When my nephew was young, my mother asked him to go into the dark basement and get something. Since I was a cool uncle, I went with him. As we descended the stairs, he grew hesitant. He looked questioningly into the darkness and held back. As many young children are, he was afraid of the dark. I arrogantly decided that this would be a perfect teaching opportunity. I explained to him that things are the same in the dark as they are in the light. I practiced some exposure therapy and prepared him, held onto him, and turned out the lights.
Earlier this week I was with some friends from my mission and they brought up an article from the Ensign (an LDS church magazine) about morality. They started out saying what a good article it was, which I had no problem with, but then the topic turned more aggressive towards those who have opinions differing from those of the church. I’m not out of the closet, nor do I make a point of broadcasting the fact that I do not feel comfortable supporting the church’s stance on marriage equality or the like. So this time I just endured the verbal abuse unknowingly directed towards me.
I’m not upset at my friends for having the opinions that they do. Everyone is free to believe and support what they will. The insults hurt though. They aren’t really to blame for their ignorance. Perhaps they have just never been exposed to this situation. Without knowing someone who is gay, I feel that it is easy to demonize them. It is easy to see how hard it would be to understand the complexity of the life of a gay Mormon. Without having real experience, how can I expect them to learn? I know that they weren’t saying those things with the intent to hurt me. I can only blame myself for not opening up to them and helping them to learn. So why didn’t I speak up?
In those moments, the words were bubbling at the back of my throat. But despite that I couldn’t bring myself to pop the top and spill my story out to them. I was so afraid. But of what? There is no doubt that they would continue loving me even if they knew that I have differing opinions or even if they knew that I am gay. Maybe I fear becoming one of their projects. Three of them teach at the MTC and are frequently talking of their experiences there. It is easy for me to see one of them taking it upon themselves to try to save me by setting me up with that one girl who will miraculously straighten me out. I’m just not interested in that. But is that really what stopped me? What am I afraid of?
President Thomas S. Monson (president and prophet of the LDS church) said in a Conference some time ago that faith is the opposite of fear. Do I lack faith? Is why I am afraid? What is keeping me from coming out and helping others to understand better what it is to be gay and Mormon? Not that I know really well myself, but I might know something that will help them. And they can probably provide a fresh perspective to help me progress as well.
Coming out terrifies me, but it has to happen sometime. It is so tortuous to live with this fear.
When I was helping my nephew with the dark, turning the light off and on, I thought that it would help him because he would understand his fear better; he would see what was really in the dark. Though at the end of it all, it didn’t make him any less afraid of the dark. Understanding our fears is very different from conquering them. It’s the difference from knowing something theoretically and knowing something experimentally.
So maybe I live in the dark for a bit.
“I am tired of hiding and I am tired of lying by omission.” -Ellen Page