45 Narrative Themes: Tracing a Gradual Socialization

1. My child is hurting. Central to many of these accounts is some kind of conversation where they first realize or discover their child is experiencing unique attractions sexually. One thing that stands out about the larger narrative around that moment is the tangible, visceral pain about which so many of these mothers speak – starting principally with the hurt, difficulty, and pain of their own children.

For instance, one mother related how her son’s revelation of what he was experiencing included the statements, “I don’t even want to be alive” and how he “hated being alive and felt like he might explode if something didn’t change.” (46)

Some spoke of long periods of time where they had been largely unaware of the pain their child was facing. As one mother said, “He was afraid…and I could feel the fear in his voice. And I was afraid. What could be this terrible, that he could barely speak?”  She continued, “We didn’t know that he was afraid to tell us. We didn’t know he was afraid we wouldn’t love him.” (61)

Another mother related, “As he shared his story with me, my insides hurt. How he had known for six years, but kept it a secret from everyone. How he prayed for years for God to take it away. How much it hurt to attend church for all those years.” (12)

Other parents spoke of their own distinctive pain in witnessing what their child was facing:

  • “My heart ached for him through all of this.” (31)
  • “He is such an amazing person, I just ache for him.” (7)
  • “There is nothing like seeing a precious child in despair.” (42)
  • “I will never forget the pain that I saw in his face. It broke my heart.” (10)
  • “It was so hard to watch this creative, intelligent girl struggle in so many ways.” (50)

Another mother lamented, “My beautiful son. How he had suffered.” (12) After acknowledging her own level of hurt, yet another mother added, “Hurt my child and you take pain to a completely different level.” (4)

2. Grappling with visceral questions. Along with the raw nature of emotional angst, there are glimpses of families grappling with tough questions regarding the meaning of these new experiences. Said one mother: “When our daughter told us she was gay, we sat on her bed and hugged her tightly, told her how much we loved her and that together we’d figure out a way forward. She couldn’t see how it would be okay. Though I assured her it absolutely would be, I was struggling to see it myself.” (60)

Almost universally, all sorts of questions arose:  from “What does all this mean for his life and ours?” (31) to “What will his life be like? How will this affect his future?” (7) One mother said, “A thousand questions began to swarm in our minds. Eternal questions. What does this mean for our family? Are we going to be together? Will [my son] know love in this lifetime? Where does he fit in the Gospel Plan?” (17)

Another mother spoke of “Fearful tears of an unknown future, of the possibilities of emotional pain and physical harm for someone I love dearly.” (63)

After noting her own struggle with depression, one mother said “I was heartbroken and so afraid for him. I never wanted my children to have to suffer and hurt as much as I have.”  She added, “Most of all, I wanted him to be happy. I never wanted him to despair like I had.” (11)

One question that might arise for any reader at this point is:  why is there so much pain here – both for the youth and the parent?[1]

Of course, for any parent, it is not difficult to understand the pain of watching a child facing tension or challenge. Nor is it hard to understand an urgency to do something about that pain.  How exactly to understand and “narrate” pain (and its best response) naturally varies widely.

In this case, many mothers explain the source of their children’s pain decisively. As one mother put it: “There is nothing like seeing a precious child in despair over the knowledge that the plan of happiness he had been taught to strive for, which included the opportunity for temple marriage and parenthood…The plan that is the bedrock of our theology, would be impossible for him to attain as his authentic self.” [2] (42)

That particular explanation-for-the-pain is taken for granted across many of the (published) Mama Dragon accounts with remarkable consistency.

3. So much for our Mormon dreams. In sudden fashion, the moment of a child’s “coming out” is accompanied for many mothers by a sense of having to immediately and completely give up on many things that had been dreamed about for that child’s life. As one mother put it, “We tucked him into bed, told him for the hundredth time that we loved him, then went to our room and fell apart. [My husband] started crying at this point. We just looked at each other with devastation in our eyes. Mission, gone. Temple marriage, gone. Grandbabies, gone. It was almost unbearable.” (43)

Whatever Mormon future had been imagined for a child, for many parents, felt like it was now lost.  One mother recollected, “I…felt searing pain at the thoughts of my child losing the future that I imagined.” (33) Another spoke of “tears of loss as I said good-bye to what might have been, but knowing in my heart it never was or ever would be.” (63) A third said, “In…first few seconds, I could see my grandbabies float away as a whisper on the wind. As if I never really had them to begin with. I was devastated. I was confused.” (43)

Mothers grieved the dreams they felt had to be abandoned for their sons:

  • “My thoughts were instantly taken to … the loss of this ‘perfect’ future I had all planned out for him.” (43)
  • “I began to mourn the dreams I had for my son – temple marriage, biological grandchildren.” (12)
  • “I mourned the milestones that I would miss. No mission. No temple wedding. No daughter-in-law.” (13)
  • “[I was] mourning the loss of everything I knew. My beautiful little boy would not go on a mission, get married in the temple or any other thing that I had pictured for him. I cried for a good month. I couldn’t control my emotions.” (1)
  • “[This moment] would forever change the life I thought he would have. A church service mission. A fairytale wedding with a beautiful bride. And, what about grandkids?!” (3)

And other mothers grieved the prior dreams of their daughters’ futures:

  • “Sadly, I realized the big wedding she always dreamed of and planned for was gone, her Temple Marriage was gone. My heart hurt for the grandchildren I would never have.” (18)
  • “I had waves of grief as I thought about the mission she’d always wanted to serve. Her temple wedding. Her husband. Children. Every part of her Mormon plan was suddenly uncertain.” (60)
  • “Despite loving words from some ward members, the reality is there will be no Girls Camp for [my daughter], no callings as she becomes a married woman, and no temple marriage.” (64)
  • “From that time, it was not easy for me. I cried a lot. I cried at commercials and TV programs that showed beautiful brides being cherished by a husband.” (45)
  • “I spent many days, and all Sundays, crying. I was grieving the loss of the future I had envisioned for her.” (57)

As reflected here, the responses are intense and conclusive. Rather than a possibility to be explored, the gospel path is presented as a near impossibility – despite the desperation with which many of their teens still yearn for it.  As one mother said, “I held my sobbing teenager that night in the kitchen, as he chanted over and over, ‘I just want to be normal, go on a mission, get married, like everyone else.’” (42)

Once again, the intensity and finality of this process is striking. One mother recounted how “when my son came out to me and my husband, I knew I needed to get rid of everything that I previously thought.” Another mother’s account illustrates the rapid finality with which this grieving process commences: In the span of a few choice seconds, I watched my daughter die…and even worse, I saw her cease to exist. I saw every single iconic girl milestone pass before my eyes. I cringed as the thought of shopping for her first bra was thrown away. I hurt when the idea of her first prom dress, spun in pink, plummeted that day.”

She continued, “I saw the visions of dates, boys, dances and witnessed her future engagement disappear. I stood by and idly cried when I watched with my mind’s eye, the dream of her perfect wedding dress fade. I saw the grandchildren she could have had, and then saw they were no longer there. I saw my little girl, her big blue eyes, her smile, and her braided brown hair, then in the next moment, she was no longer there.” (66)[3]

The conclusion reached here (and across many narratives) represents a remarkable shift in perspective, as acknowledged by these mothers themselves.

My question for the Mama Dragons is simply: who taught you this?

I would venture to say no LDS church leader has ever taught that aspiring after these dreams is no longer possible for these children. If so, then where is that message being learned?  Who is encouraging parents like this to let go so conclusively and with such finality to hopes and promises held on to for so many previous years?

The answer to these questions shows up (to some degree) in the rest of these accounts. For now, I cannot help but be struck at the conviction many of these mothers seem to possess early on in their accounts, regarding conclusions that depart sharply from Latter-day Saint teaching.

They didn’t start off this convicted, of course. Because at the beginning at least, many held on to some lingering hopes of gospel possibilities they weren’t yet ready to give up on.

4. Our naïve hopes. Many of the mothers acknowledge early moments where they still clung to certain beliefs. For instance, some raised questions with their child about immediately adopting a new identity label: “How do you know? You have never been involved with a girl… You are too young to label yourself”! (10)

Others had early hopes that their children would still be able to pursue a gospel path: “I remember getting on my knees many times and begging Heavenly Father to change her, to send her someone that she could fall in love with, have a Temple Marriage and a family with. I lined her up with a friend’s brother-in-law, he liked her…she is sweet and beautiful and fun…and I had hope.” (18)

One of these same mothers went on to say, “My husband and I were, I admit, hoping that he would come home and be able to marry a woman!” (10)

These early hopes are pretty uniformly framed as initial naïve resistance to reality – moments they recollect with shame in retrospect:

  • “I cried. I said some stupid things, asked some ridiculous questions. ‘Are you sure?’ ‘How do you know?’ Questions that said more about me [than him]. (61) [4]
  • “I, of course, said some regrettable things about the plan of happiness, temple marriage, and what this means now, due to my ignorance. There must have been a hopeful part of my brain still thinking this might be a choice that we can all work to overcome.” (43)

Another mother said, “Probably the biggest mistake I did make is I gave my son an article [about mixed orientation marriage]. I think I made him feel awkward with that.” (1:30:00)

Rather than reflecting understandable hopes retained from years of Mormon conviction, these mothers speak about these moments with great regret. This mother who felt she had “said some regrettable things” about the possibility that her son could still walk the gospel pathway went on to say that these early communications to her son remained “my greatest shame.” (43)

The newfound conviction that previous religious commitments had contributed to the pain of their child becomes an impetus for many mothers – a call to action.  As one mother said: “I hated seeing him in that pain and knowing I was contributing to it. I think that’s probably what instigated my journey.” (53)

That witnessing of a child’s pain seems to be a core driver for so much of what happens next.

5. Getting online to learn more. Sparked by these early moments of need, many spoke of an intensive period of research: “I threw myself into learning all I could about homosexuality and how, or even if, that fit into the Mormon world. I read everything I could find by LDS and non-LDS authors.” (54)

This impulse was almost immediate for some. As one mother said, “After our conversation [where my child came out], I headed to the computer to do some research.” (44)

Motivations for going online were described simply: “to learn all I could about what being gay actually meant.”[5]  This mother continued, “This provided me with…years to read everything I could get my hands on: studies, articles, books, talks from church leaders and official church policy….as a result I learned of the wide spectrum of variations from our typical conception of male and female. I learned that, for some, a specific gender simply wasn’t their reality. This opened my mind to the possibility of beautiful diversity in all of God’s children.” (56)

One mother said, “I did my research and I studied everything I could find on the subject of Gender Dysphoria. I was desperately looking for evidence to assure me that this was real. I spoke with doctors, therapists, and Transgender adults to learn more. My past views about Transgender people were clearly distorted.” (64)

As new information is gained from the online study, mothers interpret past views from out of this new standpoint. Thus, looking back, another mother said, “most of all, I was uneducated.” (26) A third mother spoke of how she “became more educated about political and social issues. I read materials and looked-up resources.” (16) [6]

One mother said, “I read everything I could.” (54) In an experience that’s hard to not compare with Parley Pratt’s all-nighter Book of Mormon conversion[7], another mother spoke of reading through the evening online: “My appetite for knowledge about and acceptance of the LGBT community was insatiable. By morning, I would have considered myself a full-blown ally. The shift in paradigm was almost immediate. I woke my son up that morning with a new outlook on life.”[8] (43)

The language of Mormonism runs throughout the stories, as this same mother put it, “the veil was lifted and I could see clearly.” (43) [9]

Among the many things these mothers insist upon seeing more clearly, is one new belief depicted throughout accounts with great regularity.

6. Agency isn’t relevant here. Many mothers spoke of how they had evolved in how they thought about agency and “choice” in relation to sexuality. For some, this happened over the course of many years. After recounting a relationship with a gay friend who died of AIDS, one mother noted, “I began to question if being gay was really a choice.” (55)

For most, however, it was the moments surrounding the coming out when this really galvanized: “One day, he looked at us through tear filled eyes and said, ‘Do you really think I’m choosing this? Did you just wake up one morning and choose your sexual orientation?’ Those words hit me hard and really got me thinking on a level I never had before.” (20)

Another mother added, “If I had previously entertained any doubt that sexual preference was a choice, those doubts were completely erased. I held my sobbing teenager that night in the kitchen, as he chanted over and over, ‘I just want to be normal, go on a mission, get married, like everyone else.’ All I could think of was, ‘what kid in their right mind would choose ridicule over acceptance, would choose to be a pariah in his own religious community?’” (42) [10]

In moments like this, mothers describe experiencing a distinct transformation in belief: “I guarantee that when your own child, the child that you have loved and nurtured her whole life, comes to you and tells you that she is gay…that she did not choose this…you know it is true.” (26) After her child came out, one mother said, “I knew then it was not a choice.” (55)

This is experienced as a major revelation – and presented in the stories as one that contrasts sharply what they used to believe (and what the Church had taught them). In some cases, the teaching of the Church is presented in an unusual way, as if leaders had been teaching for years that people “choose” to feel a certain kind of attraction:

  • “I knew deep down in my subconscious that it wasn’t a choice. But, after so many years of society and the LDS church telling me it was a choice, I believed it.” (49)
  • “I wish someone had told me years earlier that you cannot just teach your children to not be gay. It is not a choice.” (37)

If this idea that attraction itself can somehow be chosen has been taught over the pulpit (anywhere), it’s a rarity and an outlier. [11]

For sure, Mormons talk about agency and choice in many other dimensions. Given that, I cannot help but be struck at how little attention is paid here to the many different ways that choice can be understood in relation to sexuality.[12]

With little to no attention to these fundamental differences in how choice is approached, a new conviction takes hold: “over time I came to the critical realization that I had no doubt that being LGBTQ was not a choice.” (56)

Okay, so what about those who continue to experience same-sex attraction, but choose to respond to it differently – to work with it very differently than many insist that they must – and who opt to remain in the Church and hold on to its teachings?

These accounts include pointed commentary about that question as well.

7. The dark, lonely road of church activity. Rather than a place of security, blessing, and possibility, a choice to continue actively following the gospel as taught by prophets is portrayed by many Mama Dragons as needlessly painful and largely pointless.

