Born of Goodly Parents

Most Mormon LGBT are traumatized by their Mormon experience; I was not.  My narrative begins with the question “Why, as a gay youth, was my Mormon experience so positive?

I grew up in a strong Mormon family in Ogden, Utah.  We came from Mormon stock.  My grandfather was a general authority and both of my grandmothers were born to polygamist families prior to the Manifesto.  Our ward considered our family stalwart because we lived by the proverbial letter of the law, obeying all Mormon tenets zealously. My parents came together initially out of this shared passion.  They actually met because my father served as mission secretary under my mother’s father.  They had nine children and my mother would have had more if she could.  Their rigid interpretation of Mormonism was the glue that held my parents together.  Some families might have suffered collateral damage from this kind of rigidity, but not ours.  There were many factors that contributed to our relatively healthy home, but two factors in particular proved to be life-saving for me later as I negotiated my coming out process.

My parents took a zealous approach to everything in their religion, including Christ-like love.  Especially my mother.  She took service to the extreme.  She would identify the underdog in our ward or community and become their support system.  She took troubled teens or troubled young adults under her wing.  She advocated for them.  She listened to them.  She could empathize, having suffered depression herself.  Many stalwart ward members including bishops came to her for support when they passed through their own hard times.  Yes, my mother was volatile, but her apologies exceeded her explosions by a thousand times (a vulnerability I manipulated more than once as a teen).  Our home resembled a boarding house for international students. My older siblings would send home any stray wandering friend they found while on their missions or on their studies abroad.  My mother would teach them English and refuse payment even while she was waking up at 5 AM every day to deliver newspapers to have a little spending money.  Some of these students were Mormon and some were not.  Some were active and some were not.  My mother didn’t use that to determine whether to serve them.  She knew that service was the best missionary work.  For me, all of this was ordinary.  I didn’t appreciate it or resent it.  It never once occurred to me that I would be rejected from the family for any choices I made.  I didn’t even think about it.  I didn’t need to.

My parents also affirmed originality, individuality and diversity.  Conforming for conformity’s sake was disdained.  Each of my siblings had unusual passions that were not only tolerated, but celebrated.  My parents always befriended the most original misfits they could find because they truly enjoyed their uniqueness.  They automatically befriended anyone in the community, Mormon or not, who was from another country or culture.  We children were taught that originality was desirable.  Hallmark cards were accepted, but home-made cards were applauded.  Gender roles existed, but they certainly weren’t rigid. My masculine traits and my feminine traits were both affirmed.  Obedience to the gospel may have been enforced, but obedience to social norms was absolutely neglected.  I grew out of this experience with a  strong sense of my own individual self-worth.

I came out as a gay man at age 24.  I can’t say how my parents would have reacted if I had come out to them at a younger age.  But by the time I came out, it no longer mattered.   My parents had given me what I needed to negotiate the difficult process of coming out and overcoming my own homophobia.  I had my self-image, my identity, my moral compass.  I didn’t need the approval of society.  I didn’t need the approval of my ward.  I didn’t even need the approval of my family any more.  What they had given me trumped my need to find acceptance from others.  I passed through this experience without resentment toward my family, the church, or my Mormon upbringing.  I was able to start a new life with the normal angst and the normal enthusiasm of a young adult free of bitterness and regret.  I thank my parents for this.

I really was lucky.  You might say I won the lottery.  I came out at a time where other pioneers and activists had already fought for the right to live openly as LGBT people.  With the tools my parents gave me, I negotiated the difficult process of coming out, even while I was in the most difficult year of medical school.  I have been able to be openly gay throughout my training, and throughout my career as a psychiatrist, with no repercussions.  I have been able to pursue health and happiness.  I found a partner and we have established a life together based on love, commitment, trust, mutual goals and mutual spiritual pursuits.  My life has been golden.

This ‘golden’ life is available to many more young LGBT people now.  In some parts of the country homosexuality is almost a non-issue and the majority of the young people don’t see themselves at much disadvantage.  Unfortunately Utah is not one of those places, and neither are most of our Mormon wards and communities.

