Skip to main content

As we try to recover from the last several acrimonious years, we need to be judicious in where and how we spend our time and emotional energy.

As a Mormon missionary, I used to ask people, “Don’t you want to be with your family for eternity?” Mormons, obviously, were the only people on the face of the Earth who held the key to this blessing.

As the years passed, though, I found it harder and harder even to send Christmas cards to my biological family. This holiday season, there are some family members I simply won’t send cards to at all, even if they send me one.

I don’t like many of the people I’m supposed to want to spend eternity with. They’re not worth a Forever stamp.

When I see other ex-Mormons on Facebook ask if they should maintain contact with believing family members who ostracize and judge them, I’m mystified when people advise, “Don’t throw away love and blood ties for differences of opinion.”

But if it’s the “opinion” of my family that I’m going to spend eternity in Outer Darkness, if it’s their opinion that I’m one of the main reasons the country is falling apart, if they believe that the world would be better off if people like me didn’t exist or, at the very least, didn’t have any rights, I’m not sure I’m throwing much “love” away. If there are any “ties” left, they are for binding me, not sustaining me.

Of course, these conflicts don’t just exist between Mormons and ex-Mormons. They exist among people of all faiths and in secular families as well. They exist when people hold basic, fundamentally different beliefs in how they view human suffering and what to do about it.

When I told my cousin I was writing a book about the Upstairs Lounge fire, an arson which killed 32 people in a French Quarter gay bar, her response wasn’t one of horror at the atrocity committed against other human beings. She said, with a tone of disgust, “They died in a bar?”

During a casual discussion of missionary experiences with family members, I mentioned something about my “two years in Italy.” Another of my cousins, born just a few months before I left for the Missionary Training Center, interjected forcefully, “Eighteen months!”

 I stopped and stared. During my mission, the First Presidency changed the length of full-time missions for men from two years to eighteen months. My twenty-two months constituted an “honorable” mission in every way. Women were called to eighteen-month missions as a rule, and no one in my family felt it necessary to diminish their service. The “proper” duration of foreign missions in the past had been three years, and no one chastised my uncle for only having served two years abroad.

As the years passed, though, I found it harder and harder even to send Christmas cards to my biological family.

The only reason to disrespect and dismiss my full-time volunteer work for the Church was that I had since left the fold.

It was important to my cousin that I understand I was inferior.

Even more distressing was the realization that my inadequate missionary performance had clearly been a topic of conversation multiple times in that household. I was and would always be “less than” in their eyes.

Still, friends told me that after years of patience and perseverance, their families had eventually come around, so I kept visiting, I kept calling, I kept emailing and sending holiday cards.

 And then one day, I realized that I was always the one initiating contact. If I waited for family members to contact me, perhaps that would reveal whether or not they even wanted me to keep in touch.

 So I waited. And waited and waited.

A couple of years later, a family member did send a card, mentioning an injury she’d sustained over a year earlier in a car accident. I could see she felt I didn’t care because I hadn’t called or written at the time of the accident. It didn’t occur to her that I hadn’t called because no one in her family had let me know anything had happened.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

 In her mind, in the minds of her family, I would always be the bad guy, always the insensitive one, always the one responsible for any hurt or misunderstanding.

I’m not “Friends” with most of my family, so their posts don’t show up on my Facebook feed. And I try to avoid FB as much as possible in any event because I think it introduces more harm than good to the world. But once in a while, I plug in a relative’s name and check their latest posts.

 Dipping my toe in the water to test the temperature.

I see rants against Black people or an adamant disbelief in climate change or “funny” jokes insulting people who believe in universal healthcare.

It doesn’t matter to me that they’ve been deceived, either by their religious leaders or their chosen news network. I was raised in the same religion, with the same conservative political beliefs. But I was able to read and listen and pay attention and think and change my mind when I gained more information. And commit to additional learning and reassessment as I continue on.

They’ve chosen not to do that.

I miss my family. I miss being in harmony with them, having the same beliefs and goals. But that time has come and gone. I do not have enough years left to worry about it.

I will never have my baby teeth again. My hair will never again have natural pigment.

Even if family members who’d said the most hateful things were to “see the light” and apologize, our relationships have already been altered beyond repair. I’d wish them well in their new enlightened state, but they simply don’t feel like family any longer.

“You can’t go home again.”

When I see movies set in today’s Italy, I’m struck by the changes that have taken place in the four decades since I left. In one film, I listened as a character said something that made me realize he didn’t understand what life in his own country was like before he was born.

I know more about Italy in 1980 than a forty-year-old man who’s lived there his entire life.

I wasted too many years trying to reconcile my affectional orientation with my religion. I wasted too many decades trying to maintain a relationship with my biological family.

Thankfully, I’ve also invested in chosen family over the past thirty years.

As a Mormon missionary, I was confronted by the reality that I couldn’t save everyone. As a gay democratic socialist, I realize I can’t “connect” with everyone on “the left.”

How much more might I have been able to accomplish over the years if I hadn’t thrown away so much valuable time and energy on relationships doomed to petty attacks and judgments?

We don’t need to placate “conservatives” in our families, in the Republican Party, or even in the Democratic Party. Republicans will not “like” us or move to the left just because we’re nice to them and give up our power to show how sincere we are.

“Moderate” Democrats won’t like us for being “humble” or “reasonable” or “pragmatic” by giving in to them. They’ll take everything we offer and still disrespect us.

Johnny Townsend

Since we don’t have unlimited amounts of time, money, patience, and energy, we need to devote our efforts toward chosen family—in both our personal and political lives.

Johnny Townsend