The Georgeson family Christmas photo 2018. From L to R: Alan, Marissa, Michelle, Konrad, and Blake.
Recently I had one of the most meaningful (and difficult) interviews on my show. When I was a young stay at home mom in Maple Valley, WA (a bedroom community 45 miles SE of Seattle), I had the good fortune of having Michelle Georgeson and her family move into the brand new home next door to us. When I first met Michelle, we both had toddlers (my Stephen and her Konrad). She was not working either (at least outside of the home) and we immediately bonded. We both had our second children around the same time (my daughter Aimee and her son Blake). Blake was literally the “boy next door” and Aimee’s first and closest playmate for the first few years of their lives.
I invited Michelle and Blake to come on our show, Courageously Go! because this past year has been a very challenging year for the Georgeson family to say the least. One year ago at age 20, Blake came out as LGBTQ – meaning Blake identifies more with being a female than a male. This would be tough news for any parent (even among the most loving and accepting ones as I know Michelle and Alan to be)- but what most of you don’t know is that the Georgesons are life-long faithful members of the conservative LDS, Mormons, or the Church of the Latter-Day Saints community.
I originally had invited just Michelle and then we got to talking and thought if Blake would like to join in, she was most certainly welcome to do so. She courageously agreed to participate in this interview.
You may listen to our conversation here on Spreaker:
Michelle and Blake: I would like to thank you for your courage to share your story with all of us. I love you both and your whole family so much. No doubt, you have many challenges ahead of you but I know that with the love you have for one another, God, and the supportive community you are blessed with your church you will figure this out. I am confident that once this story gets out you will also receive an outpouring of love and support from our global community as well.
I love you.
If you would like to read the current official stance on the issue of being Mormon and Gay I found this post on the website of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints.
We welcome your comments. I know Michelle and Blake would love to hear from all of you.
Blake back at school after the holidays at Central Washington University. We wish you a great semester!
For those of you who would prefer to read our conversation, here is the transcribed text:
Debbie DiPietro: (music) Welcome to Courageously Go! where we will venture into places we’ve been afraid to go. Women of the world, we are going to start a movement towards courage. Hello, everyone. I’m Debbie DiPietro. Welcome to Courageously Go!
Debbie DiPietro: I am really interested in having a global conversation about courage. Why are we doing this? It’s because I believe that when we live from our hearts by choosing courage, the life of our dreams and a better world for all are truly possible. No matter our age or circumstances, we never need to feel stuck or alone.
Debbie DiPietro: We have our central truths here, which are as follows: I choose courage. I use my voice. I embrace the new. I welcome challenge. I continue to grow. I am a woman of action. I courageously go. And if any of these statements resonate with you, you are most certainly in the right place and I’m thrilled that you all are here with me today.
Debbie DiPietro: And just a very quick update if you visit my website courageouslygo.com. With the new year starting, we have a very special challenge for all of you. When you’re on my website, click on the tab ‘the challenge’ and I have a very special challenge for all of us. For 21 days, we’re going to do something new, and use the code ‘courage’ and you’ll have a special discount. So go check the website out.
Debbie DiPietro: And now I’m very excited about bringing on two special guests that are very near and dear to me, and we’re going to share a story with all of you today here on this show. And the story really starts back in the mid-90s when I was a young mom, and my husband and I … This was before my daughter was even born, and we had our son Stephen who was just a toddler. And we purchased a starter home in a cute, modest middle-class neighborhood in Maple Valley, Washington, which is a bedroom community of Seattle, and we purchased a nice little house with an undeveloped lot to the west of us. So it was nice. I could look out my kitchen window and I had privacy, and there was just a nice lot with blackberry bushes and trees.
Debbie DiPietro: Well, of course developers came along and bulldozed this lot, and for several months, we got to watch a home get built. And I’m tepidly wondering who’s going to move in next door to us. Who’s going to move in? It’s pretty close quarters. I hope I like the people who move into this house. Well, sure enough, the person and the family that ended up moving into this house to this day remains my best friends, and the mom and wife of the house is truly a sister of mine, Michelle Georgeson. And from the moment that we met, she had little Conrad, who’s my son’s age, and then we had our babies Aimee and Blake right around the same time.
