By Sara Cook – What I Wish I Would Have Done Differently When My LGBT Child Came Out.
Our son came out to us in a long letter when he was eighteen and a freshman at BYU. Looking back, there are several things I wish I had done differently. Reading that letter, I felt overwhelmed and sad about his news. I was so steeped in living my religion that this news was a severe blow to my plans for him and me. At the time I did not know how to reconcile it to my faith and God. When he first came out he didn’t want anyone else to know except his dad and me. I was okay with this since I had no idea what to do, and I knew things in the future would be very different for our family. It was a secret the three of us kept for seven years. Sometimes I felt like I would break apart. Trevor felt ten times worse than me during this time and just kept trying to figure out how to survive.
What my husband and I did do right, was tell him how much we loved him and reassured him that he always had his place in our family. That he would always be wanted and welcomed. I also thought because he was so good he could change and not be gay anymore. His plan was to keep being as righteous as possible. He had a strong testimony, church was important to him and he wanted to serve a mission.
During the first seven years, I didn’t know how to deal with it, but I thought about it every day. I forgot, until much later, that Trevor had included in his letter that he would like to have discussions about what he was going through. He was very open to talking about being gay with us, but homosexuality was such an uncomfortable subject for me, I didn’t know how to talk about it with him. Mostly I remember checking up with him, to make sure he was doing things right and not acting on his feelings- instead of having real talks about what he was thinking and going through.
Unfortunately, I knew very little about homosexuality and what it means to be a gay person, especially in the LDS church. I only knew what some of the church leaders and other religious groups had said about it. I never heard it brought up in church except vaguely and negatively. I wasn’t even sure if it was okay to learn about it.
So, if I could go back and do things differently, I would have learned all I could about it. I would have had those good discussions that Trevor was willing to have and really needed at the time. I also would have learned that he couldn’t have changed being gay no matter how much he wanted too, how hard he tried, or how righteous he was.
Looking back, when Trevor was fifteen, he tried so hard to live the gospel and follow all the rules. Like most teenage boys, he had an experience looking at pornography –which to him confirmed he was gay. He told me about this and was sad and distraught. He wanted to make things right and told me he did not want to be “cast into hell.” I basically said, “I love you. You were very brave for telling me this. You will need to go to the bishop and repent.” I wish instead, I had sat down with him and really listened. I wish I had asked more questions to know his heart, his fears, his loneliness, and his despair. Isn’t this how we should really listen to our kids? Instead of always trying to fix them, we need to not be afraid of their truth, instead, we should try to listen to them the way God listens to us.
Fortunately, there are many resources available now, so many more than seven years ago when Trevor officially came out to the rest of our family and the world. We also found out, a month after Trevor came out to our immediate family, that we were (as we put it now) “doubly blessed.” Our younger son Tanner, recently returned from his mission, came out to us when he saw our family’s reaction to Trevor and felt safe. This was also the time I finally started educating myself.
I started reading books about gay people’s experiences, attending conferences like Affirmation and reading articles and any information my husband and I could get our hands on. Trevor also invited us to attend a conference with him and Tanner called “Circling the Wagons.” I remember the tears in Tanner’s eyes when we picked him up at BYU to go to the conference. It was the first time we had seen him since he had emailed us about being gay. I hugged him, held him tight and told him it would be okay.
Since then, I’ve learned and felt the pain, despair, and loneliness of a beautiful minority of people that I had never understood before. And I started having real talks with my sons. Through gaining more knowledge, being involved in our ALL Arizona support group, and learning about what it means to be LGBT I have come to a comfortable and peaceful place with God and with myself. I have truly learned what unconditional love is. Wendy Montgomery said it so well at the recent ALL conference: “The church didn’t teach me to love, my son did.” In my case, it was my sons. I have come to know that God truly loves all his children and wants us to love and include everybody no matter what.
The link below is an excellent website that compiles resources for LDS people wanting to learn more about LGBTQ issues: http://www.listenlearnandlove.org