By Amy Grubbs
This is a brief compilation of memories that hopefully will be useful and provide a snapshot of how my family has navigated life with our only child, who is gay. I clearly remember this moment like it was yesterday. I was sitting alone in my car listening to the details concerning the new policy for LGBTQIA members in the LDS church. At that time, my faith was unraveling due to a growing list of unresolved concerns. For me, this policy finally broke my shelf. This experience happened BEFORE my daughter came out as gay, so I was not reacting in her defense, just everything started to feel wrong. After this, I decided to step away from the Mormon church. This was a HUGE adjustment as I was raised in orthodox home and the church had been central to my entire identity.
In addition, ALL my extended family were/are VERY active in the LDS faith, so I was terrified to tell them that I had left the church. To complicate things further, the family unit that I grew up in follows a strict rule that “if it is uncomfortable, then don’t talk about it,” so not telling them at first was the natural thing to do. Eventually, it was too difficult to keep this secret, so I drummed up the courage to tell everyone. My extended family responded by saying that they still loved us but politely asked that we never talk about it.
I respected this request until my father wanted to ask a few questions about why we left the church. Initially, the conversation went surprisingly well. Until the one time he got extremely upset, which was when we discussed our support for LGBTQIA community. “There is NO WAY God would make someone gay. It is just evil and wrong,” he yelled. We finally had to agree to disagree.
A few years later, our daughter Mikayla came out to us as gay. I reluctantly admit that I did not take it well at first. I was still struggling with my family’s disappointment with us leaving the church. Learning that Mikayla was gay now would cause an even greater rift. I was also confronted with the fact that my only child would have to face discrimination for the rest of her life. My husband and I had tried to have more children through fertility measures and adoption, but after five miscarriages and eight failed adoptions we came to the painful realization that our daughter would not have any siblings. I felt (and still feel), that there are SO many stigmas with being an only child. Back then, I felt that coming out as gay would only compound the discrimination and stigmas that my daughter would have to deal with, and it took a while to process these feelings.
After Mikayla came out, she asked us to not tell anyone and frankly, I was relieved. My niece came out as gay years before Mikayla did, and it was never openly discussed with anyone. My sister (her mother) specifically asked us never to talk about it with family or friends, because she was embarrassed. This request, and the clear feelings my father had expressed, created a dark cloud of shame that was always looming around this subject.
I still felt this weird dark shame and did not want to face it with my own child. I had always accepted the LGBTQIA community from a distance, but when it became a part of my own family I was not sure how to deal with it. As I silently observed Mikayla over the next few years, I began to fully understand and support her being gay. Her senior year, Mikayla decided to come out to everyone and crafted a very brave post concerning her sexuality on social media. I vividly remember how nervous she was and could almost hear her anxious heart beating wildly. In addition, she carefully wrote a personal message that she texted to loved ones. She was SO relieved when she started getting supportive responses.
Unfortunately, my extended family followed the same pattern of communication as when my niece came out and when we announced we had left the LDS faith…. nobody ever talked about it. It was a complete non-issue. At first, that felt ok… until it didn’t.
As time passed, I began to feel anxiety when we spent time with my extended family. I could sense tension in Mikayla as well. She would say she was fine and put on a happy face, but I knew she was uncomfortable. Every discussion we had with my extended family would be filled with church related topics, specific details about who all my nieces and nephews were dating, but nobody would ask about Mikayla’s life. They were always cordial but had a subtle way of looking anywhere but at Mikayla. When we finished spending time with my family, we would arrive back home feeling swallowed up by this sad, shameful cloud, even though we had done nothing wrong. There were many times I tried to talk about these feelings with my parents/siblings. Their response was always the same. They would say they loved us but that it was best to avoid uncomfortable topics like Mikayla being gay. I recognize that many LGBTQIA individuals never experience these issues, but this has not been the case for us.
A little over a year ago, we made the difficult but necessary decision to change the course of our relationship with my extended family. The best way we found to advocate for Mikayla was to put distance between us and my family. Currently, we keep in contact with my extended family via phone calls and texts but have stopped attending family functions. It was an extremely difficult decision but one that has led to an enormous sense of peace. I feel our society sends the message that people in the LGBTQIA community are expected to silently fade into the background without question. I have witnessed countless times where LGBTQIA individuals mute their sexuality and hide their authentic selves to make others feel comfortable. I cannot accept this as a normal path in my life or my daughter’s life, although I know many people who can and do make this work. That is the beauty of this navigation process for all of us. There is no right or wrong way to travel down this path. It is deciding what personal journey is best for US!
Our path is not right for everyone, but it is the healthiest way we have found to move forward. I choose to surround Mikayla with loved ones who truly see her and support her versus those who only tolerate her presence. I do not feel it is ok anymore to allow others to ignore who she is because it is uncomfortable. She is entirely too lovely for that. As I end this brief snapshot of memories, the lyric from “Unruly Heart” comes to mind, which describes it best for me. It is the line that states, “No matter what the world might say. This heart is the best part of me!” Mikayla’s beautiful gay heart is one of the best parts of my life and I am truly honored to be her mom.