On November 5, Kimberly Anderson
November 5th, 2015, I was in Denver, Colorado preparing to give a presentation at the Auraria Campus downtown. A presentation that I had been working on for at least 2 years. It was the third live presentation of my documentary photography and autobiographical work I was calling the 'Mama Dragon Story Project'.
In a nutshell, I was photographing with my large 5x7 film camera, portraits of women...mothers, who were largely of Mormon descent and culture. Each one of them was the mother of an LGBTQ+ child. A few of them had more than one queer kid in their family. This duality of queerness and Mormonism in a home can cause a tremendous amount of stress, anxiety, and turmoil. In many cases it can cause a a real, physical pain as individuals struggle with LDS teachings regarding homosexuality and the place of the gay and lesbian person within Mormonism. To some queer people that struggle is too much, and many have chosen to end their lives prematurely.
As I was coming to terms with my own identity, I was using this project as a vehicle of healing for my own trauma. It was also as a way to share a message of love and acceptance that Mormon mothers can have for their queer children. Each of the women I was photographing had written a powerful essay of at least a thousand words that I was editing down to be placed into a published volume at a later time.
These women are amazing and powerful and show to me that there is indeed a place where a personal faith tradition that has excluded and marginalized queer people can bend and soften and allow a love for their queer child to develop and flourish.
Ironically, my own mother is unable to participate in this project, which originally had caused me tremendous grief and anguish. Today I am at peace with an absolute lack of expectation from her on any level. It is the only way I can reconcile her behavior towards me. There is no contact between myself and her, and that is by design, both from me as well as from her.
Several of the Mama Dragons were able to travel to Denver to be able to participate in a live story-telling event that was being held on the Auraria Campus. We were all traveling to Denver and would be staying with Jody and Mike Hansen and preparing for the event when we started hearing the news. Many of us were driving and hearing the news via text or phone calls. The cell service between Vernal, Utah and Denver can be spotty and difficult at best and getting a smooth, reliable stream of information via Facebook was frustrating.
As we found our way to the Hansen's home on the west side of Denver, we were all a little bit numb as we realized what had been leaked and then later confirmed by internal sources as well as LDS Public Affairs. In order to not paraphrase and misconstrue the addition, here it is from the official Handbook 1, which is secret and available only to the highest levels of Mormon leadership:
Children of a Parent Living in a Same-Gender Relationship
A natural or adopted child of a parent living in a same-gender relationship, whether the couple is married or cohabiting, may not receive a name and a blessing.
A natural or adopted child of a parent living in a same-gender relationship, whether the couple is married or cohabiting, may be baptized and confirmed, ordained, or recommended for missionary service only as follows:
A mission president or a stake president may request approval from the Office of the First Presidency to baptize and confirm, ordain, or recommend missionary service for a child of a parent who has lived or is living in a same-gender relationship when he is satisfied by personal interviews that both of the following requirements are met:
1. The child accepts and is committed to live the teachings and doctrine of the Church, and specifically disavows the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage.
2. The child is of legal age and does not live with a parent who has lived or currently lives in a same-gender cohabitation relationship or marriage.
Additionally, the definition of Apostasy was expanded on and the following was added:
As used here, apostasy refers to members who:
4. Are in a same-gender marriage.
The ramifications were, to put it mildly, mind-boggling. Each of the five women who were going to present on the 9th were discussing scenarios that would affect their children. Each of them had envisioned scenarios that would potentially affect their grandchildren. They worried about the happiness their children might not find if they were unable to find a partner of their choosing and become married in a way that would render them Apostate and subject to church discipline and possible excommunication.
There was a solemn palor in the Hansen home that weekend as we each processed our own grief and pain on an individual basis, but then many break-out sessions of group healing also took place. I cannot think of a better group of people to have been among that weekend as this news broke.
I had logistical concerns to finalize over the next few days and was pleasantly distracted from more heavy emotional work thinking about and processing what the policy would mean for me on an individual level.
