by Sara Cook
ALL Are Alike Unto God Conference, April 27, 2013
I am here today to share my experiences as a parent of two gay sons.
It has been 10 years since I’ve known my oldest son Trevor is gay. We did not find out until he was 18 and attending BYU. He sent us a letter explaining how he felt and what was going on. I didn’t have any idea he was gay up until this time.
When Trevor was a sophomore in high school, I knew that he was dealing with something very difficult, something he wasn’t telling me. I would question him and ask what was wrong.
I remember my despair one night when I asked him what was wrong. All he could do was look at me, choke back his tears, and hold inside the thing he couldn’t tell me; that he was gay.
Trevor continued on through high school and I was confused. The bright, outgoing, confident, positive, and friendly child, I knew, began to disappear; replaced with a more cynical, negative, and introverted version of him.
To give you an idea of why Trevor was feeling this way, I’d like to read a portion of a letter from our other son, Tanner, who also recently came out as gay:
“In retrospect, I realize I was predisposed to being gay back when I was just four and five years old based on how I felt towards boys as opposed to girls. Crazy, huh? Of course, at that young age I had no conception of sexual orientation–I mean, who does at five years old? I didn’t really understand I had this “orientation” until the end of my sixth-grade year after we talked about puberty and my teacher explained to us the difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality. When I realized that the way I felt matched up with his definition of homosexuality, it terrified me. I was going to tell my mom but then I didn’t because I was scared and didn’t know how she would react. So it was then, as an 11-year-old boy, I decided to repress my feelings. Squash them into near nonexistence. Ignore them at all costs. Pretend I was a normal, straight boy until even myself almost believed it. And so I did. All throughout junior high and high school. Obviously, hiding something of that magnitude so deep inside of you has repercussions. For me, I turned quieter, shyer, not as confident. That’s why I’m such an introvert. I was so scared people would find out–especially guys–that I could never truly be myself around them. I have never had many close friends because unconsciously, I shut people out. I’m scared to show people affection or that I care [about them] because I don’t want them to suspect. Of course, this isn’t the case for every closeted gay person. Some are still extreme extroverts. But for me I turned more serious.”
When Trevor “came out” to us, my first reaction was, “oh no! What do I do with this?” But Bryce and I never rejected our sons or turned them away. They know now, and knew when they told us, that we would always love them and be there for them. They know they always have a place in our family and in our home. We love our children and family with all our hearts. We would never kick them out or act punitively. That is very contrary to what we believe – to Christ-like love or what he would want us to do.
However, I do wish we had taken the opportunity when Trevor came out to learn more and understand what it means to be gay. I wish I would have talked less and asked more questions about what he was going through.
In the letter he sent us, he invited us to send him questions and he would answer them. He figured we would write back and forth and talk about it a lot. But we didn’t. We would ask general questions and encourage him to get counseling. We would ask periodically how he was doing. But we didn’t spend a lot of time asking about and trying to understand the pain he was going through. We didn’t learn everything about it that we could. We felt awkward and uncomfortable discussing it.
He also lived away from home, so it was easy to put it out of our minds. He didn’t want anyone to know. We were more than willing to keep it a secret, because we didn’t know how to deal with it ourselves. Trevor always tried hard to do what was right and had a strong testimony. We figured with fasting, prayer, reading scriptures, going on his mission, and staying active in the church it would all go away.
Bryce and I often felt sad and discouraged through these seven years, especially when we looked ahead at our son’s life and the difficult experiences he would have to go through. We began to recognize what our family would have to go through too if and when he finally became more open about it. We expected it to change the dynamics of our family and possibly how others would perceive and treat us.
As a mother, I grieved for the loss of the traditional life of marriage and family for my children – and grandkids for me. I knew our future was not going to be exactly how I had pictured it. I thought how different it would be, if down the road, our son decided to have a partner.
I worried about how sons and a daughter-in-law coming into our family would handle this. Would it cause fracturing in our family? I didn’t know if people in our ward, friends and extended family would support us or look down on us. Would they judge us or talk about us behind our backs? Would they be rude or mean?
I’ve often felt alone and confused and wondered how to reconcile this with God’s plan and what I always believed to be true.
One of the most difficult things for me, personally, was not having someone to talk with about my feelings, questions and everything I was going through. I had Bryce, who was helpful, but it would have been nice to associate with other parents in a similar situation as ours. Sometimes I felt like I was going to burst or explode. As I worked through these thoughts, it occurred to me that an LGBT person probably thinks about and feels all of this weight ten times more than their parents or other family members.
This was the state of things for us until we went on a trip to China to visit Trevor who was studying and working there in May 2011. While we toured and had a wonderful time together in which we had many deep talks, we came to realize that Trevor’s “same-sex attraction” (as he had termed it in his original letter) wasn’t going away. He was continually tormented and unhappy. Being gay was not going away.
We drew very close to Trevor on this trip. We gave the same pat answers and counsel everyone gives who doesn’t fully understand, now realizing that there is so much more to the issue. He was happy we handled everything well, that we didn’t freak out when he told us the truth of what he was feeling; but I’m sure he also knew how little we really understood.
It was after this trip we realized we needed to learn more and become educated about what it means to be gay, and especially, gay in the church. We needed to understand the difficulties LGBT people face every day. We both began to read articles, books, studies, and what church leaders said on the topic; which, unfortunately at the time wasn’t much.
Fortunately the Church has come out with the new LDS website MormonsandGays.org. One of the major points on that site is that the church now recognizes that being gay is not a choice. Even if LGBT Mormons try to live the best Mormon lives they can, it doesn’t go away and is not taken away. Although, many when they’ve prayed, experience peace and feelings of assurance that Heavenly Father loves them and cares for them.
Once Trevor “came out” publicly, we also “came out” as parents of a gay child. We wanted to support him. We also wanted to help others understand and be more compassionate and less judgmental towards those who have this issue.
Bryce and I, along with Bryan Hendrickson and our son Trevor, started a support group for Mormon LGBT people. Trevor was very concerned that others, like him, had a support group where they could go and find friendship, compassion, and acceptance. He wanted a safe place where LGBT people could be exactly who they were and talk about their experiences and how they feel. Trevor had hope that others would be spared some of the suffering and loneliness he’s experienced. Hopefully, it could be an alternative to despair, alcohol, drugs, or suicide. He hoped for a place where people who had left the church, would still have some connection to active members who loved and accepted them.
That is the kind of support group we have today. I have met many wonderful people. I am glad that my LGBT friends know that I am an active member of the church who loves and cares about them. I don’t shun or shut them out. I hope some who have left the church will feel comfortable about coming back to church, if they ever desire. I want them to know that many of us want them there.
I know this is what my Father in Heaven wants me to do at this time. As a parent, I know how much I want all of my children to love, help and care about each other. I compare this to a loving Heavenly Father who wants all of his own children to do the same. As the apostle Paul said, it doesn’t matter how much faith we have, how much gospel knowledge we have, or how well we keep the commandments, if we don’t have charity – the pure love of Christ – we are nothing.
I don’t have all the answers and sometimes still struggle with the turn my life has taken. I’ve had to think harder and look deeper, pray longer and with more intensity. I have had to stretch and grow far out of my comfort zone. I still have questions that don’t have answers. But my capacity to love has grown, and I have watched my husband grow into a more caring and compassionate man as well.
I feel that maybe Bryce and I were blessed with two gay sons so that we could help make a difference and be a light in the darkness for our sons and family, LGBT Mormons, and the LDS community we live in.