Monday, February 28, 2011

The Coming Out Plan

We've come up with a plan to come out to our families. It is going to be via email. It is going to be via email because it simply cannot be via the telephone, video chat, IM, in person, or snail mail.

There are two reasons why it cannot be over the phone, video chat, or in person. First, there is too much risk of emotions getting out of control. This is going to be a touchy subject, and it is difficult to be precise and careful with what is said. A situation like this is a minefield. Both sides are likely to say things that are very offensive to the recipients. It is better to have a buffer of time between the messages to keep things under control (on my side at the very least). The second reason why this can't be in real-time is that I actually do love my parents, a lot, and to see the horror on their faces or to hear it in their pause as a result of simply telling them that I don't believe would kill me. Horrified at me, and for what?! That they would feel such anguish just because I have the integrity to follow the truth wherever it leads me would make me very angry and sad. That very moment of hearing or watching their completely unjustified anguish wash over them would ignite something in me that I'd rather not experience. I do not want to be a witness to any kind of pathetic mourning, as though I had died. If they're going to mourn me like that, I'd rather they just got it over with on their own, and then they can get back to me when they finally realize I'm still right here and I'm still the same person. Even if they mourn at me in an email it will be easier to take than to watch them bawl in person.

This leaves snail mail, email, IM, blog, or Facebook. It's not going to be Facebook because Facebook is stupid. It's not going to be IM because we'd much rather broadcast it and have everyone hear it from us first. It won't be our public blog because, well, it's much too public. It won't be snail mail because then the suspense would kill us. Email it is.

Now the problem is: how do we bring up the subject via email? I don't want to give anyone the impression that they are entitled to know our religious status (or lack thereof). I'd quite like to give the impression that no we aren't going to church, but it's no big deal. It really isn't a big deal at all, and I want to convey to them that from our point of view it really isn't. This is why I dread coming out with some grand announcement, thereby giving credence to the notion that leaving the church represents some gigantic, fundamental shift in who we are and what we represent. I can't ignore that this will be quite shocking to them, but honestly our attitude is, "Yeah, so what? We haven't changed."

This is why we'd prefer to come out in response to some inevitable church queries. "So, how's the ward? Have any callings yet?" That sort of thing. We could say in response, "well, we're not going to church right now." Two problems with this: 1) unfortunately it is the case that these questions are much more likely to come by phone call or video chat than by email, and 2) even if that question did come via email, there isn't a clear, non-awkward way to respond to one query like that with a response that spams the entire family.

My mom always sends a email to the family about the goings on at home, and so does my sister. So we've decided to start writing our own weekly family email and casually bring up the subject ourselves as part of a future email update. My wife has been doing an excellent job at writing up an update email for a few weeks now, so we've been able to establish a precedent.

We've come up with a two-phase plan for release. The first phase will be a casual mention in an update email. The purpose of this phase is to be the initial shock preparing the way for the full coming out, and therefore it is softened a little. I do not want them to be happily reading a fun little email update from us and then to suddenly come face to face with "we don't believe in Mormonism anymore" or something to that effect. That would be a lot for them to handle in one shot, and they'd be completely unprepared for it. Rather, we'll include a sentence like, "Since we're not attending church right now, we spent Sunday afternoon taking a walk around the neighborhood and letting [our son] play in the park." This is a softer hit because it says nothing about our beliefs or our reasons for not attending church, and it is presented in a nice casual, matter-of-fact way that is (hopefully) slightly disarming. The phrase "not attending church right now" leaves open a sliver of hope for those who desperately need it in that moment. I want to provide that sliver of hope for them in the very beginning, because it very well may be the only thing keeping them from plunging into shock and despair for us at the time that they read it and double-take. I just want them to feel that preparatory sting first, to get them to mull it over in their minds, to get used to the idea. Carson and his wife aren't attending church right now. What could it mean? I want them to be prepared to hear what they are about to hear, because from their point of view it is about to get worse.

The second phase will be at least a day after the first, and if at all possible I'd like it to be in response to questions coming about as a result of the first phase. I think there will be plenty of questions. "Wait, why are you not attending church right now?" Surely they will be curious. I'd like to have some sort of critical mass of questions first, and then we will deliver the answer email to all. We haven't composed this email, but I'm thinking it will be similar to this one. It will clearly state that we no longer subscribe to Mormonism in diplomatic terms. I don't want to drag it out and make them think we're just struggling with our testimonies, as that was three years ago. I want to leave the door open for questions, and we'll handle those one by one. At this point the real fun will begin. For the first little while afterward I will refuse to talk about it over the phone or video chat, insisting that all conversations about this subject be had via email for the meantime. This is to give some time to calmly come to terms with each other before risking a real-time back-and-forth discussion. How much time this will take depends on what the initial reactions are. My biggest hope is that my family will take it in stride and all of this worrying and planning on my part will be completely unnecessary.

