By Liisa Lowe Frei, Jordan Frei and the Frei Family
My husband, Nick, and I have six children: four boys and two girls. This is the story of our fourth child, Jordan.
Almost two years ago I was in my room reading when I had a knock on my bedroom door. Jordan came in, and I could tell by his demeanor that he needed to talk to me about something important. He had a tremble in his voice and a look on his face that said what he was about to tell me was big. He sat down on my bed and proceeded to tell me he was gay. It was a conversation that I will always treasure and that I had been anticipating for many years.
When Jordan was about four years old I was outside playing with him, when out of nowhere I heard a voice distinctly say, “Jordan is gay.” The voice was so clear that I actually turned around to see where it had come from, saying out loud: “No, he’s not—and where did that come from?” Even in that moment, I never had the thought that I didn’t want a gay son. But what I could not imagine was trying to raise a gay son in the Mormon community that I lived in. As a convert to the Church, still adjusting to new cultures (an adjustment process that continues to this day), this thought terrified me. I never told anyone about that day—not even my husband. In fact, I tried to convince myself that the voice had come from me. You might expect that the voice in my mind had been triggered by some mannerism or stereotypical behavior from Jordan. In reality, nothing was further from my mind than the sexual orientation of my four-year-old son. So this was an entirely new thought for me.
Although I kept this experience to myself, it did motivate me to learn all I could about what being gay actually meant. This provided me twenty years to study everything I could get my hands on: studies, articles, books, talks from church leaders and official church policy. This also led to me learning more about LGBT issues generally. My running partner during this same twenty-year period (and still to this day) happens to work in the field of endocrinology. We have literally run thousands of miles together. Over the course of these miles, she has taught me about the complexity of the human body. She travels around the world working with medical experts in this field, and as a result I learned of the wide spectrum of variations from our typical conception of a clear division between male and female. I learned this simply isn’t the reality for many people. During this period, I also became aware there were many people in my own faith who did not fit the typical view of sexuality—and that far too often these people did not feel welcome and loved within our community.
Jordan grew up doing many of the same things that his two older brothers had done—he played sports, went on dates and served honorably as a missionary in California. Consequently, I had no real evidence that he was gay. Nevertheless, I felt I could not ignore the LGBT community, and over time I came to the critical realization that I had no doubt that being LGBT was not a choice. From this realization sprang a personal determination that, irrespective of what my own son’s sexual orientation turned out to be, I would not add any more pain or suffering to this group of people who were already facing an incredibly hard journey.
After Jordan and I had our talk, he asked me not to say anything to anyone else for the time being. He wasn’t sure what this meant for him, and he was not quite ready to make it public. True to his selfless nature, Jordan was also very concerned about my husband, Nick, who was himself in the middle of a particularly trying period. Nick had been diagnosed with colon cancer a few years earlier. The following year a hundred-year storm caused a small dam to break and flood our family’s little convenience store and bakery, forcing the store to close for nearly eight months and exacerbating financial struggles related to both the recession and Nick’s medical bills. At this time, Nick was working day and night in order to be able to open the store for business again. Jordan did not want to add another burden to his father’s already full plate. I respected this request and, once again, kept this knowledge to myself.
About a year before Jordan talked to me, his oldest sister had been struggling to make peace with the Church’s stance on LGBT issues. This was a serious issue for her, and she had met many times with her bishop in Texas to discuss her feelings. Eventually, the bishop simply told her that the Church needed people like her to stay—because of her feelings on these issues, not despite them. This resonated with her, and she determined to stay.
Four months after my conversation with Jordan, I was in Texas visiting my daughter and she started to ask some very pointed questions about Jordan. I danced around the issue the best I could until she asked me directly: “Is Jordan gay?” Unable to evade the issue any longer, I told her he was. Now that she knew, I asked her to call Jordan and tell him that I had told her. We were both worried how Jordan might respond to learning that another family member knew, but the phone call actually galvanized Jordan, giving him the courage to send an email later that night to the rest of his siblings, bringing them into the loop. The next day Jordan allowed us to share this email with our family members and friends. We felt like it was appropriate to let Jordan tell people in his own words, as it would help people better understand his heart.