Debbie DiPietro: And she was my very conservative Mormon girlfriend, very grounded and mature, and I was kind of her little bit of a wacky liberal Jewish girlfriend Debbie, but despite our differences, we just clicked like sisters in love. And this is the topic that Michelle and Blake really wanted to focus on as we have our talk here on the show, that let all things be done in love. And despite our differences, we became sisters and we looked out for one another’s kids. And Blake was my daughter’s very first little babyhood friend and they played together, and her kids are like my kids and my kids are like her kids. And so I just wanted to give you a little background on that.
Debbie DiPietro: The Georgesons family, they’ve been their whole life very connected and active in their Church of the Latter Day Saints community there. And Michelle has done various volunteer work all of her life through the church, and Alan and their kids as well. Blake grew up in the church. Blake became a black belt in Tai Kwan Do and she was an Eagle Scout, and she’s now 20 years old and a college student.
Debbie DiPietro: And we’re going to turn this over now to Michelle and Blake. They wish to share with us their past year. It’s really just been exactly a year now since Blake came out as transgender. And to say the least, it’s not been an easy year for their family, and they’ve been so courageous and have agreed to join me here on the show to share their story. So Michelle and Blake, welcome to Courageously Go!
Michelle: Thank you, Debbie.
Michelle: It’s nice to talk with you this morning.
Debbie DiPietro: It is, and I’m really thankful to have you both. And initially, we were just going to have just Michelle on, but Blake, you’re stepping it up here and being brave and joining your mom here. So why don’t we go ahead and jump in? It’s not a super long show and I want to be sure we give you guys time to share with us your story.
Debbie DiPietro: So about a year ago, what happened? How did this happen?
Michelle: Well, I noticed last year when Blake came home from college for Thanksgiving that she was extremely depressed, and I was very concerned about that. And it was just a quick trip, and so we didn’t really have time to go see a doctor. And so I just said, “Let’s just give it a month. When you come back from college, we’ll go see a doctor and make sure that you can get antidepressants.”
Michelle: And this is my viewpoint so Blake was going through a lot more than that, but when Blake came home for Christmas on December 19th, she came out to me. And I knew something was wrong but I didn’t know that this was what she was going to tell me, and it was very emotional and I was very concerned for her health and her mental state. And I basically just wrapped her up in a blanket, told her I loved her, and just held her while she cried. And it was a very tender, touching moment that I think if I can share with most parents, if they ever have a child that comes out, that’s the number one thing they need to do is just love them. And I’ve always loved Blake so it wasn’t like it was uncomfortable because we’ve always been really close, and so I felt that if Blake knew that she was loved that we could be okay.
Michelle: And since a year ago, life has changed quite a bit, but still the foundation of what we’ve gone through has always been through love and open communication. I don’t know what your view of that is, Blake. Your end might be a different than mine.
Blake: Well, so I guess a year ago and a little bit more is when I realized I was trans. And during the time I was going to Utah State University, I was studying hard and I had just started a new semester. But as soon as I started the new semester, I kind of had a hunch that I wasn’t going to finish it because I just was kind of reaching a point where I really had to tell someone. I really had to make the jump and just do what I know I needed to do.
Blake: So when my mom came to visit me for lunch, I just kind of said I wanted to go home because I just wasn’t really feeling good in Utah. And so she just kind of took me home and like she said, she just kind of wrapped me up and loved me, and it was a really great time. I felt really safe with her, and she made that experience the best it could have been because it was really hard for me at that time. So it’s been a year now.
Michelle: What a difference a year makes. I know.
Blake: Yeah, and it’s been getting a lot better each day, so.
Debbie DiPietro: Well, you’re certainly blessed, and I can attest to this, Blake. You’re certainly blessed with very loving and grounded and supportive parents.
