Sometimes I get a glimpse of what it must have been like to be my friend a few years ago...
I forced myself to go to church. It made me crazy. I was a mess of anxiety leading up to it, and then a slightly different kind of mess after it. BJ would ask me every single week, "Why do you do this to yourself? You don't have to go. Just stop. It's hurting you, so stop."
My reply was always, "I HAVE to. What will people think of me? It will hurt my family if I don't go. It would be better that I was dead than to not be what they want me to be," and I'd keep on doing what I thought everyone else wanted me to do. He never told me not to. I know it killed him to watch me constantly putting myself in that situation, but he let me find my own way.
In the meantime, I kept finding evidence that I was right: My family would disown me if I didn't do what they wanted. They never came right out and said, "If you are honest about who you are, it will hurt us," but I believed it. I can only imagine how it would have messed me up if they had said it. I couldn't handle the thought of hurting them or making them unhappy, so I'd keep trying to please everyone else, while slowly killing myself. I made myself crazy trying to live the life everyone else wanted me to live.
And then one day, I got it. I made the decision that I was not going to let fear or guilt run my life. People that tried to use fear or guilt to manipulate me were just gone. I didn't talk to them anymore. If a situation felt manipulative, I walked out. I got it.
I stopped going to church. I got honest. I told my family and some friends how I really feel, and who I want to be, and who I am deep down inside. It didn't create the hell I thought it would - in fact exactly the opposite happened.
I found REAL relationships. REAL love. My family is amazing.
I have had some friends call me to repentance and tell me how much I am hurting myself and others by not doing what THEY think I should. Fuck them. I don't need them in my life, because I know what it feels like to have REAL love. (ok. not fuck them. More like... goodbye, I'll miss you. I'm here to be your friend if you ever change.)
I don't know why my family got it. HOW they got it, because I know that many MANY members of the church do NOT get it. They keep right on being manipulative, controlling, emotionally abusive people. They keep right on hurting the ones they "love" in the name of "love". And most of them never see it. They don't even have a clue of the pain they are causing.
I tried to explain this to my parents and sister once. My mom kept telling me that, "I can't imagine saying those kinds of things to someone I love. EVER," She thought she was normal, and the stories of the things people have said (and continue to say) to my friends are odd.
"I'm not that amazing... Most people would have handled things the way I handled things."
No. Mom. They don't.
Here are some of the amazing things my family did that most won't do.
My records are currently in my parents' ward, because they couldn't find me... When the clerk asked my sister why they were there. She told them, honestly, exactly why, "Jen isn't a part of the church, doesn't want to be, and it's just better if her records stay here. She doesn't want them where she is living." I cried when she told me, because that means... She is listening to ME. She doesn't have some preconceived notion of what is best for me, she isn't trying to control me or change me or to get my bishop to get me back to church. She cares about ME enough to hear ME.
I was visiting my parents when their bishopric stopped by.
I was in the kitchen, from the living room my mom shouted, "Oh. HI Bishopric!" It was a message to me, "Jen, the bishopric are here. I know how much these guys could possibly freak you out. Don't know how to handle it other than to just let you know by shouting it out, and emphasizing it awkwardly." I froze in the kitchen, waited a bit, and then I left. As soon as they were gone, my mom called me and we laughed at it all. This doesn't seem like much to my mom, but it is HUGE to anyone that has left the church. Most people don't treat us with that much respect.
My dad and I have had many discussions. We talk openly. He's aware that he can't answer many of my questions, so he doesn't try. We just talk about them... And in the end, he always says, "I love you, and I trust you," and I think he really means it. I FEEL that from him. He has told me he totally supports me not going to church, because he wants me to love ME, and the church just gets in my way. He knows me, and loves me, and it still makes me cry happy tears when I think about it.
My youngest brother posted this on my facebook wall, "So apparently there's a guy that used to work at BYU who is working on a documentary about being gay and Mormon, called "Far Between" It's not out yet, but it seemed like something you'd be interested in." I am aware of the documentary, I even know the man that he is talking about. (I even considered submitting my story of being asexual for it, but I don't think I will.) What amazed me is that he is paying attention to things that interest me. I care deeply about LGBT rights, and he knows it. Again... he may not understand how impressive that is, but I want him to know... That's impressive.
On Thanksgiving, I was nervous about seeing extended family. (As it turns out, I didn't have to be. My dad didn't want me to have to deal with awkward questions... He told my grandparents I've left the church, and told them I was happier. He told them he supported me and my decisions. And he wasn't just saying it, he MEANS it. Do you know how amazing THAT is?) I was trying to get more honest with my extended family, so I talked to my grandma about fishing and riding on Sundays. I talked about my roommate BJ, and she remembered meeting him. He and my grandpa talked about fly-fishing. As I was leaving, my GRANDMA just said, "You are happy, so you must be doing something right, just keep on being happy."
In the process, before I left, I was not happy. I was miserable. It is hard to face the possibility that I might lose everything if I am true to myself. I questioned whether it was really worth it. If I had known the kind of people that I have surrounding me, I wouldn't have had to question. Unfortunately, in the process of leaving, you don't know the kind of people you have in your life until you've stepped out and been honest, and then they show you. You have to face the fear of losing them before you can make the choice that might make them leave you.
As I've shared my life with my brothers, I've been surprised to hear them say, "I just want you to be happy," and they mean it.
I believed for so long that when people told me they "just wanted me to be happy" what they really meant was, "I want you to be happy as long as you do it my way." There ARE a lot of people like that in this world. The church can create that idea. (There is only ONE TRUE way to happiness, so if you aren't doing what *I* think you should be doing, you're not happy... even if you think you are. I just want you to be happy, so do what I tell you to do, and if that doesn't make you happy, then repent.)
I suppose what I want to say is, "Thank you."
Thank you for loving me. Thank you for listening to me. Thank you for not getting caught up in the stories. Thank you for trusting me to live my own life. Thank you for not trying to change me. Thank you for accepting me. Thank you. Sometimes, I'm still afraid of what you'll think of me, and I'm still afraid you won't love me... and yet, you have never left me. Thank you. Thank you for wanting ME in your lives. Thank you for not expecting me to continue to wear the mask or pretend in any way. Thank you for listening when I hurt. Thank you for being there with me through my confusion, and thank you for not thinking you know the way my confusion should be resolved. Because of you, my angry phase was much MUCH shorter than it could have been. I didn't have to
get really angry to get out. I could leave (somewhat) quietly. I didn't
have to fight against you in order to live my life. I thought I would. I
was geared up for a big battle. I was geared up to lose everything. Thank you for making me SO wrong.
I love you. I am so grateful for you.