I am going to speak bluntly.  We (LGBT people) do not suffer same-sex attraction or same-gender attraction.  We suffer homophobia.  We suffer ostracism.  We suffer discrimination.  We suffer hate-crimes.  We suffer bullying.  We suffer marginalization.  We suffer family rejection.  We have to endure these things even more in our Mormon communities because they are even stronger there.  I was lucky because I was given the tools to overcome these challenges.  Too many Mormon LGBT youth aren’t given these tools.  Instead they are taught to hate themselves.  They are often cut off from their families and homes.  They do not feel welcome in their wards and communities.  They aren’t allowed to become strong enough to survive.

My rigidly Mormon parents had the answer:  Christ-like love.  Empathy.

_________________

P.S.  A Christ-like reading of the Family Acceptance Project’s pamphlet, “Supporting Families, Healthy Children: Helping Latter-day Saint Families with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Children” can only lead to adopting the guidelines described.  If you already recognize the importance of this work, please spread it around and please contribute financially to the FAP, so that they can keep providing these supports to LDS families who want to learn how to save their LGBT children.

26 comments for “Born of Goodly Parents

  1. January 19, 2013 at 8:26 am

    So beautiful, cousin. And I love your family deeply (all of them). Parkinsons forever. :)

  2. January 19, 2013 at 8:34 am

    Thanks for sharing that. It’s too bad that more members of the LDS faith are not like your parents and follow Christ with unconditional love and service.

  3. Alexei
    January 19, 2013 at 8:57 am

    This is a beautiful post. I think we often talk about building the Church when we need to be talking about building Zion. I don’t believe they are always one and the same. It sounds like your parents understood this. Much love to the extent an anonymous online commenter can send it.

  4. Debbie
    January 19, 2013 at 9:21 am

    Such a beautiful post. I’ve always seen a note of happiness and optimism in you and I’ve wondered how you had made being gay a non-issue. You exude a positive attitude, like being gay is not a stumbling block to living a happy life. Now I know why. Your parents understood that the main thing God expected from them was to love you. This is why the Family Acceptance Project through San Francisco State University is so important. Family acceptance makes all the difference.

  5. Nicolas Perner
    January 19, 2013 at 9:39 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this Daniel.

  6. Carole Thayne Warburton
    January 19, 2013 at 11:37 am

    This is a beautiful post that I wish every LDS parent would read. The healthy environment your parents created wasn’t just one where an emerging LGBT youth could flourish, as you so eloquently shared, it was one where any youth could embrace who they are and flourish. Your home portrayed the gospel in it’s very best aspect and how I believe it was intended. How sad that so many LDS and other religious communities twist teachings to mean that intolerance is okay.

  7. Duck
    January 19, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    I grew up in the same community of Mormons as did Daniel. And, I can personally attest to everything he has written about his parents and family. They were true stalwarts, helped anyone and everyone, and were much beloved. I loved going to their home during wintertime to ice-skate and drink hot chocolate. When my parents were going through a VERY rough patch in their married life, one that led to domestic violence and abuse, it was to Daniel’s family that my oldest brother was sent (but was called back) to get someone to help us. I love the Parkinson family and am grateful to have read this post.

  8. Neal
    January 19, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    Its so great that you have such a loving, caring and interesting family. Makes all the difference. Thanks for sharing your wonderful story with us.

  9. January 19, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    Thank you for sharing your experience, Daniel. Your family sounds amazing. They were pioneers.

  10. Margot Stone
    January 19, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    Thank you for your post! How wonderful to hear ones gender identity addressed in such a normal manner, within an LDS paradigm!

  11. Kellie Vigoren
    January 19, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    What an inspiring message. It brought tears to hear that Christ-like love was the focus of your upbringing. So encouraging. Thanks for sharing your story.

  12. January 20, 2013 at 7:49 am

    Daniel, I LOVED this piece. But I have a couple of observations or questions that go beyond the well deserved adulation others have expressed.