Debbie DiPietro: Let me ask you this. Yes, is this something you’ve been … Had you been struggling with this for a long time, Blake, or-
Blake: Yeah. I’ve always had these feelings that I just kind of … I didn’t really understand my feelings, and they didn’t seem normal and fit with everything I was being told in the world. I didn’t know what the feelings were and I couldn’t articulate them very well. And just over time, I ended up getting really good at repressing and bottling up my emotions and just kind of not giving myself the satisfaction of letting my emotions really out and showing people how I feel. So over time, that just kind of weighed on me and I just had to do it.
Debbie DiPietro: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And I guess when you’re away from home and in college, it all kind of came to a head for you, it sounds like.
Blake: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Debbie DiPietro: Yeah. Well, Michelle, so Blake’s home and I remember you and I … this was some months ago, maybe in the summertime. Maybe about six months ago, I remember I was at a conference and we kind of touched base. Do you remember that talk?
Debbie DiPietro: I think we had a couple of talks. I know you definitely had your challenges with this, and so maybe you could share with our audience just some of the challenges that you had and just maybe share with us your experience if you can go back a little bit.
Michelle: Sure. So at the beginning, it was all about just surviving day to day. As a parent, you want your kid to be happy and safe and productive no matter if they’re trans or not, and that was my main focus was to get Blake help. So we got Blake a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a doctor that can help her with her hormone levels. She started HRT. In our religion, the body is very important and we’re supposed to treat it with care and love, and I think that’s the same with mental health. We needed to make sure that Blake was happy inside and out, and as Blake has transitioned to the more female, I see a happier, brighter, lighter 20 year old.
Michelle: And Blake as a child was always very fun and loving, and then when Blake hit puberty, Blake was more and more quiet as the years went on. And I didn’t know Blake was suppressing so much but in my mind, I was like, “Why is Blake so quiet? Blake won’t share anything,” and was always a good student and always had a girlfriend. No signs whatsoever. People like to ask me, “Did you know?” I had no clue. I think most people that knew Blake had no clue because Blake could suppress it so well. I think a lot of LGBT kids can suppress and hide a lot of how they feel to fit in, which is a very lonely place to be.
Michelle: And I myself joined a private Facebook page that supports Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints parents with LGBTQ kids, and that has been a huge support channel that I wasn’t alone because not only did I have to make sure Blake was okay, my husband and I were kind of losing it in the process of, “How do we balance out our faith and our religion that we have a deep testimony and belief of God and then to have a child that says, ‘Well, I’m not in the right body’ and that kind of contradicts a lot of what our religion’s about?” And so I’ve had to have a lot of conversations with my Heavenly Father about how can I fit both into my world, my family, because I have had too many deeply spiritual experiences that I know that my religion is right, and so I needed to make sure I could fit that what into what Blake was going through.
Michelle: And pretty much what it came down to was love, and I follow Christ’s teachings. That’s what Christ was all about. Christ visited all different kinds of people, and most of the people that Christ visited were people that other people didn’t want to take care of. And I feel like in my church, I’ve been very open about it. I have a wonderful bishop who asked me to give a talk about it. I’ve had a state president who I’ve met with that has counseled my husband and I, and a lot of what they had asked … Instead of me going to them for counsel, what they would say to me was, “Teach me. What can we do better? What can we learn from your experience?” And it’s all so new, especially talking about it at our church.
Michelle: So me just being an advocate and being open I think has opened up a lot of doors and conversations, and I think things that might seem scary aren’t so scary if you’re knowledgeable and loving and not forcing your ideas or opinions but more just having conversations and letting people ask questions. And they’re like, “Is this offensive?” I’m like, “No.” I don’t get offended. I want to talk about it. I want to make sure if there are other kids in our church or in our neighborhood or community that they know that they can come to the church and house and be safe and know that there’s someone that’s going to be their ally.
Michelle: That’s kind of been what I’ve been trying to do, but that’s taken a full year to come to pass. And I still have many years to learn, but I just feel like there were definitely times when I closed the bedroom door and cried my heart out. There were times where I just said, “This is too hard.” There were times where I got angry. I mean, all of the things you … because some people think, “Well, did your son die?” And I’m like, “I don’t really think of Blake as dead.” That just sounds so horrible to me. To me, Blake’s becoming who Blake always was supposed to be. And that’s wonderful as a parent to see your child figure of who they are and then express that. So I just feel like this is just the better, improved version of Blake.
