Doing the Right Thing

Written in 1998. Edited in 2010 and again in 2014.

Watching the waves roll onto the shore, gently soaking the sandy beach clears my mind; making way for the memories of my life. My life, just like the ocean, had so much going on under the surface; erupting volcanoes, changing tides all molding the future virtually unnoticeable on the surface.

Growing up Mormon my life seemed very calm and simple. Wrong was wrong and right was right. My world was very black and white. I knew what to expect and I knew what was expected of me; the answers to all life's questions always at my fingertips. One thing was certain; if I did “God's Will” all would be well, so I did God’s will. Yet under the calm and simple surface, something was erupting, not making any sense to me. I was different and I knew it, but I did not understand it.

When I was a young child I loved playing army and Mission Impossible, running with the boys and chasing the girls with grasshoppers. Suddenly, around twelve years old, I realized I enjoyed hanging out with girls. Not because I enjoyed playing Barbies or talking about boys, but because of the excitement I felt when I was with them.

As I grew older I became obsessive and passionate about certain friendships. I was very confused; 'how can I feel this way about girls when I am a girl? This can’t be good.' Somehow I thought if I ignored the eruptions going on under the surface everything would be as it "should" be. On occasions feelings for a girlfriend, like a huge wave, would surface and not knowing what to do with this huge wall of emotion and love I would simply wait for the feelings to crash in on top of me. I knew eventually I would surface and somehow stay afloat.

I managed to get through high school performing all the typical dating rituals including the first kiss with a boy. Yet I never knew the thrill of passion; I never felt the rush of adrenaline you feel when kissed by someone you're crazy about. I channeled all my energy into sports and school activities. I was the pride and joy of my parents and my church community.

The waves of emotion and love I felt towards women got bigger and stronger as I matured. I went to college and found myself in coed heaven. I learned how to ignore my feelings and ride them out. The only way I could explain these intense love affairs of the mind and heart was to think of these women as soul mates. They were kindred spirits, held in such a deep and silent part of my heart. The 'soul mate' explanation went a long way in minimizing the dissonance I was experiencing.

I served a mission for the Mormon church in Taiwan and Thailand. After my mission I returned to BYU and fell in love with my roommate. We were very close; it felt like she was the only person in my life who could hold such a place in my heart. I loved her as I had never loved anyone before. I treated her as if she were the queen of all creation, I honored and cherished her, I lived and breathed for her. Every love song on the radio reminded me of her.

I'm sure my roommate loved me too; but not the way I loved her. She wanted nothing more than to be with the right man for time and all eternity. We often joked at how perfect it would be if I were a guy. We slept and snuggled in the same bed. I was as affectionate as I could be without bringing on criticism from other roommates or friends. More specifically I did not want to admit to myself that there was anything 'gay' going on.

In my senior year I became engaged to a really great guy. We shared many aspirations and goals. We had a mutual love for the church and a desire to make a difference in the world. We began planning our wedding and our life together. As our engagement went on, I found myself caught in whirlpools of emotion, never knowing what to do, more than once I tried to talk myself out of the engagement, but I always found myself back on the marriage track.

I became very depressed. I could not stand to have my fiance touch me, or kiss me; when he tried to be the least bit affectionate I found myself screaming inside and longing to be back in my bed snuggled up next to my roommate. The wedding day came and I was married. It took me years to get over my roommate, my heart was broken, but of course it was the “right” thing to do.

For awhile life remained calm and my feelings went deep and unnoticed. My husband was good to me; we had a great life together. I had it all, three beautiful children, a loving husband and the true church; what more could anyone ask for?
 
As time went on it became increasingly difficult for me to have an intimate relationship with my husband. It did not seem to get easier, or to make much sense. This started to interfere with other areas of our lives. It finally got to a point where I couldn't take it anymore. I would escape time and time again by going to the beach by myself, or anywhere, to avoid dealing with my life.

