Today I watched General Conference and was particularly moved by the talk given by Bonnie Cordon. She recounts the scripture from Matthew 25:34-39:
"Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?:"
She stops before reading the familiar "ye have done it unto me" verse and says:
"Brothers and sisters, the key word is SAW. The righteous saw those in need because they were WATCHING and NOTICING we too can be a watchful eye to aid and comfort, to celebrate and even dream."
She then talked about how someone who she knew reached out to the husband of a woman who attempted suicide. He had an awkward conversation with a man in a difficult emotional situation and instead of bringing brownies, he recommended we "walk into the moment with honesty and love."
I was immediately struck by the words SEE, WATCH, and NOTICE. How often do we watch, and really see how people are in need? Honestly, it's hard to. HELPING PEOPLE IS AWKWARD. Well, if you guess needs right it's not awkward, but we're so often guessing. We live in a society that glorifies independence. Showing vulnerability is hardly common, and when it is shown, it's not usually accompanied by an ask for help. It is hard to notice when people are struggling and it's hard to walk into a situation we may think we're noticing with honesty, love, and anything but awkwardness.
I recently joined twitter. It's awful. I barely get it. I feel like I'm a new kid in a very enormous, pithy, often hostile junior high school. But I wrote this book that feels important and all the experts say to figure out twitter. SO I spent a good chunk of conference in my sweats watching the people live tweeting conference and the hours after watching people's reactions.
I'll tell you what I notice:
-We love to be critical (sometimes for good [i.e. seriously WHERE ARE ALL THE WOMEN SPEAKERS], sometimes because it's fun to complain)
-We love to be critical of people who are critical (seriously, hey POT, meet KETTLE. Being critical of people trying to make the Church better is not the same as defending the Church)
-Twitter is a great place to catch the best quotes, sometimes already with inspiring nature backdrops.
AND, most devastating:
-OUR GAY, LESBIAN, BI, TRANS AND QUEER COMMUNITY IS IN PAIN
It feels insane that some of the most prominent leaders of the Church can't see that yet another talk that feels heavy-handed and full of exclusionary language is a huge part of what causes pain. And don't give me any of the 'Jesus threw out money-changers in temple so throwing down is totally acceptable and awesome' rhetoric. Elder Oaks' talk was 90% inspiring and awesome. It is a great reminder to me of the power of simply stating truth. But, as I would expect a man as educated and eloquent as Elder Oaks would know, statements on gender, sexuality, and family are going to provoke, not just the wrath of anti-Mormons (which I'd expect him not to care about), and the self-loathing of church members who identify as a different gender, are attracted to their own sex, and who can't have children.
I will admit that to me, a straight woman with kids, the talk didn't make me want to kill myself. I cringed a bit, sure, but I've been dealt the easy hand in this regard. But this does not matter. What matters is that I've started watching the reaction in the communities of people I'm just getting to know, and what I see is that the gender/sexuality throw-down makes people hate themselves. Makes people want to kill themselves. (PLEASE DON'T!!) And there aren't enough brownies in the world I could bring to the people who want and need comfort and who, because of the tone of the speaker, were less likely to hear and be comforted by the promise also given in the talk, that God "HAS PROVIDED A DESTINY OF GLORY FOR ALL HIS CHILDREN"
Elder Oaks asks us to question the motivation of people who talk about truth and knowledge. Here's my motivation: I see that LGBT individuals in the Church community are trying SO SO hard to participate. SO many have had spiritual confirmation that God created them, as His beloved spirit children, with the gender and attraction that the Church has asked them not to acknowledge. I don't have answers to their questions of how to be included or how to reconcile it all. But I hope they know that I see them.
Shortly after asking my parents to read the book, they were on speakerphone together with me (as they do). My dad was joking/not-joking about being uncomfortable reading about lesbians and my mom asked "Why did you write this book?" Not in mean, discouraging way, but a bit baffled why a young lesbian identity and faith crisis was a topic that I cared enough about to spend a good chunk of my spare time writing. My answer, in short:
I read this report a few years ago about the number of teen suicides in Utah pretty much directly linked to them being gay and LDS. I'd heard plenty of criticism of the Church about homosexuality with Prop 8 and the fight for marriage equality across the country, but it had never occurred to me how the experience of gay Mormons is so so so challenging. I felt devastated at the report and couldn't stop thinking about it. What if I were gay? What if I had to figure out how I could know the Church was true but the Church was telling me something fundamental about me was off? Not just off, bad. There's a story there, about the people who face this challenge and I felt prompted to tell it.
Here's the report analysis, it's got all sorts of graphs and charts and statistical analyses.
ReligionNews did a digestible breakdown (one of several that came out about this time). Here are several key points:
I'll just repeat and bold that last part:
"...the research “is not intended to condemn. Rather, it is presented to contribute to the conversation on this important topic that literally has life-and-death implications."
This is why.
I've read a lot in the last few years about people coming out of the closet. Usually these people were gay and most of the time the experience of coming out is one of two big emotions: total fear and exquisite freedom. It's scary to come out of the closet, for understandable reasons: People are mean and judgmental, and often they just don't get it. Sometimes I think being misunderstood feels worse than being judged. But being seen for you are and knowing that what you are presenting to the world is not skewed or blurred or contorted at all from the real you brings freedom.
The other message I've heard over and over is that the misery of being misunderstood and judged and all sorts of other bad things that can come with coming out of the closet is better, barring physical and psycological violence, than the misery of being locked in. Of feeling unsure of what people's reactions will be and terrified that they might find you out.
I care a lot more about the experience of people in the closet and out than I ever thought I would. I'm not gay, lesbian, bi, transgender, queer, or + (that's short-hand for all the other gender and sexuality experiences I honestly don't know much about). I do know a lot of people who are, though, and for reasons I can't quite articulate, I feel drawn in my heart to their experience.
I've been a closet writer. In NO WAY am I comparing the challenges of being a closet writer to hiding one's sexuality, BUT I do feel like I need to come out. I love to write. I love words and stories and I love putting them together in my head and on paper (of both the physical and digital varieties). Over the last few years, as stay-at-home motherhood has cleared away professional distractions and thrown sideways both my heartstrings and my schedule in new ways, I've written more. Specifically, I wrote a book!
I didn't intend to at first. At first it was a story that occupied my mind as I transitioned from a fast-paced office job to a topsy-turvy life at home with kids. Late at night I typed way on my smartphone as my first baby nursed. I edited as he slept. Pregnant with my second, I finished my draft and now, as both whirlwind around me, I am working on bringing that book into the world.
I knew I would write a book one day (well, hoped, in a bucket-list sort of way), it's not the story I thought would take hold first. It's not my story, but it's one that, however fictional I wrote it, is real and experienced by SO MANY PEOPLE I can't not care about it as if it was my story.
I felt compelled- prompted- to write Romy and Julia. It's the story of two young women who were in the closet and when they met each other, they had to come out.
So now, I'm out as a writer. And I am excited, in a nervous, timid kind of way, to bring out my book.