stores where I’d searched for a prom dress with sleeves, stores where we’d bought my new post-mission wardrobe. Now they were stores where I’d bought pride gear with my mom. We picked through the sparse end-of-June selection and settled on a grey tee with a small rainbow stripe across the chest. Subtle enough to have plausibly worn by accident, but those with eyes to see would see. One of those eyes, as it turned out, was my former babysitter. “She asked if I wore it on purpose,” my mom related afterwards as we drove out to Kananaskis, “and I said yes. Then she said, ‘you know, your talk in Stake Conference really changed my mind on some things.’” I watched my mom later, skipping rocks into the river with my daughter as she’d done so many times with me in the same spot. I snuck a quick photo. My mom in her pride shirt. Canada, 2020 Two weeks was a long time to quarantine. Kya stayed in the US, unable to take that long off work. My mom and sister stayed with my Grandma so they could keep working their in-person jobs, and my dad and other sister stayed cooped up in the house with myself and a four year old with an insatiable need for entertainment. In a rare quiet moment, my dad and I sat in silence in the front room, reading. You could just tell him about Kya right now, you know, something inside of me thought. After a moment of surprise, I pushed it aside. Of course I couldn’t just out my wife without discussing it first. I sat quietly, exploring this new feeling of wanting to bring up a difficult topic unprompted. When quarantine ended, I extended the vacation, driving to my grandma’s cabin in BC for a family reunion. Nobody had originally thought to invite me — I’d missed so many from living in the US, even before the pandemic. “So how come you moved to Montana?” my aunt asked casually. I froze for a moment. Oh, you know, whenever my wife comes out as trans we wanted to live somewhere other than Utah, so I cross-referenced the Human Rights Campaign’s municipal equality index with the cost of living and found this college town. “Oh it’s just um…it’s really nice there, not as hot as Utah, great scenery…we just kind of figured, with the remote work now, why not, you know?” Canada, 2021 The same front room. Another quarantine, this time before my sister’s wedding. My mom, instead of my dad, on the leather chair — me, in my usual spot on the couch. I don’t even remember what we were talking about, but suddenly my mom was telling me about the “trans girl” who occasionally came up in ward council. “I said, oh she’s just turned 18, we should welcome her to Relief Society — we’ve done that for other less active teens before. And Brother So-and-so said, well I don’t think she’d appreciate that, she identifies as a boy. So I said, well then we should be welcoming HIM to ELDERS QUORUM.” She laughed almost helplessly, frustrated. I texted the story to Kya, stuck home working again. “So I think my mom will be okay whenever you come out,” I concluded.
“Well that’s good, at least,” she replied. A few days later, I stood at the top of the basement stairs, my mom almost to the bottom on her way to the food storage room. I had too many secrets, and one had to burble out. “So I haven’t confirmed with the OB yet —“ My mom turned around. “But you might want to think about doing Christmas in Montana instead this year.” She ran up the stairs without fetching her canned goods and enveloped me in a hug. Montana, 2021 The agreed-upon weekend finally came. I opened my Gmail app that Friday afternoon, meaning to proofread the draft I’d eagerly written months ago. It was brief and matter-of fact, two short paragraphs to let them know the good news: I had a wife! I’d intended to send it off the next day, but had my first moment of wanting to procrastinate. Rather than letting the nerves grow, though, I entered each person’s email address and pressed send before I could dwell on it. Then I texted my mom: “Sent you guys an email, not bad news just felt like more of an email thing than a family group text thing. When you get it can you check I got all my siblings emails right?” Her response was almost immediate. The first word I saw was congratulations. “Hey I just read it, congratulations to Kya Mae and your family. Love flows better when we can be our true selves.” I had expected acceptance, by this point — but I had also expected nervousness, a tense protectiveness against the world that I would have to work to not misinterpret as something else. Kya came out of her office, misty-eyed. “You can’t do that while I’m working,” she joked. My mom had immediately texted her as well. Love flows better when we can be our true selves. As I went about my surprisingly normal weekend, that phrase rang over and over in my head. My mom had been talking about me and Kya, of course — but all I could think about was her and I.