I recently attended a speaking series called 'The Hearth' in Palo Alto, California. This is a community that has been created in the past few years by members of the LDS or Mormon church. The founders are concerned that their church is leaving behind, ignoring and harming LGBT+ people, specifically members of the Mormon faith who are also LGBT+. Their speaking series has created quite an interesting subgroup of active and not-so-active Mormons in the San Francisco and Oakland areas. This series is an attempt to strike a balance between Mormon teachings and the realities of lived LGBT+ lives from within Mormonism.
Speaking was a woman named Laura from Boise, Idaho who in the past three years came to the realization that she was gay. She spoke of her internal struggle of remaining single into her 40's and having conceded to God that her life would be one of celibacy. She spoke of the physically grueling experience of coming out to herself and then the process of coming out to her family and her local religious congregation. Laura has lived and gone to the same church for fifteen years and has been a leader of merit and visibility for most of that time.
She spoke of finding a friend, realizing what romance really felt like, how those feelings were conflicted inside of her, and how she ultimately reconciled them with a personal query to God. We learned of her courtship and falling in love with Lynette, a non-Mormon who she had met along her journey and their story as a couple. Lynette then stood and addressed the group and spoke of her need to have compassion, understanding, and how ultimately their marriage has been a journey of empathy. Lynette came out to herself and to her community of family and friends in the 90's, so by the time she had met Laura, most of the internal struggles of guilt and shame had been put in the past.
The struggle for Lynette was helping Laura move through those same issues internally, but also with the added complication of a Mormon framework. Laura wanted to remain active and attend, participating in her religious tradition regardless of the official church policies which had disciplined her and restricted her involvement in the congregation. There is some strain in their relationship; I am hearing that it revolves mainly around religiosity and the processing of institutionalized and internalized homophobia as well as trauma. There are many moving parts and it is very complex. These are two very transparent people and their relationship appears to be founded in trust and vulnerability. It was a pleasure hearing their individual stories and the stories of their life together.
My personal story is somewhat different than both of the women that presented last night, but we have many points in common. Specifically, Laura who was raised Mormon; we have both made giant epiphanies later in life; we both have had to overcome institutional and internalized homophobia; and we both struggled with our identities within our religious communities. As I am seeing some commonalities between the two of us, I am realizing that the circle of individuals that could have a very similar experience as they move into their middle years, must certainly be growing.
There are thousands of LGBT+ people that are middle-aged who either have remained alone, or, at church direction, entered into a heterosexual marriage. They have had families regardless of their sexual and/or gender identities with hopes and dreams of 'being cured by the grace of God'. They see the younger generation of LGBT+ young adults and even children coming out earlier in life. They are also seeing that their experiences are real and that coming out younger will save them years of guilt, shame and trauma. I am quite confident that the typical middle-aged LGBT+ church goer who is closeted will begin to take a serious assessment of their own life and begin to question in major ways how they wish to proceed with the rest of their years. I project that there will more than likely be an emerging community of middle-aged queer congregants who are going to decide that to live in the closet for the rest of their life is unacceptable.
It is making me evaluate what skills I will need as a future clinician to hold these people through what will be a crisis of faith, identity and in many cases, a crisis of marriage and parenthood. I have personally been through each of these scenarios, individually, and I have also been through them while they happened in the same exact moment. It is a hurricane of personal growth that is incredibly painful. Tragically, many do not make it through to the other side.
If you find yourself in the type of situations I mention above, please reach out and get help. It is not necessary to wade through these turbulent waters alone. Here at Symmetry Solutions we purposefully reach out to this population. And if we are not a good fit, we can help you find resources that will be.
Kimberly Anderson is a guest speaker, writer and advocate for the LGBT+ population and a coach/mentor for individuals and family systems who are seeking to adapt and find ways to journey towards self actualization in transgender/intersex situations. She is the editor of the Mama Dragon Story Project where she photographed and collected essays from mothers of LGBT+ children.