“Shannon, I have something I need to tell you.” Terror. He was getting married. Not to me. So I thought, “Okay, what is it?” Heart beating, eyes clenched shut, preparing to sound chipper when I offered false words of congratulations. “I struggle with same-gender attraction.” My body instantly relaxed as what only can be described as sweet relief washed over me.
When my friend “came out” to me, my first reaction was all about me. I was so grateful to know why we had never been able to move from friendship to romance. He was the most handsome, clever, confident, kind man I had met. People speak in hyperbole of their knees becoming weak. but my knees literally buckled every time he spoke. After a year of intimate friendship and some wonderful adventures, I had started to believe I wasn’t attractive enough for him and fearfully fretted away the days, knowing that he was going to be snapped up by someone “prettier.”
My second reaction, and what I hope is my best self, took over at some point and I pained with him as I realized how deeply he struggled with feelings that came deep and unwanted from within. That phone call started a year of conversations in which I asked my dear friend and confidant a million nosy questions. He patiently answered each one of them, helping me understand that despite being raised LDS, having gone on a mission and attending BYU, having spent much of that time seeing counselors, and having had several girlfriends and a fiance, that
when it came down to it, he was attracted to men. And had been as long as he could remember.
That phone conversation 16 years ago began my search to understand how “same gender attraction” (his phrasing) fit within the gospel and an individual’s personal plan of salvation. At that time, there were far fewer official statements from the church regarding homosexuality and most of them less explicit, but over and over, I read messages of love and compassion for church members experiencing attraction to members of their same sex. Interesting, now, to consider that I thought I might have found anything else.
* * *
Before she said the words, I knew, in the same way I often knew the deep dark secrets that clients in my therapy practice were about to reveal. The Spirit often whispered truths I would need to know in order to prepare me to help before the words were spoken aloud. She looked anywhere but at me and made several false starts as she tried to speak the unspeakable. Knowing what was to come, I offered her reassurance and quietly waited. “I’m gay,” she whispered. This gentle and lovely 15-year-old LDS girl who had tried to take her life the year before, after a year of therapy, confessed what she feared was a horrible truth.
* * *
“You need to talk to her.” I ignored the voice. Again. “She is in pain.” This time I responded silently to the still small voice. “I don’t even know her.” “Talk to her.” “Fine. I’ll talk to her. IF you tell me what to say.” Every Sunday, this lovely woman would bless the Relief Society with her genuine interest conveyed with a big smile and twinkling eyes. But in moments where she was not actively attending to someone, there was a sorrow that dulled her eyes and pinched at her
mouth. I had noticed her some time back and had felt nudgings of the Spirit but had ignored them consistently. Most of what I spoke in that first awkward conversation are lost to memory but I do know that I opened my mouth and the Spirit filled it and I spoke directly to a “sadness you’ve been carrying for a long time.” Over lunch, my new friend revealed that the move that had placed her in our ward also placed her many thousands of miles away from the friends and
support groups she and her husband attended in order to help them to manage a complicated, perhaps unusual to some, but happy marriage. He was attracted to men but chose to live within the convictions of his religion.
* * *
Injustice. Unfairness. Confusion. Anger. Doubt. “I don’t know if I can stand with the Church on this one,” my inner dialogue searched for the comfort of the Spirit. My gut reaction to the Church’s updated policy on same-sex marriage and the ordinances that would not be administered to the children of those marriages. I could not understand. I searched within myself to determine why my response was visceral. I searched through memories of people I had cared for, in a variety of capacities, who had been burdened with feelings of homosexuality, particularly those who were LDS and struggling to align this part of their identity with their faith in God and love for His church. My heart and mind went into deep contemplation as I searched to understand my reaction and prayed to understand the policy.
I discovered, that just like the call from my friend years ago, my first response was really all about me. I was not married when I gave birth to my daughter and yet there was no question raised as to whether or not she should receive a name and blessing. Divorced from her father by the time she was eight, I never questioned or doubted that she would be baptized, confirmed a member of the church and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. In this policy, I was seeing a parallel between my sweet daughter born into circumstances not of her making and the children of same-sex couples also born into circumstances they did not choose. Why should she have the opportunity to receive and they would not? Injustice! Unfairness! Wasn’t she, too, being raised in circumstances where she had to seemingly sustain her parents or the church? Given the reasoning offered for the policy change, I discovered another layer–perhaps she should not have had the opportunity to receive those things. Confusion. Shame. Prayer, prayer, prayer.
During this time of confusion and contemplation, I spoke with several close friends and some acquaintances. I was candid with those to whom I was close, hoping they could help me understand the policy in a way that did not incriminate me and my daughter for having escaped a similar exclusion from some of the blessings of membership in God’s church. No help was forthcoming from flesh. Finally, “It’s not about you,” was the answer delivered in the quiet stillness of a morning prayer. It was clear and left little room for argument. It wasn’t about me. Or my daughter. God didn’t explain the policy. Nor did he explain why there is no policy related to children born in other circumstances that are in conflict with the order of the Church. I was, however, provided a sense of peace and acceptance.
I stand with the Church and the Prophet regarding this very controversial policy change. I stand strongly, with conviction that God manifests the truth of all things to those who ask and provides them the peace necessary to patiently await both His perfect justice and mercy.
Author Shannon L. Tappana is a daughter of Heavenly Parents who love her and whom she loves. She challenges herself to “stand as a witness of God at all times and in all things and in all places” and extends kindness to herself when she doesn’t do quite as well as she intends. Shannon is a seeker of truth. She is a mother, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints, and by profession a clinical social worker.