I sat in my car crying, watching five-year-old Phoebe walk down the driveway towards her cousin’s Princess Tea Party. She was dressed in a blue satin Cinderella costume with a cheesy tiara, white gloves that went above her elbows and those obnoxious plastic dress up high heels … clip, clop, clip, clop. Everything about the scene looked unnatural and out of place. Later that night, I said to my husband, “I think Phoebe is gay. We need to watch ourselves. We need to watch every joke we laugh at, every movie we watch, every response we make to a conference talk. I want to be the first person she tells and not the last. I want this home to be safe for her to come out.”
Suddenly, it was November 2015, and I was scrolling through Facebook when I read it. Even though Phoebe was only 14 and still had not come out, the LDS gay policy (children of gay couples could not receive a baby blessing or be baptized until they were 18, got special permission from top leaders and disavowed their gay parents’ marriage….and gay couples were considered apostates) broke me. I had always been an ally but I had never felt like I needed to choose sides. Now I felt a line in the sand had been drawn. And so began my sporadic church attendance. My husband still took the three kids and I told myself each Sunday, “I’ll go back next week …” but it just hurt too much. Phoebe saw me struggle with the policy, witnessed me reaching out to my friends who were hurt by it and knew where I stood.
I knew that nothing was going to change who Phoebe was. All I could do was help her feel good about who she was born to be and safe to tell me.
And finally she did. February 13, 2017 – the night before Valentine’s Day. We had just driven to Park City to pick out a Valentine’s gift for a boy she liked (further adding to my years of confusion). My 80 -year-old mom, Phoebe, and I were in the kitchen chatting about the acronym LGBTQIA and what all the letters meant. My mom (whom we live with), said, “I just don’t understand any of it.” And Phoebe blurted it out. She FINALLY said it. “I understand. Because I’m Bi. I’m Bisexual.”
We hugged while she cried on my shoulder for a very long time. In my mind, I pictured my friend’s brother, Brian who was gay and had recently died by suicide. I just kept praying in my head and saying, “Brian, tell me what to say. What did YOU need to hear? I don’t know what I’m doing and I need you to guide me!” It was that moment, that I knew that not only did I fully accept my daughter, but the only thing that mattered to me was that she stay alive. I didn’t care where anyone thought she would go in the next life. The only thing that mattered was making sure she knew that there was a place for her in my heart, in our family, in our community, and on this earth.
Next came the crying. Oh, the crying. It’s all I did. I cried in the car. I cried in the shower. I cried in bed. I cried at work. I cried and I cried and I cried. I cried more in one year than I’d cried in my whole life. I didn’t cry because I was having a hard time accepting Phoebe. I was lucky because I felt that the Spirit had told me years before and had prepared me for this. I cried because I worried about how the world would treat her. I would wake up with a wet pillowcase every morning from crying in my sleep. She decided after attending an Affirmation event that she needed to come out. She had already told some friends, but then decided to write an email to our HUGE Mormon family and finally she shared publicly on social media.
Overall, the reception was beautiful and accepting – EXCEPT, for what I call, the CRICKETS! The SILENCE has been the worst part for me. The ones who never said anything. Who have YET to text me, hug me, or ask how we are doing, if we are managing to reconcile? The SILENCE is LOUD and PAINFUL beyond anything else. If you ever wonder who is ready to mourn with you when you mourn and comfort you when you stand in need of comfort… have a queer teen come out when you’re a former bishop’s wife in SLC, Utah. You find out FAST. And yes, it’s painful but it is also freeing.
The church missionary farewells of other young people became anxiety attacks, for me. The prom pictures posted became nights in the fetal position. The temple weddings became me shutting down and just going to sleep for days. It would take a book instead of a blog post to explain how this has changed our family. Phoebe’s wonderful friends are mostly LDS – VERY LDS, and they (and their families) are the beautiful definition of Christ-like love. And the Mama Dragons were the ones who got me through those fetal position days and nights turned weeks and months. One of them said, “There will come a day when you’ll be so glad your child is gay. You’ll feel so blessed to see the world the way you see it because you can never go back to how you saw it before AND you won’t want to.” In my fetal position-tear stained pillowcase-social recluse-panic attack state I couldn’t fathom a day when her words would be true. I didn’t want my daughter to feel rejection. I didn’t want to worry about hate groups, discrimination, or who might make a comment that broke my heart in Sunday School.
I don’t attend church very often now. My sporadic attendance has evolved into a few years of a different spiritual journey. My husband knows my heart and knows how sacred my relationship is with my Maker. He has never once questioned my church activity which has been such a blessing. I asked if Phoebe wanted me to take her to other churches and she told me, “I can’t. I’m a Mormon. These are MY people. I thought when I came out, they’d change their minds about gay people because they’ve known me my whole life. Instead, they changed their minds about me. I did NOT turn my back on the church. The church turned it’s back on me.” I explained that she needed to seek love and light. Not every queer group was going to offer her love and light and not every church group was going to offer her hate and rejection and now was the time to use the gift of discernment, to look for love and light within individuals and seek out those people. And when you can’t find them, become them!
Our ward and stake youth leaders were incredible as were our prior stake and Phoebe continued to attend activities with both stakes. She stopped attending seminary and church on Sundays because of hurtful policies made by the general church leadership. Overall she did not feel she could live authentically and be part of the church culture while policies were made with the idea that being bisexual is simply teenage confusion, a choice, or something she was “struggling” with and that she just needed to “pray the gay away”. Instead, the two of us spend our Sundays together enjoying “a day of rest”. I have had incredible experiences that I can’t share publicly but they have been answers to prayers that I am being guided. I have had dreams, impressions, and promptings telling me to leave the 99 and carry the 1. I want to show her that being spiritual and religious are not the same thing. I have personally found an even stronger relationship with my Savior and my Heavenly Father. During times when I felt no one understood my heart, I handed it to Them in pieces, and They healed and loved me.
Someone once said to me, “People leaving the church are selfish and just taking the easy way out.” My response was a strong, “NO! Nothing about this has been easy. Everything about this has hurt.” In order for me to strongly face each day, I need to feel love and peace. When I am surrounded by people who strongly oppose rights for my daughter, who didn’t even question the Policy of Exclusion, I become angry, offended, and sad. When I am angry, offended, and sad – I cannot feel the spirit, I cannot feel promptings, I cannot feel strong. My goal now each day is to seek love and light. Phoebe and I look for love and light and try to BE love and light.
Phoebe went to Girl’s Camp this summer with our old stake. Everyone there knows she is queer (her preferred label). She bore her testimony at camp and said, “I don’t believe everything you guys do because a lot of it hurts me. But I do believe. I mostly believe in modern revelation and I have hope. Hope that one day there will be a place for me in the church, because when I pray, I know someone hears me, and there is already a place for me with Him.”
I can now say that having a gay daughter is a blessing and I would never go back. I want to see the world with these new eyes that see the pain our children feel and I’m committed to changing the world for them. Phoebe is love and light. Phoebe is hope. Phoebe is in love with an incredible young woman whom I adore. Phoebe helps others feel safe and brave. Phoebe helps me feel the courage to be myself. Phoebe is on this earth and I hope every single queer child of God knows that on this earth is exactly where they need to be too, because we love you and we need you.