Trigger Warning: Suicide
Last night I drove from Riverside, California to the Pacific Ocean directly to the pier at Seal Beach. I left my home at 5:00 PM. I left late. I needed to get to Seal Beach at 6. It takes an hour and twenty minutes. The timing, however, was perfect. The sun was setting – the sunsets in Southern California the past few days have been truly spectacular – at exactly the time I left and the first moment of darkness came as I parked my car on the beach at the pier.
I literally drove into the sunset.
And I just cried. A bunch.
I had been thinking of a strange social media interaction I had a couple days ago. One of my middle-school friends posted a gorgeous picture of the mountains of the Wasatch Front in Salt Lake City. She has not lived there for many years, and she said beautiful things about wanting to go back to that city I love so much. Instead of celebrating someone loving my hometown which I love too, I commented on the air, and how bad it is there. That is not my normal reaction. My normal reaction is absolute excitement that someone would reminisce about living there.
The more I contemplated this, the more I got upset.
That’s not me. I am not an angry person anymore. I am not a pessimist. I am proud of my endless optimism. Suddenly, that optimism ran out.
“Why?” I thought to myself. And then I realized. I am sad. I am in tremendous pain. That endless optimism kind of covered up how bad it got. In that moment, driving into the sunset, as I cried, I made a decision: I cannot keep doing this church thing.
I was driving to a movie night with people I met through Affirmation – an organization that coordinates major events and conferences around the world for LGBTQ+ Latter-day saints. We watched “Imagine Me and You,” a movie about a married woman falling for the woman who did her flowers at her wedding. I had seen this movie before. The first time it was validating. This second time it was devastating. My life was playing out before me and a group of like-minded people. They cheered when the women kissed for the first time, they awed at all the right moments, they booed the moments of homophobia and the man trying to “convert” a lesbian to heterosexuality. Normally I would love this. I would love just hanging out with this group. I would love the movie pick (I have been looking forward to it for weeks). But I still cried. Because that is not the way this plays out. This is not a romcom life. This is definitely a drama/thriller/tragedy before it is a romcom.
After the movie, I appreciated the discussion about how this was unrealistic, that it doesn’t end this way. In my mind I was screaming, “Thank you! It doesn’t!”
Here I was with a group of Latter-day saints who meet because they either cannot do the active Latter-day saint thing any longer and choose to find or have partners, or others that need a community that understands their sexual orientation, yet I couldn’t enjoy that time with people I have often felt overwhelming connection with. I felt so sad that in that hour and a half drive just before I decided I couldn’t do the Church thing any longer that I could participate in a way that made things feel good.
I had to leave the party as soon as the movie was over. I walked to my car and stared at the ocean.
“I could just walk in,” I thought, “I’m not a good swimmer. It is nighttime. I could just disappear into that last sunset.” “What would happen to my car?” I thought. “Would it ever be confirmed what had happened?” I worried.
I didn’t walk into the ocean. I started to drive.
This feeling didn’t leave me. I cried and prayed: “Heavenly Father, just let me die. Let a car hit me. That LA earthquake is on its way. You can move it up to now. Something.”
I knew that wishing death on thousands of people in an earthquake was not a good solution. I needed to call someone.
I did so, but I couldn’t articulate my feelings. I didn’t know what made it so bad yesterday. There were other days that qualitatively were way worse. Maybe the day I decided I’d no longer pay tithing. Maybe the day that the person I asked to promise not leave me, not let me fall, said she needed a break from me. Maybe the days when my best friends wrote me to tell me they could not be my friend. Maybe the day I knew I would probably never have a temple recommend again. Maybe the day I stopped taking the sacrament. All bad days. But it wasn’t any of those days, it was yesterday.
Because I had a strong conversion. I believe I came back for a reason, to find love, to find love of the Savior, and I did that. But now I was leaving again. It feels like quitting. It feels weak. I hate that I no longer feel strong enough to sit through the pain every week. I was a boxer. I know pain. I can handle pain. So why cannot I not stand this? I don’t know. I am not a quitter. It is not something I am very well acquainted with, and I don’t want to be either, and I don’t want to admit how much it hurts every week to sit there. It hurts to quit and it hurts to stay, but if I leave and walk away I can manage the hurt for a finite amount of time. I’m not expected to endure it to the end. I cannot endure it to the end.
There were many people I could have called last night that would be incredible supports. And I called one of those people. My friend Margaret has done this twice in the past four months. She listened as I tried to articulate and figure out for myself where these overwhelming emotions were coming from. She talked with me until I got home. We laughed through sobs, and by the end I felt better. But we were going to hang up, and it was going to just be me and my thoughts again.
Luckily, when people are going to sleep in the US, other people are waking up in Romania. I received continued support from Romania, and during those moments last night as I realized what had happened.
Though I have not been taking the sacrament, though I do not have a temple recommend, I have been attending church every week.