In particular, many comments portray a life in the Church as synonymous with an inherent life of loneliness, even “a religion that had no place for him and no plan other than to be alone and celibate.”[13] (59)

Compared to other Mormons, one mother spoke of the Mama Dragons as unique in knowing “that their kids were not put on this earth to live a life of loneliness and empty of intimate companionship as the LDS church required.” (8)

As reflected here, the plan taught to these kids in their Mormon upbringing (no longer) offers any sort of meaningful intimacy their child can aspire toward. This mother continued: “Right now there is no Plan of Happiness for our LGBT brothers and sisters that allows companionship.” (8)

If there are any such options, these are virtually never acknowledged. On the contrary, said one mother: “Within the current framework of the Mormon Church, there is only one road for [my daughter].” (64)

One mother summed it up by saying that while she learned how being gay is hard, “being a gay Mormon is impossible.”[14]

In short, these women paint a remarkably dire picture of those individuals identifying as gay/SSA who stay in the church[15] – a church, as one mother put it, “that really has nothing to offer [her].”

This narrative is voiced distinctly by the curator of the Mama Dragons Story Project who publicly accuses LDS Church leaders of “meaningless testimony” reflecting a “hollow love for all” that functions as “condemning these beautiful children to a life of hopelessness and pain must end now.”[16]

8. No more place here. Implicit in many stories is an expectation of scorn and intense judgment that their child will face about what these mothers have come to see as their child’s true identity: “I do not fear for [my daughter]’s place in Heaven. My fears about her sexuality are solely based on how others will treat her in this life.” (60)

One mother said, “My children were devastated…not because their brother was gay…but because they knew fully that he would be totally rejected. He would not fit into the life we have known, and we all knew it.” (56) Another mother said, “I was angry that my son had to go through this; that his life would be that much harder; that people would see him first as gay, and not as a human being; that he would be instantly judged a sinner by members of my own faith.” (53)

There is no question that Mormons, as all believers, can continue to grow in empathy and understanding. And there are too many examples of overly harsh responses to individuals and families experiencing this reality. That being said, I have to ask:  are these mothers’ evaluations fair assessments of the situation, or are they overly harsh themselves?

Note that the judgment, the rejection, the mistreatment is asserted as arising because of who each of these children are. Implicit in all these conclusions is a new conviction regarding the identify of their children – seeing same-sex attraction not as merely one aspect of their child’s experience or part of their identity, but as central and fundamental to who they are. The same belief pervades virtually all that follows, especially in relation to how the mother (and child) come to subsequently view and relate to the Church.

This new conviction seems to be accompanied by additional suffering. In one account, a mother recounts how her son asked “in absolute despair”: “What’s the point of going on? I can’t ever marry in the temple and have a family. How do I get to the Celestial Kingdom? What happens to me.” This mother responded, “I had no answers” – adding, “I could not advise him to keep coming to church, to hope for peace in the next life.” (42)

As another mother lamented in reflecting on a similar experience with her own daughter, “How could I tell her that what she had enjoyed her whole life now didn’t apply to her?”[17]

From this mother’s new vantage point, these possibilities did not – and could not – apply to her son…not if he was to live authentically.

And what, again, of those who try? With dramatic emphasis, this mother said the following about those who experience same-sex attraction and attempt to live the gospel pathway: “There are graveyards full of young Latter-day Saints who have tried. I would rather have him alive, living an authentic life, true to who he is, than to live a stalwart steadfast lie that backs him in to a suicidal corner.”(42) [18]

From this mother’s perspective, the alternative to her son leaving the Church to live as an openly gay man was only suicide.

Disregarded are any possibilities of promised blessing to all who seek to follow the gospel path. Ignored are the extensive expressions of hope and possibility for all to receive the fullness of blessings, including those who may struggle to see how those possibilities can work for them.[19]

In their place, a new, unquestioned assumption begins to take over:  namely, that these children are a different kind of person for whom the plan simply does not apply.

If that is true, then no wonder it’s only judgment these families begin to feel at Church, reflecting a deeply painful personal and familial recognition of this perceived lack-of-fit. Thus another mother spoke of how attending church for her son would be synonymous with: “Hearing and internalizing that he would never be able to have what the rest of us have” and “Seeing himself as less of a person compared to everyone else in the church, and not worthy of the blessings.” (12)

9. Time to just accept this new reality? Rather than having legitimate options regarding how to interpret or work with these new experiences,[20] there is a sense in many narratives of parents almost categorically being forced by the new realities of their lives to accept sharp departures from their previous convictions.

That is a message reinforced by many professionals. One woman recounted her daughter’s endocrinologist telling her “that it’s not likely she will change her mind. In fact, he said, he has never seen that happen. This IS happening to your child and you need to deal with it.” (64)

The same language shows up from leaders in this group, including the creator of the Mama Dragon Story Project, who writes about the process ahead as one of mere discovery of new truth:  “Through your journey of discovering about your LGBT+ child you will learn all kinds of things. Things about them that you didn’t know. Things about the larger community that your child is part of…”[21]

For a transition so intense, there is remarkably little evidence (at least in the published essays)[22] concerning critical exploration of competing interpretations.  The conclusion quickly becomes: My child is different => We don’t fit.  Another mother said, “My safe place shattered when I realized that my family was different. We no longer fit the norm.” (13)

Whatever unique configuration of sexual feelings arises in a child becomes (for many) the basis for a new basic identity. One mother expressed new insight into the reality that her daughter “wasn’t transgender, but didn’t feel female, either. Today, she identifies as asexual and gender-queer.”

Another mother said, “I came to the conclusion and knew in my heart that my child has been a girl from birth. She’s not confused in the slightest as to who she is. It was us who were confused. In her mind, she is 110% girl. And we’ve come to love that beautiful daughter of ours for who she is.”

For this woman, the case was closed: “I was just coming out of denial, attempting to grasp the idea that…I had a transgender daughter. Diagnosis complete.” (25)

Rather than exploring or questioning further this new perspective, what remains, for many of these mothers, is uncomplicated:  accepting things as they are and reality as it is: “I grieved for what was not going to be, and started the process of accepting what is.” (50)[23]

10. New beliefs about identity. At the core center of this new reality, as highlighted above, is a new personal understanding of a child’s true identity.

The question of identity, of course, has been debated for literally thousands of years – with various perspectives and approaches on how to settle the question.[24] As one openly gay dialogue partner reminded me recently, “The process of knowing ourselves, both in relation to how we see ourselves and how God sees us (and how we receive God’s knowledge of us!) is a very intimate process. (In fact, it might be THE central challenge of this mortal existence!)”

I agree with him that these are intimate and precious questions that people deserve space and respect to explore different answers to these questions. I’ve also seen in the stories of personal friends like Jeff Bennion how much of a relief it was for him to stop fighting same-sex attraction and to accept that this was part of who he was.

Across these mothers’ stories, there seems to be a fairly consistent stance about identity, namely that their child’s current experience of attraction (or gender) is fundamental to how they always have been – and how God made their children:     

  • “I quickly realized that people are born gay.” (8)
  • “I know now that my [son] was born this way, just as [his siblings] were born just how they were meant to be too.” (59)[25]

Another mother noted, “I had always learned through my religion that acting on ‘same sex attraction’ feelings was a sin – but this is WHO HE WAS, born this way, and I would never want my son to live his life alone. Everyone deserves love.” (1)

As reflected here (and throughout), in the process of adopting this new understanding and narrative, many of these parents come to see their child as a fundamentally different kind of human being: no longer fitting much of anything that was expected or that they were taught before. As a parent, they are thus come to feel beholden to a brand new role in helping their child function as this very different kind of human being.[26]

The dedication with which these new beliefs are adopted stands out – even to the point of parents helping educate their child about the new truths they had discovered.  This same mother said, “The next day when Grace and I had some private time to talk I explained what transgender was (something Grace had never heard of.) I pointed to his body and said, ‘here you’re a girl,’ then I pointed to his head, ‘who are you here?’ I expected he might say he had a boy’s brain, but he didn’t.” (44)

Another mother recollected the moment when she wrote in her journal, “Today is the day I got my 15-year-old son to open up to me and admit he is gay.” (7) “Is this who you are?” a third mother asked her son, adding her own lament that “he was scared to death to be gay.”

In reflecting on her newfound insights into her child’s true gay identify, a fourth mother proudly proclaimed, “It is who he is, who he was created to be by his Heavenly Father.”

As exhilarating as some of this new knowledge was, the thought of acting on it still felt daunting to some.[27]  As one mother said, “My world changed as I learned all that my child would be facing and what transitioning would look like.” She continued: “Is transitioning safe? As their mother, that is my job, right, to keep them safe? If gender is of eternal importance, how could this work for my child who had been the most darling little dancer and awesome big sister? What if they became more depressed? What if they changed their mind? What if this wasn’t what Heavenly Father wanted for them? What would He have me do?” (65)

In the face of such questions, one might think these mothers (and our community as a whole) would engage in a fierce and ongoing exploration regarding competing conceptions of identity, sexuality, and the resulting practical effects of these different conceptions put into action.[28]

As discussed earlier, however, there remains little to no attention to these questions – at least on a sustained or obvious basis. Instead, according to these accounts, it is much more common to see parents moving decidedly toward the answers provided within this new narrative being adopted.

11. Yielding to new knowledge. One mother with a child newly identifying as transgender said, “My husband and I sprung into action trying to find research that could help us help our child. We began allowing her to wear boy clothes with Sunday as the exception, and did our best to use the proper pronouns. One Sunday she was moping around the house trying to avoid wearing a dress and my husband just couldn’t take it any more so he said, “God doesn’t care what you wear to church. Go upstairs and get your brother’s suit on.”

She continued, “The smile on his face lit us all up with happiness and his countenance completely changed. We both knew there was no turning back. We praised him for his courage, but warned him that people at church might not be as accepting of his clothing. Nevertheless, his determination to be himself clearly outweighed his fear of being judged. As we approached the doors of the church building I could hear his little voice saying, ‘Be courageous…you can do this.’ Over and over again.” (5)

Another mother of a transgender-identifying child said, “Understanding Gender Dysphoria was not easy for me. As I discovered other mothers on the Internet that seemed to easily accept their child’s gender variance, I thought, what kind of crazy, free-loving, psycho mother goes to Forever 21, and buys her SON yoga pants and tank tops without batting an eyelash? … How could my thirteen-year-old make that huge of a decision? (64)

That’s a question others might be asking as well.

12. My child knows best. Throughout many of these accounts, there exists a level of trust in a child’s insight, capacity for self-awareness and ability to determine his/her identity that seems unique and even extraordinary, especially in comparison to other periods of history. On a number of occasions, mothers speak of receiving a comment from their child as a stirring revelation. One mother recollected how she “clutched my hand to my chest, and whispered, ‘Are you telling me that you are gay right now?’ Jon just shook his head, yes.” (43)

In essence, the child becomes a teacher for the parent. “It was an unusual day,” one mother recounted, “when my only daughter revealed to me that she was in fact, a he. Nothing in my life prepared me for those words. Nothing cushioned those exact moments.” (66)

Another mother said, “I didn’t know what ‘gender fluid’ was, as my child explained to me that she felt more masculine some days and feminine on others, and asked me to use ‘they/them’ pronouns from now on.” (65)

In some cases, it’s clear that these conversations gave the child a kind of parental permission to embrace everything they were describing as a new, legitimate reality. The same mother recounted a “period of three months…as we continued to talk and they [her child] continued to explore their gender.” Soon, the child who was described by the mother as previously having “been the most darling little dancer and awesome big sister” had shifted in this new discovery to the point that the child “began to embrace their masculinity, and felt a greater and deeper divide from their feminine presentation.” (65)

In this case, this discovery process ended with a particular conclusion: “Eventually they began using male pronouns at school, and continued to discover that they are actually transgender female to male, rather than gender fluid.” (65)

Another mother recounted the dear child she used to consider her daughter telling her that s(he) “had a boy’s soul.”  The mother recounted, “That answer struck me so deeply. I asked him to think about this, and pray about it. When he did he got the very simple answer that ‘he was a boy and it would be OK.’” (44)

After being told by their child that he was gay, one mother recounted, “[My son] answered a lot of our questions. [He] continues to teach us.” (24)

The child answers the questions.  And the child teaches.

In many cases, the parents also explicitly cease to teach ideas or standards they may have previously. Indeed, the idea that parents would actually know more than a child about reality is seen as arrogance.  As one Mama Dragon mother said in a panel discussion, “As parents, we are know-it-alls.  I think that we think that we know our children better than they know themselves.  I think that it’s an arrogance that we as parents have….My child was 12 when he came out.  And just because he is only 12, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know who he is” (bold emphasis her own; 1:27:09).

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, once a core view of identity shifts to such a radical degree, many other things follow.

13. Immediate crisis of faith. Following the self-described “shift in paradigm” and “new outlook” about her son’s true identity, one mother said the following: “Needless to say, this caused a great crisis of faith in me almost immediately.”[29] She added, “I could not make my new paradigm about the LGBT community fit in the same space as my faith. It was like one moment the light was on and the next it was off. I could not have chosen to go back.” (43)

It’s clear for many that the coming out itself births the crisis:

  • “When my son…came out to our family as gay eight years ago, my hurdle towards a major crisis of faith began…My conventional faith has taken a hit since my child came out….all of my beliefs have been upended and rearranged.” (42)
  • “I thought my spiritual journey was right on track. That I had all the answers. Then on [X date] our lives were changed forever. Our [other] child sat down with us on a Sunday evening and shared with us that he is gay. Tears flowed down my cheeks…not that he was sharing who he was with us but mourning the loss of everything I knew.” (1)

For some, this happens almost instantaneously: “Suddenly I had doctrinal questions about how this fit with my beliefs and my understanding of where my daughter fit in God’s Plan of Salvation. I breathed. My heart reminded me what I had learned when [my daughter] was a two-pound preemie – love her all you can and enjoy every second that you get with her.” (65)

For others, this tension develops more gradually: “As the months went by I began entering a faith crisis. The church’s teachings just weren’t making sense anymore. I began questioning everything, even religion itself.” (12)

In either case, deep upset can accompany the new crisis.

