By Ismael Duarte Valerio – I don’t remember the exact month, but I found myself in a park in San Diego, California where I would often escape to, reflecting on life and having internal dialogues with myself and Heavenly Father. Many of these conversations were a mix of great anxiety, pain and anger. I felt overwhelmed by feelings of being confined and trapped in a situation I didn’t want to face but knew could not be postponed much longer.
I had been home from my mission for about a year, and even though I had made the decision to speak with my family, I could never seem to find the right time to open up to them and take that step. I kept finding one reason after another to avoid sitting down with my mother and sharing my feelings with her. The truth was that I was terrified of possibly being rejected. Rejection would be the worst possible outcome and I tried to prepare myself for it. I told myself that if this were to occur I would move to Mexico City or the United States.
I felt that God was working against me. I had tried so hard to fulfill all that was asked of me by my church, family, and community. I had fulfilled a mission, had often served in two or more callings at a time and tried so hard to always give love and service. I had participated in and completed all youth, seminary, and institute events. I regularly found myself on my knees praying, fasting, giving offerings, and paying tithing. I helped those who needed it, and participated in cultural and sporting events. I did everything that was asked of me, trying desperately to be found worthy so that this heavy and crushing burden would be lifted from my shoulders; but after more than 12 years of trying so hard to be perfect, I realized that there was nothing I could do to alter my reality or my truth. I was gay and this would not change.
Fortunately, after spending several weeks escaping to my favorite place to ponder and do battle with my personal struggles, I received a visit from a very dear friend of the family. He was close to my parents and used to visit and dedicate some time to each of us children. He would sit and chat with me and my brothers about anything that may have been troubling us. He was a wonderful person and friend, but I had never felt able to open up about my heavy secret. Still, somehow he seemed to have figured it out because he recommended that I speak to a group called Affirmation. The following month I attended one of their meetings and felt understood, inspired and motivated. For the first time in my life I no longer felt alone.
Despite the peace and joy I’d felt during the meeting, it was still so difficult to return home and face the truth of telling my mother. I was annoyed with myself for feeling this renewed fear and anxiety. My mom noticed that I was upset and asked why I was in such a strange mood and wondered what had caused me to feel what I was feeling. I would love to say that this pivotal moment brought out eloquence from me, but it didn’t. I tried to speak several times but the words just didn’t come. I could feel a huge lump in my throat and my heart was beating so fast. I let go and started crying, doubled over in deep anguish, unable to pull myself together.
My mother hugged me and begged me to tell her what was wrong. “Please tell me what’s wrong with you?” she repeated over and over as I tried to push the words passed my closed throat. Suddenly, through my crying and tears I screamed “I’m gay, Mama!!!” She hugged me again and expressed, “Is that what has you like this?” She told me that she loved me, and that there was nothing that could ever change that. She said that I was her son and that I always would be. I could not say another word, I just cried and clung to her as she rocked me. She told me many things that brought me comfort but what I remember most is her embrace, her love, and the security I felt. In that moment I knew she truly loved me.
Many years have passed since that day and I am now a 51 year old man. As I recount this fateful experience, my eyes are filled with tears. Why do I share this intimate experience? My hope is that in this new year, those who have been blessed to have children might fully understand how much your love and support means to those children, like the one I was on that day years ago. Your words can heal, your arms can comfort, and your reaction at that very vulnerable moment for your child will be of great importance to him/her. You have the power to greatly impact the confidence and self-esteem of your child. Your love and support will have immeasurable and lasting impact in the life and decisions that your child will make in their future because they will feel secure in the glow of your love. My mother’s loving reaction and support 25 years ago helped pave the way for the support and acceptance that I now have from all of my family. This support has given me the confidence to expect respect from friends, classmates and coworkers. My mother did not have Mama Dragons to guide and support her, but after feeling her love for me on that day, everything else I have faced in my life has been met with faith and conviction.
I have heard so many sermons from many different churches that preach about loving our fellow man, but how can we do this if we reject the most vulnerable within our own families? My wish is that in this New Year families will open up their arms and hearts to each other, to truly see one another as Heavenly Father sees His children, in perfect love.
Ismael Duarte Valerio Mexico City, Mexico