There she was, bright-eyed and beaming. With her hands outstretched and her signature smile draped from one ear to the other, she radiated a sort of sincere enthusiasm that belied the exhaustion she must have felt from having woken up hours earlier to catch the plane from Phoenix to Dallas.
And there I was, sullen and apathetic, somehow inconvenienced by the rules of social etiquette that demanded that I exit the car and embrace her. My limp side hug did little to conceal my general irritation with the reunion, and I hated myself for being so cold toward the generous woman who had once been my closest friend and confidante — my mom.
Bags hoisted into the back of the family truck that my parents had lent me for the summer, my mom and I made our way to the freeway connecting Dallas Fort Worth Airport with the larger web of highways and interstates that would eventually bridge us to Chandler, Arizona. It was there, in my hometown, that I would be attending the wedding of a close friend in a few days.
“So, tell me about the internship? How was Dallas!”
Bubbly as ever, my mom jumped right into asking me about the latest happenings in my life. She had taken time off work to accompany me on the journey, ostensibly because she was concerned about my safety, but really, I surmised, because she relished the prospect of spending time with me while I was a captive audience.
“The internship was good. Dallas was fine.”
As the car ride lengthened, I could sense my mom becoming gradually more discouraged by replies that alternated between monosyllabic and hopelessly vague. Hours into the drive and 30 minutes away from Lubbock, cutting into air so thick with tension it had become practically gelatinous, my mom muttered in exasperation:
“Grant, I came all this way because I want to talk to you. Please, just tell me how you’re really doing.”
And then I snapped.
“Mom, my life fell apart this year. Half of my friends have unfollowed me. I don’t even think God is real anymore, and it fucking sucks, all the time. I researched things about Mormonism and its history and its finances and its policies and it tore me apart and I’m still in pieces. I feel like shit saying all these things to you because your husband has cancer and your daughter is dead and you need your faith and your community, but, Mom, I need you too.
“I hate feeling like I have to ignore the elephant in the room. I didn’t come home for Christmas last year because there are people in our family who think it’s okay to tell kids that being gay is a sin. Your son is in West Virginia teaching people that same-sex relationships are sinful and that they can’t be baptized unless they repent of homosexual transgressions. I know, because I taught the exact same thing for two years when I was a missionary too. You tithe 10 percent of your income to the institution that terrorized me. We never talk about any of this.”
Turning my head to glance over at my mom, I saw tears well up as she stammered:
“Grant, that’s all we ever talk about anymore.”
Days later, I was standing outside the Gilbert Temple, waiting for my friend to emerge from his wedding ceremony.
It was strange, returning to that personal mecca. It was here that I had made pilgrimages throughout high school and college, where I had implored God for strength and guidance. Now, even as someone unable to enter beyond its foyer, I found myself praying. Unconvinced anyone was listening, I told God about the one-sided blowout with my mom and asked why I was still so angry.
Why couldn’t I appreciate my mother’s kindness? Why was I upset with her for trying to keep tethered to the one thing in life that gave her peace? I didn’t want her to experience the same soul-crushing conclusions that I had. I knew that she loved me and that she didn’t find same-sex marriage immoral. Why was I choosing to rehash every familial misstep and microaggression?
After a few minutes of quiet introspection, I took my place in line with the other groomsmen just as my friend and his new bride exited the temple. We quickly erupted into an excited chorus of applause and cheers, and, within seconds, old friends and church members whom I hadn’t seen in years were running to hug me and ask me about my life.
Why were they so warm toward me? I had spent the last 12 months dragging their religion on social media. Did they not know? Or did they not care?
Later that evening, as I emceed the reception, I looked around the venue at the faces of every person who had gone out of their way to tell me how happy they were to see me, at the groom who had chosen to make his flamboyant, gay, ex-Mormon friend not just the voice of his Latter-day Saint wedding, but his best man. And it hit me.
I was still resentful about Mormonism because I missed it.
I missed the people, the activities, the music, and the pipe dream I too had once held of a temple wedding. I was envious that the promises of eternal families and priesthood blessings still offered hope to so many of my friends — hope that I had long determined I needed to abandon if I ever wanted to find love.
Notwithstanding the indignation I felt, I knew, in that moment, that I couldn’t fault my thoughtful, good-hearted friends for subscribing to a faith that brought their lives so much beauty. They were operating not just in their own best interest, but in defense of their entire reality — a reality that I too had once enjoyed.
I didn’t want their God to die the way mine did.
In the months that have elapsed since I annulled my baptism last September, I’ve spent a lot of time searching for anything to cushion my freefall into ambiguity.
I think, at that wedding reception, I finally found my soft place to land.
I used to wish Mormonism a slow, painful death. But, now, I wonder if a rebirth might be possible — one in which gay and trans kids see a God worth worshiping. I doubt the leadership of the church will ever be willing to do what it takes to atone for its many original sins, but, for the sake of my LDS friends and family — and perhaps myself someday — I’m choosing to hold onto hope, however misplaced it might be.
— Editorial editor Grant Williams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.