14. A crescendo of panic and grief. “This is the most physical and emotional pain I have felt to date” said one woman describing that time period. (43) Another described the time following learning of her child’s sexual orientation as “pure hell.” (7)

A third mother said, “I started sobbing. I sobbed and sobbed until I thought I couldn’t sob anymore. I was confused and shocked by my emotional response.” (16) A fourth said, “There isn’t a word for when fear, grief and love assault you all at once. We embraced on my bed and wept together. Everything changed but he wasn’t any different. I showered him with my love and assured him that we would figure this out together.” (17)

There is a sense of being “blindsided” by the new revelation from their children (10). Similar to the metaphoric earthquake that began this essay, another described the moment as feeling like someone “Dropped a bomb. Needless to say, my jaw dropped and we went to see a therapist the next day.” (64)

Another woman said, “I cried because I felt like I had failed as an LDS mother.” (57) And another described having an anxiety hit her so intensely that she thought it was a heart attack – sending her to the emergency room that night (7).  A third woman describes the day after the fateful conversation in language similar to getting into a terrible accident: “The days and weeks following his ‘coming out’ are a blur, but I remember the feelings I felt. I remember the soreness around my eyes from wiping away so many tears. I remember the weight pulling down on my neck, my back, and my shoulders while I shrugged and shrugged to shake it off. I remember my head hurting so bad while all my ideals, my thoughts, my morals twisted this way and that.” (66)

15. From beauty to ashes. More than simply painful and traumatic on an emotional and mental level, however, this moment for many entailed an intellectual and theological unsettling of everything they once held to be secure. Alongside the dreams for their child jettisoned, in many cases, parents spoke of their own understanding of a secure gospel pathway being profoundly rocked:

  • “My life was turned inside out.” (51)
  • “It rocked the very foundation I had built my whole life around…” (7)
  • “Learning my son was gay set me adrift. It utterly unmoored me. It shook me at my very foundation.” (54)
  • “It upended my notions of truth, happiness, obedience, loyalty, and in fact all that I held dear, including my perception of the character of God. I had to re-examine everything I had previously thought and at times thought I knew of a surety, to be true.” (42)

Another mother said, “I remember falling to the ground and telling God that I didn’t even know who I was supposed to be anymore. I can honestly say that those were some of the hardest times of my life.” (5)

The shift and transformation reflected in these accounts is moving and dramatic.  One woman described how much she used to love General Conference – until this happened.  Immediately afterward, she was emotional and in tears at conference as she heard it “through [his] ears.”[30]

Prior to this moment, these mothers report no semblance of faith crisis or doubt. In fact, quite the opposite.

16. A sweet history of faith. Running throughout these accounts is a clear (and important) message that these women should not be judged as merely “weak in faith,” and easily picked off by passing deception. Many describe pasts of dedicated LDS living (a dedication that some continue to maintain).  In many cases, this was from the time they were children[31]: “I don’t remember not having a testimony of Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, His Gospel, and the Church. As a ten-year-old girl, I remember singing with certainty in Primary, ‘I hope they call me on a mission, when I have grown a foot or two…,’ which I did enthusiastically.” (65)

It was all growing up: “I am a Mormon girl. Born in the covenant. Amazing family. I loved Primary and Young Women’s. I loved the activities and girls camp and youth conference and roadshows. BYU. Temple Marriage. I loved it all. And it was as natural as breathing.” (46)

And while raising a family:

  • “I met my husband at BYU. We were married in the temple about a year after his mission. We’ve raised our three children, now teenagers, in the faith. Mormonism has always been a huge part of my identity.” (60)
  • Over the next ten years we had five beautiful children all Born In the Covenant and life was good.” (5)

And while enduring trials: “I believed in the promise of a celestial family, and felt like the church provided the consistency I needed to survive emotionally through my own family’s trials.” (5)

And while living the quintessential gospel life:

  • “We were a very strong Mormon family at the time and so we prayed, had family home evening, drove her to seminary, attended the temple and sacrificed to receive blessings.” (50)
  • “I was the typical Utah Mormon Mom. Temple marriage. Three daughters. VERY active in our ward. Whole family at church every Sunday. Served in every auxiliary. Did our best with FHE, reading scriptures, serving our neighbors. PTA, helping in classrooms, driving carpools.” (39)
  • “I am an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I love the Gospel and have always strived to live in accordance with its teachings. My husband and I were determined to raise our children in a happy, stable, Gospel centered home. We did everything we could to make this possible. We followed the counsel of the leaders of our Church and thought since we had done this our children would grow up safe in this world.” (14)

Based on what is stated in these essays, it’s clear that these women were not just part way in prior to the momentous conversation mentioned earlier. Listen to three more:

  • I have been active in the church my whole life. I loved growing up in the whole Mormon culture, embraced it completely.” (53)
  • “I have given my life to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I served a mission when others felt I should marry my return missionary boyfriend. I returned home and met the true man of my dreams. We were married in the Oakland temple leaving most members of our families outside the temple walls. We have six beautiful children and have raised them in the Gospel. We have lived all over the states and with every move have given our service wherever it was needed. I have been blessed to work with the Young Women, to teach Seminary, to serve as President in the Relief Society, an organization for women, and any other calling I was asked to fulfill.” (1)
  • “I am full-fledged Pioneer stock. I was always a true believer. I went to BYU, served a mission, and served in many leadership positions.” (15)

This is important, and not an incidental point – and worth taking seriously.[32]  These are parents who had previously prayed for the gospel’s blessings to be with their children: “One of my strongest desires was for this daughter to be happy and joyous in the gospel. I prayed continually for this.” (50)

And the children, by the way, are not merely “troubled kids” either.  As reflected in these accounts, they are some of the best:

  • “He had always been such a wonderful son – loving, respectful, kind, caring, intelligent, a dedicated student, ultra-religious & spiritual, family oriented, and the list goes on…” (31)
  • “He was a good kid. Actually, he was a GREAT kid. Obedient. Helpful. Gentle with his sisters. Loved by friends and neighbors. Service oriented.” (46)
  • “She was a faithful LDS girl and was my easiest child to raise.” (55)

For many mothers, much of this Mormon momentum begun to change with the galvanizing moments described earlier, especially the coming out moment.  The implications of that moment are significant – with consequences that were felt in anticipation by some: “I felt crushed by the weight of those questions, and I realized that this decision would affect our entire family.” (5)

Once, while virtually all reported experiencing real shifts in perspective and while many felt a lessening of their Mormon activity (illustrated below), others continue to remain equally committed to Mormonism.

17. From safety to hostility. As parents lean into the possibility of their child’s new life, some recollected concerns regarding what they would be facing in the world around them. One mother said, “My thoughts were instantly taken to bullying, HIV.” (43) Another mother said, “The suicide rates for Transgender people were a sobering reality for me.” (64) A third mother spoke of “Fearful tears of an unknown future, of the possibilities of emotional pain and physical harm for someone I love dearly.” (63)

But as scary as the larger world seemed to be, there was a sense from many mothers that their child would face even greater threats within the Church, with another mother acknowledging “extreme concern for her [daughter’s] ability to handle the difficulties that being gay in this world can have – especially in the LDS faith.” (65) [33]

This was clearly yet-another-vivid-shift in how these women saw the gospel, in this case: departing from previous convictions of the Church as a kind of sanctuary. Now, they began to interpret and experience the Church – its members and leaders – as a real kind of threat:

  • “We did not tell our church leaders for fear that any other fall out would devastate our son beyond repair. I suffered silently…not able to tell anyone in order to protect my son.”[34] (51)
  • “I felt like my family was under attack by the same community I had looked to for protection. The same community we had loved, counseled, and served with year after year.” (5)

Speaking of her son coming out as transgender, one woman said: “He loves the gospel, but fears the people.”

Without any apparent exception, this fear was legitimized and validated by parents. As one mother said, “I was concerned for her safety as an LGBTQ woman in Utah.” (65) Another added, “It’s not safe.  It’s not safe for them there.” (1:39:50)

“Church became difficult. People said hurtful things” said another mother. After her daughter came home sobbing after an insensitive joke that referenced homosexuality, this same mother described how “She started going to Primary with me, because it felt safer. She’d sit on the piano bench next to me for the last two hours of church, but even that became too hard.”[35]

This mother later reflected, “Realizing that church was hurting my child instead of healing her was a painful realization.” (60)

Once again, the space within Utah and Mormonism are taken for granted as less safe than the world around them. In too many cases, unfortunately, interactions with members have confirmed this impression.

Rather than an acknowledgment of occasional misunderstandings or intermittent prejudice, however, the overriding sense through many of these accounts is that the discomfort faced by these youth arises largely and directly from Mormon attitudes and teaching.[36]

18. Fighting for my child. As a result of these other conclusions, many of these mothers reach a decision that they need to stand up for their child against (at least some) members of a church they used to regard as their sanctuary.

After witnessing her child’s pain, one mother concluded: “It broke my heart, and I resolved to protect and fight for this child no matter where his journey took him!” (10) Another mother spoke of her newfound “personal determination that, irrespective of what my own son’s sexual orientation turned out to be, I did not want to add any more pain or suffering to this group of people who were already facing an incredibly hard journey.” (56)

Finding ways of mitigating against and minimizing pain can thus become a central focus: “It was my job to keep him safe and happy. I felt like I needed to wrap him up with love to protect him.” (5) Another mother said, “I hugged him in my arms and wanted to make all his pain go away. I was on a quest to FIX everything.” (31)

Still another mother said “a whole new level of protection came over me. I now call myself a Mama Dragon. I could literally breathe fire if someone hurt my son.”

Rather than a general protection from societal threats, once again, it is the Church itself that draws much of these mothers’ concern. One mother who became convinced the Church was refusing to protect her child went on to discourage her child’s attendance at Sabbath services in the future: “When it came to the church, there was no way I could allow my child to return to what I felt was a hostile environment. Several adults had already made comments to him, and I felt like it was dangerous for him to be there. I just wasn’t willing to let anyone teach him that God wouldn’t accept him as he was.” (5)

As once again, so much depends on the earlier conclusions about identity. Compared to a belief that this is something this child is experiencing, the conviction that a truer identity of one’s precious child has been discovered leads naturally (and understandably) to experiencing Mormon teaching as a kind of  assault on who my child is – at times, seeming to launch a whole family into a kind of existential battle for a child’s happiness.

Another mother explained that she supports her daughters’ decision to leave the church because “negative things they have heard their whole lives have contributed to their anxiety and depression.” She added, “Heavenly Father has reassured me that he will keep his arms around my girls. There are times when I want to leave the church, too. Then the spirit tells me I need to be there.”

Still another mother spoke of “regretfully and painfully” admitting that her previous efforts to keep her child active in the Church were harmful – describing her regret at having “thought it would be best to try to keep him within what I thought could be a supportive structure of the church community—until I was finally willing to see how often he was hearing the messages of ‘we love you, but … you are inherently wrong, unnatural, unworthy, you will never be accepted by God, you need to change.'”[37]

She came to feel that these messages overwhelmed the gospel message “that God loves all of us, now, as we are, and we are to love one another.”

To those who would question this newfound identity of their child (and family), many mothers went on to acknowledge new feeling beginning to emerge.

19. The growing presence of anger. From the vantage point described above (and out of the process that led women to adopt it), these mothers speak of arriving at a point where they begin to feel real frustration. As one mother said, “Often my tears are mixed with anger as I am now acutely aware of the ignorant, hateful and bigoted attitudes that surround me and my child.” (63)

For some, this anger grew slowly: “With every year, I felt my daughter drift away and my frustration with the Church’s actions toward the LGBT community grew,” remarked one mother.  She continued, noting how “casual homophobic remarks, General Conference talks and the LDS churches involvement with Proposition 8 in California just slowly ate away at me.” (55)

For others, the anger began to take over other family members and influence perceptions in other areas: “My husband grew more and more angry at the church for hurting our family and for rejecting our wonderful son. He started looking into all of the rumors about church history and he grew more and more angry and more and more distant as the months went by. He was going…going…gone…” (51)

In almost all cases, as reflected in the name of the organization, the experience of these women involves some level of indignation and sometimes hostility toward the church itself.  One mother admitted to a fierceness that reached the level of rage: “Now I was angry. I was angry with anyone and everyone. If someone would look at [my son] wrong, I would rip their little heads off and hand it to them on a platter. I had an inner rage I didn’t know what to do with.” (7)

20. New estrangement. Based on the narratives I have reviewed, it’s fair to say that a typical Mama Dragon socialization involves a decrease in affection, faith, and connection to the current leadership and teachings of the LDS Church. Examples abound such as one mother who was reported to have “started in dragons as a fully active member of the LDS Church” and “has since asked for her name to be removed from the records of the LDS Church.”

The journey from fully active to LDS-repulsed is one deserving a great deal more attention and examination.  In this case, under the influence of this brand new narrative of identity adopted, these mothers predictably begin to struggle internally with their own experience at church. Another mother reflected, “When I would attend church, I would cry…always. I just couldn’t understand.” (7) And another said, “I spent many days, and all Sundays, crying” (65).

One mother remarked, “For the first time in my life I felt a large separation from the church, and it was almost too real at times.” She continued, “I honestly felt like I was being forced to choose between my faith and my child.” When she then described her move toward leaving the church, this mother added, “For me there was no choice, and it hurt like Hell to see that the Church wasn’t behind us protecting my child.” (5)

Another woman recollected how in a similar moment of pressure and confusion, everything became hard: “Staying hurts. The thought of leaving hurts. It all hurts.” (60) Still another mother said, “It’s difficult to attend church…I don’t do it regularly anymore, it’s too hard.”

As Kimberly Anderson writes, “For many Mama Dragons the disconnect between what the church would have them do and what their heart says they must do instead is too great.” Illustrative of this tension, one mother noted, “If I had to choose between my activism and love for my kids versus the church, there is no question that my kids would win. I don’t want it to come to that ultimatum.”

