by Jay Jacobsen
To you LDS individuals experiencing same-sex attractions, whether unwanted, enjoyed, or they-are-what-they-are, and whether identifying as LGBT, queer, or something else that those don’t really describe, who are struggling with conflict between your faith, your community, your desire for companionship, and whatever else in relation to your spiritual, romantic, sexual, or other orientations, I hope you know there are people who will see you, hear you, seek to understand you, walk with you, and sit with you when you don’t know where to walk.
- You’ll be happy if you just leave your church.
- You can have a meaningful relationship only if you change your orientation.
- Hopelessness is the correct/inevitable response to your church’s doctrines & policies.
- Disease and loneliness are the only logical outcome of pursuing same-sex relationships.
- Your church leaders don’t really care about you.
- Your family doesn’t really care about you.
- Your legislators don’t really care about you.
- Your local LGBT community doesn’t really care about you.
- Your spouse or partner doesn’t really care about you.
- You don’t really care about yourself.
I can confidently promise: someone cares about you, even if we sometimes show it poorly. And you can live a healthy and fulfilling life even if your church never changes its policies, or you never change your orientation. That doesn’t always seem convenient or useful for many people to admit when we’re fighting a political or cultural battle or trying to counteract powerful social influences we believe are deeply harmful. I do that, too. But I think I’m not doing you any favors when I try to hinge my argument on you being miserable unless the outcome I believe in wins out.
Some ways forward may be harder for you than they were for me, but I’m hopeful you can find YOUR way forward. You can find hope and happiness ahead even if your family, or your friends, will never support or fully understand your relationship or your religion.
I can tell you what tends to work for most people. I can tell you what seems to be working for me and what I’ve learned along the way. I can tell you what I believe generally doesn’t work, and I can raise caution flags and warn of common pitfalls. But I can’t necessarily tell you what will be the best way forward for you. And neither can that person who just posted that thing that made you feel frustrated or hopeless or which informed the world that your only way forward is misery unless something completely outside of your control changes.
I hope you can see, even in your most desperate moments, that so much of what is being shared in the news and on social media, under the banner of saving people like you, may have more to do with people defending their beliefs and decisions or genuinely trying to defend the people they care about the best they know how than it does with you personally and your actual happiness.
It’s not your fault people are fighting over these issues. Fighters gonna fight. It’s not your fault you’re in the situation you’re in. Many of us on all sides used to think it was our fault. Few of us, if any, still believe that years later.
Some people in your life are going to care about you, others aren’t. Some will listen to you and be with you where you are, others will use you as a shield and love you only as far as you agree with them. Some will work with you to find the best way forward for YOU, others will only push the answers they think should work for everyone.
Some of you want to be told what to do. For you, as I’m guessing you already know, there are PLENTY of people full of answers and eager to do that.
Others want to be left alone, given space to figure things out. Forgive those of us who struggle to leave you alone for long because we’ve been glad others gently kept us from being more alone than was good for us. But take what space you need and let people know when you just need to breathe for a while. You don’t have to figure it all out now. Some may insist you’re losing precious time or withering on the fence. There’s value in not sitting forever in a rut: stagnant is no place to be for long. But you don’t have to have this figured out today or this year. This is really big for many of us. It involves so many pieces of ourselves and others. It takes time. I try not to be prescriptive, but I do encourage patience with yourself.
In my experience, many (myself included) don’t want to be told what to do nor left alone. We want to be heard as individuals, to be understood as well as anyone can be, and to be given the information and tools to determine our way forward. I hope those of you in that place find people willing to do that. I think there are more out there than it might seem from the angry, passionate, righteous, indignant, and sincerely earnest social media posts, news articles, and church comments all around you. For me, the best, most influential relationships and insights were with those who were not the loudest, not the most vocal, not the street corner preachers or busy activists with all the answers and agendas who loudly proclaimed themselves to be “safe” or “right”. They didn’t feel “safe” to me, and they didn’t seem to understand my situation well enough to be “right” for me, even if sometimes helpful. The ones who most helped me were those who weren’t necessarily super vocal on social media but were paying attention. Those who knew how to listen, to ask questions, to explore what it all meant with me. That’s where I found my safety, and I hope those who similarly need that will also find it.
I hope those of us who now find ourselves more towards the front lines of this or that battle, or more visible, will remember those who are quietly looking on and consider how our rhetoric might be received and perceived by them, and whether it will increase understanding and openness in the environment around them, or foment hostility and entrenchment around them. That’s not to say battles shouldn’t be fought. There are important changes to make. I just mean let’s mind the civilians, appeal to diplomacy where we can, expand shelter and tend wounds more than expand fire and increase collateral damage, and remember that what might feel like safety to us may well leave someone else feeling more unsafe than ever. Even in my attempt to voice a call for safety, someone reading this will likely feel less safe. I don’t know what to do about that except to say, “If you can, please tell me more.”