Sunday, July 18, 2010

Family Reunion

I have a few posts I still need to write that come chronologically before the three in this series including an amazing first date, the genesis of the MoHo Map, coming out to my best friend, attending NYC Pride and meeting several other MoHo bloggers. But because of the significance of the events that have happened recently, I have decided to abandon the timeline for a bit to share my coming out story.

- - -

The days leading up to my trip home for the family reunion were tortuous. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I was so busy, yet at the same time I couldn’t accomplish anything. My mind was awash with playing out the scenario in my head when I would come out to my parents. Some people have asked why I have been so intent on telling them, and I think that it is because I do consider family to be one of the biggest joys in my life. I knew that letting them into my life would be difficult, but at the same time a relief. I had never really been open with them before in terms of emotions and feelings, so I didn’t know what to expect.

I don’t get involved in anything until I have researched it out and have some knowledge of what is to come. So either to my benefit or detriment, I had researched many people’s coming out experiences and then prepared for each and every situation I could think of just in case. I told myself that I would prepare for the worst and hope for the best, though I genuinely expected the worst. I tried to incorporate many of these issues into my coming out letter, that way I could establish a firm foundation of expectations with my parents.

I had previously ordered “No More Goodbyes” and “In Quiet Desperation” in preparation as well. I had read through NMG very quickly, my heart both aching and celebrating with each story. I am a very empathetic person. I tend to genuinely feel the emotions of my friends and close acquaintances and sincerely wish and hope the best for each of them. The stories in NMG were so simple yet so profound that I told myself that when I came out to my parents I would give them a copy of the book. (I even wrote the author, Carol Lynn Pearson, thanking her for the tool I thought would soften the blow for them.)

For all intents and purposes, I let time get away from me and I wasn’t able to finish my letter to the degree of liking I preferred. I knew I was working on a document that would define my existence and act as a launching pad for the future. Yes, I would be there in person to answer questions, but this letter would be left behind, something that could be added to family history. I like writing. I wanted to get it right. But it was all over the place. I couldn’t tie it all together. I was also surprised at how difficult it was to write because it encompassed a topic of such a personal nature. I could only work on it a little at a time, though the pressure was growing the days before the flight. I didn’t finish it in time.

The night before the trip, I packed my suitcase and only got about three hours of sleep. Then before I knew it I was off to work on the subway with my things. I don’t even remember what I did that day. I probably was working to get things in order so they wouldn’t fall through the cracks while I was gone. Never before had I taken off more than two days of work in a row, so I was looking forward to the break, but I was just watching the clock waiting for the shuttle that would take me to the airport. The time came, I bid my coworkers farewell and, with a deep breath, took off on what seemed like the greatest adventure of my life.

- - -

The airport was chaotic, the flight overbooked. The airline offered two hundred dollars to reschedule, but I told myself they would have to add another zero on the end for me to even begin to consider rescheduling. I don’t think I could endure the waiting anymore than I absolutely had to. Once aboard the delayed flight, I tried to relax and read the rest of IQD. I bought the book to read ahead of my mom because I knew once I came out to her, she would head to Deseret Book. Knowing this would be what she would find, I wanted to read it preemptively.

I had read and loved the beginning part about Stuart Matis. But the second part I found difficult to read. I don’t know if it was the attitude of the arguments or my unease and lack of sleep, but I found the writing to be labored and excessive, almost to the point of bemoaning same gender attraction with sackcloth and ashes. Needless to say, I didn’t get through the end. I think I dosed off for a few minutes, but I was still stressed and just wanted the flight to end.

Four hours later after landing, I ran to baggage claim and waited for my suitcase to turn the corner of the carousel when a particularly attractive guy chose to stand right in front of me. I am hesitant to say this, but looking at him and feeling at least the superficial attraction that eye-candy garners, I still felt a bit guilty and ashamed of that reaction. I brushed it off like I always did, and when my bag appeared, I grabbed it and headed for the parking lot without looking back.

My dad had come to pick me up and was there waiting. I loaded my things into the backseat and then hopped into the front, sharing a smile and a quick hug before we headed off. My dad is one of the most loving, gentle and caring souls I know, and it was refreshing to see him again. The conversation beyond initial pleasantries mostly focused on my physical appearance.

I hadn’t seen him in six months, and in that time I had come out to myself and subsequently lost 45 pounds. I am actually still losing the weight. I realize that I had used weight as a protection mechanism against me accepting who I was. I reasoned that if I hated myself, so would everyone else. I had also wanted to punish my body for feeling the way it did. (Luckily, I am no longer in that tragic state of mind and am on my way to feeling and looking great!)

On the way home we did have an interesting exchange. Between my mom and dad, I had supposed that my dad would be more agreeable to accepting my coming out news initially. I had actually been dropping subtle hints in the weeks leading up to the family reunion to prepare him. As he was driving, I mentioned in passing how great it was to be home. He replied that I would always be welcome at home. Seeing this as a perfect opportunity to prepare him further, I lightly replied, “I’ll hold you to that.” He gave me an awkward glance and a smile and the conversation moved on until we reached the house.