Based on all the foregoing, these mothers arrive at a point of almost forced-choice decisions: I realized one evening quite acutely how I literally could not be in places that would not accept my children, and that the faith I had poured my entire life into was one of those places. I cannot in good conscience sit in pews that do not fully accept LGBT+ people.” (62)

As another mother said, “I gave it a valiant effort to be sure, but my mind won in the end and I had to let my faith go.” (43)

21. Celebrating new dreams. From this same vantage point, mothers begin speaking of this distancing from the church in positive terms. Said one mother, “He no longer attends church. He had to walk away, to find his own path that would somehow help him want to stay alive by not asking of him to be alone all his life, but affirm his desire for love and companionship. He has spent the last eight years as an out gay man, trying to make up for all those years he felt he had to hide his painful secret, and is learning to discard the shame and self -loathing that his religious doctrine and culture imposed upon him all those years. I am hoping that he can finally see himself as I know God sees him.” (42)

Some use similar celebratory language to describe their children’s embrace of this new identity: “When he finally came out to us just after high school, he was excited to tell his dad and me. And I was excited for him.”

This mother went on to portray her child in almost heroic terms for making the decision he had: “I told him I was glad he was brave enough to be himself and live the life he was meant to live.” (11)

Youth are portrayed as almost heroic for being willing to walk away and live a new life. In the ashes of prior dreams they had grieved, arise other dreams for some parents. One mother said, “I look forward to the day joyful tears fill my eyes as I watch my son marry his sweetheart, whoever he might be.” (30)

From this vantage point, convictions these mothers would have previously cherished become troubling.  When one young teenage boy made a decision to not transition to a girl so quickly in order to maintain his church activity, that sacrifice concerned the mother: “[My son] prayed about this, and got the strong impression that he should wait to go on testosterone. We had planned on him starting male puberty before he went off to college, but instead he went off to his freshman year looking, and sounding, like a 13-year-old boy. We left the testosterone decision up to Grayson. I had great respect for his willingness to sacrifice to maintain his membership in our church, but I admit I was concerned about his decision.” (44)

It’s clear that some of these mothers reinforce to their children that the church has nothing much to offer their child – thus expediting and facilitating their departure.  One mother added, that “[I] absolutely support her decision to walk away from a church that really has nothing to offer [her].”

22. Purging Mormon teaching. More than simply letting a previously precious thing go, remnants of Mormonism for some become something awful and in need of purging. Said one mother: “It didn’t help that I had 26 years of LDS church culture and doctrine still influencing much of my thoughts.” (64)

Another mother spoke of reaching a point of trying to “let it all go” – following long drives to take her son to therapy.  She elaborated: “As I left my old beliefs and feelings behind on that freeway for the cars following me to smash them deeply into the ground to never ever surface again, I began to heal.”

She continued, “I had to work so hard to understand my own prejudice, my own lack of knowledge, my own beliefs and disbeliefs in my faith that it completely consumed me for years.” “It was painful and so, so hard. I let it go slowly…” (59)

23. My child above all. Throughout and reflected in this process, the love of a child is (understandably) central. This would be true of any good parent.

In this case, whatever these mothers see or understand as in their child’s best interest seems to be elevated above all other considerations – including priorities they used to understand as being God’s will: “I knew that no matter what I had been taught, I was going to choose to love my son for who he was. Choose to support him no matter what.” (12) [38]

Another mother said, “The most beautiful part of it all is that my son knows I chose him!” (5) A third mother said, “when we have to choose between our children and people saying that you have to choose they will lose; our children will always win.” A fourth mother stated proudly, “It is ALL just about him…how we can support him as a family.”

One mother described the entire Mama Dragon group as defined by this conviction:  namely, they are “strong, powerful and capable women who truly ‘got it’ and what it means to put your child above stigma and dogma and love them without condition.” (43)

The intensity of love becomes a central focus, as this mother then added: “I love my brave, good, talented, loving, and amazing son with everything I have. I feel like no other human has loved another as I love my boy.” (43)

 24. This really does hurt. All that being said, the consequences of these new beliefs, new feelings and new decisions are profoundly painful for many:

  • “One of the conditions of my employment is that I regularly attend LDS church meetings…. I’ve lost my career, my community, my friends, and my standing in the Church I chose to be a member of. I mourn all of these like the deaths of close loved ones. Dominoes hit one another and knock everything else down one by one systematically until they are all knocked down, and all that’s left after a lifetime are the ashes.” (62)
  • “I had to grieve my faith, religion and community. The loss was almost too much to bear.” (43)
  • “I am mourning the loss of a religion I had dedicated my life to” (mother interviewed)

This level of aching sacrifice for many is intense. In most cases, interestingly enough, there is little to no awareness of any other way – neither then nor now: “going back was no longer a choice.” (43)

In reading these comments, I find myself wanting to ask these mothers directly: If there was a way to passionately love and support your child (fully and completely) without divorcing yourself from the convictions and commitments you love (or used to love), would you consider it?  How open would you be to another way entirely?

That aside, based on what I have seen in these accounts, for many mothers there seems to be only one good or sensible option moving forward.

25. Who can help me? Many of these mothers spoke of how hard it was to find any information or support at all:

  • “I was searching for answers that couldn’t be found. There were no resources or support.” (12)
  • “I did not know how to help her, I did not know where to turn. I felt all alone, I didn’t know anyone who was gay, and I was embarrassed that people would find out.” (18)
  • “It was tough when I was first searching, there wasn’t any support” (Daily Herald)
  • Another mother described a time “she didn’t have any support because she didn’t know there was any.”

Whatever support did exist was taken to be surprisingly toxic and largely irrelevant:

  • One mother was reported as saying that “the only groups she had known of were those that wanted to change their children, something she did not believe in.”
  • Another mother said, “When my son came out to me and his dad, I was feeling alone and confused…The only LDS books I found on homosexuality were about pornography.”[39]

From this new vantage point, previous teachings to adolescents seem simply not to apply.  As this same mother noted, Mormonism “beautifully lays out how to have perfect children through dating and marriage…When you have a gay child, the church’s only instruction is ‘don’t do it.’ They miss all those milestones like having a crush on someone. It’s a big void.”

In the seeming vacuum, these mothers found Affirmation: “I noticed that Affirmation was having a conference in Salt Lake and had the overwhelming impression to go. I was fearful – I am introverted and hadn’t come out of my own closet as mom of a gay son. I asked my husband and son to go with me. As we were driving up, I had the distinct feeling that this was a milestone in my life that would change its course with no turning back. As we met with parents who supported their kids, the love in the room was so incredibly strong. I will never forget how I felt and how filled I was after being so empty for so long.” (36)

And they found PFLAG: “I found PFLAG to be a great resource.” (39) “One of the best things I did within the first couple of months was to go to PFLAG.” (16)

And they found the Pride Center: “Finally, I reached out to the Utah Pride Center” (33)

And they found “many LGBTQ allies”: “I thought about my sister…She had posted earlier that year how she was coming out as an Ally to the LGBT community. I was not sure what this meant[40], but I knew she was a safe space to land. called her up in the middle of the night. Through tears fueled by fear, I told her [my son] was gay. She got very quiet for a moment and said, “Meg, I can help you. There is so much to learn about this and I can help you with that. Can I send you some reading material?” Relief. I stayed up all night reading everything she sent me.”[41] (43)

And they found support groups: “We began to attend a support group for my child and I have met some incredible people there, too. I have developed friendships with other mothers and while our kids are attending their support group, we have our own mini-support group.” (33)

And they found openly gay individuals and couples that inspired them:

  • “I stepped out of my social reserve and met more LGBTQ individuals.” (16)
  • “I met and got to know many LGBTQ people.” (39)
  • “That winter, on a cruise with my mother, I met a recently married lesbian couple. We were on an excursion together and I struck up a conversation with them. I wanted to talk to them about my daughter but my mother was with me and I couldn’t say anything. After we were back on board the ship, I went for a walk by myself and ran into them on a quiet part of the ship. I was able to talk to them about my daughter, and give voice to the thoughts in my head. I said the words, “my daughter is gay” for the first time. I cried with these women who I had just meet and they were comforting and helpful to me.” (50)

And they found other mothers: “[I] received a call from a good friend who is the mother of an amazing transgender son. I can honestly and truly say that without that call, I would not be where I am today. She showed me that there is a positive outcome for our transgender children. She gave me advice, information, and a mother to look up to.” (33)

And they found the Mama Dragons.

26. We’re here for you. Given the build-up of fear, despair, and anger, anyone facing such tension would naturally look for a release of some kind – for someone who could hear and understand. Said one mother, “I could hardly wait for that time, so that I would be able to talk to somebody, to finally say that I have a gay son. I desperately needed someone who could understand my feelings.”

She was referred to the Mama Dragons, who were ready to listen. “I saw a Mama Dragons story in the Huffington Post and I joined on Facebook,” said another mother: “Mama Dragons helped me know there are moms out there like me.”

As reflected, the intentions of this group and others are simple and understandable:

  • “I became a Mama Dragon to help support other mothers and their children on this journey” (10)
  • “I needed to find other people with whom to connect, and I found the Mama Dragons.” (8)

Supporting others, connecting with others in a similar situation are some of the stated intentions – and also alleviating suffering.  Another mother said, “It became a nightly thing with us, sharing our sorrows and pain, not only about kids, but also about our church.” The reporter interviewing this woman when went on to describe the atmosphere as “a place to vent where the women felt truly safe, where their sisters had their backs.”

The release and relief of having a conversation to be able to vent and ‘get it out’ becomes galvanizing and unifying.  “I cried for days,” another mother said, “because I had found people who could understand what I was thinking and feeling.”

Speaking of her conversations with other Mama Dragon mothers, said one mother, “It was filled with unconditional love and safety…no lurking ward members. No tattletales. No judgement for un-sanitized expressions of feelings.”

Some speak of a real impact from these associations: “I’m grateful I found the Mama Dragons. Virtual and real-life friendships have made a tremendous difference in my life.” She added, “Joining the Mama Dragons helped to make me feel whole and I was ecstatic to be part of this amazing group. Knowing other Mamas has been life and sanity saving. I’ve been able to share deep, dark feelings and experiences of reconciling a church I’ve loved with a daughter and daughter-in-law that I adore.” (57)

Said one mother, “I was able to channel my grief into this cause. I really felt like Mama Dragons saved me, in a different way than they save other mothers and I have seen that over and over again, too.”

As paraphrased by one reporter, the originator of the Mama Dragon Story Project said she hopes that this project will “give hope to the women who are facing the challenge of having an LGBT+ child and feel hopeless.” One of the original creators stated that the Mama Dragons were organized so that “each woman [would be] no longer alone and at the mercy of the whims of misguided leaders but now able to stand tall with her chin in the air and banded with her sisters to right the wrongs and protect LGBTQ+ kids, young and old.”

As evidenced in some accounts, there appears to be some kind of an ideological litmus test applied to new mothers wanting to enter this community.  As one mother involved in founding the group put it, “We have tried to keep the group pure to our purpose.”

Kimberly Anderson described the barrier of entry in this way, “You must have a fierce and loyal love for your child that surpasses any scrutiny from outside sources. You must love above all. You must breathe fire.”

As reflected in these comments, mothers seem invited to prove in some way that their love for a child is greater than anything else, including faith commitments (which often seem to be experienced as two separate, opposing things).

To this point, Peggy Fletcher Stack’s storyline summary captures many of these same themes:

For these Mormon moms, their “coming-out” — as activists — often follows the same storyline: They are fairly traditional Latter-day Saints. Their sons or daughters announce they are gay. They search high and low for LDS advice about how best to love their children. They find their church’s mormonsandgays.org website and plenty of counsel for rearing straight kids,[42] but hear little from their religious leaders about how to help their gay loved ones navigate the path to adulthood. Their offspring mostly stop attending church. In desperation, the Mormon mothers turn again to the Internet. They find Mama Dragons.

Within these parameters of membership, new members of the community seem to be guided toward a particular narrative of identity, sexuality, choice, change, biology, and faith – which are sometimes spoken of as clear, empirical realities.  Speaking of this group, another mother said, “I have found support for me and educational support. I am learning exponentially faster than I would have. If someone has a question it’s right there for you including scientific research.”

More than simply healing and community, then, it’s clear from these accounts that all these associations reaffirm and transform certain perspectives and beliefs about what families are facing in a tangible way….starting with what it means to love.

27. We’re the ones who actually love these kids. According to one individual, a defining feature of this group of mothers (compared to other mothers) was that they actually loved and accepted their children who identified as gay: “I saw other LDS mothers loving and accepting their LGBT kids.” (8)

Another mother was described as saying that “before she found the group he hadn’t realized there were as many parents as there are in the LDS community that accepted and loved their children as they were. She said it was an amazing turning point when she when she was finally able to connect with these women.”  Another spoke of looking up to other parents who with seeming heroism “chose to love their gay kids” (allies dinner).

In this, and many other comments like it, there is little to no acknowledgment of very different ways of loving someone who identifies as gay/SSA[43] – or consideration given to very different ways a parent might choose to support their child in this circumstance.[44]

Instead, these women speak pointedly about the degree of their own love as if it is singular and distinct from others around them: “I believe God loves ALL of his children.” (31) Another mother pointedly raised her own wish that “I want those people to know there are those of us that love unconditionally.”

A third mother bravely speaks of refusing to love one child any less than her others: “There is no way I can love my bisexual children less than my heterosexual children.” (62)

Evident across many accounts, these mothers see themselves as attaining and embodying a level of love in sharp contrast to many other parents (and their faith community as a whole).

Indeed, these mothers self-define, in part, as having successfully not let religion get in the way of this higher expression of love.  As one mother said “Dragon Mamas teach and love and hope that religion doesn’t get in the way.”

As one mother said, “The idea behind Mama Dragons is that they love and support their children no matter what, and they protect their children from those who may not demonstrate kindness or understanding.”

Once again, the creator of the Mama Dragon Story Project writes, “The women featured in this project, each a Mama Dragon, have transcended any religious dogma or pressure from society and have chosen to love their LGBT+ child. Period.”  She adds, “Their love is stronger than any external force that can be exerted on them.”

She continues, “The unconditional love for your LGBT+ child is what brings us together in a common bond. That, and that alone, is enough for us to respect each other on our very individual journey through this life.”

