Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Explaining Our Wedding to the Kids

There was one time about a year ago when Brian said to the boys "You know Evan and I are more than just friends, right? We are more like mommy and your step-dad." They responded that they understood, but they have never asked about us or why we are together. Brian and I say "I love you" to each other regularly in front of the boys without hesitation. We are not afraid to show affection and they know we sleep in the same bed. The boys definitely know that we are together and I am not just daddy's "good friend."

With our civil marriage coming up, I started to ask Brian about whether or not we should explicitly bring up the fact that we are gay with the kids. I felt like we were serving an injustice by not talking about our wedding and I feared that we were adding to the possible shame they might feel about the subject because we were never talking about it openly.

A few weekends ago, we were driving Jordan across town for a birthday party. As we drove along the beltway, we had some light conversation about the party until Jordan became preoccupied with his iPod. I realized this was the perfect time to bring our wedding into discussion. It was just Jordan and we still had at least half an hour before we would arrive at our destination. I looked at Brian and he got my cue. He started the conversation like he did a year ago: "Jordan, you know Evan and I are more than just friends, right?"

Jordan glanced up from his iPod and let out what seemed to be a hesitant "yes." There was this immediate quiet, awkwardness that entered the air. Uh oh. Please, God, don't let this be traumatic for anyone.

 Brian continued. "Well, do you know the best word to describe us?"

Jordan quietly replied "Daddy, I know your secret."

 Uh oh. A secret? This was exactly what we did not want the boys to think of this.

 "Jordan, it's not a secret."

 "Well, I know you're gay."

I finally chimed in: "Right! And you know what, there is no shame in being that way. You know that right?"

Jordan looked at me through the rear-view mirror a little less awkward. "Sorry, I did not mean to use the word 'secret.' I know it's not a bad thing. I just was not sure if it was okay for me to talk about."

 What?! Where was he getting that impression?

 "Well, why do you feel that way?" Brian asked.

Jordan let out a sigh. "Sometimes the kids at school make fun of me and my friend at school and they call us gay because we play together."

Of course he felt this way because of his peers at school. I have always found it funny that social conservative Christians are paranoid that one day educators in public schools will teach children about gay people. Heads up, y'all! They are already learning about what it means to be gay. And they are learning it from other kids who tend to insert as much shame as possible into the subject by calling each other gay, homo, and fag without thinking twice about the damage the careless use of those words can cause.

Last summer, Jordan's mom shared a story with us where he stood up to a bully for calling another kid gay at school. This made us incredibly proud, so when we had Jordan we decided to try and ask him about it. We could not get him to openly talk about what happened, until we sort of brought up the incident specifically. He treated it like it was no big deal and it was clear he did not want to talk about. We should have had the discussion we were having in the car back then. Why didn't we?

"So what do you do about those kids, Jordan?" Brian asked.

"Well, I tell them to stop and to not use that word, but that doesn't work. So I tried telling the teachers, but they don't really do much. They just tell them to stop, too. But the kids keep making fun of us."

"Well, you know, I wish your teachers would do more. You understand that these other kids are using that word in a mean way, right? It's okay to be gay, but it's not okay to put someone down just because they are gay."

Jordan obviously understood what the kids were doing was wrong. But it seemed like he was having a hard time getting over the shame his peers were putting on the subject. I then tried to explain that there are a lot of good people who happen to be gay: the parents of the friend whose birthday party we were attending, the two moms of the twins on his old Little League team, and even the mayor of Houston, Annise Parker. When I mentioned women, Jordan looked at me funny again.

"Wait, but I thought the mayor is a girl?"

"Yes, but some women can be attracted to other women. They can be gay, too. Being gay just means you are attracted to people of the same gender." I tried to keep it as simple as possible for him. I then went on to explain that there would be a good chance he might have some friends who come out as gay when he gets older. As we talked, he slowly started to feel more comfortable about what we were telling him. When it was all said and done, Brian and I both expressed our love for him and that we cared about him.

