A daughter steps into the light
By Peggy Fletcher Stack
The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune
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
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
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
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
After her father died, Pearson thought maybe God had punished her
for a lack of faith. So she became superobedient 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, http://www.wearewildflowers.com. 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."