28. We’ll love your kid (even) if you can’t! To other parents wrestling to support their child in the way the Mama Dragons aspire to do, they also speak of being willing to help. As Kimberly Anderson, the aforementioned creator of the Mama Dragon Story Project writes, “The goal of the project is to soften the hearts of mothers and those that are challenged with loving their child unconditionally.”

These Mama Dragon essays and portraits are lauded within one media outlet as “meant to serve as an example and a beacon of hope to those mothers, fathers, grandparents and friends of the individual who may have recently come out to them.” In particular, they are “supposed to be shared with those who may not have the same sense of hope or have not yet decided that they are able to overcome personal bias and religious tradition and fully love and embrace their LGBT+ child.”

In this spirit, Kimberly Anderson writes to the readers, “Thank you for watching and spreading the message of love.”

One mother reported that just posting on Facebook about the Mama Dragons has “opened up doors for other kids”: “There’s a parent they can talk to…Anytime I have a chance, I would love to help a kid be safe.”

Another mother said, “We see kids struggling, they’re scared to death. Parents are unaccepting or parents are frozen. Every child wants to be accepted.”

A final mother noted “Mama Dragons give children a refuge. They know their child is a miracle from the divine. You’re not crazy loving your kids.”

29. True love defined. After one woman experienced a moment of deep emotional pain, she recounted what happened when the pain passed: “Immediately after it was gone, a thought came to my mind; that is what [my son] will feel like if we don’t accept him and love him unconditionally. That’s what he would feel like if his family rejected him or withheld our full acceptance of him. That was my lightning bolt answer. That experience forever changed me. It was such a clear revelation to me that [my son] was exactly who God wanted him to be.” (53) [45]

There is also insistence that God feels the same way about them: “I know my Savior loves me just the way I am. That brings me true joy.” (22)

Exactly as you are.  Exactly as your child is.  No matter what – loved.  These are some of the central elements of this new vision of love.  To accept oneself fully is proposed as another kind of epic journey of mortality, as one mother put it: “my child’s journey to live an authentic life.” (63) [46]

30. Perfect. Because the youth in these accounts had so often felt despair about being broken and “defective,” it’s understandable that many of these mothers would try to speak in a way to correct that. More than simply affirming their love and encouraging their children that things would work out as they trust God, however, many of these mothers profess and express a very different message.

Describing one early moment with her son, one mother said: “Through my tears I told him how much I loved him. How he is perfect. How everyone loves him. I love him, God loves him, his family would all love him. I felt a frantic urge to get this across to him first. I also told him my tears were not of disappointment, but of fear. I never wanted him to walk down a difficult road. This is not realistic, of course, but I am a mother and wanted to protect him from any harm or sadness. I kept crying and telling him I loved him and that he was perfect…. I looked over at my husband and told him that [our son] informed me he is gay. I gave a warning look as I told [my husband] that [our son] is perfect.” (43)

Another woman said, “the Spirit has witnessed to me, time and again, that my son is whole and perfect now and doesn’t need to be fixed in any way. He was created perfectly, by wise and all-knowing Heavenly Parents.” (54)

As one woman let go of her belief in Mormon teaching, she reported “I began to see my handsome gay son who was perfect in every single way.” (59)

One mother involved in the founding of the Mama Dragons stated, “The day after my child came out to me, I felt two things very strongly by the Spirit. First, that my child was created by God as he was. Second, that my child had fought for free agency with all of us. My child is perfect as he is.”

Another woman said, “Looking back, [my husband] and I agree that Heavenly Father worked on us, softened our hearts over the years, in preparation to accept [our son] as the beautiful, perfect soul he is.” (53)

In no doubt, an understandable attempt to counterbalance the shame they feared their son or daughter had felt too often, these mothers embrace something of a new doctrine of perfection and love entirely.[47]

From this vantage point, the idea of any sort of change or plan of growth and progression being being applied to these youth is seen as offensive. Virtually unacknowledged, once again, are the very different kinds of approaches to change and growth being considered by those who identify as gay or same-sex attracted.[48]

In lieu of more inquiry about these contrasting views, these new understandings (about sexuality, identity, choice, change, the body) continue to exert its influence in subtle and significant ways.  As reflected below, one notable impact is seen in how women’s convictions of the gospel itself begin to evolve as well – accommodating and aligning with these new beliefs about sexuality, etc.

31. A new testimony. Fresh expressions of new convictions thread throughout parent accounts – many of which can be connected to the ideological shifts identified above. For instance, if same-sex attraction is fundamental to God’s creation or certain people, then it would make sense that some would then reach conclusions like this:

  • “I do not believe God made LGBT+ people to ‘overcome’ anything” (62)
  • “This is not their test or trial here on earth. They will not become straight in the next life.” (42)

As reflected above, these mothers are hesitant to suggest that there is anything their children need to face or overcome relative to sexuality. The second mother continued to share her newfound conviction: “This is how a loving father created them, with the desire and capacity to form a lifelong bond of love and companionship with someone they are madly in love with. This is my testimony, and I will fight for love and acceptance.” (42)

Much of this, once again, follows from the assumption that this is who these children fundamentally are – which identity delimits any possibility of love and companionship to be found within the Church. Given that, then it’s not surprising to hear another mother assert, “I believe we cannot choose who we love.” (43)

32. New doctrine about a new plan. In this case, another sort of plan would have to be available according to a merciful God: “I also cannot believe that The Plan of Happiness only applies to those that marry the opposite sex and have children; because that leaves out so many.” (62)

These mothers convey assurance at being unique among orthodox LDS believers in glimpsing a more expansive appreciation of God’s true plans, and a distinct vision of the gospel itself.[49] Returning to the mother quoted earlier as saying, “Right now there is no Plan of Happiness for our LGBT brothers and sisters that allows companionship” – she went on to say: “However, that doesn’t mean God hasn’t had one all along. Of course, He does. They fit just as they are.” (8)

Comparing herself with many other Mormon parents[50], another mother said, “I believe God loves ALL of his children and has a purpose for each one.” (31)

While most Mormons could say the same thing, these mothers go on to stake out other distinctive positions.  For instance, Mama Dragons have expressed desire for Church leaders to teach less about the priority of male-female marriage.[51] As one mother said, “All the things I was taught about the pre-existence and the celestial kingdom have had to change. I can’t believe my son won’t be with me wherever we are.”

Another mother reassured her daughter that “You are mine and you will always be mine.” A third mother said, “I do not draw a line at some interpretation of what motions you need to go through in order to be connected for eternity. The connection for eternity is love.” She continued, “That is stronger than anything, and dogma, and policy and death – and everything else that gets in the way, love wins out. So if you love anyone, it will last throughout eternity.” (1:24:31 – 1:25:30)

One mother spoke of coming to a similar realization about the narrowness of the straight and narrow way, “open[ing] up to see that every single path is individual and can lead to God.”

Another mother shared the belief that all will be well…no matter what: “Mama Dragons helps me reach out to moms to tell them that if they keep breathing and loving their kids that everything will be all right.”

Another mother stated “eternal families are … for everyone.” Some, including the Mama Dragon Story Project curator, Kimberly Anderson, deny prophetic teaching on the family altogether:  “I do not take the Proclamation on the Family to be a divinely inspired document. It says some nice things, but it is not the word of God delivered through man. I don’t believe that parents are given any specific role from deity.”

Rather than a departure from true faith, more than one mother insists that the actions of her family in disregard of Church teachings represented a higher level of faith required to follow another path:

  • “I am so grateful that [my son] and I have been led by the Spirit. And I know that even though it is hard to not ‘know beforehand’ that as he exercises faith the Spirit will continue to lead [my son]. I know the Lord has faith in him that he will listen and be led.” (44)
  • “After she left that day, I sent up a prayer of gratitude and the feeling from long ago, that “everything is going to be alright,” returned to me. I knew then that this was the plan all along, that God was aware of her and of me.” (50)
  • “I now realize that my Heavenly Father had a different plan for me. He had special things He needed me to accomplish in my life. It even says those words in my Patriarchal Blessing.” (12)

As they make clear, this new path forward for their family involves clear signs and signals of divine favor and approbation.

33. God’s behind this. In some cases, mothers claimed God’s revelation guiding every step: “I believe strongly in the Holy Spirit being a testifier of truth and that it will guide us in our lives. Never have I seen and felt this to be more true than in the past four years [of her son coming out].” (54) Another mother involved in the founding of Mama Dragons writes, “I feel God’s hand with us….God is with me.”

There is no question that many of these women have demonstrated and continue to demonstrate a real and powerful degree of faith. For instance, one woman said, “I go to my Heavenly Father often with concerns. He continues to comfort my heart and confirm His answer. I know that the Lord looks at me and my son with pure love. That is enough to continue through the unknown with faith and courage. I turned to my Father in Heaven for answers, guidance and comfort.” (65)

And to be very clear: I believe God has influenced and guided many of these mothers in different, important ways. There’s also absolutely no question that virtually all of them have felt God’s reassurance in facing these challenging situations and difficult questions. One woman said: “There came a very dark episode that I not only felt worried and scared for her, but it felt as if I had a continual pain in my heart that wouldn’t ease. I was praying once again about this daughter when a feeling of amazing peace and stillness came over me. I heard words in my head say, ‘everything will be alright.’ I felt strongly that it didn’t mean it would be alright the next day, the next week or maybe even the next year, but I had this feeling that it would be in the future. It helped me immensely and I knew that I would have the faith and patience to wait for this.” (50)

Another mother describes a vivid experience of God comforting her: “Then one afternoon something touched me in a way that I had never been touched before. I felt surrounded by love and understanding in a room where no one else was around. My heart was comforted and I felt calm for the first time in a long while.” (5)[52] Another mother described a moment that “love flowed around over and through her.” While another mother said,  “Love poured into me, through me, over me” – a moment on which she later reflected, “However much I love my son, his Heavenly Parents love him more. He is theirs, now and always, as he is, was and will be. We all are.”

These are truly beautiful moments that embody a common unifying experience of God’s love that reflect the “fruits of the spirit” Paul describes in Galatians. How exactly to interpret these encounters with God’s love is where the challenge comes in:  what Story do we put on top of those experiences?

The following account illustrates one interpretation. As another mother reflected, “My own experience is that, as I have prayed to know what to do to help [my daughter]—and I want to be honest, I don’t think I’ve every prayed more about anything in my life—I’ve gotten answers. Those answers were that I needed to help Grace transition to Grayson. So, we bought him a wardrobe of boy’s clothes, including a suit for church and he began to present publicly as male.” (44)

She went on to compare her experience to Abraham being asked to sacrifice his child: “Finally, that October, we talked again about testosterone. Grayson and I both prayed about it, and I had one of the most spiritual experiences of my life. I was awake in the middle of the night, thinking and praying about Grayson. The experience of Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac came to my mind, and I thought about Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice what was most precious to him. I saw Grayson’s sacrificing male puberty was that kind of a sacrifice. What the Spirit taught me that night was that God had sent Abraham a ram in the thicket, and an Angel to stay his hand. I saw that for Grayson testosterone was the ram in the thicket. I knew that God had seen and accepted Grayson’s sacrifice and it was time for him to go on testosterone. The answer Grayson got was, ‘Listen to you mother.’ (Years after this experience, I was sharing this story with a group of parents. As I said to them, ‘for Grayson testosterone was the ram in the thicket,’ the Spirit spoke to me so strongly that I had been called to be, ‘the Angel to stay his hand.’)” (44)

While spiritual experience is a commonality Mormon parents have anywhere, the different ways they might interpret an experience of love are unique.

34. A new trust. More than simply trusting online research or the self-reports of their own children as reflecting absolute truth, this journey also involves coming into more trust in one’s own judgments and conclusions as definitive and trustworthy. As one mother called it: “My journey to seek my own answers and rely on my own inspiration.” (53) Another mother said, “I am essentially on my own about belief and what I feel is right for me and my family.” (43)

Personal revelation is a feature of Mormonism that these women understandably embrace. Compared to other members, however, they do so as an alternative to prophetic revelation.  One mother writes that “we can call Home any time we want to for personal guidance, without an operator or interpreter.”

This is framed as independent, critical thinking: “I started reading material that did not confirm my bias for the first time in my life.” She went on to say, “Independent thought was both terrifying and liberating.” (43)

All of this new thought is also framed as a stark contrast to past experience in the church which is portrayed by some as unthinkingly obedient: “I believed everything I was taught, without question, definitely not a strong independent thinker. This was never a problem for me, and in fact, it probably made my life easier, until my oldest son came out as gay.” (53)

Whatever lack of clarity and certain conviction they might experience is sometimes spoken of as opening up more opportunity to love. As one woman said: “I let go of my expectations and supported him in whichever direction he chose to take. Life became easier after that. Accepting I don’t have all the answers but knowing I don’t have to have all the answers allowed me to simply love. And that is what I will continue to do.” (53)

In place of a variety of other convictions these women used to hold, these mothers go on to speak of how their new belief came to center around something smaller and simpler.

35. Just love. As one mother described her evolution over time both emotionally and ideologically, “The answers didn’t come instantaneously, but my anger slowly dissipated and warmth and peace replaced the hurt and confusion. And above all, the spirit of love was increasing. I slowly began to understand all I had to do was love him. And I finally understood that Heavenly Father loved him exactly how he was. The answer was simply love.” (53)

Instead of many other things they might care about, many mothers spoke of discovering that the only thing that “mattered” was love:

  • “That all their Heavenly Father would want them to do is love and support this precious child of theirs, and leave the rest to Him.” (12)
  • “The spirit clearly spoke to me – ‘Don’t judge, don’t worry, don’t be afraid. Just love him with all your heart! Overwhelm him with love! The rest will be ok. Eternity is a very long time.’” (65)
  • “My religion has boiled down to love more, judge less.” (City Weekly interview)
  • “After that, it was simple. My answer was to love. That’s it.” (53)

This new insight on love is presented as holding priority above most anything else. One mother said, “We spend so much time and energy talking about what is going to happen after this life…The one sure thing for me is that this life is about loving each other. If we can’t do that, nothing in the next life will make a difference.”