One of the reasons I have gone into such detail in this post is because for a long time I wrestled with many questions on my own and came to my own conclusions. It wasn’t until I started to read others’ posts on blogs like this one that I realized there were so many others who had similar experiences or had come to an understanding similar to my own, albeit via different routes. Traveling these different paths by reading others’ online posts provided me with a lot of support that wouldn’t have been available otherwise.
These stories also helped me realize how blessed I had been to hear that voice, which I now recognize as a prompting, tell me Jordan is gay many years before he would sit down to tell me himself. This prompting allowed me to have time to research, ponder and process, rather than be blindsided by the information as happens to so many parents, frequently leading to initial reactions influenced by fear and misconceptions. I’ve seen that such initial reactions are often hurtful, driving a wedge between parent and child that can be difficult to remove. As a member of the Church, I also spent time worrying about how certain friends and acquaintances of ours holding leadership positions in the Church might react to this news. I cringed inwardly thinking about it, anticipating their reactions as another possible source of alienation and pain for my son. Instead, we have been pleasantly surprised by the way members of the Church, regardless of title or position, have reached out to Jordan in order to express their love for him.
I share our experience with the hope that it might inspire others to consider how they would react to their own child approaching them in order to share similar news. In particular, I’m motivated to share our family’s experience because I know that an average of one LGBT youth in Utah commits suicide every week. This fact alone is enough to compel me to tell our story, even though it would be easier to just go about our lives and maintain our privacy.
I have included Jordan’s email below, along with the many responses he received from family members and friends (some LDS, some not), for the same purpose. It is an unedited (and, as a result, occasionally difficult-to-follow) glimpse into our family’s journey. One small tip: the email includes a link to a video put out by the satirical news website, The Onion. It isn’t necessary to watch the video, but there are a few references to it in the emails that can be confusing without knowing the reference.
I’m going to spin my wheels for a bit here, since I’ve been putting this off for so long now that even considering writing this e-mail is scaring me. That I am even writing this at all right now is very surprising, and almost entirely due to a phone call that I got from Cass today. If you’re reading it that means I sent it and that’s another step altogether. I’ve been working through exactly what I need to say here and what might be better saved for later, and this is going to be a kind of long email when all is said and done. Unless I get tired of writing this and just hit the send button half way through, which is very possible. But before I do that, let me get this out of the way.
That’s right. I’m here. I love who I love and I’m not who you never thought I wasn’t going to be. And I’m gay, if that wasn’t clear from the above video. If Mom and Cass are to be believed, this probably isn’t that shocking for you all to find out. It’s still incredibly hard for me to say.
Not because I think any of you will love me any less or reject me in any way. As far as families go, I really do have the most amazing of them all. Not a single one of you has ever given me any reason to think that this would be an issue with you. I know this, and it means the world to me, but it also makes it hard to explain why it’s taken me so long to tell you all. Honestly, I’m not sure. It’s a hard conversation to start. When I told mom a few months ago, I walked up to her bedroom door about 15 times before I finally got the courage to open it, and that was after months and months of trying to figure out how to do it. When Cass called me today and started the conversation for me, I was so, so happy that I didn’t have to. So why is it so hard to do? It is the idea that something I love is ending.
I love the relationship that I have with you all. I love the way we interact. I love the way I see all of you and the way you see me. And even though I know you will all support me, our relationships will change. The way you think about me will change. There is no getting around it. There is, of course, the prospect of better, even more genuine relationships to come, but first the one we had has to die. That may be a bit way too dramatic, but that is how it feels and that is why this is so hard.
I’ve suspected that I was gay for a long time now. In high school I questioned, but I managed to convince myself otherwise for a long time. On my mission, I didn’t think about it much, and at that point I was convinced that I would come home and marry a girl. After getting home from my mission, I began to realize fairly quickly that this wasn’t going to work out. It wasn’t until the night that Tanner and Brynne got married that I knew for sure. I remember, distinctly, sitting at the dinner and seeing the way they looked at each other. For some reason as I watched them and saw how perfect they were for each other, it hit me. I knew that I would never find that with a girl. It hurt, but in a way it was a relief. The battle that I had been fighting in my mind was finally over, and even if it didn’t turn out the way that I wanted, at least there was peace.