I am a person who has made a journey from being raised as a man, to that of presenting and living as a woman. There are various personal reasons for me making this life-changing decision, which I will not go into here. I can go by many names, letters, titles, etc., which play into some of my ability to postpone the heavy emotions hitting me too hard. I will attempt to explain a few of them, some of them are nuanced so much that it is even difficult to wrap my own head around them. I will try my best.
I had been wrestling with my internal sense of identity for the better part of 45 years by that time and had grown up in a church full of damaging and hateful rhetoric for homosexuals and homosexual behavior. I knew that the attitude was shifting from outright hate-speech to a more gentle form of, 'We'd really like you to stay'. It seemed like things would get better then something spoken officially would hit like a ton of bricks. This see-saw would happen at least 4-5 times a year and was growing old, if not predictable.
I had seen the writing on the wall for many, many years, so when it finally hit, it absolutely did not surprise me. As someone who had been married for 20 years and raising two children, I was able to fly under the radar, as my identity was not clearly spoken to. Internally I had always considered myself to be in a homosexual marriage. My wife however, did not. The church, in it's absolute refusal to address any issues regarding transgender identity, would never recognize me as a woman, so in their eyes, I was in a heterosexual relationship. This kept me from internalizing the damaging messages regarding gay marriage too much.
An interesting complication was that my oldest son was then currently serving an LDS mission. Was he hearing word of the POX as it was quickly coming to be known as? This Policy Of eXclusion was a subtle change and wouldn't affect many missionaries. Most missionaries are quite oblivious to these small changes in policy and the next time I heard from him, no mention of it was made. I did not bring it up. Nor have I ever to either him, or my daughter, who is preparing to finish her LDS mission in December of this year.
While the Mama Dragons in Denver were working through their individual feelings regarding the POX, we had an event to plan. It was a good thing that the words they would recite were already written and edited. It was a good thing that the format had been tried and tested several times prior. It was a good thing that the facilities and our local host were on top of things so well. The evening went off without a hitch.
In those three or four days to process the POX, I never really got that worked up. I never got very emotional. I only held space gently for those women and mothers who were taking it very painfully and personally. Rightly so. Many of them had been working with local leaders to create safe spaces for other LGBTQ+ children in their own wards. Many of them had been struggling internally, looking for a way to “make it work”. The POX certainly made it more difficult for many of them.
I, on the other hand, had been a literal disbeliever for many years. My faith slowly crumbled over decades of silence from a God who I was told would let me know everything, if I would only ask in faith. I did. Repeatedly. Over and over and over. I plead and begged and tried everything I could to be the person God told me I should be. This came at a tremendous emotional price. One that I will be paying for the rest of my life.
This emotional and spiritual separation from the LDS church and the Mormon version of God kept me at a very long arms-length from this policy. In my eyes it was the church finally catching up in a way visible to the public, things that I had known and felt for a very long time. I tried not to gloat as I witnessed others' pain. I tried very hard not to let my indignation be visible. I hope I succeeded. It would not have been very helpful to the friends I love so much to see on my face.
I resigned officially from the Mormon church on November 5th, 2016, one year to the date of the original leaked document. I resigned at the Oakland Mormon temple, where I was sealed to my adoptive parents 47 years earlier. I wanted my journey out of Mormonism to end at the same place that it began. I had another Mama Dragon friend accompany me that day and I was taken very good care of in my moment of truth.
Transgender people have been largely ignored in the years since. There has been increased rhetoric aimed squarely at us in the past few weeks from both Dallin Oaks and Russel Nelson. The two top leaders in the Mormon church. They are equating transgender people as confused by Satan and people that need to be directly opposed by both the church and it's members. New, original 'doctrine' has been created regarding the eternal and unchanging nature of one's gender. This rhetoric from the Mormon church has increased at precisely the same time that anti-trans policies have been coming from State and Federal leaders, particularly President Donald Trump.
I have much to say about those who would call themselves allies to the LGBTQ+ population and try to walk that line between supporting queer people and retaining a membership in the Mormon church. I cannot see that it is a viable space to occupy. I am withdrawing myself from those conversations and from those individuals as I see them as damaging and part of the oppression that nearly killed me.
I am sure I will hear language of “Not All Mormons”. Please save your breath. Not today.