1: Should I tell anyone ahead of time?
I’ve been able to discuss this issue at length with people who love, support, and respect me — my friends. I cannot have this conversation with anyone in my family because the topic will only result in them feeling very angry toward me. It’s a good sign that your religious beliefs are unhealthy when in theory you are the first person your family members should turn to for advice, but in reality it results in chaos and anger.
My father would be furious if I told my mother directly. He guards her with the sort of patriarchal, patronising attitude that keeps my mum in a chronic state of neurosis. (Sound familiar?) However, my mother will be upset by the news no matter what. I have wondered if, in this case, I could be honest with her that my dad’s overprotective nature has kept me from confiding in her about my struggles. I don’t want to put a wedge in their marriage, but a big part of what keeps my mom repressed, festering, and unstable at times is the narrow, confining pedestal she’s required to stand on. Would it be selfish for me to potentially put a thorn between my parents, if it means that I can really talk to my mum for the first time? Especially considering that my dad may very well disown me when it’s all said and done?
Next up: Should I tell my dad? He knows my general objections, and periodically makes attempts to interrogate/shame/coerce me back into the fold. He’s my dad, and I love him, and I’m thankful for the many ways that he’s made my life better. But all of that comes at a pretty steep price, and I don’t think my debt to him requires me to allow him to hurt me unlimited times. If I tell him ahead of time, he’ll just try to make me change my mind. My first guess is that it may be best to inform him privately after receiving confirmation of my resignation. This way I can spare him false hope.
I have two siblings who seem likely to follow my path out of the Church. I believe that working with them ahead of time will be a good course of action. The possible downside is that they may be mistreated by my TBM relatives if they find out that they knew ahead of time what I was going to do and didn’t rat me out to the Thought Police. However, I think they’ll be good at keeping a secret. The disadvantage is that both of these siblings are still at home. It may be very difficult for me to see them in the future, until they are out of the house and self-sufficient. I will not bother consulting with my TBM siblings. They will most definitely send the dogs after me.
I want my one remaining grandparent to stay unaware of the whole thing. Regardless of what happens, I will lie through my teeth to preserve her ignorance. She is very elderly, beginning to get frail, and is a good, loving woman who has given her all to this Church. She has seen all of her children grow up, marry in the temple, never divorce, and raise faithful Mormon broods. She deserves the satisfaction of leaving this earth believing that no chicks have fallen from the nest.
(Writing this last bit has made me imagine what it would sound like to hear “Families Can Be Together Forever” sung by Judas Priest. That would make an excellent metaphor for how fucked-up LDS family dynamics get once someone decides to switch off Gospel Auto Pilot.)
2: Is doing this going into the holidays a good idea?
If I do this now, it means that my family could find out about it just before the holiday season. This offers two possibilities. First, I could be seen as “ruining” the season by doing this at a time when families are supposed to be together. If I become unwelcome in my parents’ home, I would be conspicuously absent and family events will be soured by the constant reminder that I’m a dirty traitor apostate. Second, if everyone realises the consequences of option one, they may decide to play nice and try to all get along. This means that although I’m still a dirty traitor apostate, I have the chance to smooth things over through family time and activities that build positive memories. My apostasy may be able to disappear into the background, only resurfacing during events such as temple weddings. Unlike a male apostate, I won’t have extra ways to shame my family by not participating in baby blessings or priesthood rituals.
3: How much should I worry about how my extended family will respond?
I have virtually no day-to-day contact with aunts, uncles, and cousins. We see one another at family gatherings and have a nice time stuffing our gobs and keeping the little ones from murdering each other. You know, what all large families do. I expect nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction from my extended family if they find out what I have done.
4: Should I attempt to broker a deal to minimise damage?
I have considered offering a truce to my father; out of our shared interest in protecting my Gran from this information, we can simply avoid telling anyone outside the immediate family. My family gossips like, well, like a large Mormon family. Mormons gossip. A lot. As a child I knew a lot more about everyone in my ward than was remotely appropriate. I knew whose marriage was on the rocks. I knew who had been disfellowshiped. It’s pretty alarming how bad Mormons are at respecting privacy. If something needs to stay a secret, the worst thing to do is follow the normal chain of command and tell the Bishop about it.
But if there is one thing Mormons do better than gossip, it’s keep up appearances. I don’t really care what my aunts and uncles think of me. They’re lovely people but if they cut me off I would only be disappointed, not devastated. I had a dry run for this during Prop 8, when my father’s sister left a psychotic rant on my Facebook page and promptly de-friended me after seeing me comment that I didn’t support the idea of mixing religion and politics. We have never spoken since. I have never met her two youngest children. I regret the loss, but it didn’t ruin me, as it only means that I’ll never see someone whom I barely saw anyway. (She lives in Utah, and I avoid Utah like the plague since leaving BYU.)
Due to the semi-immigrated state of my extended family (they’re spread out across the Mormon Belt, with a few holdouts back in Britain) I believe I can make an attractive pitch that there is no sense upsetting an applecart that only gets wheeled out once or twice a year when we all get together. I don’t care if they know, and I don’t care if they don’t know. But they need to not know if my Gran is to be protected. And really, now that I think of it, it isn’t any of their business. We’re relatives, not friends. They have too little context of my life to understand my reasons for making such a big decision.
In a deal I would also agree to never discuss my apostasy with family members. I’d likely be lying a bit, as I intend to help my two youngest siblings if they need it when they have to make their own break with LDS, Inc. But I can agree not to proselytise to them or present them with any troubling information about Mormonism. That’s rather generous of me, if I say so myself, since I won’t be extended the same courtesy. After all, I was taught in Primary to turn the other cheek and do my best live with higher standards than the world around me.
5: What am I missing?
Ideally I’d like this to be a coup de grâce. I want to end my schizophrenia that comes from not wanting to be a Mormon but feeling like I have to stay because it’s holding my family hostage. I want to kill the fear I feel over wondering if the church will find out what a horrible evil sinner I am and call me to a disciplinary council, forcing me to resign my membership before I’m ready to do it on my terms. But I want to do this so that, for once in my bloody life, I’m looking out for myself first. I’ve been a doormat for too long. I’ve cut myself down to size and tried to fit in the box, but it doesn’t work and I’m sick of forcing it. I just want to make sure that when I do this, I do this so that it has the best possible outcome for me, and the best possible outcome for my family that I’m willing to accommodate.