After that, I tried to not deal with it. I’ve thrown myself towards medical school because it is something that I don’t have to give up. Having that goal to work towards helped keep me sane as I’ve struggled to come to terms with my sexuality and all of its ramifications. I also started talking to other guys. Some I tried dating, and as scary as that was and as much as I hated to lie to all of you, it was also great to at least be honest with myself. Some of these guys were cool, most of them weren’t. Some times I had a lot of fun and sometimes I felt super uncomfortable or like a giant goober or whatever. But I think that is how dating is supposed to work.
Berk often says that I am probably living life as a super hero or a secret vigilante. I just laugh it off, but he is right on one point. Until I am open and honest with all of you, I am living two lives. It worked for a while, and in all honesty, it was what I needed to do, but it is getting too hard. It is time to start merging myself so that I can be whole again.
So there it is. I’m here. I love who I love and I’m not who you never thought I wasn’t going to be. Just so all of you know, I’m dating someone now, and have been for a few months. His name is Moses. Dad, Berk, and Maddi have all met him as “my friend Moses.” I don’t really know what to say about it, other than that he is one of the most incredibly nice and caring people I have ever met. And I am happy when I spend time with him. I know you’ll understand how great that is. I don’t know exactly where our relationship is going or what the future holds. Basically, we are a normal couple. Again, I trust you can all understand how happy that makes me.
At this point in the email, things are getting wordy, and I know I haven’t hit a lot of points that I wanted to hit and said more about other points than I intended to say. I haven’t said anything about my feelings about the church, and based on my conversations with mom and Cass that is probably something you are all wondering. There are a lot of things to say about it, and honestly, the thought of typing it all makes me exhausted. So let me sum it up as briefly as I can. And let me start by sharing a not-so-brief quote from a talk that has helped me keep things in perspective. These are two quotes from a mother at the burial of her son. He drowned in the pool on the day she gave birth to her daughter. She says –
“We trust our faith will never again be tried as it has on this occasion. The things we have faith in have come down to a short list, but that list is immovable. We do not have faith that God must do what we entreat him to do.”
“I am content that God be God. I will not try to instruct him on his duties or on his obligations toward me or toward any of his children. I know he lives and loves us, that he is God. He’s not unmindful of us. We do not suffer out of his view. He does not inflict pain upon us, but he sustains us in our pain. I am his daughter; my son is also his son; we belong to him, and we are safe with him. I used to think we were safe from grief and pain here because of our faith. I know now that is not true, but we are safe in his love. We are protected in the most ultimate sense of all—we have a safe home forever. That is my witness.”
Apart from the obvious specificities of her situation, these sum up my attitude toward the gospel very well. My testimony has changed in a lot of ways, some of them major, but the gospel still has power in my life, and I still have a strong faith in God. I tried to pray for Him to change me and He didn’t and I know that is because He loves me. I don’t know what my future with the church is, but I do see a future with the church for myself. I might not ever be able to participate like I had pictured myself growing up, but it still means so much to me. The gospel still means so much to me. I don’t ever want any of you to think that I would be offended by your association with the church because of its stance on gay marriage or anything like that. I’m sure I’ll go through periods when it is harder for me to be there, and I’m sure I’ll stop going at some points, but it doesn’t change the way I feel about the church as a whole. It has been a huge, net positive in my life. I would be in such a worse place without the foundation that it gave me.
Ok, this is getting really long. The whole time I’ve been writing this, I’ve been struggling to know who to send this to. That was the genius of this email. I could write one thing and then knock all of your names off the list in one go. But even thinking about hitting send with all of your names in the address box is making me nervous. I worry a lot. I worry what people I know will say about me. I worry about what people I don’t know will say about me. I worry about what will happen to Lincoln when people at school find out. I worry about what will happen when people I love, like the Copes and the Mitchells and the Hafens, will think when they find out. I worry what my best friends will think. I worry about what my facebook friends will think. I worry that for the rest of forever, this is what I will be remembered for when people bring up my name, not all of the other things I have worked so hard to accomplish. Some of these things worry me a lot, some of these things worry me a little, but they all worry me.