As reflected above, the strong insinuation is that learning to love (as these mothers do) is pretty much all that matters to God.  Kimberly Anderson suggests that “Jesus Christ gave three commandments. Love God, love yourself and love your neighbor.”

One woman cited scripture as explaining this conclusion: “In the Book of Mormon, an angel asks Nephi if he knows the condescension of God. Nephi’s response is, ‘I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.’ I don’t know the meaning of all things, either. I know that God loves His children. I love my children, too. That, for me, is enough.” (60)[53]

36. A new me. The conclusions reached in these accounts are dramatic, poignant, and personal enough that it’s unsurprising they would influence how these mothers see themselves and their place in the world (and the Church).

Said one mother, “Somewhere in the back of my mind as this new title and conviction were taking over every cell of my body.” (43) Another mother said, “I am proud to say I am now a Mama Dragon. I wear that badge openly.” (12) Five other mothers end their stories with a similar declaration: “I am a Mama Dragon.” (20, 24, 36, 42, 49)

As Kimberly Anderson explained her somber visual approach in the project, “My photography captures the steely resolve these women have in defending their children against the barbs of religion and society mainly through their eyes fixated on the camera, but also their expression of determination and resolve. There are no smiles in this project.”

This is consistent with the chosen name for the organization, reflecting an aggressive ethos, centering on an embrace of ferocity and justified aggression in defense of their children.[54]

Both mother and child take on new identities.  And in the case of children, some take on literal “new names” as well, another interesting appropriation of traditional LDS concepts into a dramatically different context.[55]

37. A new home. This group of aggrieved mothers becomes a new communal center of gravity for some. Speaking of the Mama Dragon community, one mother said: “This was now my home.”

She continued, “I am proud of the work we do and the movement we created. We started with six women, and in two short years, are now up to the hundreds and counting. A spark was lit and you cannot stop us. No one can stop a mother’s love and acceptance of her child. We are here. We are many. We are not going anywhere. We will fight for equality and social acceptance of this beautiful community until our dying, fiery breath.”

She added, “I have found great personal fulfillment as my role as a Mama Dragon and the community we have developed. Once I wrote those words on my blog, a few women reached out to me and shared that this is exactly how they felt and asked to call themselves mama dragons. Of course! I found my people. I found strong, powerful and capable women who truly ‘got it’ and what it means to …love [your child] without condition.” (43)

Fighting to spread these new convictions about their children becomes a new kind of mission.

38. A new mission. Subsequent to their children coming out, some mothers speak of a shift toward a new kind of focus for their energies. One woman said, “I began to speak up and out as a strong ally. I began to feel empowered with the knowledge and understanding I had gained. It was time to step up and speak out. We attended meetings, forums, social events, movies, plays, and conferences with our son.” (31) Another woman said, “I walked in Pride parades, participated in rallies and support groups, and testified before the legislature.” (16)

Another mother said, “I’ve told my stake president about the conviction I have that I am called to this” and later remarked that “this work is what I need to be doing.” One woman described this as a new calling from above: “I have been given a new calling to educate, to love, to help, to lift up, to live a life full of charity…just as our Savior did.” (12)

One mother said, “I walk in those doors every Sunday hoping to make a difference.” Another mother writes, “I hope we will all learn to fully love and accept (yes fully accept) each other.” Another mother states, “I need to let people know that I’m here for those children that are maybe shunned or unloved or told they’re less than perfect.”

As illustrated in the accounts above, many of these women see themselves at the forefront of a crucial, long-term campaign to help teach other members of the Church how to better love. In many cases, these mothers see themselves as embracing a kind of pure love which most members could hardly comprehend. In some cases, that may be true. In all cases, what is certain is that these mothers possess a new narrative of love that is distinct from what most orthodox members believe.

That discrepancy motivates ongoing sharing with other members. In doing so, those mothers still active in the church acknowledge how their view of church activity also began to change: “I stay in the faith of my childhood with the desire to be a voice of compassion and mercy, an obligation to be a comforter, an advisor, a friend, to any who have suffered as we have, as [my son] has.” She continued, “Maybe I can encourage a parent to affirm their child. Perhaps I can help a gay Mormon child want to stay alive. This is what my Savior expects of me. This is why I breathe fire. I am a Mama Dragon.” (42)

Another mother said: “I want to reach out to other mothers in this situation. I want to wrap my arms around them and tell them it’s going to be okay. That they were given this child for a reason. To stay strong!” (12)

As reflected above, motivations for staying active in the Church shift in many cases toward helping LDS members and leaders to learn and grow (and ultimately, to become more like them): “My husband and I are still active in the Mormon Church. I believe strongly in what author Carol Lynn Pearson once said, ‘Where we do not find love, we have the opportunity to create love.’ I feel like the most Christ-like, unselfish thing I can do is stay and look for ways to create love for those who might not otherwise feel it at church. Even if that means I am sometimes uncomfortable and discouraged.” (54) Another woman said, “I will fight for love and acceptance. For compassion and Christ-like understanding for these valiant souls from their fellow saints and the community at large.” (42)

This woman continues, “Perhaps then families like mine will not feel torn between a church they love and a child they would give their life for.” (42) As reflected here, there is a sense and sincere belief that if the Mama Dragon kind of love could spread, so much of the tension and associated suffering would simply go away.

Understandably, then, the work of spreading this kind of love comes to occupy this community’s central focus and energy: “I want to find every struggling gay Mormon child and cup their faces in my hands, and tell them how loved they are, AS they are. After having a front row seat to the anguish of my own beloved child, I must work to prevent others from having to face a potentially even more perilous situation, wherein their church leaders or even their own families reject them. This does happen. It happens in our church.” (42)

From this perspective, the best way to help their children is to change the world around them. Said one mother: “As a Mama Dragon I know the best way to do this is by educating those around us. We need to show the world the truth about our beautiful children, that it is not they that need to change or be ‘fixed.’ It is the world. And us Mama Dragons are determined to do just that.”

One woman described this as a high and ennobling cause: “I know I am living and working for something monumentally important to my LGBT brothers and sisters, families, friends and to God.” She went on to depict herself as living for the marginalized, “To the down hearted, the abused, the misunderstood, the fearful, and the hopeless…I fight for you and walk alongside you.” (67)

Mothers speak of their children joining them in the cause. One mother recounted, “I kept crying and telling him I loved him and that he was perfect. He took both of my hands in his, looked me right in the eye, and said, “Mom, I know. I am okay with this. In fact, I want to shout it from the rooftops. See, there is this thing called the closet (I couldn’t help but smile at this and his innocence). Mom, it is a place of darkness and depression. People go there to die. Mom, I do not want to be in the closet at all. I want to be a beacon of hope to other teenagers like me that you can be whole and perfect. That it’s okay to be gay. Mom…will you help facilitate a public coming out for me?” (43)

Speaking of her (now) daughter, she went on to say, “I believe she has a special purpose on this earth: to soften the hearts of people who don’t know about people like her. (25)

Another added, “I firmly believe hearts are softened as we show examples of Christ-like love. I’ve seen it in my life, with family and friends who no longer judge and criticize but show love and compassion instead.” (53)[56]

As reflected throughout these accounts, this path (away from the Church) is sometimes framed as consistent with the true gospel.  The core teaching and theology of the LDS Church itself, from this vantage point, is in great need of change.

39. Calling the Church to repentance. Beyond just showing love or setting an example, these accounts reflect a clear sense of duty to help wake up leaders and members alike to the reality they have embraced – even as a central motive for staying active. The curator of the Mama Dragons Story Project, Kimberly Anderson, summarized: “Many stay to be a voice of love despite their personal misgivings with leadership or current teaching…Perhaps the most courageous thing that the Mama Dragons are currently doing is approaching their local leaders with a challenge to include education and resources that can change attitudes and share real facts about the LGBT+ member to the general congregation.”

She said, “The sharing of these stories is crucial. It is through making our voices heard that we begin to change attitudes and create a more loving and safe world that we can all live in. Through these stories I would hope that you can gain more empathy and have your heart softened. The experiences of these mothers will show you that hardened hearts and naive attitudes can be changed.”

Kimberly concluded, “Attitudes of love and acceptance must replace bigotry, hate and a false persecution complex. Hearts of parents, congregations and leaders need be touched. Attitudes must be changed and lives must be saved.”

Contrary to any notion that a child needs to learn, develop, and grow, these mothers are insistent that it is, in fact, the adults, and not the child, who needs to progress:

  • “It was me who had to change, not him.” (53)
  • “They don’t need to be changed. This is our lesson to learn, not theirs. The only question now is how much longer will we force them to choose between who they love and the church they love. God’s love is unconditional. He wouldn’t force them to choose, that I know.” (8)

The Church as a whole is seen in desperate need of such change. According to some mothers, this is happening slowly, but surely: “But I see change, ever so slowly, but it is changing” one woman asserted. (53) Another said, “Our ward is not perfect…baby steps. I feel like we are the ones that can change things….baby steps.” (7)

Another mother added: “I strongly believe that families like ours are needed in the church to lead the way. As has been said, people don’t know what they don’t know. We can’t expect people to change if we don’t show them the way. (53) Another mother said, “I wish the Church could be like the Mama Dragon group” [which is a] great example for the church as a whole.”

In this way, some of these mothers seem to see themselves as missionaries to a wayward church[57].  Rather than seeing the world in need of greatest ministry, the Church itself becomes the body of people in need of the greater, more urgent evangelizing. One mother spoke of “seeing the immense need to educate parents in our congregations to love their LGBT children unconditionally has been a strong motivation for me.” She continued:

As I have stood at the pulpit of my chapel with swift beating heart, peering down at the congregation, I have asked them to reach out in love to those who are LGBT. It has taken courage I never thought I had. I have found bravery as I have pressed “send” on many e-mails to church leaders, friends, and family. I have found nerve and strength unknown as I have interacted with and tried to educate people in my community and leaders in my church. And mottos I have adopted from dear friends: “Educate, educate, educate”, and “Speak up even if your voice is shaking”. So be persistent, be kind, be courageous, be patient. Remember that we were once in the shoes of those we are trying to teach. (67)

One woman said, “There’s places that all of us can help….There needs to be somebody in those congregations that’s safe for those kids, before they are out.  And somebody that can educate those parents when they do come out.  And maybe to help gently shepherd them out of the Church when they can’t do it anymore” (1:41:20)

She also said, “That’s where you can have an impact, make a difference. Get up and bear your testimony…post stuff on Facebook.  Make comments in relief society or priesthood combatting negative or ignorant comments.” (1:40:10)

Others spoke of sometimes relentless work to try and persuade some leaders: “I met with my leaders many, many times. It’s a long, long journey for someone who doesn’t understand the issues. If you can influence a leader, that’s the best influence.

She added that “my motto is: ‘Even if you only make people uncomfortable with their paradigm, you have made progress.’” (67)

A decrease of suffering, once again, is dependent on others arriving at the same degree of insight as these mothers.  One mother spoke of “educating everyone – and that’s what we need to do as Mama Dragons.  If we can just educate everyone we know – and they can educate everyone they know….then when they have kids who come out, rather than respond negatively they can step back, ask questions and do research before they say something they cannot take back.” (1:27:52)

It’s common to see the Church framed as finally (eventually) coming to agree with these efforts: “I was happy to see the church make that statement on mormonsandgays.org” (albeit apparently still trying to conceal these heartening changes: “But trying to hide it – but sad to see that site buried deep in lds.org where no one could find it.” (8)

One mother spoke of her own hope of new revelation yet to come: “For the first time in my life I thought, ‘The Prophet and Church is wrong about something.’ I clung to the Ninth Article of Faith of our church which reads: ‘We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.’” (8)

Rather than look to the current leadership of the Church, this mother suggests that the Mama Dragons are the ones who need to lead the way.

40. Getting louder. Drawing on this progressive, iterative, evolving socialization charted above, some women speak of ending up in a place where they want to be bolder and louder in proclaiming their new witness to the world:

  • One woman spoke of learning to be assertive for her child: “I am a people pleaser. Good or bad, this is who I am. This trait did not serve me well concerning my son. To make things comfortable, I would ignore behavior or say, ‘It’s okay’ when it wasn’t. I kept quiet when I should have used my voice.” (13)
  • Another mother emphasized the importance of speaking up for her child: “I don’t think that any of us expected to have this be part of our lives, but having faced it alone 15 years ago I am now committed to being open and vocal in support of the issues that are facing our LGBTQ children and adults!” (10)
  • Others make declarations that position themselves as heroic: “Some question me about why I choose to be so vocal about our life, or why I feel so protective of the LGBT community and choose to engage with others who believe that LGBT individuals are sinners or evil. I know there are some that need to remain silent. I won’t let my silence contribute to the fear that is deadly to so many. I stayed silent long enough and never want my son to doubt again that I stand with him and support him in all that he is.” (35)
  • Another mother said, “As for me, I proudly carry the title of Mama Dragon and always will. I will NEVER be afraid to stand up to protect my own son, children and others who stand in need of my support, defense and love!” (31)[58]

With growing confidence to speak, these women say more about the new happiness, growth, and goodness they have found.

41. My child is happier than ever. The path these women point out, they insist, is one that leads to greater happiness than before for their children. Said one mother, “We helped our daughter with a full social transition last summer before the new school year where she would start 2nd grade as a girl. We now only know her as our daughter, our bright and happy princess with loads of friends, a love of learning and a huge smile on her face wherever she goes. She is happy and full of joy and our love for her has only multiplied through our beautiful journey.” (25) [59]

Another said, “But I know that my now son… is happier than I have seen him since he was eleven.” (65) One mother said, “I saw this light in his eyes after he came out to us.”

One mother described her older daughter’s newfound happiness, “Toward the end of P.A. school she brought a woman home with her to meet our family. I could tell that this was an important relationship for her. My daughter was glowing and radiated a happiness that I hadn’t seen in her before.” (5) Another mother reflected that her son “today is…the happiest boy” as he prepares to attend graduate school.”