    I feel that my experience was very similar. My parents were also very devout Latter-day Saints. You used the word “rigid” to describe the faith of your parents. I’d be curious to hear you expand on that and tell me more about what you mean by that. I would describe my parents as extremely devout but not “rigid.”

    For example, I remember as a young child my dad telling me “I don’t want you to be a member of the Church by default. I want you to explore all the religions of the world, and make a decision for yourself what you believe.” I really took my dad’s words to heart as a young man. I really believed he meant it. Though I LOVED the Church and my parents, and I never really wanted to be anything but a Latter-day Saint — at least up until I began to feel extreme pressure as a result of the conflict I felt between being gay and Mormon. My parents were so loving and such amazing people and such great examples, for most of my childhood and youth I didn’t feel much need to search beyond my own backyard for the answers to the great questions of life.

    You and I are both of the same generation. We both left the Church. I too — looking back — feel that my upbringing as a Mormon equipped me with an amazing toolkit for coming to terms with my gayness in a very healthy, positive way. My parents always communicated to me a sense of my absolute goodness and worth, and their unconditional love for me. That laid a foundation for me to come out, and gave me confidence in my ability to make moral and spiritual decisions for myself.

    Ultimately, I in a sense took my dad’s counsel to heart and for many years explored many different religions and philosophies (including atheism). (Unlike you, I grew up in a community where Mormons were a tiny minority, so I was much more aware of other faiths growing up.) My searching has led me back to the LDS faith with a renewed and strengthened testimony. I feel like I am stronger now as a Mormon than ever before because — following my dad’s counsel — I’ve tested and tried many different options and made my own decision.

    I feel like my parents upbringing of me was guided by two enormously important, central principles of Mormonism: unconditional love (grounded in the belief that we are all children of God) and the birthright of free agency. My parents strongly communicated to me that I was loved, that I had absolute worth as a child of God, and that I was free to make my own choices. That has enabled me BOTH to come out and find a loving 20-year-long relationship with my husband AND to embrace the faith of my upbringing.

    I think that we are not the only Mormons who benefited from our Mormon upbringing in coming to terms with being gay. I sense that many other LGBT Mormons have had similar experiences.

    Ironically in my case, my parents (particularly my dad) rejected my homosexuality for a time… It didn’t matter. What they had given me in terms of my sense of self-worth and freedom made it possible for me to clash for a time and for me to still come to a positive resolution (though I was probably more conflicted for a time about my homosexuality than you were). (BTW, my dad is now 100% supportive of me in every way, as you well know.)

    I guess one question I’d like to put out there is… Does the rejection of homosexuality in the Mormon community/culture boil down to a misunderstanding of the true principles of Mormonism? Would the fullest and truest expression of Mormonism be fully empowering to LGBT people? Your and my experience points in that direction, I think, though I’d be interested in your thoughts.

    One observation is that maybe Mormonism as a faith system has the potential to be much more affirming of LGBT people than traditional Christianity (especially if you take into account the room for growth that the principle of continuing revelation affords). It seems to me a tragedy that LGBT people could receive such wonderful gifts of faith from Mormonism, but feel so utterly rejected by Church members or by Mormon culture that 70% of us ultimately leave for good…

    • Daniel Parkinson
      January 21, 2013 at 3:32 pm

      My message from mormonism was just that: seek for your own answers and don’t judge others. I do think that those are the tools that will help gay mormons find their best path, but are also the same tools that should help their mormon families accept the decisions made by their LGBT children. Now I don’t claim to be able to declare what the true message of mormonism is, but I know that for many the principle theme is Christlike love. Many mormons buy into that as being primary, and those same mormons are going to be best equipped to deal with an issue that they might not otherwise understand. In fact, I have the good luck to have some very close friends and family members who are true believing mormons, but who really take to heart this idea. They know that in the end God is about love and not about punishment, and they can easily accept me and my decisions, even if they are not the decisions that they would have made for themselves.