I’m going to send this now. Berk and Maddi, I know you live like three feet away from me, but this is easier. Berk, I’ve wanted to tell you for a long time, and have stood for many long moments outside of your door trying to do it. But I’m just going to do it like this. And as a favor from all of you, if you want to say anything or ask questions, please email them to me. I will be glad to talk to you in depth in person about this if you all want, but for now, for tonight at least, I’m emotionally drained just typing this out. The thought of having a conversation about it now is just exhausting. That includes you, Maddi and Berk, sorry, haha. The end.
I love you all so much,
P.S. Cass, seriously thanks so much for calling me today. Not to overstate the point, but that call changed everything
A day or two after sending that email, Jordan compiled some of the responses he received from family and sent them to all of us. This is the email that he wrote at the time
You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.
– Desmond Tutu
I just wanted to let you know that I am not at all surprised. I’ve received so much love from all of you over the last couple of days, but really, it’s exactly what I expected from all of you, because I’ve suspected for a long time now that my family truly is something incredible. What has surprised me is how this flood of love has made me feel. I knew it would make things better, but I had no idea how happy I would be. Yesterday morning, I woke up and was afraid to leave my room. I wasn’t sure if Berk or Maddi had read my email and I definitely didn’t want to bring it up. But then, from his room that shares a wall with mine, Berk yelled and asked if I was there. He rushed into my room and we had an awesome conversation. It was a conversation that I had imagined and dreamed of having for so long, but I wasn’t sure how I would make it happen. Maddi joined us later and we talked and laughed and I felt so close to them both.
I literally share a wall with both of these people, but even living literally zero feet away from them, I began to feel a distance. Now I feel like we are right there next to each other again. I mention this because that is how I feel with everyone. Out of necessity, I’ve let myself put distance between all of you, even when we were close. I don’t have to do that anymore, and I’m so excited for what that means. This was supposed to be an awesome metaphor, but I’m trying to type this and take notes in anatomy class and I keep losing my train of thought, so sorry. I love you all, more than you can know, and I’m glad to know that you all love me. I hope none of you mind, but I copied all of the responses that everybody has sent me over the last couple of days. I do this so that you, like I, can see what an incredible family we are. I know a lot of you mentioned that you worried about difficulties I will face in the future. I hope what you read below will assure you, as it did me, that things are going to be okay.
Love and Peace,
This is the first reply Jordan got from his email. It came from his sister-in-law Brynne minutes after she read his email. She told me as she watched her husband slowly compose his reply she could not stand the thought of Jordan waiting another minute for a response.
Brother, just read your email and wanted to say we (but more like I since Tanner is writing you an email right now too) love you! Can’t wait to meet Moses and hopefully see you over spring break. Hope you’re doing okay tonight.
From Cassidee, our oldest daughter
I love you and I want you to be happy. When I called you yesterday, those were the basic points that I wanted you to know. I hope that I got them across, if not there they are. I’m proud of you for being brave enough to tell our family. I can’t imagine how hard that was.
Jordan, the hardest part of this for me is knowing how hard things may be for you. I know the world has come a long way in the past 10 years, but it has a ways to go still. My hope for you is that you keep the Spirit close to you always to draw on when times aren’t as easy as they SHOULD be. That you always feel the love that God has for you. To be honest, where you end up in the Church doesn’t concern me much. But use the good things from the Church always. God, and the Lord, are there to help you find peace and to stay in the light and have happiness.
I am excited for you and this new path that you get to be on. I KNOW that this is for the best, and I’m so glad that you can be completely you. I’m here for you if things are ever hard, I promise I will always be your biggest advocate. Let me know if you ever need anything. I love you!
Your big sis, Cassidee
From Berk, our 2nd child and oldest son. Jordan was living with Berk and his sister Maddi in Salt Lake City when he sent the email.