6 comments:

  1. I don't know you, (sorry to intrude! I found your blog from a link at Main Street Plaza) but had to comment because my husband & I faced this same issue last winter with my parents, and I just really identify with other people going through it. It was a bit hellish, but after a few months things settled a bit and I can now talk to them on the phone and in person without them bursting into tears, lectures, missionary-speak, etc. The first few months however...it was almost frightening to see the life-grip the Church has over them. They are extremely emotionally, financially, and socially invested. They literally cannot entertain the notion that any other path could lead to 'true' happiness. In their eyes, they HAVE to be right, or else they're wrong...it's a fabulous catch-22. Anyway, I also communicated my coming-out thoughts through email. I liked being able to rationally explain my side without being interrupted. I think that frustrated them- they didn't want know or understand what I had to say. (They still don't, but we just don't discuss it-- the elephant in the room) But an e-mail forces them to read through it all, and hopefully, gives them something to go back to and read later on when they're in a more relaxed state. But despite the kind, mostly gentle emails I sent, my parents said many hurtful things to me, disparaged my husband (they blame him for my 'apostasy'), tried to find ways to explain my loss of testimony (e.g. my mom accused me of being on drugs. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry), etc. It was awful, but like I said- a year later, things are okay. Time heals. Good luck- I really hope it goes well for you, or at least, better than you would expect. I think your phased plan sounds perfect.

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  2. Hi. I am an exmo. My family (wife, 2 young daughters) left the church 5 years ago. I went the e-mail route as well. However, I did the "grand announcement" method, and would recommend it.

    No one can tell you the best way to do it, because each family is different. However, if you try to piecemeal it by answering different questions in your update, to me, that will be a lot like IM.

    A grand announcement would allow you to lay out all of the details, and get it all out there to everyone, so that questions/concerns will be based upon knowing your full statement on the topic rather than just that "you aren't going anymore". Questions will ensue, but they will be more deep, rather than simply people asking you over and over to explain what is going on... Anyway, just a thought. Not only that, but you mention how it isn't a big deal, that you are the same people. That may very well be right, but to your Mormon family, this is a HUGE change. Writing a lengthy e-mail to explain yourself does seem to fit that situation.

    If you would like a copy of my family e-mail letting them know we are leaving, I would be happy to provide. I have setup a temporary e-mail, jellis@dodgit.com, that you can contact me through. Give me your e-mail, and I will send you the exit letter I wrote.

    Good luck.

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  3. jenn,

    Thanks for stopping by. You make some excellent points in favor of email. It allows me to say all that I want to say in a way that won't be interrupted and can be precisely referred to in the future. That is exactly what I want. I'm sorry to hear that it was still hellish for a while for you. I'm glad there are people like you to share stories with.

    Jason,

    I agree that an announcement has the benefit of getting everything out on the table so that there is less confusion and less wasted time. This is why the second phase is going to be an announcement of sorts to the whole family. I don't want to go into great detail about why I don't believe, because they would take it as a full out unprovoked attack on them personally, and it would distract from the message I want to get across, which is: hey guys, we don't believe but we still love you and we're still the same people. I'll give out full details to people that are curious. For the most part, I expect that once they've satisfied themselves as to where we are on the belief spectrum, they'll cover their eyes and ears to any further information from us on the topic.

    I'd love to read your exit letter. I've sent an email.

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  4. Well, I admire your williness to make any kind of official statement. I told my two brothers about a year and a half ago that I was going to leave the church after my daughter got home from her mission, and eventually we (my wife and I) did (Feb '10), and it has definitely created a casm. No words have been spoken about it since, but the quiet speaks volumes. You may have the kind of family that will have to know and can deal with it, but there will be a change in your relationships. That may be a good thing because it may cause others you care about to start asking themselves some hard questions. Other than that, I don't see any potential for positives by speaking up. I've resolved that it isn't worth the greif to discuss it with any of the rest of my family. I have a friend who likes to call it the matrix, and when your in the matrix, you can't see or understand the reasoning for leaving the church, much less be compasionate about it. I'll be watching to see how your situation turns out. Best of luck.

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  5. Hi, I'm Will's wife. I just wanted to say that every family is different, everyone reacts and judges in their own way. One of Will's brothers reacts by ignoring. The other one was willing to discuss things, but once he was faced with the deep issues, it all comes down to faith.... so he's got nothing really. So they avoid us, and that's been a little disappointing.

    I believe my family will be more accepting, because they know we've left, just not that we've officially left. Still, no one really will talk about it. But the elephant is there. I know that in my family, I will feel better getting it all off my chest and let them know the reasons without totally trashing the church. I just have to figure out a way to say it respectfully so they'll be receptive and more fully understand us without thinking we're going to hell.

    So all I'm saying is that you're not alone. Do what you need to do for YOU. Expect some changes in your family relationships, but you won't regret it down the road.

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