"We want you to know that we love you, Jordan, and we wish you could be in New York with us. But we promise to do something here in town for you to see. Do you have any questions about anything?"

"Nope." He returned to his iPod game until we reached the birthday party.


Talking to Tim about us was much easier. We had the boys over last week when Tim asked about where I stood in the family. It was the perfect opportunity to explain our family. I looked at Brian. He knew this was the time to have a discussion, too.

"Tim, you know Evan and I are more than just friends, right? We are more like mommy and your step-dad."


Jordan became overwhelmed excitement when he realized what was about to be discussed. "Ooh! I want to tell him! Tim, come over here and I'll tell you!" he yelled from the kitchen table.

"It's okay, Jordan. Let me talk to him. Tim, you know how we are going to New York, right?"


"Do you know why?"


"Because Evan and I are going to get married."

Tim looked a bit puzzled. Uh oh. Was this going to be heavy like our conversation with Jordan?

"Why can't you just get married here?"

Phew. He was not confused about the thought of us being married. He was confused about why we wanted to travel over 1,600 miles to get married.

"Well, right now, Texas does not recognize gay people who decide to get married. It is not legal."

"Ok. Well, can you bring me a souvenir?"

"Of course! We'll bring you both something back." They both cheered with excitement.

I then made the same promise I made to Jordan. "You two know that we will eventually have a wedding here in Houston. That way you can be there to see it. We will even have a reception with cake!" The mention of dessert brought cheers and excitement again.

Tim then asked if he and Jordan could go with us to New York when they get older.
"Sure! We can show you everything!" I replied. (Any excuse to visit the Big Apple.)

And that was that. Right now, I feel kind of bummed that they can't be there for the ceremony. That's the main reason we want to have a wedding closer to home. But I really, really wish they could be there. I want them to go to the Top of the Rock with us. I want them to witness the greatness that is Newsies. I want to take them to see Tim's favorite landmark, the Statue of Liberty.  I want them there for the pictures Brian and I will take together. I want them to see where we will be getting married. Sure, it might not be a church or a temple or some massive cathedral; we are just getting married in a city clerk's office. But that place will always be special to me and Brian. It's a place where a promise will be made in a few weeks between us: a promise of commitment and love towards each other; a promise the boys deserve to see.

Monday, February 18, 2013

And Then He Asked: "How's Your Family?"

I was pretty surprised and confused when the second counselor of the bishopric friended me on Facebook. First off, I had never met the guy. Maybe this was some sort of outreach since I rarely ever go to any sort of church service now. But what was even more weird were the friends I had in common with him: John Dehlin, Joanna Brooks, Carol Lynn Pearson, Kendall Wilcox, and just about any other progressive Mormon you could think of that has been in the mainstream media at some point.

I thought this was odd, so I decided to message him about our common progressive friends. This soon led to an invitation to chat over lunch or before church services. I had a gut feeling that Brother M was a strong ally and I did not want to limit our time together over lunch, so I accepted an offer to show up before church meetings. I wanted to talk his ear off and figure out where he was on the progressive front.

The following Sunday was the first Sunday for me to step foot in an LDS Church in about six months. As I looked for Brother M's office, a guy from the ward approached me and figured he probably knew me since I obviously wasn't there for the Spanish speaking ward and I clearly was not dressed like a random investigator.
"Wait.. don't tell me.. you're Chris, right?" 
 "Hey! No, it's Evan."
"Oh yeah, that's right! How have you been?"
... I assured myself that I have never met this guy in my life and was wondering why he pretended to know me. But I continued the conversation politely until Brother M was available.