Jordan! Dear brother! I just woke up and your email was the first thing I read. Are you here?? I love you brother. That was super brave and will likely go down as the best coming out story ever! You’re not who I never thought you were going to be- genius. Are you 15 feet away in your room? Can we talk?? Berk
An email from Tyler, my daughter’s husband
Jordan…So I’ve been letting Cass do all the communicating but wanted to send you an email myself. First of all, I’m glad you’ve got that part out of the way. I feel like Cass had been preparing us for a long time for this, although we didn’t know why. So when we found out, it didn’t feel like the end of the world, or really anything devastating. You have a great family, who no doubt will help and love you no matter what. Just want to let you know that although I have darker hair and eyes, and skin I guess too, that I’m also part of your family. Even though the future looks a little different than we thought, it’s still a good one. Sure things have changed some, but most things are the same in my mind: you’ll still get mad at me if we play monopoly with Lincoln because I’ll talk him into giving me properties for three free stays (but make him pay dearly on the fourth), I’ll still probably slide tackle you in soccer even though its not a competitive game, you’ll still go rock climbing with Max since he’s pretty talented at it (his words, not mine), and I’ll still probably make you carry Tessa on your shoulders all around Disneyland sometime since I had to carry you all around it. I really don’t want things to change, J’s big day. I really admire you, and know you’ll do great things. I have no doubt of it. I just want you to stay who you are, stay close to us, and stay close to our Heavenly Father. He is real. His understanding is far beyond ours. Even how all this unfolded has strengthened my faith in Him. Be good, be Jordan. You always have our family cheering for you. From Tyler-
Below is one of my favorite responses from our youngest son Lincoln he was a junior in high school and Jordan was very concerned about him being “the kid with the gay brother”.
You’re awesome. This really doesn’t change who you are. Lets play Starcraft sometime.
Love (unconditionally) Lincoln
From Tanner, his older brother
Thank you so much for trusting us enough to send this email. You know that we love you, and I hope that at long last you can now begin to stop worrying. (I was trying to come up with a phrase as difficult to follow as “not who you never thought I wasn’t going to be,” but I totally failed.) To the extent it is true that from this time onward our relationship with you will be a new one, let’s be sure that it is defined by new strength, not distance.
Thank you for being so thoughtful with your email. You’ve handled a difficult situation very well. I respect and admire you for that. We love you and can’t wait to see you soon. Your brother, Tanner
Confession: we didn’t watch the onion video until after reading your email and writing you back. It really was perfect, thanks for the laughs. Feel free to laugh at us trying to make sense of “I’m not who you never thought I wasn’t going to be” not having seen that video. We deserve it. 🙂 Love, Tanner
Here is the message I sent to him that morning.
I woke up this morning to your text and then opened your email. I first want you to know how much I love you as the person you truly are. This person is the sum of all your parts not just your sexuality. I have thought about the challenge you have faced and will continue to face and of course I want to protect you from any pain you have encountered. But that is just how a mom thinks and when in reality it is just part of your journey and you will learn so much from all of it and that is why it is your journey to have, with me here to support you. I have talked to dad and read your email to him and he will email you. Just know he loves you as always. I will talk to Lincoln later today and I am sure he too will email you. It was a brave thing you did last night and now just take a deep breath and feel the love of your family and your Heavenly Father… he really is there for you and the way this has come about is an indication that He loves you. Love Mom
Here is the email that my husband sent him.
Jordan, mom read me your email this morning and I felt like I needed to respond sooner than later. A father has certain dreams for his children and those dreams are mostly made up from things that he has done in this life that has brought him happiness and joy. Those dreams come from the way he has found but does not mean it is the only way. Before this morning I had wondered if everyone in the family knew and no one wanted to tell me. I am glad that it is out and I don’t have to wonder any more. I should apologize for my encouragement to find someone before you go to medical school and pushing you to date. Again that comes from the way that I have found. I have been sad this morning because I know that you will face challenges and it won’t always be easy. I hope you know that I will always love you and am so proud of all your accomplishments. I hope you know that you have a Heavenly Father that loves you and will always love you. I want you to be a part of our family and all the activities that we will do together. If I lost that then I would truly be heartbroken. You can probably tell I’m not that great with written word and look forward to being able to talk in person. Know that I love you and let good things happen in your life. I do believe it is our choice as to what we let come to us. Which makes the last 2 years of my life somewhat puzzling. Any way that is another discussion. love Dad
From his cousin Talia
Jord, you know what’s so weird? When you sent me that text last night I was sleeping and too tired to text back (sorry, haha) but I had a dream that that was what the email was about! Somehow you being my best cousin you must’ve used telepathy to tell me, haha. But guess what? I’m so so happy for you that you feel comfortable enough to be who you truly are, and I will always love you and like you the same no matter what! I’m just happy you are happy 🙂 love you Jordan, and can I please meet Moses soon? Love Talia
From his aunt Lil
First of all, I hope you don’t mind that Talia forwarded me your email, but I am so glad she did because it gives me the opportunity to tell you how proud I am of you. I support you completely in loving whoever you love. I am excited for you to express yourself freely and without fear. I’m excited to see my wonderful nephew open to and feel what love has to offer. I’m excited that we’ll hopefully get to meet your date (or dates if that is the case) and treat him like we treat everyone else who is brought to meet our family. I am excited that you have a big weight lifted from your shoulders. (At least I hope it feels that way.)
