My story isn’t exactly my story, although I am definitely a part of it. I am an ’empty nester’ now, but eleven years ago I was a single mom and still had a twelve year old son at home with me; a smart, sweet boy who tickled me with his ‘man of the house’ attitude and his need to protect me. I adored him…still do. There came a time when I lost my job and had to depend on the Church for assistance, which I will be everlastingly grateful for. I simply couldn’t have managed without help. In order to receive Church food assistance, I had to be very careful to fulfill all of my obligations to my ward, including making sure me and my son attended Church on a regular basis, and paid a full tithing on the unemployment I was getting. It was a very difficult time and sometimes I felt dehumanized, and kind of robotic in meeting the demands of my callings in Primary, as a Visiting teacher and also as assistant ward Librarian, working every Wednesday night to prepare ward handouts and announcements. There came a time when I noticed my son wasn’t taking the Sacrament and I became alarmed for him. I asked him about it, but he didn’t want to discuss it except to tell me the Bishop said he couldn’t take the sacrament or help with passing it for two months. I didn’t pressure him.
Over the next two months it was a battle to get him to come to Church with me, often pushing one or the other or both of us to tears, with me frantic because we needed the food and he humiliated to have to refuse the sacrament with his peers watching him, and not being allowed to help pass it (as a Deacon) to the congregation. He became moody and reclusive and for the first time I was worried about his state of mind. I kind of wondered if it had sometime to do with the Bishop’s interview he had had, so I decided, since he wouldn’t talk to me, that I would talk to him. I went into his room, sat on the side of his bed and spoke to him without asking him to respond. We had shared other conversations about maturing, but he was always kind of shy and reticent about such personal matters, so our chats were never too involved, as to avoid embarrassing him. They were just enough so I hoped he knew the changes he was going through were normal and to allow him to ask me questions if he wanted to. I told him I felt he should know that the thing boys do sometimes in the shower or alone in their room was just part of growing up, of getting to know his body and how things worked, that it was normal and didn’t make him wrong or bad. I couldn’t bring myself to say the word masturbation…I was raised in the Church after all, and those kinds of words were not to be spoken. It took me a long time to be able to say the word pregnancy out loud for Heaven’s Sake! He rolled away from me and just sobbed, the effort shaking his still childishly small shoulders. I sat with him, brought him tissue, and just let him cry. Later, when I kissed him goodnight, he held onto me as if he were afraid to let go.
Things improved. I let him skip two Sundays and made excuses to those who asked about him, including the Bishop. My son’s attitude toward me changed that day, as did my own, and we have been much more open with each other, learning to get past embarrassment with tricky topics. It was five years later that he was able to share full disclosure and came out openly to me as gay. He left the Church when he turned 18, and shortly after he came out to me I left, too, after some studying and finding other disturbing things about Church history in my efforts to understand. He had always been very chaste, even open and willing to share the story of his first kiss with me, which didn’t happen until he was 20 years old. I still find it infuriating that such a child as he was, an innocent trying so hard to please the Lord and me and to make things work for our little family, should have had to endure such shaming. It was wrong and it hurt him profoundly, causing suffering and self-loathing because of his normal, developing body.
This is his story, but it’s mine as well. I love my good, kind son, and often stand in awe at his strength, as his ability to push past shame and to embrace his own truth. Isn’t that exactly what the God who created him would ask of him?