“Mom and Dad, I know this will come as a shock to you, but I am same-sex attracted.” Those were the words in a long letter Trevor had written to us when he was 18 and a freshman at BYU. We were completely stunned and caught off guard as we read those words. How could this be? We were a faithful Mormon family, we had regular family prayer and scripture study, we had a very loving relationship with all our six children. And how could this happen to Trevor, a young man as honest, upright and moral as any young man I knew? It just wasn’t possible!
As I continued reading, I saw the great turmoil he had gone through over the years while trying to come to grips with this – the feelings of guilt, self-loathing, failure, shame. So strong were those feelings that he couldn’t even confide in his parents. Why didn’t he tell us sooner? Why couldn’t he tell his own parents? We always had a very open and loving relationship and could talk about anything with him. My wife, Sara, remembers a particular time when Trevor was a young man in high school. She saw him in his room looking very down and distraught. She pled with him to tell her what was the matter, but all he could do was look at her and cry; he couldn’t – wouldn’t – tell her about his secret because he didn’t want to shame us. He wanted to bear the burden alone, to spare us the grief.
He was also afraid.
Afraid to disappoint us, to admit he was a “failure” as a son, to acknowledge that he was one of those “awful gays” he had heard me talk about. Yes, sadly, I must admit that up until that time, I was homophobic and had very un-Christlike feelings towards gay people. Even worse, because of my attitudes and feelings, I had probably unwittingly contributed to the silent agony my son had suffered for so long and made him afraid to tell us for fear of hurting us or not knowing how we would take it. By the grace of God, he had not been driven to suicide, as too many gay LDS youth have.
Despite the unjustified guilt and self-loathing, Trevor began to accept himself over time. He was able to forge ahead with more confidence in himself and continue to plan for college and a mission. When he finally came out to us in that letter over 14 years ago, we were shocked and saddened; but we let him know that no matter what, he was our son and we loved him. We also secretly held the hope that somehow, some way, he might be able to change.
The change, however, occurred in us.
One thing that changed immediately was our attitudes about gay people. We knew that if someone as honest, moral and committed to the gospel as Trevor was could be gay, then pretty much everything we thought we knew about being gay was just plain wrong. So the first thing I did was to educate myself on the subject. I studied some of the scientific research on it. I read church leaders’ statements on same-sex attraction, which in recent years have evolved significantly. And I read and listened to the experiences of numerous LDS gay men and women. These stories – like my son’s experience – are what particularly changed our hearts. From all this study and from my discussions with Trevor, I would like to share with you some of the important things we learned at the time:
(1) Being gay is not a choice. Science and psychology have recognized this for a long time, and even the church has come to recognize this in recent years. I have read some of the scientific research (mostly from Bill Bradshaw, a BYU biology professor and former mission president), which is quite compelling. But more compelling than the science is the experience and testimony of numerous faithful LDS gay people, including my own son. They sincerely tell us that they never chose to be attracted to the same sex; in fact many have tried in various ways to ignore it, fight it or change it – but it doesn’t go away. Moreover, why would an honest, faithful young man or woman ever choose to be gay in our church and suffer the shame, guilt and rejection that too often come with it? Those who doubt this proposition should ask themselves, if they ever had to make a conscious decision to like and be attracted to the opposite sex, or was it natural and instinctive? Likewise, it is natural and instinctive for those who are attracted to the same sex.
(2) Sexual orientation doesn’t change. Again, the experience of numerous faithful LDS gay people can’t be ignored. As Bill Bradshaw observes, “honesty compels us to consider the experience of a very large number of LDS gay people, who in spite of exhaustive, lengthy, and totally sincere efforts have not been able to change the fact of who they are sexually. A testimony of the gospel, faithful church activity, fasting, prayer, missionary service, temple service – all of these are important, but none, in any combination, has been able to alter sexual orientation.” Any doubters should ask themselves, is there anything that would cause me to lose my feelings towards the opposite sex and be attracted to members of the same sex?
(3) Being gay is not just about sex – any more than being heterosexual is just about sex. Gay people are no different than straight people when it comes to relationships. Like all human beings, they desire emotional, spiritual and physical attachment. They feel the same desire to fall in love, find a companion and share their life with someone. The desire for physical intimacy is just one aspect of the spectrum of feelings and emotions that humans, whether gay or straight, experience in a relationship.
As we learned these things, we became comfortable with who Trevor was; and we no longer felt a need to hope for things that were not to be. As for Trevor, he served a great mission, graduated from BYU and is now in a committed relationship with a man who is just as much a part of our family as any of our other sons-in-law. This experience made it much easier when our youngest son came out shortly after getting back from a successful mission (yes, we are doubly blessed!). He too graduated from BYU and is currently in graduate school to be a physician’s assistant.
Our family may not be the typical Mormon family, but we are a family that loves and cares for each other – and we love being together! And I firmly believe that God’s great love for his children and the atonement of our Savior will make it possible for our family to always be together.
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This In My Own Words story is a contribution from Let’s Love Better, a Facebook group dedicated to helping people learn to better share love, while fostering an atmosphere of understanding. When we know better, we do better.