By Kelly McAfee
My mother was baptized into the mainstream LDS faith (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) when she was pregnant with me. I used to joke that I was dunked twice; once when my mother was baptized, then again when I was eight.
As a teenager, my mantra was, “I’m a happy Mormon.” Living the principles of my faith brought me peace and happiness and really worked for me. After high school, I attended BYU (the LDS owned university), married in the temple at age 20, and started having children a year later. I would raise my children in the church. My children would go on missions, marry in the temple, raise their children in the church, and we would all be one, big, happy eternal family! At least, that is what I imagined would happen. It was my dream and I was determined to put forth the effort to make it so.
As a proud member of the LDS faith, I believed. I believed in the leaders and I believed in their counsel. Still, there were some things that didn’t sit well with me over the years, one being the church’s stance on homosexuality. Growing up, I had friends who were gay. My parents also had gay friends and, while we only discussed their sexual orientation in hushed tones, I was told by my parents that being gay was not a bad thing. I don’t remember hearing the church’s stance on the issue until I was well into adulthood. When one of my children came out to me as bi-curious, I learned that the church made a statement that “being gay” was not a choice but “acting on your gayness” was. Acting on your natural and normal feelings of gayness was not only a choice, but it was a sin. Naturally, I told my 17 year old bi-curious child that it was perfectly okay for them to feel this way… as long as they didn’t act on it.
It wasn’t until my second child came out to me as transgender that I began to really delve into the church’s views on the subject of being LGBT – and what I read was not comforting to me. While the church’s overall comments on the subject have softened in recent years, there is still the underlying message that being LGBT is wrong – that it makes you less than perfect, less than good, and less in favor with God. Unfortunately, that is basically the message I had given to my bi-curious child.
Shortly after discovering that I had a transgender child (who admitted they would rather die than live in their current body for the rest of their life), I found out that I also had a colleague who was transgender and of our faith. We decided to meet for lunch one day where she very graciously answered all my seemingly inappropriate questions. She also told me about a Facebook group called Mama Dragons. I learned that Mama Dragons is a group started by a handful of moms with LGBT children, who were of my faith, and who had banded together to offer encouragement, support and love to one another. I finally had a space where I could share my concerns and frustrations with other moms who had been through similar experiences within my faith, navigating life with LGBT children. Now, Mama Dragons has grown to include moms of ANY faith or none at all! Still a place of refuge, comfort and support.
By this time, some of my children had already walked away from our faith for various personal reasons. And although I still love much of the religion I grew up in and feel there is still much goodness there, it would not be long before I would walk away from it, as well. With new eyes, I felt that the church was not a safe space for my transgender child – and that made it an unholy space for me.
My time with the Mama Dragons was important in my growing, stretching and ultimate transformation. Several of my most meaningful friendships originated from the group. When I no longer felt I needed as much support from the main Mama Dragons group, I went on to become an administrator of Mamas Moving Forward, a group created for Mama Dragons who decide to leave the LDS faith. Each step taken took me closer to the point where I did not need the extra support, but could stand on my own.
Leaving the faith I’d grown up with was one of the most challenging experiences of my life. After several years, I am still mourning the loss of community, and still piecing myself back together in a way that feels beautiful and right – keeping what feels good and letting go of the things that don’t. However, I would not change a thing. This is my journey and I’ve tried my best to follow my heart. My children have always and will always come first, and, thanks to the support of my new friends, I learned that I don’t need to be defined by religion. My new mantra: I am a happy former Mormon with LGBT kids who are the best thing that ever happened to me.