Debbie DiPietro: There are so many layers here. It’s hard, I mean, I think for any of us to really … I think we all just … I’m overflowing with compassion and I just can’t even imagine, really, Michelle and Blake, what you guys have gone through this past year. And many of us don’t really know a lot about your church and the Church of Latter Day Saints. Maybe just give us a little bit of background so it gives us an idea, who are not familiar with your church, really what you’re maybe possibly up against. And I’m really glad to hear your local church community there is supportive of you now, but does the church have an official doctrine or do they have a statement about being homosexual, about being trans? What is the church saying about this? And that way we know what you’re dealing with.
Michelle: Sure. Well, if you go on lds.org, there’s an actual official statement, but just off the top of my head, basically, if you are same sex attracted, homosexual, any of those things, that’s not a sin. They know that’s not a sin. They know that you’re not choosing it. They know that you’re born that way. So I think that’s kind of a misconception. People think that Latter Day Saints think, “Oh, you’re just choosing this lifestyle.” That is not true. They definitely recognize that you’re born this way. They consider it a sin when you act upon it sexually, and that’s with someone who’s straight or gay. Basically, any kind of sexual interaction would be only in marriage, and they also oppose same sex marriage.
Michelle: So that leaves a lot of our LGBT folks kind of out of the loop like, “Where do I fit in?” And that’s definitely something that I struggle with, and I’ve mentioned that to my leaders. My testimony isn’t based on that one line. My testimony is based on thousands of other things, and the gay marriage is something that I just have to kind of put on a shelf. I’m going to have to hold off on that, but my whole testimony is not based on that one line. So that’s the church’s stance.
Debbie DiPietro: And when you say ‘testimony’, what do you mean by that?
Michelle: My testimony is based on my belief that the Book of Mormon is true, and we also believe that the Bible is true. And my testimony is based on that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that we have a prophet today that speaks with God, which is President Nelson.
Debbie DiPietro: Okay. And Blake, how are you doing with the church? It sounds like you have a lot of good support there at home. Is the church still a part of your life? Maybe we can hear it from your side.
Blake: All right. Well, the church is still pretty relevant. I mean, I live in a church-oriented home. My family is Mormon, and it’s still pretty relevant. I’m actually going to go to church this Sunday because my friend Zach is coming from his two year mission so I’m going to see him. And overall, I don’t know. I just see my parents do it. I don’t know, really. It’s kind of still there.
Michelle: I asked Blake once if it bothered her if I went to church because I know that some of my friends that have LGBT kids, their kids make their parents feel horrible for supporting a church that’s so against them. And Blake said it was fine, and I feel like I allow Blake to be who Blake is and Blake allows me to be who I am, and that still can happen in the same home.
Michelle: It’s not like the church is so against gay people that they’re not allowed to come to church. I think it’s hard to figure out, “How does this all work?” And I don’t know how it all works. I have no idea how it all works, but I know that it works a lot better when people are loved and supported and allowed to come anywhere with open arms, whether it’s inside the church building or inside our home. And nothing’s ever going to change or be different or have a different viewpoint if we don’t allow all of that to come out.
Michelle: And so with Blake coming to church on Sunday and Blake’s really good friend … They were best friends growing up. Zach’s going to be coming home from his mission. He’s going to be giving a homecoming talk, and Blake hasn’t seen Zach in two years and Blake’s really excited to go. And I just think that shows a lot about our congregation, that they will love Blake walking in that door. It won’t matter to them that Blake’s there. If anything, they’re going to love it. And who knows if there’s another little boy or girl in the congregation that might look to Blake and be like, “Wow. Okay, you can still have a great life and be trans.”
Michelle: And I think that because I’ve been so open about it at church, when Blake comes to church, it’s not going to be a big moment. It’s just going to be like, “Oh, hey. There’s the Georgesons sitting on the same row they’ve sat on for 20 years.” This is just where we sit. People know us, and I have wonderful friends. I have a wonderful family.