I was mauled by my mom and my older sister the moment I stepped out of the car. (I had avoided mentioning the weight loss to anyone in the family and hadn’t posted any recent pictures of myself just so I could enjoy this moment.) They both were amazed with how I looked and wanted to know my secret and what diet I was on. I wasn’t about to tell them that the secret was coming out to myself and accepting who I was, but I managed to put together some answer about not being on a diet but simply being aware of what I ate, controlling portion sizes and recognizing when I was full. They were incredulous when I told them I had not exercised one bit to achieve the weight loss. My mom, always the one to be happy with children making healthy changes, was beside herself, though was a bit sad because she had gotten a shirt two sizes too big for me for the family photo. I told her not to worry about it and that we would make it work.

We talked for a bit, enjoying the family being together again. I relish our family conversations. I never laugh so hard as when I do when I am with my family. The conversations are intellectual, joyful and exciting. Only getting together once or twice a year, we also have a lot to talk about. I was trying to enjoy it, thinking it may be one of the last normal conversations I’d have with them. I was determined to enjoy the next four days before I came out, appreciating every moment because I was convinced everything would change once I did. I went to bed that night both smiling over being with my close ones again and frowning at the sadness and conflict my news might mean to that familial unit.

- - -

The next morning we drove two hours to my uncle’s house. My uncle travels with his family during the summer and leaves behind a beautiful home complete with saltwater pool and slide, spa, basketball court, fire pits, barbeque, massive flat panel television and surround sound, pool table, foosball, air hockey and more. I was appreciative of everything to distract me from my own thoughts of dread. (I also secretly believe that my mom used the pool as an excuse to get us away from the city where we grew up just so we wouldn’t be tempted to meet up with any friends and thus steal time away from the reunion. She is an empty nester and wants to make the most of her family time, bless her heart.)

The days were full of family activities like swimming, cooking, eating out, a water balloon fight, picnicking, going to a movie, celebrating a birthday, fireworks, playing card and board games, crafts and many more fun-filled excursions. My mom had created a whole schedule listing activities by the hour just to make sure we maximized the time we had together. Some of the non-traditional activities included a thirty-course blind palette taste test, a patriotic flag ceremony and devotional, a Deseret Industries thrift store scavenger hunt and a family fireside on patriarchal blessings. (Yeah, we are weird but in a good way, and we have a ton of fun!)

I am glad we had so much scheduled fun because waiting until the last day to come out would have been unbearable had I not had planned activities to get me there. My family could tell something was up anyway. I was breaking out, something I do more when I am stressed. And this time it was bad. I wasn’t sleeping at all. I tried, but I was worrying so much and trying to work on my letter. I was texting more than usual (mostly to you fellow bloggers) to the point where my family thought I had a secret girlfriend (how wrong they were). I know I had wanted to enjoy the last few days of normalcy with my family, but I was beginning to think I should have just done it at first because I was slowly tearing myself apart, to the verge of breaking down.

On one of our excursions, we headed to an old pioneer valley for church and a picnic lunch. There is antique chapel and a congregation that still meets there so we went for Sacrament Meeting. It was the Fourth of July and the day before I was planning on coming out. The service was very pleasant and quaint. After the sacrament had been distributed, the member of the bishopric who was conducting got up to start the testimony portion of the meeting. As is custom, he started with his own testimony which included some patriotic themes to honor the holiday. It was all perfectly fine until I heard the phrase, “and I know that the country is currently run by people influenced by the devil...” It just went downhill from there.

The one thing I had going for me about coming out to my parents is that they are both members of the Democratic Party. Being a bit more open-minded than the usual conservative, cookie-cutter Mormon, I had hoped that this open-mindedness would extend to their only son. After a lovely picnic I was in the car with my mom on the way home. I brought up the interesting testimony which led to a fantastic political discussion including a conversation about the prejudices felt by Mormons who are Democrats living in conservative areas. I took the opportunity to ask my Mom there was anything on the Democratic platform that she did not agree with. Without skipping a beat, she responded “Gay marriage.”

She qualified her comments by saying that she thought that they had the right to be together and that there were many loving partnerships with good people, but that the Plan of Salvation was about the family unit being sealed in the temple, which a gay couple simply could not do. I was a little dismayed but I understood where she was coming from. Family to her is everything, and a celestial family bound for the eternities has always been her unabashed goal. The conversation moved on to other topics, but my mind remained on what she had said. I wondered if her views would change at all learning about me, or if she would always be saddened for the family she expected but might not attain. I wondered if she would ever be able to support me getting married to another man.

