Thursday, January 10, 2008
Going Deeper with My Newly Empowered Mother
All my life my mother has been exemplar. She has always been and continues to be a living example of Christ-like attributes and Relief Society praiseworthy charity. I have always found her to be a very inspiring figure in the garden of my life. When I came out to my parents during the summer of 1995, my mother, though confused and visibly shaken, quickly became one of my greatest allies in my battle with homosexuality. She seemed to accept my situation as very real, and never treated me in a way that made me feel like a lesser member of our family because of my issues.
As the years passed, years on my mission, years in college, and now years since college, she has always remained open and accepting... sort of. There was always a lingering pressure present in our relationship. There was a pressure to stay close to the church at all costs. As long as I did that; as long as I was the kind of gay mormon that she would be if she were a gay mormon, I would know without a doubt that she stood beside me through thick and thin.
My mom always felt very strongly that I would be released from the trial of homosexuality. Every time she mentioned this idea, I would respond with something like, mom-- what about all the other men who struggle with this? They are not being released from this, why would you think that I will be? She would always say, I don't know why I feel this way, and I don't know about all the other men who struggle with this, I just feel very clearly that you will suffer for a season with this, and then be released and allowed to move on with your life. I never really felt this way about homosexuality. Even when I felt the worst about myself as a person for being gay, I never thought it was something that the Lord would take away. Maybe I never really believed that the Lord "made" me this way. I don't know now what I thought all the time-- to be honest I don't know what I think NOW all the time, so its hazy looking back. (Isn't it always?)
To be completely fair and impartial (and I'm trying as hard as I can believe it or not), there were times when I felt like the Lord would indeed remove this "curse" of homosexuality from me. But it never really came about. Or maybe the Lord was prepared to remove the "curse" of homosexuality in a different way than I could have envisioned from where I stood in that moment. But that's actually another story.
So back to my mom. In the fall of 2006, I booked a job near our home, and it was a great opportunity for me to work and live at home for about 6 weeks. At the time, I was nearing the 1 year mark in my relationship with my boyfriend, who is also an actor. Any time either of us is away with a show, we always make a point to visit at least once every 3-4 weeks, and of course see the show that the other is in. This was a production of West Side Story, and since I would be doing it for 6 weeks, of course we would have a visit sometime while I was home. I went to my mom very openly and said-- how do you feel about my boyfriend coming to stay here for 2 nights while I am home? I promised her that we would not engage in any sexual activity in her home, and suggested that this might be a great way to include my boyfriend more into our family, since that is something I OF COURSE want. My brothers have brought girlfriends to family functions for years, even non-member ones, and all have been accepted and even embraced by my family and most of all by my mother. She said she would talk to my dad about this, and that maybe we should all sit down and discuss it so as to have a meeting of minds. After this conversation, it became clear to me that it made my mom really uncomfortable to even consider this, and out of respect for her and her home, I just decided to drop it and I got a hotel room for my boyfriend and I so we could fornicate in peace.
Now there is one more thing you should know about my mom and me. All through my life I have carefully observed the way my mom treated herself and others. My mom always put others before herself-- in a way that is both unselfish and sometimes pathological. I think sometimes my mom sacrificed her own well being in order to please others. As a result, I had a mom who gave a lot to others, but I also had a mother who had a lot of sadness and grief and fear just below the surface-- deep enough to hide from some, but not nearly deep enough to hide from a child who was watching and trying to emulate her every thought and action. My mom was the kind of person that would do something wrong for herself if it was something another person wanted. Of course this had limits-- big ones. My mom would never jeopardize anyone's safety and would never ever give in to anything that wasn't righteous. So she would allow herself to be walked on as long as it wasn't breaking any shadow of a commandment. If the women in the relief society hadn't finished something and they called my mom to bail them out, she would do it even if she was in labor and had 4 nagging children on her coattails. She would run herself ragged a lot of the time in order to "do her duty." As I got older, as I became less codependent through therapy and information (many helpful books), I would pass them along to my mother and encourage her to become a more empowered and a more happy individual. I would explain that her vitality is often diminished by her treatment of herself, and that in order to be of true service, one must have a full cup-- one must be on higher ground in order to assist others in an authentic symbiotic way. Otherwise someone may be feeding on another's generosity and/or weakness.
Cut to 1 week ago just before I left after a lovely holiday with my family, wherein we welcomed our first niece/granddaughter into our family. The day before leaving town, my mom took me to lunch and a movie. We love seeing movies together and we had a really great time together, as we always do. On the drive home I just frankly said "Mom, how are things going to work with me and the family. Someday I am hopefully going to have a husband and children, but before that happens I am definitely going to have boyfriends that I want to include in our wonderful family." I explained to her that my brothers were able to bring girlfriends to family functions and holidays, and that I wanted the same treatment as my brothers-- I did not want to face discrimination in my own family if possible. I told her that I thought it would be a double standard to allow them to invite someone but not me. (and just FYI my oldest brother had a girlfriend of 4 years and he is not active in the church, so my parents were aware that he was not upholding the law of chastity and they still embraced his girlfriend as one of their own.) I then asked my mom if I was being too confrontational. She said not at all, that she was happy that I was bringing it up. Then she said-- Clark, for years you have encouraged me to do what is right for me, even if it denies someone else what they want. When you wanted to invite your boyfriend home a year ago, I agonized over it. I really wanted to find a way to accept him into my home, but I could not find a way to feel good about it. After I tried and tried, but could not come to terms, I considered just telling you to invite him against my own feelings. Then I realized that this is MY HOME. I have worked for years to build this home, and I refuse to feel uncomfortable in my own home. I'm not sure I will always feel this way. But right now I just don't want it. Maybe in a year I will change my mind. Don't hesitate to ask me again-- maybe I will be able to work out in my mind and heart a way to accept this-- but for now, the answer is no.
This was the most blunt I think my mom has ever been with me about the intersection of our lives. On one hand I was so disappointed to think that I would not be able to be part of our family the way I want to. But any feelings of disappointment I had were overshadowed by feelings of happiness for my mom and the direction her journey has taken. I am so happy to see a person now who is taking her own feelings into consideration and not just doing what others want.. even if I am the one who loses something I want.. I still embrace this change whole-heartedly. The other residual effect which has been slowly coming over me is a feeling of freedom and independence that up to now had eluded me. The last thing my mom said to me during our conversation was this: You are doing what you feel is best for you in your life-- I am going to do what I feel is best for me in mine. At first glance this seems like something which could create distance between us. Maybe it will. But maybe it will be a real starting point for our family to become something even greater than it is today.