Michelle: Not all my family has been real great about it. Same with my husband’s family, but they were the kind of people that just … We’re all on different paths of how we’re going to come to terms with it. But for the majority, my mom, my siblings, and my husband’s parents, all wonderful, wonderful people, and it’s been quite the journey. If I could tell my year ago self this is where I’d be a year from now, I would have never guessed it as I was sitting at the hospital crying, so.
Debbie DiPietro: Well, it certainly sounds-
Michelle: There is hope.
Debbie DiPietro: Yes, you certainly sound a lot more accepting or more at peace, I guess, with this than when I talked to you last summer, I would say.
Michelle: Yeah, totally.
Debbie DiPietro: Right? And if I’m hearing this correctly, this Sunday when comes to church to see Zach, is that the first time Blake’s gone to church in a while? That’s what it sounds like, but I just want to clarify.
Blake: It will be the first time I’m going to sacrament meeting. I did go to this Christmas creche recently, which is just a Nativity display and it’s more for just fun. But Sunday, I’m going to Church, and I also bought a dress to go. So hopefully, I won’t steal the attention away from Zach.
Debbie DiPietro: This is a big deal. How are you feeling about it?
Blake: I’m excited and I’m also a little nervous going back, and all my memories might come back. And I don’t know. People might look at me, but it’s like I’ll get to be myself, and I’m not worried about … I know I’m going to enjoy it and I’m going to enjoy seeing Zach again. I don’t think he’ll mind that his friend changed into a she, but-
Debbie DiPietro: You’re such an inspiration, Blake.
Blake: Thank you.
Debbie DiPietro: I’m excited for you. I mean, I can imagine if there was something about me that I would have to suppress all my life and to finally just sort of … It must feel like an enormous weight or burden off of you. Do you feel lighter in some ways?
Blake: Yeah, definitely. I feel like the changes in the past year have been just crazy. I feel like I’m just way more open and my emotions come out, and I don’t know. I feel a lot more normal too.
Debbie DiPietro: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Oh, I wish you guys weren’t … Go ahead. Go ahead. I’m sorry to interrupt you.
Blake: Oh, I don’t know. I guess I was really emotionally pent up, and now that I’m feeling emotions and letting it out, I’ve actually started to make music and just kind of use that as an artistic output to sort of just send a message, I guess, and just sort of have fun with it. Yeah.
Debbie DiPietro: Okay.
Michelle: Some of the things I’ve noticed that Blake has done differently: Blake’s been creating a lot of music. Art is a great way to heal, and Blake’s never made music but Blake’s creating wonderful pieces. And Blake also loves children. Children have always loved Blake, and Blake had a summer job working at a daycare and the kids loved her.
Michelle: A couple of the kids were around our neighborhood, and they would come and knock on the door and ask if Blake could play. It was just so sweet, and it was so healthy for Blake to be around kids because they didn’t see a boy or a girl. They would say, “Are you a boy or a girl?” And Blake was like, “Well, I’m a boy but I feel like a girl inside.” And they would be like, “Oh, okay. Well, do you want to come play with me?” There was no questioning after that. Some of the parents were a little freaked out, but the kids could have cared less.
Debbie DiPietro: Right. Yeah, kids are great.
Michelle: So that was a really great experience. Yeah.
Debbie DiPietro: Little kids can be great. They’re just real. They’re just authentic. They’re no judgment. They’re just real. They’re just in the moment. They’re in the present, right?
Debbie DiPietro: Well, while I’m thinking of it, because I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of people out there that maybe are in a similar situation as you but they don’t know where to turn, maybe you could share with us some resources, some websites? Families, whether they’re in the Church of the Latter Day Saints or not, but just people with children that are struggling with this issue, where have you found that’s been helpful? And maybe you could pass that along to our audience.
Michelle: Sure. So the Facebook page, it’s a private Facebook page, but if you are LDS and have an LGBT child, you can join, and it’s called ‘I’ll Walk with You’. And then there’s a couple of other support groups, Affirmation and Mama Dragons. I haven’t been a part of those ones. And then the fourth one that I am a part of is North Star, and that’s also a LDS-supportive Facebook page and they’re out of Salt Lake.
