At a performance by the Gay Men’s Chorus a man’s religious parents embrace their son’s community
by David Moore . Q-Notes staff
Jon Mullen and partner Bryan Mack
CHARLOTTE — Thirty-three-year-old Jon Mullen is a teacher at Queen’s Grant Community School in Mint Hill, N.C. The atmosphere in the school he says is conservative and Christian — and many of his coworkers and even parents of some of his students are aware that Mullen is a gay man — but his sexual orientation isn’t an issue.
It’s not without a twist of irony that Mullen would be teaching in such an environment — he’s been surrounded by religion all of his life.
Born in Nepal to a Hindu family, Mullen was adopted by Christian missionaries before he reached his first birthday.
“When I was about six months old my biological mother became very ill and my father put me up for adoption,” Mullen tells Q-Notes. “He basically abandoned me.”
Mullen’s birth mother died soon after and he was adopted by two missionaries with the Seventh Day Adventists: Dr. Tom Mullen, a physician, and his wife Beth Mullen, a school teacher.
Mullen was happy with his family — but still curious about his background. In his personal blog, he writes about those early years still living in Nepal and wondering about the family that gave him up.
“I didn’t know my real parents for anything more than a wobbly signature and a thumbprint on the acrid-smelling documents detailing my adoption. I used to go into my father’s office in the afternoon sometimes when he was working late at the hospital and go to the file cabinet and pull out the documents and look at them — onionskin yellow in the afternoon sunlight — and wonder things I couldn’t explain. Then I would carefully fold and tuck the papers back neatly into the file cabinet drawer. And hurry out before the spell broke…”
“We stayed there till I was five years old,” Jon recalls. “Then my family brought me to the United States.”
Mullen’s first visit to the U.S. lasted only three years. Tom Mullen would move his family yet again to another exotic location to help others and spread his spiritual beliefs. This time the destination was Pakistan.
“We lived there for about seven years,” Jon says. “My mom worked as a teacher and my dad offered health care to poor Pakistanis. In between we touted our good news on the piano to anyone who would listen.”
By the time Jon was 15 he and his family, which now included two younger sisters — Amy and Melissa — moved back to the U.S. to a commune near Sacramento known as the Weimar Institute.
“That was home for the next 10 years,” Mullen offers. It was a very, strict, religious environment. The women wore pants underneath their dresses. We had religious meetings every Friday night. If something went wrong the community would have prayer vigils.
The Mullens: Jon, sisters Melissa and Amy, mom Beth and dad Tom.
“Although it was strict — it could be very loving — if you lived life the way they wanted you to.”
Again, Mullen writes about some of his experiences on his blogsite.
“It was comfortable. Things were provided for. Meals were in a cafeteria. Almond butter, cashew milk, millet loaf and organic soy lasagna with spinach for noodles and pimento jello for cheese. Housing was provided on the point system. My family started at the bottom of the hill, and eventually gleaned enough points to move up to the top. My friends and I marched door-to-door spreading the word of God to an incredulous public. On Christmas, we passed out loaves of raisin bread and organic religion. We would stop in little groups around the half-mile loop under the spreading pine trees, to breathe heartfelt prayers to solve everything from domestic disputes to matters of state. And we always walked away ‘blessed.’ Some days I think perhaps I’ll go back. But deep inside I know I can’t. If I did, I wouldn’t be happy. I have seen too much. Experienced too much. I would be at war within myself.”
Mullen would continue to live at the Weimar Institute while attending his first three years of college. In the years that followed he moved to Chattanooga, Tenn., where he would remain active with the Seventh Day Adventists.
“I found myself growing uncomfortable with that,” he recalls. “After awhile I felt I was lying to myself and everyone else around me. I wanted to go to a place where nobody knew me.”
Before Mullen would leave Chattanooga, he took the difficult step of coming out to his parents.
“I came out to my parents in early 2000,” Mullen explains. “I wrote them a long letter and left it at home — then I walked out the door. They waited to talk with me about it over the weekend.”
Mullen’s parents’ reactions were surprising, given their background. What he had to face wasn’t easy — but many gay children fare far worse when first confronting the issue with their immediate family.
“My mom cried. She just kept saying, ‘I’m so sorry.’ I didn’t find out until years later that she was blaming herself. My dad’s response was quite different. He said, ‘Sex is weird no matter how you look at it — gay or straight.’ They both said ‘You’re our son and we love you no matter what.’”
Although Mullen confirms that in the aftermath of his coming out life wasn’t always a bed of roses — his mother suggested his coming out was for the pure shock value; both of his parents mentioned reparative therapy; and both were devastated when their son ended a relationship with another man they’d grown fond of — he says his parents continued to be supportive.
In 2002, Mullen made the move to Charlotte — that place he was looking for where nobody knew him. Two years later he would meet his partner Brian Mack, a director of marketing and PR for prosconsulting.com.
These days the two make their home in Charlotte’s Madison Park neighborhood and the Mullens have come to love their new son-in-law.
“They’re very accepting,” says Mullen. “But I wouldn’t come to know just how accepting they’d become if it wasn’t for a performance by the Gay Men’s Chorus.”
Mullen, who sings bass and joined the chorus when it first started last year, says he was at first apprehensive about inviting them to the presentation.
“It was confusing for me to figure out how I was going to handle my emotions,” he explains. “I was concerned that someone might say something inappropriate, so I told everyone in the chorus that my parents were coming and that they’d never been around other gay people.
“I was so nervous throughout the first half of the concert I couldn’t even look at them,” he continues. “But after it was over they came over to congratulate me and everyone in the entire chorus was so great with them.”
Members of the chorus and their friends gathered at an Elizabeth neighborhood home following the presentation for an after party.
“They relaxed and had a great time,” Mullen says of his parents. “They talked to so many people and met a number of my friends. When 11:30 rolled around and I knew they needed to go for the trip back the next morning — they wanted to stay longer and couldn’t understand why I wanted to leave so soon!”
Back at Mullen’s home later that night Tom, Beth, Bryan and Jon talked about the events that had transpired.
“My mom talked about how much she had enjoyed the night — then she remarked about the lack of parents in attendance.
“I told her that a lot of parents won’t have anything to do with their gay children.”
“It shouldn’t be like that.” Beth Mullen told her son. “That’s wrong.” Tom Mullen was equally dismayed. “That’s really sad,” he said. “I don’t understand how anyone could do that.”
“It was at this performance that they really came to see that we’re just like everybody else,” Mullen adds.
The next performance by the Charlotte Gay Men’s Chorus, “We Are Everywhere” takes place May 5, 8 p.m., at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, 1510 E. 7th St. For more details visit www.gmccharlotte.org or call 704-549-9202.