Maintaining Positive Relationships through…coming out
As I expressed my intentions to do so in my last post, Reconnecting with the Mormon community, I am taking the time to publish my notes and thoughts about the talks of many of the Houston Mormon Stories Conference speakers. I have decided to go the linkbaity/traffic-baity route and wrote a greater number of posts rather than fewer.
The first speaker I’ll address is John Dehlin, of course. I didn’t catch the title of his talk (and I’m sure that eventually, some kind of recording will go up on Mormon Stories so everyone will just be able to watch or listen to what was said), but I think it was something like Having the Difficult Conversations.
Before I go into the content of the talk itself, I’ll talk a bit about the name of this conference itself.
I’ve been referring to it as the “Houston Mormon Stories Conference,” but (as I’m sure all locations’ conferences do) it had a specific theme. Genuine Mormon Conversations: Maintaining Positive Relationships Through Empathy and Dialogue.
Wow. That’s a mouthful. And what does that mean?
Going into it, I had a thought that it would focus on keeping families together. And certainly, there was a lot of discussion about that, whether it was between husband/wife, parent/children, etc., But there was a broader theme that I think made the day’s discussions easier to frame, and that was the theme of coming out.
Certainly, I was able to talk to more gay Mormons (face-to-face, that is) on Saturday than I probably ever have in my entire life, but the theme of “coming out” was about more than sexuality. And that’s what John brought out in his talk on having the difficult conversations.
Whether through something like sexual orientations or through one’s beliefs and positions with respect to the church, one has to be able to have difficult conversations about these things…but must also develop a way to engage in these difficult conversations in a fruitful way. By being open and forthright with one’s own situation, then one helps to create a space where others can come out. In Mormonism, this is really important — based on how the statistically trends play out with respect to activity rates, etc., it’s not as if there is an insubstantial number of uncorrelated, disaffected, inactive, or otherwise “outsider” Mormons. But would we know who they are? I mean, consider what I said before: “I was able to talk to more gay Mormons on Saturday than I probably ever have in my entire life.” But how would I know if I had known someone all along who was gay and Mormon if they weren’t out.
(Who am I kidding? How can I have any room to talk about others if I am not forthright myself on the same issue?)
The thing about this process of coming out in one’s own path — whatever it is — and in communicating those results, is that it isn’t something that is against Mormon ideas. Rather, it is part of the Mormon pioneer archetype. Pioneering isn’t *just* about non-Mormon ancestors becoming Mormon (in the same way that religious freedom isn’t just freedom for Mormons to be Mormon), often at great personal cost. Pioneering can also be about someone who grew up several-generation Mormon pursuing a path outside of the church, or maybe even just a different path within the church. The pioneering is not the destination, but the journey and the willingness to make that journey.
Ultimately, I really respect people who pioneer for themselves, even at great sacrifice. Personally, I haven’t had to sacrifice a whole lot, and I’m really fortunate for that. Even more, I know that I am a very risk averse person, so I would be the kind of person to suffer things quietly until I knew I had a safety net established. I find myself seeing a lot of reddit posts from high schoolers or people in university who ask how they approach their families, and I always say something like, “Wait until you’re financially independent before rocking any boats.”
But that’s kinda why it’s true that pioneers create space for others to follow…after all, the issue is not having a safety network. It’s about losing support and not knowing where to go after…but if there are people who have “come out,” they can be mentors.