September, 2021: It was a Thursday evening. My husband was taking a shower. Our oldest child was in their room doing homework (I hoped). And our youngest child had just finished brushing her teeth, and was cuddling with me on the couch. It was almost her bedtime. I asked if she wanted me to read for a few more minutes. (Though she was in 5th grade and a was a good reader, she still liked having me read to her at night—fantasy series like Rowan of Rin and Harry Potter.) She said “No,” and then she said “Mom, close your eyes.” “Close my eyes?” I asked. “Why?” “Just close your eyes. I’ll tell you when you can open them.” “Okay,” I said with a smile, and I closed my eyes, playing along in what I was sure was just one of my daughter’s silly games. I heard a sound like paper rustling, but I obediently kept my eyes closed. A moment later, she said “Now you can open your eyes.”
Before me stood my 10-year-old daughter, holding a piece of paper on which she had written the words “I’m gay.” Once again, my brain seemed to be slow in processing the words. Gay? Wait, what? Gay? My first thought was that this was still some kind of game. But one look at my child’s earnest and tear-filled eyes, and I knew this was no joke. She crumpled into my arms, and I hugged her so tight. This time I was not crying, but she was, and I just wanted to make it better. Stupidly, I asked “Why are you crying?” And she told me how much it had been weighing on her those past few months, and how she didn’t know how to tell me. (Only later would I think back and realize that his normally laid-back and happy child had been unusually moody and high-strung that summer.)
The conversation that followed began with me not necessarily saying the right things. E.g. “But you’re only ten,” and “Maybe it will change as you get older.” But I listened to my daughter, and I told her that I loved her, and I told her “It’s okay” and “It’s not a problem if you’re gay.” And she stopped crying, and I saw the relief on her face.
By now my husband had finished his shower. I asked my daughter if she wanted to tell her dad, and she said yes. When he came into the living room, she showed him the piece of paper. He reacted much the same way I had. Because this time, neither of us had had any idea this was coming. It was a complete and total shock. There were no clues (or at least none that we had picked up on). My husband said the same wrong things I had said, and then he said the same right things. And then we hugged our child again and we said “It’s okay. We love you. Thank you for telling us.” And then, once again, I tried to think of how I could possibly explain this to my very devout LDS extended family. And then I cried, and then I made another appointment with my therapist, and once again she told me to take a deep breath, and to slow down, and to just take things one step at a time.
And that is what I did. And once again I thought, in wistful melancholy mingled with relief: “I’m so glad that we agreed not to force our child to go to church if she didn’t want to. I’m grateful that our oldest child is nonbinary, because that led to a path of safety for their younger sister. I’m glad she stopped attending because of Covid. I’m grateful she doesn’t want to go back. I’m glad that I left.” And I don’t think I can’t properly convey the deep sadness that I felt once again, in the midst of the solace these thoughts provided.
But my child is happier now. And for that I am grateful.