Michelle: And in Seattle, we’re lucky to live in a place where there’s a lot of resources, and Blake went to a place called Lambert House in Seattle that was kind of like … Well, how would you describe Lambert House, Blake?
Blake: It’s a [crosstalk 00:28:00].
Michelle: A place where you can go and-
Blake: Yeah, it’s a place in Seattle. It’s kind of in a cool old house and it’s completely run off donations, and they have free dinner and kind of just a family vibe to it.
Michelle: There’s pool tables.
Debbie DiPietro: Sounds nice.
Blake: Yeah, everyone’s just hanging out and having fun, and there’s volunteers who come in and literally just make dinner for us and just make us feel at home. And it’s a lot of people’s actual home because they do help with homeless people, and a lot of LGBT kids get kicked out or end up being homeless. So they come here to Lambert, and it kind of gives them an opportunity again to reach out and meet people and just kind of start their life without worry. Yeah.
Debbie DiPietro: Okay. Well, when this is out, I’ll put together on my own website … I’ll be sure I get from the both of you all of the names of these Facebook groups and any websites you find, and we’ll share that on my website too so people can get that sort of sources.
Blake: Oh, wonderful, because the other one I was thinking of was Encircle, and they’re out of Provo.
Debbie DiPietro: Okay. We’ll do that.
Blake: That’d be great.
Debbie DiPietro: That was a lot of great resources, so we’ll be sure to do that. And just real quick because we’re going to run out of time now, Blake, what are your plans right now? Are you staying there in Washington? Are you going back to school in Utah? What are your plans?
Blake: Well, I did two years in Utah for computer science, and so now I’m going to Central Washington and I’m going to finish my two years in computer science. Hopefully, it’ll only take two years. It might take two and a half or three. I’m going to go-
Michelle: So Blake will start college in a couple of weeks.
Debbie DiPietro: And where is Central Washington located?
Blake: Yeah, January 1st.
Debbie DiPietro: Where is that?
Michelle: [crosstalk 00:30:03] in Ellensburg.
Debbie DiPietro: Oh, that’s right. I guess I knew that. Okay, and does Blake have to live there at school or will she be able to commute? That’s a ways away, isn’t it?
Michelle: Mm-hmm (affirmative). It’s about an hour and a half away.
Blake: I’m going to live there.
Michelle: Yeah, it’s new. Blake’s been home a year, has been transitioning and working through a lot of things this past year. And so now it’s been exactly a year and Blake’s going to go back to college and be who she wants to be, and I’m excited. I know she’s a little nervous, but I thought that she did so well in college repressing things. I can only imagine what’s going to happen with her in school not having to repress. She’s going to just do great.
Debbie DiPietro: Aww. Well, I’m excited for you, Blake.
Blake: Thank you.
Debbie DiPietro: Okay. We’re out of time. I wish I wasn’t here in Florida and you guys weren’t there in Washington. I’d give you both a big old hug if I could, and I thank you so much for joining us today. You both took a lot of courage, especially you, Blake, to be here. I love you both so dearly, and thank you so much.
Michelle: Oh, I love you, Debbie. It’s great to see you go from your blogging to your books that have been published and now your podcast. It’s just been wonderful to see you becoming the person you have always meant to be too.
Debbie DiPietro: Yay. That’s what we’re-
Michelle: Always a great, great friend.
Debbie DiPietro: Thank you. It’s what we’re meant to do, right? I think that’s what God would want for all of us, right? To be who we’re supposed to be in this life.
Debbie DiPietro: So anyway, I need to sign us off.
Michelle: All right. Love you.
Debbie DiPietro: Oh, right. Love you both.
Debbie DiPietro: All right, everyone. Thank you for joining us, and I’m Debbie DiPietro. Again, you can visit my website at courageouslygo.com. I have a special challenge right now. You can find out more about it on my website.
Debbie DiPietro: So ladies, until next time, remember this. It’s our time to shine. Let’s make it so and courageously go.
Some resources and links that Michelle and Blake would like to share with you: