I am not a direct descendant of the pioneers. Handcarts did not carry meager morsels and bundles of dusty family heirlooms. I have never felt the beckoning that Zion must have brought to their faithful bosoms, but on an overcast and slightly breezy July 24th I had a spark flash through me as I hugged my knees and scruffed my Corgi mutt’s ears. His leash was loosely wound around my wrist, and when he looked up at me with a backwards-crooked-headcock I felt satisfaction rising in me like steam out of a tea kettle. I was creating my Zion.
His tongue flopped out and dangled sideways like pink tissue paper. It curled back into his mouth as the full fledged doggy smile shifted to a lazy day yawn. It was my exact sentiment as I glanced down at my faded rainbow Kokopelli on my right ankle. For years I learned how to shift my body where my rainbow was covered by appendages or life accessories. Some people have nightmares of going to church in their underwear, but my nightmare was a pencil skirt and a toddler who had finally fully integrated into nursery. My exposed tattoo used to summon panic attacks. Not just the tattoo, but anything that brought attention to a life I’d sworn was behind me for good because that was the only way I believed God would love and accept me. As though learning to adapt to a heteronormative society was like giving up my vodka and Pinot Noir. Hardly dear. Hardly.
As the breeze blew wisps of hair across my forehead I smiled the smile of a woman full of relief. Full of satisfaction as I gazed upon the splash pad and park. There was a perfectly paired mom and dad who looked lovingly into one another’s eyes while they followed their barely walking toddler. There were clusters of young mothers sitting in tiny tent cabanas and visiting. There were grandmas and grandpas playing with expansive amounts of grandchildren. Then there was me. Barefoot in a comfy Aeropostale shirt, old jeans I had transformed into cutoffs, no makeup, and a smile expressing pure contentment that I had yet to measure myself up to anyone in my vision.
It’s taken a decade of church reactivity to get to this place. The place where I stopped tormenting myself with solutions of how to be a better Mormon woman. The place where my toes digging into the thin blades of grass while I listened to BB King and Stevie Ray Vaughn on my AirPods felt like home. I could see both my children doing life the way they both did life so contently, and because I was finally in this place where I was everything I was meant to be I didn’t feel the need to begin examining how I could make them do a version of themselves I was more comfortable with. Nicholas was strolling the playground in a daydreamy state only occasionally interacting with someone as he shared the zip line with other kids. Connor was immersed in the cluster of children on the water slide. I could see him expressing every feeling in his little body as he talked with his hands flailing in the air and his head bobbing up and down. They were both perfect, and I could finally see them perfectly.
It’s taken hard work to get to a place where a public park in Utah county wouldn’t make me feel like a fraud. Bringing children to prove that I had loved a man the right way, and my body had grown this evidence that I was just like everyone else. It took time to realize that using "everyone else" as a generalization left out the couples who struggled with infertility, couples who had lost their children to disease or tragedy, or men or women who never had an opportunity to marry and begin families of their own.
I’ve spent many awkward moments recently learning to speak my truth in Sunday School and Relief Society. Mostly because I spent almost a decade sliding down in my seat every time homosexuality or alternative families became topics of discussion. I spent so much time trying to be invisible, and trying to not even think the word gay in a chapel that speaking my truth is forlorn. The words bitter and fuzzy on my tongue. In the moment it feels like I’m about to make the most important comment I’ve ever made inside a chapel, but my truth often gets too heavy halfway through. Suddenly the words are tumbling out without the courtesy of rank or order. My lips purse together and I sit there wishing someone could have recorded me. I could have offered to translate it later on when my heart wasn’t beating through my chest and out my ears.
Living my truth feels a lot like handcart pushing some days. I’ve learned through experience that no one can help get my truth cart rolling. There is a space between comfort and “On To Zion” where personal inventory becomes vital. There is no magic combination or formula that I've been encountered that tells me what portion of my truth is just along for the ride. The portions that have no role in shaping me, and are unnecessary for the journey. I've carried around the extra weight out of habit knowing that it serves no purpose, but not sure how to unload it. Recently I've felt the expediency of the unloading. I've been pushing and pulling my handcart only moving it in the tiniest of increments. Knowing where I want to get versus where I am is the great motivation of unloading with efficacy and wisdom.
This is the pioneer pattern. As if there is an instinct fueling my soul. The instinct to sort and separate all of the truth I have been given, and realizing like so many others that I am missing key ingredients. The dichotomy of holding onto my deeply rooted spirituality and my innate sexuality in a meaningful way is excruciating. Sometimes along the way as an LDS LGBTQ individual I've suffered tragic losses. A friend or loved one who was once a part of my safety net pulls the plug on their love and involvement out of fear, misunderstanding, or because I've lived a life where pain has been a main course I often serve it up without immediately realizing it. I’m learning to bury these losses in shallow graves. To protect what was once sacred and nourishing to my spirit. To weep or be angry for a moment if necessary, but then to dig deeper into a collective well of strength because that kind of loss makes me hungrier to unload all of self- destructive weaponry and get to the Zion of deeper understanding.
We are all patterned after the Pioneers who sacrificed every comfort they had once known to create a future worth celebrating. Some of us sacrifice the safety of the gospel taking our goodness into a world that will allow us to feel the love and approval that we need. Some of us sacrifice “living authentically,” and choose mixed orientation marriages or celibacy. Others live courageously and embrace our truths where everyone can see them, even if it isn't accepted or celebrated. The trailblazers have my respect and admiration. We are all on the same team. We all have a role to play.
I've had moments where I can feel the Zion of my future calling to me in the walls of the temple. I've taken my burdens there to dim the light of my soul's composition to fit better into the spaces I frequent, and the message I've received so clearly time after time is that my light that shines differently than others doesn't need to be dimmed at all. I don't know how this light is meant to shine in the future because I've been so focused on nurturing it back to it's original iridescence. After years of stretching this way and that way to get the hue just right it has been injured and repaired more times than I can count. Twenty-two years after first coming out I am finally seeing the beauty of exactly who God created me to be, and it's glorious to feel the power in that reality. For now the Zion where I have accepted my role as a single lesbian mother with a sidekick dog is alive and well. The Zion where I’ve released self-expectations and proposed outcomes while still believing in the truthfulness of the gospel and my place in it is still a work in progress. Most days it is 100% reality, but on bad days it is hard to not question and petition, and on the worst days it compares to walking barefoot in the snow with bloody feet.