Once Brother M came over to introduce himself, we decided to sit in the closed-off foyer. I won't go into the details of what we talked about, but he did say he really liked the work John Dehlin has done with Mormon Stories and appreciated Kendall Wilcox's efforts to increase dialogue within the church about LGBT issues. After I admittedly stated that I was not really sure where I was spiritually, he stressed the importance of me always having a connection to God in whatever way worked for me and he hoped that I would always feel welcomed to attend the ward. I left the conversation deciding that I really liked this guy. I talked about how I was engaged to Brian and he didn't flinch. He seemed to understand where I was with Mormonism and there was no guilt or shame projected, just encouragement.

Since I was there, I decided to attend sacrament meeting. I walked in the chapel, sat in an empty pew and waited for a friend. Two guys I had never met walked over to me, introduced themselves, and then asked if I would like to help pass sacrament. With a smile on my face, I said no thank you.  And then an acquaintance I have known since first attending the ward happened to sit in the pew in front of me.
"Hey Evan! Good to see you! How have you been? How's the family?"
Wait. What did he mean? Was he referring to my immediate family? He doesn't even know who they are! Is he referring to Brian and the boys? Is that okay for a Mormon to ask that sort of question?
Still confused, I managed to get out a "They're great!"
"How's Brian?"
A little bit more dumbfounded, I answered "Yeah, he's doing well, too. We moved into a house not long ago, so we have been settling in. How have you been?"

Did I really just have this conversation about my family in the chapel of a Mormon Church? I let that thought settle in. I get that Mormonism as a whole will probably never accept my family the way they do other families; we will probably never have the opportunity to be sealed in a temple and the prophet will probably never openly say anything like what was said in 1978 regarding full fellowship of black members. I get it. It's not like I am expecting Brian or the kids to even baptize into the church if such a prophetic vision lifting policies were to come about anyways. But what I had witnessed felt like a glimpse of a different kind of Mormonism. It was a crumb of the kind of Mormonism many LGBT members hope for when first coming to terms with their identities. It was the kind of Mormonism where it truly did not matter who I was. 

Since that sacrament meeting, I have wondered what it would be like if every person in a leadership role had the attitude of Brother M. What if every member had the mindset of the member who so candidly asked how every aspect of my life was without dodging around Brian? What if every stake was like our stake president and was openly and willingly interested in helping the LGBT community feel more accepted? I wonder what sort of impact that would have on membership in the LDS Church. Where would my spirituality be if instead of rejection, people like me received a full embrace? Although Mormonism in its current state is not the best option for me and my family, Brother M hoped that I would feel welcomed at church. During that service, I felt welcomed. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Never Stop Rocking

Jordan, the older of the two kids, was sitting on the rocking chair glued to the Mario game on TV. He was also actively (almost violently?) rocking the chair back and forth.

"Jordan, can you stop rocking so much on the chair, please?" I asked.


Five minutes passed and he was violently rocking on the chair again.

I cringed a little. "Jordan, you need to stop rocking so hard on the chair. It's not designed for that and could break." Holy crap, I sound like my Dad!

"Sorry." He stopped and continued to play.

Another five minutes passed and he seemed to have forgotten what I just asked him to do.

"Jordan, please go sit on the couch instead. You can't rock on that chair like that."

Almost shocked that I was making him switch chairs, Jordan looked at me and proclaimed that my request was unfair.

"Just give me another chance!"

"I gave you enough chances. Go sit on the couch."

World War III was about to erupt. Arguing commenced with his belief that he didn't get enough "chances" and he refused to sit on the couch. I started to get really upset to the point where I was practically yelling. I turned off the Wii U and made him go to his room to lay down.

I want the boys to learn and realize that their actions come with consequences, good or bad. But I also hate being mean. Like, I seriously just want to be known as a nice parent, not just one who disciplines. I know this is wrong and it's a serious weakness I deal with. I want to be the good cop only! Brian can be the bad cop ;-).

Ten minutes passed and I decided to go to Jordan's room to talk with him. We had a short discussion on the importance of listening to his parents and why it's not okay to be reckless on furniture.

