hard conversations, by Jaclyn Foster
Updated: Sep 18, 2018
“And by the time I identified as being gay, it was too late. I was already homophobic, and you do not get to just flick a switch on that. No, what you do is you internalize that homophobia … because the closet can only stop you from being seen. It is not shame-proof.” –Hannah Gadsby, Nanette
The LDS Policy of Exclusion leaked the first Thursday in November. I learned about it via Facebook. And on Friday, November 6, at 3:50 PM, I came out of the closet on Facebook.
The first thing my mom said was that she was angry at me. Of course she loved me, and she accepted me, but she was angry that I hadn’t given her a heads up, that she’d had to learn about it on Facebook at the same time as everybody else. It was a valid complaint, but when your brain has been on fire for over 24 hours straight, “anger” is not an emotion you’re equipped to deal with. Because of all the adrenaline muddying my brain, I don’t remember anything about that conversation, except that I was crying, and she was crying, and she said she hadn’t known what to tell my sister.
“She’s 14,” I said, “I think she can handle it.”
“Not about you. About the policy.”
Three years and a lot of unspoken conversations later, I get it. My mom wasn’t any more prepared for the Policy of Exclusion than I was, and for your child to suddenly confront you with hard questions you can’t answer is a lot to handle. My mom said my sister was mainly concerned about the children, and how hard it would be for them, and the conversation contained a lot of “I don’t know,” “I hope so,” and “we’ll have to show them extra love and pray for them.” It was an unsatisfying resolution, but I think she did a good job.
And yet, three years later, that’s the part of my coming out story that’s stuck in my head. Not the part about me, but about my sister, and being 14, and having hard conversations.
When I was 14, it was the end of 2007. I had a fake crush on a guy I knew was just a friend, and a real crush on a girl I thought was just a friend. Gay marriage had been legalized in Canada before I could remember it, but in my heavily Mormon province, Proposition 8 loomed large. We didn’t phone bank, or donate, or speak much about the proposition per se – my parents couldn’t even remember if we were supposed to support Yes or No – but the topic swirled around me. General Conference. Seminary. Even in my public high school, the combination of Mormon students and the Canadian fascination with all things south of the border meant that Social Studies and English discussions regularly came back to it.
My parents didn’t have a hard conversation with me. In fact, we didn’t have any conversation at all. I can remember exactly two times my parents discussed homosexuality with me, and both were by accident.
The first was when I used our appropriately public desktop computer to read a blog by a faithful Mormon “struggling with same-gender attraction.” I didn’t know we had anything in common, but I read post after post, glued to the faith-promoting shame pouring out from between the pixels, when my dad walked in and asked what I was doing. His face crinkled in disgust as he said, “don’t read that stuff.” I was confused. The anonymous author was going to extremes to keep the commandments, but the blog was still “that stuff”? The shame kept me from asking any more questions. I just nodded and closed the window.
The second, a few years later, came as we watched season 1 of Modern Family. Cam and Mitchell shared a kiss onscreen, and I froze in shock. They did it like it was so normal. Just like anyone else kissing? Was it allowed to be normal? Was I being homophobic right now?
What was I supposed to do?
My mom looked at my carefully composed face with concern. “Maybe we shouldn’t watch this anymore. It normalizes this too much.” It wasn’t allowed to be normal.
The shame-based conversation vacuum was readily filled anyways. Conference talks, Sunday School lessons, and heated debates in Social Studies 10-1 where I quoted Leviticus, all in quick succession.
I kissed a girl, and I liked it… sang as I suntanned. I repented and turned off the radio.
“Your analysis of Katy Perry’s music is so unbiased even though you’re Mormon,” my English teacher praised.
Baby you were born this way… I repented and turned off the radio.
“Love the sinner, hate the sin,” my seminary teacher explained. Of course. It was so simple. Why would anyone think Mormons are homophobic? I updated my Leviticus-based argument accordingly.
“This assignment is so hard. I haven’t been able to find any secular sources about why gay marriage is bad for society,” my BYU classmate complained. “Have you found any?” I shook my head silently. What if there weren’t any?
My mission companion reached for my hand, innocent comfort after a long day. “Haha, wouldn’t it be awkward if I were a lesbian?” I joked. She laughed too, then got mock-serious. “But Sister Olson, it’s okay if you are.” I laughed again, sure this was still part of the joke. She snuggled in closer, oblivious to my racing heart. It never occurred to me she was actually serious.
I don’t know. I hope so. We’ll have to show them extra love. Hard conversations I never got to have.
So I wish, when I was 14, someone close enough to me had caught my mom off-guard so we could have a hard conversation. Because by the time I came out, by the time we started having hard conversations, I was already homophobic.