Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Daughter Steps Into The Light

Salt Lake Tribune Article By Peggy Fletcher Stack [Archive]

Emily Pearson was 10 years old when her Mormon father left the family to live as a gay man. She was 16 when he died of AIDS. Two years later, her famous mother, Carol Lynn Pearson, told their story in Good-Bye, I Love You: The True Story of a Wife, Her Homosexual Husband and a Love Honored for Time and All Eternity, which became a national best-seller.

At 25, Pearson married Steven Fales, even after he acknowledged a lifelong struggle with same-sex attraction. The marriage ended six years and two children later, and again, her life was splayed out in public with Fales' 2001 autobiographical play, "Confessions of a Mormon Boy." She describes seeing the play for the first time as "being dismembered with an ice pick."

"My marriage with Steven summed up a lifetime of being swallowed by narcissistic personalities," Pearson says. "I needed to finally stand up and choose for myself and think for myself."

Now, the Sandy mother is stepping out of the long shadow cast by her parents, husband and church.

Pearson is writing her memoirs, tentatively titled Dancing With Crazy, a shortened version of which was published in the April issue of Sunstone magazine, an independent Mormon publication. She will be speaking at the three-day Sunstone Symposium, which begins Wednesday night at the Sheraton Hotel in Salt Lake City.

She is on a panel titled "Will, Grace and Angels in Brokeback America: Straight Women, Gay Men and Mormonism." Also on the Sunstone program is a session on "Gays in the Mormon Universe," which features a presentation by Buckley Jeppson, an LDS man who married his male partner in Canada two years ago, and another one by Jeff Nielsen, who was recently let go as a Brigham Young University adjunct professor after publicly opposing the LDS Church's stance on a constitutional marriage amendment.

On top of that, the symposium showcases Pearson's mother, who is offering a 20-year retrospective look at her book, plus introducing her new works on homosexuality: "Facing East," a play about an LDS couple whose gay son committed suicide, and No More Good-byes: Circling the Wagons Around Our Gay Loved Ones. The play is slated to premiere at the Rose Wagner Theater in Salt Lake City in November, the same month she plans to publish the book online.

When published in 1986, Good-Bye, I Love You hit the Mormon community like a laser. Carol Lynn Pearson had built her reputation as a writer of poetry and uplifting Mormon plays, which commanded a lot of respect in church circles. At a time when many Mormons thought homosexuality was disgusting and evil, her riveting tale of love, hope, betrayal, forgiveness and reconciliation all within a devout LDS context put a human face on gayness. Mormons couldn't help but see their fathers, brothers and sons - as well as mothers, sisters and daughters - reflected in it.

Since then, Carol Lynn Pearson has received scores of letters and e-mails from Latter-day Saint gays, family members and friends, telling their stories and asking for advice.

"Progress has been made in Mormon culture and in religious culture broadly," Carol Lynn Pearson said Tuesday in a phone interview from her home in Walnut Creek, Calif. "But we still say too many goodbyes due to suicide, ill-fated marriages and to family alienation."

Given her early immersion in the tug-of-war between LDS Church teachings and homosexuality, it might seem astonishing that Emily Pearson would agree to marry a gay man. Didn't she know better? After all, she had watched her father try and fail to turn himself into a happy heterosexual husband. She was the one who uttered the words that became her mother's book title. She had been close at hand during her mother's anguish.

The answer to Pearson's marriage riddle lies in the biblical tale of Abraham, who was asked to sacrifice his son to show his love for God. After her father died, Pearson thought maybe God had punished her for a lack of faith. So she became super obedient and faithful to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When she fell in love, there was divine confirmation - and several priesthood blessings - that she should marry him. Then one summer night, Fales admitted his history of same-sex attraction.

"I was furious with God," Pearson writes in her Sunstone piece. "I didn't understand why he would require the unthinkable of me. He wanted me to marry a gay man? I wasn't stupid. I knew exactly how it would turn out if we got married."

She prayed: "Heavenly Father. Do I have to do this?" The answer was instantaneous. "No, you don't have to do this. But if you do, it will heal the deepest, darkest parts of yourself."

They believed they could be the exception, that Fales' homosexuality could be "cured." That they might write a different book than her mother's. A success story.

Within a few months of their 1993 marriage in the LDS temple, the fairy tale was over. They went from being friendly, to being cordial, to being sad, to being angry, to being alone and resigned to the pain and disillusionment of it all. "We became highly skilled at the passive-aggressive dance we allowed our marriage to become," Pearson writes.

In some ways, though, her summertime epiphany did come true. The marriage did heal something in her. It did resolve the "massive unfinished business" she had with her dad. She found inner strength she didn't know she had. She no longer attends the LDS Church, nor looks to it for guidance and answers. She discovered that her happiness is not dependent on any other person or institution.

For Pearson, that's been a giant step forward.

She has launched an online support group for wives, mothers and fiancées of gay men, She also has a consulting business for couples or individuals who are divorcing over issues regarding homosexuality. "I can relate to the anger of the ex-wife," she says. "But I am also the daughter of a gay man. I have this absolute, boundless love for gay men. My life continues to be enriched by them."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Emily, I awoke in tears this morning for some freaky reason with you in my thoughts. I just had to see what you were up to. I find a lot that you are doing and deeply respect your thoughts and love for all. keep up the great work and know you have always been in my prayers and thoughts. Tell your wonderful mom,"hi". Love to you always. Bradley.