Within thirty minutes he is totally good again and it was like nothing ever happened. I breathed a sigh of relief. Phew.. he doesn't hate me... yet.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Dear BSA, Here are Some Things to Consider Over the Next Three Months

Dear Boy Scouts of America,

Everyone is talking about you again. Are you surprised that it happens to be due to the controversial subject on whether or not gay youth and adults can participate in Scouts? I think not.

I know you have had the chance to think about this ban for the last thirteen years, but for some reason you feel like you still need a little more time to reconsider. Here are some points worth noting over the next three months as you agonize on whether or not it is okay to lift the discriminatory policy on gay young people and leaders:

  •      We [the people who think the policy is unfair] are speaking out on this because we care about the Boy Scout program. We recognize the values the program instills and how the skills help us progress more richly in our education, our careers, and our relationships with others. Please do not feel like you are being "bullied." (Can we stop using this term when referencing organizations?) The real victims here are the individuals being kicked out of the program. Look at this as an opportunity to blaze a trail and to set an example as to what is right and fair to the young men in the program. This is a chance to help remove the stigma of shame centered around being gay.
  •      Being out is healthy. Being in the closet is not. We should not require gay Scouts and leaders to remain completely silent in regards to their orientation. Imagine asking straight Scouts to never talk about which girls they like at school or who they are dating. Or imagine telling Scout Leaders to never even mention their spouses or family in open discussion around other Scouts. Lifting this policy is not about opening the doors to sexual discussion or "cramming a lifestyle down people's throats." It's about letting people be who they are. It's about letting young men open up to issues related to orientation with trusted Scout leaders and friends. It's about parents, gay or straight, being as involved as they want to be in the Scouting program.
  •      Yes, there is a chance that a young man who happens to be gay will be sharing a tent with another Scout who is not. Heck, I shared a tent on almost every camp out I went on. But here is a little tidbit you should be aware of. Being gay is not all about sex. We are not pulling these youth out of athletic programs because we are scared of what might happen in the locker room, are we? We are not making separate restrooms just for them. When I came out to my friends family, I did not do so because I wanted to talk about sex. No gay person comes out for that reason. I came out because I wanted to be completely honest with them and I wanted them to be aware of that part of my identity.
  •      Ask yourself what "morally straight" means. Obviously, it doesn't mean "morally heterosexual." In fact, in the Scout Oath, morally straight means being honest, doing the right thing, and just being a genuinely good person. And I hope this is not news for you, but there are gay people that have a moral backbone and who have also had a positive impact on the world. Comedians and actors like George Takaei, Ellen Degeneres, and Ian McKellen. Political figures like Mayor Annise Parker, Joel Burns, and Tammy Baldwin. Tech gurus like Tim Cook, Gina Trapani, and Chris Hughes. Musicians and artists like Elton John, Pyotry Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and Andy Warhol. Scientists like Sally Ride and Alan Turing. Here's a whole list of them on Wikipedia!
  •      Under the current policy, awful people like Sandusky could have easily participated in Scouting. Period. The best thing to remove those kind of people are putting in place background checks that are more strict, something which you have already put in place. We are asking you to lift the ban on gay people, not child molesters. Please know that they are not at all the same, and in fact, research exists stating that it doesn't make sense to compare the two.
  •      From an LDS perspective, the current policy disqualifies faithful, temple recommend holders from being involved in Scouting. That means the Mitch Maynes, Josh Weeds, Ty Mansfields, and any of the faithful Mormons who are open about their identity on Northstar's Website cannot participate. Is this fair?
I know the decision this organization has to make is tough. I know not everyone will be happy no matter what choice is made. But ultimately the best decision here is the one that best follows the Golden Rule. It's the one that sets an example for Scouts all across the country on what common decency means. I hope this organization, which has taught so many youth to be leaders in the past, can now take a stand and be a leader on what it means to treat others fairly.

Evan Clayson
Eagle Award: 2003