Another insisted that the very evolution her child experienced is life-saving and essential to happiness: “Without this process, life will be dark and lonely.” She continued: “since the time our family’s story came out publicly, I have learned firsthand that there are still many hiding inside a very dark and lonely closet, and these children belong to all of us, just as they are all children of God.” (56)

42. I am better than ever too. Mothers also describe themselves as being better off. One mother related that “Finally being able to openly celebrate [my son] for exactly who he is has brought me so much peace.” (56) A second said: “I feel more true to my passionate heart than I ever have in my life.” (67)

Others speak of this entire process as refining them for the better: “I am so grateful for my journey, for my more open, accepting, loving heart. I am completely changed and that beautiful change came because I was blessed to gave birth to a gay son!” (59)

Despite the pain, these mothers speak of how these events have ushered them into a new life of greater goodness: “I have also been pleasantly surprised to find that I have a strong moral compass and what drives me to do good and be good comes from my love of humanity. I ‘love’ love. I love all creatures alike. How could I or anyone deny someone of their pursuit of happiness? Indeed I cannot. I have a great love for this beautiful community we now find ourselves immersed in.” (43)

There is insistence that this passion they feel represents the true love of God: “True love My savior was the greatest example of love. Love for everyone in any circumstance. No exceptions. I wanted to be that for my son. I also realized I wanted to be that for all God’s LGBTQ+ children.” (12)

Improving even more in the ability to love in this way is discussed as a crucial ongoing personal need:

  • “Every day, I do my best to become a more open and loving person.” (33)
  • “I need to keep improving to be truly loving and non-judgmental.” (interview)

Another noted that “My conventional faith has taken a hit since my child came out, but my capacity for love and empathy has increased ten-fold.” (42)

Despite the difficulties and painful sacrifices, one mother pointed out that the cost was all worth it: “I have also learned that being a Mama Dragon can be exhausting” – pointing out that “We have to let go of unhealthy relationships; we have to make brand new friends who understand and support us. We have to make hard choices about our lives that aren’t easy.  No, being a Mama Dragon isn’t always easy, but it is the best way to live.” (67)

43. Saved by my child. A number of mothers speak of the experience of having a gay son or daughter as a big part of what has unleashed many of these personally transformative shifts.

One woman said, “Being the mother of a gay son has challenged me, strengthened me, caused me pain, given me joy, and turned me into the person my Heavenly Father wanted me to be. I am grateful for this path I’ve been given, and will walk it with pride.” She added, “Through the twists and turns down this unexpected road, I have found a part of myself I wouldn’t have found otherwise.”

She continued, “I’m so thankful for the change I see in myself. My eyes have been opened to see the suffering of all God’s children. My love and appreciation towards them is intensified. The commandment to love one another means more to me than it ever did.” (12)

Others speak glowingly of their experiences as mothers:

  • “Having a gay child has been one of the greatest blessings of my life, and I will be forever grateful for my part as her mother.” (16)
  • “I am grateful for a loving God who has allowed me to walk on this path!” (10)
  • “I’ve met incredible people and had amazing experiences, and my life has been altered unimaginably, all because I’ve been blessed with a gay son.” (11)

The happiness of her child, according to one mother, is the central driver to her life: “It was his courage that picked me up when it was down, and it is his happiness that drives me forward now.” (5)

Another mother said, “I am forever changed in all the best ways, free from the burden of my previous beliefs” – adding, “I now openly breathe fire and truth for my children.” (32)

The fervent expressions of praise are considerable.  So are there any regrets?

44. Regrets and wishes. Regrets expressed in these essays center on not arriving at these newfound insights sooner – in a way that would perhaps, from their vantage point, have spared suffering for their children even earlier. Said one mother: “I shed lots of tears, in all their varieties. Tears heavy with regret of being unable to discover the source of pain my child was experiencing and the years she suffered in silence. I cry tears wishing to rewind the years, to be more supportive of a child who so desperately needed, but did not know how to ask for help.”

She went on to speak of “Tears of shame as I realize that it was not until my child gained the courage to live an authentic life that I was, albeit unknowingly, sharing many of those attitudes I now find so hurtful – sometimes even in the presence of my child.” (63)

Other mothers shared deep, ongoing regret at comments they had made in passing at the time. As one described: “It’s every parent’s nightmare. Our kid tells us something we weren’t expecting, we blurt out a response we immediately regret and it’s too late to take it back.” Another mother said the following about what she called “probably my deepest regret”: “Rather than taking a step back and breathing before I responded, I responded poorly and said ‘no, you’re not a boy – you were born a girl.  You have always been a girl.  You are a girl.’” (1:26:50)

Another cautioned soberly, “Before you make that knee-jerk reaction. Before you respond and potentially say something you can potentially never take back, you need to educate yourself.” (1:27:40)

To move even more quickly on the internet research was another wish.  As another mother said, “Looking back, the thing I regret the most was that I didn’t research or learn what it meant to be gay the minute he told us.” (23)

Some speak with regret that they had been so naïve to be Mormon, wishing they had avoided the Church altogether: “If I had known that the baby boy I was carrying would be gay I would not have raised him in the LDS church. I wouldn’t have sent him off to Primary and Young Men’s every Sunday where he learned the only way to be happy and please God was to marry a woman. I wouldn’t have put him in Seminary where he learned that it’s a sin for two men to be together. I wouldn’t have put up the Family Proclamation and held weekly Family Home Evenings where my husband and I taught him that marriage was only between a man and woman.” (8)

The first mother went on to speak as if every moment of Mormonism was a step of hurting her child, talking about “not knowing that every time I taught a point of doctrine or aligned myself with a culture of intolerance, I was actually pushing my child further away from me and deeper into self-hatred and despair.” (63)

Another mother expressed a wish at having been there earlier to truly love him: “If I could go back in time, my son would know of my unconditional love. He would never, ever question that. He would know he could share what was truly in his heart and know that I have his back. He would know that he is my priority.” (13)

There is also wondering whether they could have stopped the pain earlier through earlier action: “Could I have protected him? Would I have stepped in to interfere with anyone who could have suggested he was somehow wrong, somehow not worthy of God’s love?” (61)[60]

Speaking of her son’s hesitance to tell them earlier in his life because he thought they “wouldn’t be able to accept him,” one mother explained how her heart ached – reflecting on how this earlier wondering from her son was “heartbreaking to me!”  (10)

One of these mothers added, “I wish I could go back in time. There are so many things I would do differently.” (13) Reflecting on what she would do over again, this woman continued, “I would somehow help my son understand that he is most certainly not broken. I would cry with him when he felt so alone and scared. I would hold him when he felt depressed thinking that there wasn’t a place for him at church or even in our own family. If I could go back, I would find courage; courage to face difficult things so that maybe I could have been there for my son when he really needed me.” (13)

45. Re-framing the past as naïve and ridiculously narrow. As happens when people make significant shifts,[61] events in their past can get reinterpreted in interesting ways. In one case, a mother said the following about the way she used to believe she was a loving person in the Church: “I thought I was doing that before, but I realized I was still judging, holding him up to my expectations.” (53)

Portraying the previous happiness she experienced as unique only to those who are able to conform to a narrow, unrealistic standard, one woman stated: “I started teaching at a Church University [in 200x]. I was living my dream. Great husband, great children, great church, great career. I loved teaching. Life is good in the Church when you are heterosexual and happily married.” (62)

Another woman spoke of her past view of trials as parochial and quaint: “I used to wear my trials like a badge of honor. It felt like I could handle anything life tossed at me, as long as I could fit my trials inside that perfect box that I believed in. I lost my mother at a young age, as well as an infant son. However, these trials did not threaten my eternal family. We experienced financial difficulties but material things didn’t matter. My family was intact. No matter what life had in store for us, we were going to be okay in the next life.” (13)

In some cases, these beliefs are portrayed in ways that make them seem almost laughable: “I did not want a gay child. I thought that being gay came from a dysfunctional childhood riddled with mommy/daddy/child issues. There was no way a child was born gay, but rather ‘resorted’ to being gay because of a rotten relationship with his dad or mom. But with counseling that relationship could be discovered and course corrected!” (8)

In other times, the teachings of Church leaders are repeated in a way that feels clearly like a profound misrepresentation. One mother spoke of church materials which she turned to for guidance about homosexuality: “the LDS materials were truly horrific. The message I was receiving by my local leaders, family members, and printed text was that my son was broken in an irreparable way. That he would have to suffer through a truly horrific Earthly existence until he died, at which time he would be ‘fixed’ and be made straight like the rest of us.” (54)

Is that really what Mormons believe? Has any Mormon leader (ever) taught that gay individuals are “broken in an irreparable way” and fated to “suffer through a truly horrific Earthly existence” until death?

And if not, then why is she saying it? And who taught her to believe it?


To continue onto the main final section, click here: Larger Reflections, Discussion & Proposals


[1] How exactly pain is interpreted or “narrated” is one of my central interests as a writer and researcher.  In many cases, the various possible ways of “storying” pain are overlooked in favor of one way that is accepted as “reality.”  That certainly seems to be the case here.

[2] A combination of italics and underscore reflects my own emphasis, highlighting text within the authors’ comments.

[3] Once accepted as reality, many other things follow….in some cases, very quickly and immediately.

[4] I’m struck that these previous wonderings are now seen as patently ridiculous, rather than somewhat reasonable, sensible, and understandable for someone who believes what Mormons believe?

[5] The sense here is that information available online about being objective was objective and noncontroversial, with the primary simply becoming educated on it: “Step by step, we became better informed.” (10) Little to no acknowledgement is typically made of the value of exploring disagreements that exist between thoughtful voices in this discussion, aka Kendall Wilcox, Ty Mansfield & John Gustav-Wrathall’s takes.

[6] Once again, notice the emphasis here is not exploring the varied and contested views of sexuality and how to make sense of gay identity and same-sex attraction (reflected in organizations like Affirmation and North Star) – nor considering where these approaches lead in terms of comparative outcomes. The focus is, simply, to become “educated.” According to some of these mothers, the essential problem with church leaders is simply put, a lack of willingness to “research the truth” and “become educated.”  As one mother put it, “I hope and pray that someday the Church can start to really research and educate themselves before they come up with these policies against our LGBT community.” (1:37:45)

[7] Parley Pratt said, “I read all day; eating was a burden, I had no desire for food; sleep was a burden when the night came, for I preferred reading to sleep.” Another mother related a similar experience, after being told “There is so much to learn about this and I can help you with that. Can I send you some reading material?”  She said, “I stayed up all night reading everything she sent me.” (43)

[8] She went on to say, “I told him that I know he is gay and that it is perfectly okay with me. See, I told him all these things the night before, but now I knew it without a doubt.” Illustrating how we not only tell stories, but we live them out, this woman continued, “And this is the road we all went down from there.” (43)

[9] I do not doubt that many of these mothers have received divine guidance and legitimate revelations that are powerful, as noted in the concluding discussion. At the same time, these stories often reflect an appropriation of LDS terminology for concepts and conclusions that are remarkably non-LDS.

[10] This is an example of the kind of emotionally-charged experience (and dramatic retelling of that experience), that is hard to question on any level. How could someone not have their heart-strings tugged by this?

[11] No one can honestly claim otherwise. In my review of thousands of articles and comments (as well as over a decade of conversation and study), I’ve rarely – if ever – found anyone (Mormon or otherwise) professing a belief that attraction itself is chosen. The choice that religious teachers have voiced for decades is how one responds to that attraction (a choice that all human beings have). For instance, in 1995 Elder Dallin H. Oaks stated, “All of us have some feelings we did not choose, but the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us that we still have the power to resist and reform our feelings (as needed) and to assure that they do not lead us to entertain inappropriate.” Both of the Church’s websites, Mormons and Gays and the current Mormon and Gay site also state such feelings are not a choice, but that people can choose how to act in response to them.

Notably, this is a distinction that rarely comes up in the broader public conversation and literally never comes up in these essays – not once. Nor are any citations ever provided of leaders teaching that the attraction itself is chosen (because they do not exist; cited teaching all emphasizes the behavior, not the feelings, as chosen). Ignoring this distinction, the common accusation remains deliberately broad – that religious folks teach “being gay is a choice,” when, in fact, they insist that NO such choice is available to those who identify as gay (other than following their attraction). One woman describes her father leaving her family when she was 13 after he came out as gay: “He simply walked away physically and emotionally. It was devastating.” She reflects on her naiveté at the time, as a devastated child, to think: “I was sure he could have made a different choice!” (10) From a Mormon perspective, the answer is clear:  Yes, he certainly could have!

[12] In addition to the following article, laying out some of the main distinctions (What role does choice play in identity development and working with physical sensation or emotion?), these two pieces also delve into distinctions worth discussing :

We don’t agree on what “choice” means…can we talk about it?; Can conversation about choice be gentle and generous – or is it inherently harsh?

[13] It’s hard not to point out that by almost every measure, this is a remarkable misrepresentation of what the Church actually teaches, since no leader has ever suggested that celibacy is the only option. Perhaps part of the confusion arises from President Hinckley’s caution against marriage being dramatically over-interpreted to mean marriage ought not even be considered a possibility.  Overall, despite the dogged emphasis on diversity, there seems to be little openness to diverse ways of working with sexual experience – especially not to a way of doing so that aligns with orthodox Mormon and Judeo-Christian teaching.

[14] Jeff Bennion (a man who experiences same-sex attraction, but is happily married to Tanya) once lamented how this predominant narrative “REQUIRES the erasure of [his own narrative]. I simply don’t exist in their narrative. I can’t.”

[15] From these women (and other activist groups), there has been fairly consistent hostility to those who pursue that path – with active efforts to accuse individuals like Ty Mansfield and Jeff Bennion who seek out temple marriage (and are recognized for that) as functioning as a dangerous “poster child.”

[16] Who is condemning those (who choose to stay in a church) to a “life of hopelessness and pain”? That would be…you, Kimberly, right!? (since no church leader has ever voiced anything so despairing and dire).

[17] Yes, how could you? And why would you? The message from prophets has been consistent:  promised blessings are available to all. Contrary to the mother who said “I could not advise him to keep coming to church, to hope for peace in the next life” (42), the prophetic teaching is clear: “The righteous will receive peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to comeD&C 59:23.