As I drove into the sunset and wondered whether I would attend Sunday meetings, I had three options: 1. Keep going to church and keep pulling that heavy emotional burden, knowing that I am in love with a woman. 2. Stop going to church, even though I believe, even though it separates me from my family and friends in a way that I don’t want to be separated, because I do believe. 3. Don’t choose. Don’t kill either part of me, kill all of me.
Unfortunately, those are the three choices that many struggle between or try to rectify.
Jeffrey R. Holland said: “I invite us to remember that perhaps the most repeated line in all of scripture is ‘It came to pass.’ Painful days do pass. It might seem that they won’t, but they do. No regret is forever. No disappointment is fatal or final. No mistake is beyond remedy (Tweet on Oct. 29, 2019).”
This tweet hits in so many ways here. But in that moment I was last night, I could think about how it would pass. I could only think about how these moments are going to continue to come. I could only think how there is no solution, one part of me has to be cut out of me, either way. Painful days in the church do not just go away for me or for my LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters. Being hopeful about the future comes with knowing that some part of me won’t survive, and that I will endure through that process still. It has come [in order] to pass. It was so hard to see that last night, but eventually this morning rationality was able to set in and those overwhelming emotions settled in the sidelines.
That was less than 24 hours ago.
It is hard to write about today, because of the fear of the response. But I think it is crucial to write about it today, because it wouldn’t matter if I wrote this 24 hours later, 24 days later, 24 years later, it doesn’t mean the same thing as being able to talk about and think about it like I was 24 hours ago, in the moment. If I had wrote about it then, the reception would have been so different. There is not the same room to talk about it in the moment as there is to talk about it even just a few hours after the feeling has passed. That is terrifying. If we continue feeling the shame of asking for help, of telling someone you are feeling suicidal, then it will continue. Men are more likely than women to die by suicide. Woman, I think, have a better chance to talk through those feelings with other people without the same sense of shame, and that can no longer be acceptable.
You might find it shameful to talk about. You might feel like that person is seeking attention. But you will also have to deal with the consequences of more deaths by suicide.
I am a 34-year-old woman. I worked for three years in the mental health field learning copious amounts of coping skills; I have been in therapy off and on for decades; I live outside of my parent’s house and can make my own decisions about my life and church status. What does a 16-year-old, transgender Latter-day saint living in a Latter-day saint household without any of the skills or life experience do? Where do they go? If they are not out to their family or friends, where do they turn? It isn’t the rational part, though 16 year olds have limited parts of themselves that are that, which will decide what happens to them, it is the horrifying emotional moments when they imagine these three choices are their only ones. There are some people who will say that the sacrifice of a whole person is better than the sacrifice of the Latter-day saint part of a person. I don’t think those people will be persuaded by any of this. I am speaking to the people who have the empathy to see the potential for disaster constantly nipping at the heels of LGBTQ+ Latter-day saints. What space has the Church created to save us when we are looking straight at these choices? The answer really is that the brethren have not. On the ground, there are people working to create those spaces, but the head leadership has not created a space to protect us. Affirmation has created that space, and I’m so grateful that I have found people in my area who understand this issue and choice through that organization. I hope others have that opportunity in their – or close to their – community.
In attempts for reprieve, I have been doing work. As a PhD student, I have comprehensive exams to take in ten weeks, so I spend a lot of time reading. I’m also taking a Yugoslavia class. So my reprieve is filled with mostly Stalin’s executions, WWII Holocaust in Romania, and Bosnian genocide and rape. You know, chipper things. It is a challenge to get away from sadness right now. I’m thinking through thoughts about religious minority persecution. Let me be frank, the Latter-day saint experience is not comparable to genocide, and I am not trying to compare this situation to these others. What I want to say is that religious labels apply to people through heredity and conversion, not because of belief. It has to do with culture, not whether I am a card-carrying Mormon. If I label myself a Latter-day saint its because I am one. The distinction in Latter-day saint culture between ‘active member’ and ‘inactive member’ is arbitrary. It’s made up. I get to claim my Latter-day saint identity whether I participate weekly or not. It doesn’t go away because I choose to love whom I love. We need to get rid of this status listing.
I am not going to go to church; I am not going to go to the temple; I will not have a calling; I am choosing mental health; and I am also a Latter-day saint.
I bought myself these lilies (pictured above) the other morning. There are many moments in the movie “Imagine Me and You” that hit very close to home. The women, as they fall in love, speak many things that I have spoken, that have been spoken to me by another woman. But one powerful moment happens when the two women in love talk about reasons why people buy each kind of flower. The protagonist says her favorite flowers are lilies and asks what they mean. The flower shop owner says, “Ask me about a different flower.” But the protagonist won’t let it go, “What does the lily mean?”
“The lily means ‘I dare you to love me.’”
Come hell or high water, I am daring love someone.