Monday, February 2, 2009

Christmas in Utah

I mentioned a while ago that I was facing a some Prop. 8 fallout while spending Christmas with family members who are staunch LDS believers.

On the appointed day Tobi (my boyfriend) and I, along with my son A., packed our bags and headed for Zion.

 Tobi helped spread the Christmas cheer by bringing some Japanese snacks. If you click on the photo you can see the jelly beans I bought plus the pickled octopus and dried baby crab shells that Tobi so generously provided. The visual effect of the pickled octopus was just great. (My sister's family is not particularly adventurous when it comes to food.) I have to give them credit; everyone tried the octopus and crunchy crab shells. I have to say that the jellybeans were more popular.

Tobi liked the American style of Christmas celebration. It was the first time he had spent the holiday with a large Christian family. He was shocked by one aspect: there was a huge pile of shredded wrapping paper and ribbon after the massive frenzy of present opening. In Japan it is very bad manners to rip the wrapping paper off of a gift. You have to unwrap the present gently and neatly fold the wrapping paper, even if it will be thrown away later. The idea is that the wrapping is part of the gift, and you shouldn't show disrespect to the giver of the gift by tearing off the paper.

Prop. 8 was the elephant in the living room during our visit. My sister and her family were generally kind to Tobi and me, but we weren't welcome to stay in the house with the rest of the family. Instead, we spent nights at a nearby bed and breakfast. To be fair, the house was full, but nonetheless I think some accommodation would have been made if we were a married opposite-sex couple.

One evening my son (who did stay with his cousins at my sister's house) came down the stairs and heard two of his uncles (two of my brothers-in-law) talking about gay marriage in the living room. My brothers-in-law didn't know my son was passing in the hall, and so my son overheard their conversation. My son stood in the hall with a sinking feeling in his stomach as his uncles dismissed gay marriage as unholy and civil unions and domestic partnerships as a slippery slope. Hearing this really hurt my son a lot, especially because he knows very well the tough situation that Tobi and I are in precisely due the lack of civil protections for our relationship. I guess I'm glad that at least my brothers-in-law didn't have the guts to say what they thought to my face.

Later I told my son that he could have gone in and defended what he thought was right or just kept walking.

I can't put my finger on it exactly, but I sense that the recent extraordinary involvement of the church in anti-gay politics has harmed relations in my family. There's a new rift. There's a sense of caution that I didn't notice before, on my part as well as theirs. I know they view me as a sinner and an apostate, even though I am by far the favorite uncle of my nieces and nephews. (I'm the best cook in family and over the years have organized some of the most memorable family events and outings.) I, in turn, see their moral views as self-serving justifications for out-dated patriarchy. I'm a sinner, and they're bigots. That's a fine kettle of fish!

The silver lining is that the older generation's attitudes will die off. The generations are very different in terms of politics. My nieces and nephews all voted for Obama, even though their parents are social conservatives who supported the McCain/Palin ticket. The younger generation's views on gay marriage are mixed. In my family, I'd say that 60% of the active Mormon's under 30 support full marriage rights for same-sex couples and the rest are okay with federally recognized civil unions that have all of the rights of marriage without using the name. In time, the next generation will prevail, and long-held prejudice will fall by the wayside.

This is a picture of my son and the husband of one of my nieces. (Neither of them are LDS.)

You can see that the snow was fresh. This kind of weather makes me love Utah. I love my Mormon family as well. I just wish they could open their hearts.


Sarah said...

I hope that someday Scott's family is as accepting as yours is. They don't even want to hear about our gay friends, and I don't think we will ever take one to their house again. And it's not like Scott is even dating any of them or anything. I don't get it!

Anyway, I'm glad you had some good times, and I am sorry about the hard times. Thanks for sharing your experience.

MoHoHawaii said...

Hi Sarah,

Actually, I do count my blessings as far as my family goes. Things could be much, much worse than they are.

My guess about Scott's family is that meeting living, breathing gay friends reminds them of what they don't want to admit in Scott. It's denial in action.

You really inspire me. Someday I want to come to one of your and Scott's get-togethers. Maybe next time I'm in Utah, if the stars align.

Captain Midnight said...

I'm glad I read this post. I'm planning on coming out to my family soon and letting them know that I have a boyfriend I'm planning on spending my life with, and I'm really nervous about how they'll take it. I think it's going to be like you said, they'll view me as a sinner who won't be a part of their eternal family, and every time they mention me when I'm not there it will be with sadness in their voices. I just glad you have a supporting kid and that there is hope for the future. Thanks again. I really enjoy your blog.

MoHoHawaii said...

Hi C. Midnight,

My parents (who have since passed away) were very, very supportive of me. My mother even ran a P-FLAG group in our small Utah town!

My sisters happen to be churchier than my parents, so it's harder for them to deal with me.

I hope things go well your parents. The more orthodox they are the harder it will be for them. You have to have sympathy for the incredible amount of pressure their religion puts on them. In any case, sharing that part of yourself with them is a worthwhile thing to do. I wish you and them the best of luck in this journey.

Sabayon said...

Your description of Japanese wrapping paper etiquette made me laugh, since my brother is going to Japan next year and he has always unwrapped his presents with surgical precision, although the reason for this is to drive us all insane by taking so long to open his presents.

It's miserable that the church's involvement in prop. 8 is harming your relationship to your family. Technically the church has long had the same ideas about gays and marriage, but the whole conflict brought it all to a head such that now church members can't ignore the fact that their gay family members are sinners since they've been hearing about it from the pulpit all election season, and their gay family members are carrying resentment for the church's involvement in prop 8. A fine kettle of fish indeed.

MoHoHawaii said...

Hi Sabayon,

It looks as if your brother will fit right in, although he may not be aware of the amount of bowing and scraping he'll be expected to do in Japan.

Your summary of the Prop. 8 situation in Mormon families is spot on. Unfortunately.

I keep trying to rehabilitate my attitude, but it's not happening very fast.

Beck said...

I don't know why, but I thought that your family would be so much more open to you after all this time. The reserations and hesitant behaviors are very slow to die and change is not a quick process. Obviously they could be much, much worse than they are, but it's stuff like this that just locks my closet even tighter.

Thanks for being an example of tolerance and love.

MoHoHawaii said...

Hey Beck,

I hope I'm not giving the wrong impression. Many of the members of my family are totally accepting and supportive. For example, Tobi and I spent Thanksgiving with one of my sisters who laid out the fatted calf and treated us like royalty (including a bed for Tobi and me to share in her house). My LDS parents were always wonderfully supportive of me.

I think my situation is like Scot's. My family is divided. Some are great with the whole issue; some are, for lack of a better word, "strugglers". I think the whole Prop. 8 mess pushed some of the strugglers back. It polarized the issue and provided lots of over-the-pulpit justification for fear and judgment of others. I know these are strong words, but I truly believe that the language used by LDS Church leaders incited bigotry and hatred toward gay people. The church put a muzzle on those seeking reconciliation while unleashing the most aggressive bigots in its ranks. (Who got to give the Sacrament meeting talks on homosexuality in the past 6 months? It wasn't the Carol Lynn Pearsons of the ward.)

I sincerely hope that my story doesn't discourage you from taking whatever steps might be best in your own situation.

[kɹeɪ̯ɡ̊] said...

What I really like are those cylindrical wasabi flavoured rice crackers that are covered with nori. Yum!