That night was the worst. I was worried and nauseous. I was up until 5 AM finishing my letter, thinking, praying, worrying, fidgeting and pacing. I was having second thoughts. Why was I doing this? Did I want to change everything? Were my feelings all that important in the eternal scheme of things? Was my happiness worth the sadness of my family? After a few calls to some friends (where I went into the garage to make sure I wasn’t heard at all), I calmed down and regained a level head, but I was still worried and exhausted. I was wrestling with myself, wrestling with the exact wording of the letter and wrestling with the decision to come out that I had thought I already made. Finishing the letter, I read it over once quickly to proofread it, posted it online and then collapsed onto the bed. In the chaos of my mind, sleep came slowly.

- - -

My sister knocked on my door early at 6 AM, asking if I were going on the sunrise hike. I grumbled that I wouldn’t be. I was, however, meeting an old friend for an early breakfast because that was the only time we could coordinate our schedules to do so. I roused myself, took a quick shower and headed out to an IHOP that was close by. I took my letter on a flash drive so I could print it somewhere in town because the house had no printer I could use. After a lovely breakfast, I drove around the city endlessly to find some store that was open.

Because of the federal holiday, all of the FedEx, Kinkos and OfficeMax stores were closed as were the libraries and every other place I thought might have a printer for customer use. I started to think I would go crazy, having invested so much into writing this letter that I could not print! I finally found a Staples where the only employee there graciously printed out three copies of the letter for me. (I am pretty sure he got a good look at what it contained, but at this point I was just happy to have a physical copy I could give to my parents.)

I got home and stashed the letters in my luggage along with NMG. I then proceeded to pack my things, just in case I needed to make a quick exit that evening. I didn’t think I would have another chance later in the day. Hearing the tales of the gorgeous sunrise hike coming from down the hallway, I joined my family as they returned and tried to act as if everything was normal for the rest of the morning.

At some point, I made it my goal to tell my dad I needed to talk to him and Mom alone later that day. It was an awkward conversation because I had never really asked for anything like it before. He agreed, of course, and I proceeded to tell him that Mom might not enjoy the conversation too much and that I needed his help to perhaps step in and maintain the peace. This statement alone probably caused him to worry even more by the look on his face. I told him not to worry and that it was only a precaution. I don’t think that worked. He looked worried the rest of the day.

Later in the afternoon, I was helping my mom with the laundry and I mentioned to her that I would like to speak to her and Dad privately sometime. She immediately responded quite emphatically, “I hope it isn’t bad. I can’t handle anything bad right now.” I wept on the inside. I took a beat and forced a smile. I don’t know where I got the strength from, but I replied that it was something good and left to go be alone to recompose myself.

I don’t remember much about that afternoon. I was in a daze. I might have gone swimming or played some games. I don’t know. I was doing a lot of thinking and worrying. I had already told my parents I wanted to talk, so there was really no going back at this point. I was lost in a stupor of thought while sitting in the living room when all of a sudden my pensive musings were broken by my mom addressing me, asking, “How about now?”

I snapped out of my daze to the realization I was alone with my parents in the living room. Everyone else had, amazingly enough, gone outside to play in the pool. I had supposed the conversation would happen later that night, not at that moment. It was so early still! My heart started beating out of control. I had to catch my breath. Thoughts raced through my mind. Was I ready for this? Can I blow off the whole thing? Where can I run and hide? Could I survive this? How would things change? Would my parents still love me? I was about to find out, right then.

Accepting that this is what fate had in store for me, I responded affirmatively and said I would meet them in their room shortly after getting something from mine. Once in my room, I quickly sent out a mass text for support. I checked the many encouraging and loving comments on my letter I posted online and then fell to my knees and offered a quick prayer. I retrieved the letters and the book when my phone started to fill with additional thoughts of love and strength from many of you. I was invigorated and made the determination to go through with it and actually come out.

Leaving my phone behind so I wouldn’t be distracted, I headed to my parent’s room. My hands shaking and clinging to the letter for dear life, I tried to take a few deep breaths to calm the butterflies in my stomach and to get my heart the oxygen it needed because it was pounding so quickly. Everything was about to change. For better or for worse, my and my parent’s realities would never be the same once I told them I was gay. I was seconds away from having the most important conversation of my life.


  1. I can't believe you had to wait that whole time with your family before telling your parents. That must have been excruciating.

    I loved reading this though. You built up my anticipation so much I was sad that the story didn't continue. You really are an amazing writer.

  2. You certainly tell it vividly. I'm sure there are many who experience similar tension but do not have the gift of expressing it so clearly. You're a wonderful writer.

    And what a wonderful family, with everybody enjoying each other's company so much!

    Obviously I can hardly wait for the next scene. Please don't keep us in suspense too long. You've given us the briefest glimpse of the reaction, but there is so much detail which you can supply.

  3. The story will continue soon, I promise!

  4. I really enjoyed reading this and eagerly await more.