There are some things I feel so strongly about and one is that God is love and love is love and you are loved. – Well, maybe that is three things, but anyway,,,
Sometime I hope we will get a chance to talk about spirituality and the things that really matter, but in the meantime, know that we support you, as always, unconditionally.
You express yourself with eloquence, Jordan. My love, thoughts, and prayers are with you during this challenging/exciting time.
Love…Your Sweet, Favorite, Youngest Auntie Lil
From an aunt and uncle
Hi Liisa,Thanks for this. Jordan is awesome – same Jordan in our eyes. Jeff will send him a note soon and I will too. Can’t wait to see him and give him big love! We sure hope he can come on Sunday to Val’s bday party at our house. Any chance you can come too? More later.
Much Love, Connie and Jeff
From his uncle Mike
Thanks for sharing with us. It makes no difference to me whether you are straight or gay. Either way, you are a man I like, respect, love and enjoy. We all love you and only wish you happiness. Nature is never black or white when it comes to sexual orientation. We all have our shades of grey when it comes to sex and relationships. You are good man and I am proud to have you as my nephew. I hope we get a chance to do some more gold prospecting together next summer and Moses is welcome to join us.
Your Uncle Mike
From his uncle Jeff
You and I haven’t spent much time together over the years, but I have watched you develop physically, emotionally and spiritually and can say whole-heartedly that your coming out in such a beautiful and honest way puts you in a rare category of people that have what it takes to contribute their very best to family, friends and the wider world. I am even prouder of you now, as a result of how you’ve handled this. I only wish I could stay around a lot longer to see all the good you are going to bring into the world.
You are so right that we have a great family. All the love and support I’ve needed and gotten in the last few years has made a huge difference for me. Even when I’m gone, brother, my love will be with you.
All the very best, Uncle Jeff
From his aunt Melinda
First of all, I want you to know that I love and respect you. Secondly, I was very moved by your e-mail. You have obviously have gone through some grueling self-examination. I hope that you can now find some inner peace and continue your life in a more comfortable open manner. You are an honorable, intelligent, compassionate man with great integrity. I’m sure that you will accomplish many things in your life and I’ll always be proud to have you as my nephew. I hope that you find love and companionship with someone as wonderful as you are. Right now try to have some fun before med school starts! You and your friends are always welcome in our home in Napa.
Love always, Auntie Melinda
From his aunt Gretchen
I’m so pleased that Jordan can let his worries go and know how much he’s loved, appreciated and accepted for the wonderful man he is. Love is a beautiful, spiritual state that needs sharing. I hope he can now feel my love, our family’s love and the love of a person of his choice without the pressure of secrecy. I would truly enjoy meeting Moses or anyone else Jordan is connected with and hope he’ll bring them to Sunday dinners. Liisa, you and Nick have a beautiful, supportive, strong and brilliant family and I am truly blessed to share in all of your lives. I’m sending my love out to you all and I know Jordan will feel it and receive it.
[To any LDS parent of an LGBT person–Would you like to join a Facebook group to discuss with other LDS parents? (grandparents are welcome too!).
There is a really great group for those who truly want to stay strong in the church while they support their gay children. It is a secret group (so that people can feel more sure of privacy), therefore you can only be added by one of the administrators of the group. Just send a friend request to one of the moderators listed below, and then let them know you want to join the parents group. You can go to one of the links below to get to their Facebook wall where you can send a friend request.
The main moderators are Christy and Greg Searle:
Other moderators include Rachel Manwaring and Jen Blair:
So send a friend request to any of them and let them know that you are an active LDS parent of an LGBT person and they will add you. I really encourage any parent to join. It is a great support group with some fantastic people.]
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