Sunday Reflections: On being a Librarian and a Christian parent to an LGBTQ kid with a uterus in 2022
In Sunday Reflections, I usually share very personal posts. I haven’t written one in a while because I had a story to tell but in doing so, it would involve sharing some information about someone else, my child. And that was not my information to share. But today, we have decided to share. She has read and approved this post and it’s important that you know that.
Also, TRIGGER WARNINGS BECAUSE THIS POST TALKS ABOUT SUICIDE
When Riley was in the 7th grade. Or maybe it was the 8th grade. But when Riley was in middle school, we drove home one evening and we were sitting in the car and she told me, fear and trembling in her voice, “I don’t think I’m straight.”
That moment changed everything for me as both a mother and a Christian. I would like to say I embraced that moment with openness and love. But this is a moment for honesty, and I will tell you, as a straight white Christian woman with a degree in youth ministry from a conservative Christian college, I did not know what to do or think. Nothing prepared me for that moment. Nothing.
I knew two things. I loved Jesus. And I loved my kid. Now I had to figure out the rest.
For a while, I thought I would have to abandon my faith, because I would not abandon my daughter. The idea that I could even do that did not align with my faith. So I wrestled with the Bible, with my faith, with what it meant to be a Christian. And I prayed. I have prayed every night for this child since the moment I knew I was pregnant with her and that has not stopped. I pray for her still, every night. Not that she will be straight, but just for her in general. I have never once prayed that she be straight.
From the moment she was born, I have loved this child. I took her to church every Sunday. She went to VBS every summer. She asked to be baptized at the age of 8. She went to youth group and on mission trips. We have held hands and prayed. And I have prayed and prayed and prayed that she would be safe, that she would be healthy, and that she would survive all the heartaches of this world.
I have watched her struggle with her identity for years now. And when I say I watched her struggle, I mean watched her struggle with fear, anxiety, depression, self-loathing, doubt, and thoughts of suicide. There were nights where I sat outside her bedroom door while she slept so that I would hear her get up in the middle of the night should she try to do . . . anything. There were nights where I made her sleep in my room on my bedroom floor for the same reasons. You have never known fear until you have gone to bed and wondered if your child would still be alive the next morning.
In all those years wrestling, I studied the word of God. I studied the teachings of progressive Christians. And I prayed. And thankfully, I came out on the other side. I did not lose my faith. I did not lose my daughter. But I came out a radically changed person and I came out with a stronger, more inclusive faith. We have all come out of this different people, better versions of ourselves.
I also wrestled with how to keep my child safe. I thought long and hard about who I thought would hurt or reject my kid if – when – she ever came out. I began to cut some people out of my life. I listened to the things that they said. Looked at the things they posted. And wondered if they would vote to harm her or take away her rights. Wondered if they would tell her she was a sinner. Wondered if they would just turn their backs and walk away. And so I left some of them, some of you, so that you could not do those things to her. I cut you out of my life before you could cut her out of yours and she would know, know that your love was conditional, and she did not make the cut. I have always sought to nurture and protect the heart of my child, and that is what I have done throughout this.
The other week, she finally really and truly came out to herself, and to me. And I could see a transformation in her. I saw a peace about her that I had never seen before. She felt more fully herself, and more confident in that. And she asked me if I loved her and supported her and the thing is, I do. She’s a great human being. And I, a mom who just loves her kid, wants her to be safe and healthy and happy. I want her to not just survive, but to thrive.
At the same time, people started coming for LGBTQ kids in our school and public libraries. Online, people started calling librarians pedophiles and groomers if they bought and added books with LGBTQ kids to their libraries. As if the mere existence of a child like mine was an abomination. As if my child didn’t deserve to read books about young women like her trying to navigate this quest to figure out who she was. As if a child like mine didn’t even deserve to exist. And my heart broke. But more than that, I became so afraid of what the people in this world would do to my child. How they might break her. Not just her heart, but her body. I am afraid every day now for this child of mine in ways that I never imagined I would have to be.
This has not been an easy journey for me. I did not realize how much hate and prejudice I held in my heart. And it is still not an easy journey for me. I am still working to untie the knots of prejudice and hatred that have been tied inside of me by people proclaiming it to be the Gospel. But if the Good News is not good news for all, then it cannot be good news for any. And I’m here to tell you, this girl, this child of mine, she loves God AND loves people who are sometimes the same gender as her or no gender at all. And although I don’t fully understand it, I know that I love and support her.
But it also comes with a lot of fear. There are people who hate her just for who she is attracted to and falls in love with. As if love is a choice. And these people, they want to take away her human rights. Her Civil Rights. They want to harm her or shame her or punish her. And it scares me. I have a fear in my heart for her that I have never had before. LGBTQ kids are 40% more likely to attempt suicide than non-LGBTQ kids, because of the hate they receive in our world.
So, I continue to pray for my kid. Not that God would make her straight or “fix her”. Not that God would love her, because I already know that God does. God made her who she is, after all. But that God would keep her safe. I beg God to keep my baby safe from the people in this world who say you can’t say gay, the people who throw stones and fists and hurl insults, the people who make policies that put my kid in harm. I beg God to keep my baby safe from the people who think we can’t even read a story about a kid like mine.
My other prayer is that you, a person that I have trusted with my child for all these years, are still a person I can trust with my child. Because as much as I love you, I promise you that I love her more. And that’s it, my whole goal is to keep her safe and healthy and help her thrive.
I do not wonder about my love, and I hope she never does either.
I do not wonder about God’s love, and I hope she never does either.
But you’re love . . . you’re love I am not sure about, and I hope she never has reason to be either.
Anyhow, if you have never had to wrestle with faith and parental love in the face of LGBTQ hatred, congratulations! Your life has been far easier than thousands – perhaps millions – of parents everywhere. And that doesn’t mean you haven’t struggled in your own ways, just that you were lucky enough that this was not one of them. I hope that you never have to. But if you do, I hope that you will always choose to love your child.
And I hope you are choosing to still love mine. But not in conditional ways, fully and truly loving her as she is. Because I think she’s pretty amazing.
And I hope that you will stop voting for people who want to hurt her, or make her life unlivable, or want to wipe her out of existence. This isn’t a difference of opinion like how we should spend tax dollars on infrastructure, it’s literally about a person’s right to live and love and just safely exist in this world.
And if you are a parent who has been protesting LGBTQ books in libraries, please know that you have been protesting my child. And it hurts. It creates a terrifying ache in my heart to know that you, a person who has never even met my child, hates her because of who she may be attracted to. And I live in a fear each day that the world will crush her soul, or take away her rights, to just outright kill her.
My child matters. And she deserves to read books about kids just like her in our libraries and she deserves to have fundamental human rights. That’s all any mother would want for their child. That’s all that this mother wants for her child.
Filed under: Sunday Reflections
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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