I remember the day I came "out" to myself. I was reading a book, sent to us by a good friend, entitled 'Peculiar People'. This book told the stories of individuals in the Mormon Church who had come out as gay men or women and survived. It told the experiences from the different points of view of the spouse, the parents and the individual. I found myself absorbed in the stories, highlighting nearly every sentence in the accounts written by other women. Wow, could I relate. That day I took a pen and paper and I wrote the words "I am a lesbian." I had never been able to write these words before. I cried all day. I left for the beach, I had to think, I had to write-there was so much on my mind. The freedom I felt is difficult to explain. I felt so liberated and free yet so scared and confused. For the first time my whole life made sense.

A few days later I came out to my husband; I told him through my sobs and then he held me, he held me all night as I cried. We decided we would stay together. We would stay together and deal with the situation the best we could. For the next nine months we went on like nothing had changed yet everything had changed for me. I had to deal with my feelings every minute of the day. I would cope and cope until unable to do so anymore. I would find ways to escape by writing, or going to the beach or other out of the way places. Then one day I broke; I was unable to be honest with myself, honor who I was and stay in the same life I had built for myself. The life I was living was not authentic and it was destroying me inside.

I found a support group in Portland and for the first time in my entire life I was surrounded by women who understood what I was saying and how I was feeling. Their nods of understanding and their songs of love and support flooded my heart and soul with acceptance. I could see where I needed to direct my life, I wanted to be where I was loved and accepted; where I could begin the long task of loving and accepting myself. I realized there was a difference between being celebrated and just being tolerated and I wanted to be celebrated.


I returned home, but I couldn't stop thinking of the feeling of love and support I had experienced with these women. I continued with therapy and my efforts at my Mormon, heterosexual existence. As hard as I tried, my heart was heavy and I wanted to be honest and authentic and loved. Still, in my mind, I felt it was wrong to think of anything but staying married and Mormon. I no longer fully believed in the Mormon theology, many years of questioning and reasoning had caused my belief of the church teachings to fade for me. But staying was the “right” thing to do for my family.

I knew I was on a dangerous course of self destruction. I didn't have the energy or clarity to be a good mom. I finally told my husband that I was sure of my sexual orientation and I needed to leave our marriage and live a more authentic, honest life. I made my choice, I wanted a divorce. I was determined I was not going to leave my children, but I was going to leave my marriage. At this point I did not know if I would ever have the relationship I dreamed of; but, I knew I would rather be alone in this world than in a life of lies. I’m sure my husband was deeply hurt by my decision, and felt helpless as we proceeded with the divorce. We did what we had to do to take care of things.

The painful process went on, for me it was a process of ending a life I no longer wanted: Mormonism, marriage, my role as a housewife. I stopped attending the Mormon Church, got the paperwork started for the divorce and I began looking for a place to live, a job and a way to keep my children. There was never a question of custody of the children, we would share custody 50/50.

I kept going and going, each day taking on a new task. I was pushing toward my new life at a very rapid pace. Then suddenly I crashed. It was like hitting a huge rock that tore a hole in my ship; a hole big enough to sink me. My whole system shut down. I had a complete emotional breakdown. I was unable to function. I had panic attacks lasting all day. I had, maybe, five minutes of peace a day if I was lucky. I couldn't breathe, I would pace the floor screaming and moaning. One day two Mormon friends came from Portland, packed my bags, and took me to their home for a few days. While I was there my body was under complete attack. I felt so out of control. Looking back I realize this was my "breakthrough", not my “breakdown”. At the time, it was incredibly difficult.

I returned home and told my husband that I still wanted a divorce, but I was totally unable to move forward until I was better. My husband, who I’m sure by this time had shut himself down emotionally in order to protect himself, managed to reach out to me. He supported me through this incredibly difficult time. The children were not able to understand what was happening; however, we talked with them along the way trying to be as open and honest with them as we could.

I put all decisions on hold and concentrated only on getting well. I got myself to the doctor and was put on multiple anxiety medications. I was also taking homeopathic medicine to boost my immune system. I was in therapy two or three times a week. I was heavily involved in self-healing through meditation, visualization and prayer. Friends were reaching out to me in every direction. I learned a great deal during this intense time of healing.

After a lot of effort and hard personal work I felt well enough to proceed with our divorce. It was still difficult but I stayed focused on my new goals. I had experienced a healing within myself that is so hard to explain. I felt as though I had been turned inside out examined, cleaned and turned inward again. I would never again wonder if I was doing the “right” thing; I would never again wonder if I was a good person worthy of love.

I was able to get a job and move in with a friend. I did what I had to do to keep in touch with my children. I held two jobs and traveled 45 miles (sometimes at 1:00 am after working a 13 hour shift) only to spend a few hours with my children and then head back to work again. It was physically exhausting, but it was better than where I had been. In my spare time I kept very busy with my new life, which consisted of new friends and new understandings of life and love. I soon gave up my two jobs and started working at a New Thought Center called the Living Enrichment Center. Here I found such a warm, supportive and caring environment.

I had recently started attending a support group called Affirmation. This was a group of Mormon Gays and Lesbians. I decided to go to Seattle to a national conference to be with people who had been through similar experiences as myself and understood the whole Mormon part of me. Little did I know that I was about to meet someone who would become the love of my life.

I was a bit nervous walking into the dining room that first night of the conference.  I was looking for someplace, not too intimidating, to sit down and I headed for a table of gay men and one woman. Once the boys had vetted me and established I was available and possessed desirable personality traits suitable for their 'girl' I was golden.

My trip to Seattle became my initiation into a new and wonderful world where I finally belonged. Suzie and I were pretty much inseparable the entire conference. After the conference, Suzie went back to New York and I to Portland. We continued to correspond through e-mail and the telephone, connecting and getting to know each other. We went back and forth from New York to Oregon, each trip bringing us closer.

Several months later Suzie moved to Portland and we began our life together. On October 19, 1996, Suzie and I committed to one another in the midst of our loved ones at a ceremony at the Living Enrichment Center with the Reverend Sally Rutis officiating. Paul (10), Katie (8) and Jacob (4) took part in the ceremony as Suzie committed to support and love them in their lives as they continue to grow. Buckets of tears were shed. Tears that just a year before were tears of fear and anxiety were now tears of happiness and love.

Fast forward to 2010, Suzie and I have been together for *14 years. I put the asterisk in because there are stories to tell of a brief time we weren’t so happily ever after, (another book, another day). The most important thing is that we’re together today and we have had so many opportunities to recommit our love and strengthen our union. Suzie has been there through thick and thin with me. Together, with My ex-husband and his wife, we are committed to being a family and raising our children in a healthy environment; two very different households supporting each other in all of the important ways.

Over the last 14 years there have been so many times I have had to come to terms with my fears of ruining my children or that the church was ruining my children. There were times I was sure the kids were going to be totally messed up. Each time those fears crept in I found ways to let go of them, realizing each one of the children was on their own path, experiencing life in their own way, creating their own reality; if anything I was giving them excellent material for a book deal some day. 

I can look back now and be proud of the way we have all thrived as a family. All three of the kids are happy, successful and well adjusted. I believe their lives are more balanced and their outlooks on life are more open and loving because of their personal experience.

Today, life is good.

Now it is 2014. Suzie and I, after 19 years together, are finally able to get married. Our wish was to wait and have a big fat 'traditional' marriage with friends and family; however, there was a chance that a stay would be put in place and that gay marriages would be halted. We wanted to be safe, and not sorry, so we legally tied the knot in a small gathering at a friend's house. On May 31st we got together with Lisa and Carl Knodle-Bragiel and Lynn and Jason Hopson. Carl performed a short, lovely ceremony. Lisa and Lynn witnessed and boom chakalaka we are lawfully wedded spouses.

On July 12, 2014 we will have a celebration with a traditional ceremony. Sally Rutis, the minister who performed our commitment ceremony 18 years ago, will officiate. We will exchange rings and have cake and cocktails to celebrate our love. I'm so happy to see that marriage equality is spreading around the country and the world.

My hope is that one day someone reading this writing will think 'how bizarre that there was a day when two women, or two men, were not allowed to marry.' 

Here's to love and life. Cheers to choice.