    • Daniel Parkinson
      January 21, 2013 at 4:11 pm

      You asked me what I mean by rigid, and I use that word because that is how I experienced their mormonism. To me it seemed extreme on the one hand, but had these great benefits on the other hand that ended up serving me well in my later struggles. They were tolerant with their children, when as adolescents they would go through phases of inactivity. On the one hand they had very high expectations, but on the other hand they weren’t going to reject their children if they didn’t fully embrace their belief system.

    • Anonymous
      January 24, 2013 at 8:54 pm

      Both this article and this reply are great. Do either of you have issues with the new website:
      http://www.mormonsandgays.org? What do you think of the idea that same-sex attraction is simply a product of being a mortal at this time and place–perhaps due to the prevalence in our environment of substances called hormone disruptors–that will not persist when we leave mortality and the defects of mortal minds and bodies? The church teaches all members not to have same-sex sex and to have any sexual relations with anyone but our legally and lawfully wedded opposite sex partners. Being celibate and homosexual for a lifetime is difficult, but so is being single and heterosexual for a lifetime. Single heterosexuals abound in our wards and stakes. Those that have sexual intercourse outside the bounds of opposite sex matrimony get disciplined. Why should homosexuals not be held to the same standard?
      I am a heterosexual cross-dresser. My wife divorced me about four years after I came out to her. She was supported fully in her divorce of me by very kind, intelligent, bishops. I know what ostracism feels like. It is terrible, particularly after being married for 35 years and raising an amazing family with my wife. On the bright side neither one of us have found other partners, and we still see each other a lot. But my now ex-wife makes it very clear that she will never remarry me while I continue to cross-dress.
      Fortunately, my bishop and stake president, with whom I met on a regular bases for several years while continuing to be fully active,decided that if I did not cross-dress in public at all but cross-dressed only behind a locked door at work and in the privacy of my own apartment that I could have a temple recommend. I complied with their restrictions and am now able to go to the temple again. Some day I hope that my wife will lose a little of the revulsion she feels when she recalls my appearance when I first cross-dressed in front of her, but I’m not holding my breath. I try to be patient, kind, and forgiving toward her and those she has turned against me hoping that someday the positive feelings she used to have for me will return. For now those feeling flicker off and on only faintly, but I do see glimmers of acceptance and understanding occasionally.
      All the best to both of you.
      Sincerely,
      Jim

      • Daniel Parkinson
        January 25, 2013 at 5:55 am

        I am glad that you have a bishop who can see you as a worthy person. Not every bishop is able to look past stereotypes. You asked about the burden of living single, and many people have pointed out that it is not a fair comparison. Single heterosexual people can always have hope for marriage. LGBT mormons are not allowed even that hope. Furthermore, it doesn’t leave room for people like me or John Gustav-Wrathall. Being single for us would require us to abandon our current marriages. What could possibly be virtuous about telling John that he should leave his partner of 20 years, and abandon his foster son that they both care for who was placed with them because it was the only appropriate home that could be found. John’s Bishop and Stake President are similar to yours in that the look at the issue with a lens of compassion. They realize that it would be immoral for John to leave his gay husband. (Sorry to speak about you John, since you are on this thread….I hope you will pipe in). It would be immoral for me to leave my husband of 12 years too. The church wouldn’t baptize me unless I did do that. You can’t compare my situation to a single LDS person who can’t find a husband/wife. The church doesn’t ask heterosexual people to leave their marriages. It is not equal.

  13. Kipper
    January 20, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    “I am going to speak bluntly. We (LGBT people) do not suffer same-sex attraction or same-gender attraction. We suffer homophobia. We suffer ostracism. We suffer discrimination. We suffer hate-crimes. We suffer bullying. We suffer marginalization. We suffer family rejection.”

    Very good point that same-sex attraction is not what is suffered. These things you do suffer tug at my heart strings and have been instruments in softening my heart and evolving my own views. But then you say:

    “We have to endure these things even more in our Mormon communities because they are even stronger there.”

