All I’d ever known of queer humans were stories of hiding and shame. A friend in his late thirties whose entire family was told by the father to never speak of his gayness. A stranger I met at the gym who opened up to me about her ex-husband who had fallen in love with another man, leaving her to raise their kids alone. A brilliant distant cousin who was an actor in England, and was even on Jeopardy once, but died mid-life from AIDS. In my mental file for understanding queerness, ‘sad' was the overshadowing word.
When our nephew wrote us a letter telling us he was gay, and then came for a visit to talk, cognitive dissonance started to set in. He was what most would consider to be an overachieving, extremely well-adjusted young adult. He kept the rules, made valuable contributions to any group of which he was part, and had an accepting and loving family.
We told him that while we loved him and wanted so much good for him, we also believed in a religion that told us that while being gay was not a sin, embracing homosexual relationships was. If men “gave in” to being romantically attracted to each other, wasn’t that a slippery slide toward giving themselves permission to being attracted to anyone or anything? He listened patiently as we reiterated this errant, homophobic dogma, and then kindly informed us, quoting current scientific data, that straight and gay people are equally, and not frequently, pedophiles. He told us he was always open to future conversations and questions, should we be interested, that he loved and supported us right where we were, and went on his way.
This conversation with our nephew was a catalyst that changed my life. I had been raised Mormon, and had followed the Latter-day Saint teachings to the nth degree. If you looked up the definition of a Molly Mormon, you’d find a picture of me, in all my scrupulosity infused glory. I believed it all, I felt it all, I did it all…and then some! Religion had always seemed like a gift to me, but more and more it was a heavy-laden gift, and its benefits quickly seemed to be outweighed by its detriments. In my mind, there was no way to know my nephew and believe that a loving God wanted him to live a celibate life, alone. Within an hour after our time with him that night, I knew I had to rethink my beliefs and move in a new direction. Like many others before me, my faith transition felt scary, painful, and complicated, but it was also amazing, hope-filled, and liberating.
Fast-forward two years. My 8th grade kiddo Andie was plugging away at school, participating in theater, making similarly quirky friends, cracking teachers up with their brainy dialect, and having normal ups and downs of 14 year-old life. One night they called me on the phone while I was out of town, and said, “Mom, you know how my breast tissue has always been awkward to me? Well there’s this thing I read about called a binder, and I want to try it.” “Ok,” I said, “When I get home let’s talk more, and we can order one for you to try.” Andie found the binder to be a peace-giving article of clothing, and this marked their beginning of opening up to their options as a non-binary teenager.
We made some mistakes handling Andie’s transition. Andie is a very curious and confident person, so when they began to open up to the possibilities before them, they talked about all things LGBTQ a lot! They read everything they could get their hands on, watched all the videos, talked to all the queer kids at school, and openly spoke up with all their friends and cousins about being non-binary. They were all in, and at times I mistook Andie’s confidence for mere attention-seeking. Andie does love attention, and the day they asked me to start using they/them pronouns I asked, “Do you think it’s fair to kids who struggle so much to come out to their families for you to be so outspoken in your curiosity of it?” It was an honest question, but also an insensitive one, based in my own insecurities. I see Andie’s exuberance now like unto a person who had never considered themselves an artist, and then they learned all about art for the first time, met other artists, and tried their hand at art, only to be very excited and vocal about their enthusiasm to have opened their life up to this wholehearted part of themselves. Of course Andie was excited and confident! The only reasons not to be would be based in societal/ historical norms influenced mainly by fear and shame.
Andie’s journey as a non-binary teenager has been a somewhat smooth one so far. They have been incredibly lucky to have kind friends who are allies, their teachers have been receptive and respectful, their extended family has done their best to wrap their heads around new concepts, and their arms around Andie. Although not every queer person is accepted so readily, we hope that by sharing our story, others will find hope and will know that we love and appreciate their courage. The smoothness of Andie’s road can only be attributed to those who paved the path before them. Every time brave people open their mouths and share their truth, the road of those yet to come gets a bit less rocky. Thank you to our nephew for being the light we needed as a family to move out of fear and into truth, and thank you to the millions of brave people before him who stepped out, spoke up, and took their place at the table. Your courage is a gift to us all!