[18] As I have written about elsewhere, there are many reasons to believe that irresponsible, dramatically exaggerated and simplistic statements such as this are contributing (and have contributed) to suicidal ideation among youth.  See: Yes, Let’s PLEASE Have a Serious Conversation About Suicide!  Questions for the Public Conversation

Can we stop pretending there is only ONE reasonable explanation for the tragic suicides of LGBT-identifying religious youth?

[19] This is repeated many, many, many times in General Conference across many situations. For instance, President Benson’s comment to single women: “If those of you in this situation are worthy and endure faithfully, you can be assured of all blessings from a kind and loving Heavenly Father—and I emphasize all blessings. I assure you that if you have to wait even until the next life to be blessed with a choice companion, God will surely compensate you. Time is numbered only to man. God has your eternal perspective in mind” (October, 1998, “To the Single Adult Sisters of the Church”).

[20] Such as this:  What does it mean to force or fight or resist one’s sexuality?

Or this: Beyond forcing and fighting sexual attraction: Two ways people seek to move to a healthier place

Or this: Two Ways to Come Out

Or this:  What does it mean when someone accepts experiencing same-sex attraction or being gay?

[21] Taken for granted in these statements are: (a) that the child is appropriately part of the openly gay community and (b) once again, that the “knowledge” about that community is obvious and no-brainer evident.

[22] No doubt, had I an opportunity to directly interview these women, there would be more of this kind of critical inquiry. I can’t imagine families not having anguished, searched, and explored intensely – at least for a time (as evident in the accounts).  It’s also not difficult to understand why these mothers might deemphasize or avoid certain things for the purpose of a persuasive essay writing project. In other words, these are not mere personal accounts, but persuasive essays meant to invoke certain feelings in the reader.  As such, I acknowledge that these mothers have left out certain things and emphasized others. Rather than an analysis of straight-up lived interpretation of lives, this is an analysis of interpretations produced for a particular reason and within a particular socio-political context.  Even so and despite all this, based on their own written words, I stand by my conclusion here that there is little available evidence in their written accounts of sustained critical exploration of the actual competing interpretations at hand (regarding choice, identity, different ways to come out, different ways to accept, be compassionate, etc.)

[23] It is striking to watch families momentously conclude that all they used to believe is false and destructive, in the very same moment that they also report an astounding embrace of new beliefs flatly orthogonal with their prior deepest convictions. This dramatic education in learning about the reality of their children becomes impetus for wanting to share that reality with the whole world. As the creator of the Mama Dragon Story Project writes, “You may want to have some tissues ready as you read the stories in this project. Many tears have been shed by the authors on behalf of those women who feel overwhelmed by their child’s reality.”

[24] For instance, How do human beings know who they really are anyway? & What role does romantic attraction play in identity?

[25] As illustrated in many other subsequent comments in the review, many begin to speak of the plan of God in expansive terms that support their new convictions, e.g., “Heavenly Father and Christ create with variety in all things and all people.” (8)

[26] For more exploration of this, see: Are gay, lesbian, transgender & straight people fundamentally different kinds of people?

[27] More than simply interesting new insights, these fresh beliefs have stark consequences for virtually everything important about life….and these mothers realize it (and acknowledge it in many ways).

[28] Calling for just such a conversation has been part of my work in recent years, including:
(1) Exploration of how attraction and identity interact: What role does romantic attraction play in identity?What does it mean to be attracted to another human being?
(2) Consideration of how/whether identity differences should create inherent hostility (or not): Can we disagree about ‘who we are’…without becoming enemies? + Dear Gay Community, we seem to have an irreconcilable disagreement about who-we-are…is that okay with you? + Are Mormons villains, or just people with a different story about their identity?
(3) Attempts to “map out” some of the key identity differences at play: An (honest) disagreement at the heart of the LGBT-conservative religious conflict…that (almost) no one is talking about

(4) And more philosophical inquiries into how we get answers on these questions (How do human beings know who they really are anyway?) and the degree to which the answers we find reveal fundamentally different kinds of people (vs. different kinds of sexuality narratives; see: Are gay, lesbian, transgender & straight people fundamentally different kinds of people?)

[29] Thus we see, in Kimberly Anderson’s words, how “the mere presence of an LGBT+ member in their family quite often instigates a crisis of faith.” More than the “mere” presence of this person, I would add that it is always the presence of this individual combined with the presence of a particular narrative (of identity, sexuality, choice, change, biology, and faith) that in actuality instigates this crisis. From this view, the presence of the person himself or herself, is not sufficient. Without the catalyzing interpretation and narrative, the crisis simply would not have the instantly combustible effect.

[30] Personal communication with one of the Mama Dragons in 2016: “Until I attended church and listened to General Conference after learning that my son was gay, I seriously just never ‘heard’ the messages as damaging. I was devastated to hear through new ears.”

[31] Others described converting to the church later in life, such as one woman who joined the Church after seeing her father abandon their family early in life. She added, “I wanted a different outcome for my family, so when I was introduced to and then joined the LDS church, their emphasis on family and love gave me hope. I married in the temple and we had five children.” (10)

[32] How quick we can be to presume we know people after finding out something about them!  In this case, we can be quick to conclude that those affiliating with dissident groups must not have been as faithful (as us). It’s too easy to conclude that these are faithless people getting easily deceived. If we are to take their own accounts seriously, we have to consider these as thoughtful, sensitive women who had previously sought to give their hearts to God – and facing a situation difficult to navigate.

[33] As reflected in these comments, there’s a clear conviction that it’s largely the faith community’s fault when these youth end up hurting: “It’s no wonder that some of our LDS LGBT brothers and sisters turn to drugs, isolation, depression, and even suicide in hopes to end their inner turmoil.” (8)

[34] In contrast to this woman, another spoke of opening up in an interview with her Bishop: “I unloaded. I cried a lot. I explained to him I needed Church to be a safe place for [my son] and right now it was not. He left and gathered the entire Bishopric in the Bishop’s office and I unloaded again…and cried a lot more. I expressed how we have someone in our ward with all the knowledge there is about this subject and could we please use him for training. They were all amazing and did just that. Training was held and [our son] came home the very next week and said he felt so much love from the Bishop.” (7) This is one of many examples of ward leaders seeking to find ways to help individuals feeling comfortable and loved.

[35] This is the kind of experience that has been addressed by Church leaders extensively in addresses over recent years – and an area in which much common ground can be found.

[36] Rather than reflecting a legitimate disagreement between competing perspectives (Ten Ways That Thoughtful, Good-hearted People Disagree about Mormon Policy), this is almost always framed as an issue of hatred (My question for people (more and more) convinced of inherent Mormon bigotry). A more honest conversation might acknowledge the role of competing narratives in shaping the distinct experiences regarding faith, identity, sexuality, and family.  In the case of people leaving the church, I have written in the past about how the gay rights narrative itself continues to act as a kind of “wedge” in removing people from their previous faith (see: Another perspective on “I just can’t stay in this church anymore…” and Why is gay rights sweeping (too many) thoughtful, good-hearted people from my faith community?

[37] This is another example of something that would lead many members to wonder, what Church leader has ever said this? My answer would be:  none…unless you see same-sex attraction as fundamental, essential and core to a child’s identity, in which case many of the Church teachings may be taken to be raising questions, not about the merits of a particular life pathway – but about who someone is. In the end, then, as I’ve pointed out often before, so much of this comes down to fundamental differences in our narratives of identity (a subject we pay remarkably little attention to in our current public conversation about these matters).

[38] The “no matter what” is a key distinction between different mothers, responding to the same situation.  For the Mama Dragons, at least, there is nothing more important than this kind of unconditional support of their child’s choices.

[39] This one seems strangely misleading, since there have been numerous titles available for many years, with very little to do with pornography. Rather than an entire lack of support, comments such as this begin to make one wonder whether what was lacking is the kind of support they wanted. Thus Kimberly Anderson could say something like this:“The LDS church has provided little to no resources for members who are LGBT+ or their loved ones.” She goes on to say that “The essays and portraits I am collecting are intended to be published as a book and will act as a that resource.”

[41] Yes, and many of them found the Church’s website as well. But as one mother described in starting to read mormonsandgays.org, “that wasn’t enough.” (43)  The insinuation is that the Church didn’t offer enough to satisfy her – like they took steps, but not far enough.

[42] As reflected here, even Peggy Fletcher Stack takes for granted the new identity narrative at the heart of the Mama Dragon’s distress, in describing this process of departure and grievances relative to the church (with no consideration given to the stark conflict between identity and sexuality narratives taught by the prophets vs. the gay community).

[43] See: What exactly is meant in saying we ‘accept’ or ‘support’ or ‘affirm’ or ‘love’ or are ‘compassionate’?; Is the LGBT-religious conservative conversation primarily about whether to love people (or not)?

[44] See: Two ways for parents to support a child identifying as LGBT/SSA

[45] As with other accounts, this woman’s experience reflected just how impactful the shift in perspective was for subsequent, practical decisions. She continued, “I never looked back after that moment. I never wanted to be responsible for my child feeling that utter darkness that I experienced.” (53)

[46] This presents an interesting contrast to the journey many Christians espouse – centering not on accepting oneself, but instead accepting God in such a way that human beings are powerfully changed and transformed (see Does God Love Us Just as We Are?). From this vantage point, Jesus did not call us on a journey to be ourselves. He called us to be His.

As one individual wrote to me, “God accepts none of us as we are.  He expects ALL of us to grow, learn and progress.” Anglican scholar N. T. Wright says it better than anyone: “We have lived for too long in a world, and tragically even in a church, where … the wills and affections of human beings are regarded as sacrosanct as they stand, where God is required to command what we already love and to promise what we already desire. The implicit religion of many people today is simply to discover who they really are and then try to live it out—which is, as many have discovered, a recipe for chaotic, disjointed, and dysfunctional humanness. The logic of cross and resurrection, of the new creation which gives shape to all truly Christian living, points in a different direction. And one of the central names for that direction is joy: the joy of relationships healed as well as enhanced, the joy of belonging to the new creation, of finding not what we already had but what God was longing to give us. At the heart of the Christian ethic is humility; at the heart of its parodies, pride. Different roads with different destinations, and the destinations color the character of those who travel by them…”

[47] To those who believe this experience of same-sex/gay attraction is inherent to who they are fundamentally, this new belief does make sense. But it’s worth pointing out the contrast with Christian and Buddhist teaching. On one hand, there is a teaching in contemplative practice that our suffering decreases when we can accept things as they are, exactly as we find them. It’s a beautiful teaching that can bring almost immediate relief as people stop resisting and fighting their experience. The way these mothers speak of their children is similar to, but distinct from that teaching (going well beyond the emphasis on the acceptance of experience as it is, to the attachment to something as who we are – reflecting the kind of identification that can compound suffering from a Buddhist perspective). From a Christian perspective, most orthodox believers would point out that this departs sharply from Jesus’ teaching since he never taught we are enough. He said His grace is enough and sufficient.

[48] See: What exactly is meant by ‘change’ in the context of same-sex attraction?; Beyond forcing and fighting sexual attraction: Two ways people seek to move to a healthier place; What does it mean to force or fight or resist one’s sexuality?

[49] It’s hard not to conclude that, essentially, two different “gospels” are being preached in this conversation, with both interesting overlaps and sharp distinctions. (See: What are the main differences in how the “good news” of the gospel is being understood?)

[50] Who apparently do not believe the same thing?

[51] Peggy Fletcher-Stack described how a group of Mama Dragons “expressed their concerns – during that conversation and, later, in a letter to him – about the repeated emphasis in sermons on marriage between a man and a woman.”

[52] She went on to interpret this feeling, in alignment with the Mama Dragon ethos: “I had the overwhelming feeling that my child had been sent to me for a reason, and that it was my job help him fulfill his purpose whether the church was behind me or not.” (5)

[53] In all these ways, the Mama Dragons narrate their own departure from and rejection of many other Mormon teachings as a superior stature to which they have arrived – one in which they see “love” (as they define it) as the only thing that matters.

[54] With one exception, the word “dragon” in scripture is not referring to a positive force. In larger society, this is true as well, with a “Grand Dragon”, representing the highest-ranking KKK Klansman in a given state. And throughout history, of course, dragons have likewise symbolized something actively subverting the good: stealing the princess, killing the king, tormenting the people, etc.

[55] Kimberly Anderson, the former Mormon man who now identifies as transgender woman (often cited in this analysis), says in an interview with John Dehlin: “But I have a new name now…and it’s mine.  I chose it, and it’s age appropriate and it’s race appropriate. And it’s one I love.  So I chose my new name.”  John responded, “Yeah, that’s the way to do a new name if you’re going to do it.” (44:55, May 4, 2017on Mormon Stories #736: Kimberly Anderson – Living 45 Years as a Man to Living Openly as a Woman Pt. 2)

[56] So in other words, to translate: “hearts softened” means softened to feel like we do

“example of Christ-like love” = people who love gay people like we do

“who no longer judge and criticize” = people who don’t fight their message

“show love and compassion” = love, once again, like the Mama Dragons do.

[57] These are fairly standard initiatives among LGBT allies, with whole ministries and counseling practices focused on new ways to “dispel negative messages sent about LGBT+ people” and “confront social discrimination” – definitions which, no doubt, include standard Mormon teaching. See: Calling on the Prophets (or the People) to Repent?

[58] Some have felt this conception of the “one true way of loving LGBT children” has come to be used as a bully club.

[59] After years of being approached by parents who tell me “my child started Ritalin and he’s doing better than ever before!” I would simply say, “great…please come and tell me how he’s doing in 3 years.”  We always hear the beginning of the story, and rarely the end. So I would sincerely ask the same question to these mothers here: “how happy is your child now? (years after this initial excitement of a new change)”

[60] One reviewer commented, “This one disappoints me, because nowhere in LDS theology is it ever taught that ANYONE is not worthy of God’s love. Where do they get [this]?”

[61] Similar patterns are evident in people reinterpreting their past after a diagnosis of depression, especially after starting a prescribed anti-depressant (see pages 150-153 in “Investigating the Adoption, Constitution and Maintenance of Distinct Interpretations associated with Depression and its Medical Treatment”)