    As I read again each of your points above then try to absorb that you feel those things are even stronger in Mormon communities I shake my head no, you can’t really think that. You can’t be saying that unless you are venting off steam.

    homophobia
    ostracism
    discrimination
    hate-crimes
    bullying
    marginalization
    family rejection

    Not saying these things don’t exist at all but please understand that for me, and I know I am not alone, the Church has played a huge role in opening my eyes and helped me become understanding and compassionate when it comes to the LGBT community. It is not something that comes natural to me but lessons in priesthood were delicately taught, talks in the ward and over the pulpit at our stake conference have helped me overcome, change and regret my thoughts and actions in the distant past (’70′s & ’80′s). I still may not be what you want me to be but I do not exhibit any of the characteristics above, and again I am not alone and for the record I live in a conservative county in Southern California. For the LGBT community as a whole, understanding should go both directions, this lifestyle is not easy for some to accept even for those who want to. There are still natural and scriptural questions that need to be…not just answered but worked out. Ingrained opinions, perspectives and pride are hard to revise but progress is being made and much of it comes from local and general church leaders. Again, not saying you are seeing everything you wish for but these labels can be and are hurtful to those who are trying to understand and sympathize with your history of being subject to these attributes. It’s not right and that is being taught.

    Lastly, without even knowing your family I can say I love them and am grateful for their example and thank you for you being able to explain what you have.

    • Daniel Parkinson
      January 21, 2013 at 3:37 pm

      Unfortunately alienation is the most common experience LGBT people get out of mormonism. It is not universally true, and maybe you have a particularly enlightened congregation where you live. However, if you have a chance to ask a few LGBT people what their mormon experience was like you will see a recurring theme. I have experienced mormon society and I have experience mainstream american society (in the midwest and northeast). I found mormon society to be far less tolerant of LGBT people compared to the non-mormon societies that I experienced. So yes, it is my experience that all these negative factors are worse within mormon communities. That is not to say that there are not other communities that are even worse for LGBT people.

  14. January 20, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    Kipper,

    When you say something like, “No, you can’t really think that. You can’t be saying that unless you are venting off steam.”

    That is the definition of marginalization. Instead of taking experiences in good faith, as coming from a rational being who can adequately explain himself, you dismiss his experience, thoughts, and feelings.

    You probably don’t mean to do this, but that is what is happening.

    If you are feeling hurt, why not try to think about why so many people use these terms. Could they possibly be feeling something that deserves to be paid attention to that justifies these terms?

  15. Gretta
    January 20, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    This is so lovely. Thank you.

  16. Kipper
    January 20, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    Andrew, sorry I don’t see your definition of marginalization as being accurate. It is not dismissive or personal and I already know where these terms originate. Read my words again.

  17. January 20, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    Kipper,

    Let me put it this way:

    Whatever you want to call it, when you tell someone that what they are telling you they think “can’t really” be what they think, then whatever you want to call that, you can either stop that (whatever you want to call it), or just deal with the fact that some folks are going to think less of you for that behavior.

  18. Kipper
    January 20, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    You really are missing the point but if you say it then it must be true (“let me put it this way…”), even if it defies logic.

  19. January 20, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    Kipper,

    I guess at this point, you can decide which you would rather do: be compassionate or be “right”.

    • Kipper
      January 20, 2013 at 11:08 pm

      Sorry, you’re not qualified to offer me choices. You need a villain, that’s not me.

  20. Max
    January 24, 2013 at 2:18 am

    Thank you for sharing your life and thoughts. Unfortunately, it seems to be the exception in the Church. Over the years, I’ve know a dozen friends (gay LDS members) who have been alienated or thrown out of their homes because they are ‘gay’. The numbers should be decreasing, but not in my experience. Just this year, a couple of young men were living in a car or at a friend’s house because their families threw them out. They were both still attending church at the time.

    When we still hear gay jokes at Church, harsh words about gays during election time, or suggested violence against gays during General Conference, we know that the Church and members have a ways to go. Are we all working toward improving ourselves? Absolutely! But, we shouldn’t kid ourselves. Read the articles this week about the numbers of gay LDS kids in Utah that are homeless during wintertime. We MUST and CAN do better.

    I hope more families can be like yours, Daniel and John and like you Kipper. We need more good examples.

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