“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
― Oscar Wilde
I’ve been close to radio silent on the blog for the past couple of weeks, it feels like, but there’s been a reason for it. I’ve linked to the story when it broke in the New York Times, but the truth is I’m much more intimately connected to it than that.
I am a Mormon feminist. Or I was one? I’m not sure, it’s been a baffling few weeks on top of an already baffling decade. In one way or another I have been publicly and outspokenly at odds with the religion I was born into for a decade now, beginning when I arrived at university to find local leaders trying to organize volunteers in support of the LDS church’s Prop 8 campaign, which I staunchly refused to do. My personal religious experience has largely gone downhill after that.
I disagree vocally with the faith’s stance on LGBT people and issues, I’m unabashedly supportive for ordaining women to the currently male-only priesthood, I reject the teaching about gender and gender dynamics I was taught as not just often wrong but in some cases dangerously so. But in recent years (topped off by Kate Kelly’s experience, a woman I know, in addition to many other women in Ordain Women), my experiences with the faith and the people in it have gotten increasingly disheartening and even ugly. Things I thought I believed have been tested and found wanting, things I never believed have been proved. It’s been a decade of vertigo and unbalanced experience. I have longed to write about them, but felt utterly unable to express myself except to my husband or a few friends.
I’ve certainly never found a way to write successfully about my religion in this space. Perhaps it is because it’s so personal and I am not brave enough. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t want to reveal how deeply troubled I have been around it for so long – usually that only leads to people offering unsolicited advice one of two ways: to silence my doubts or to just leave. Neither of which are helpful, by the way. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been so conflicted myself and have not been able to settle my own thoughts to my satisfaction and so could not organize them for anyone else. But I think at it’s base, the problem is I don’t know how to write about my Mormonism honestly.
I don’t know how to express what it is to love something and be ashamed of it at the same time. I can’t explain the feeling of wanting to be loyal to something that you feel, deep in your gut, is doing the wrong thing. I cannot describe what it is to belong to a people and a tradition that I disagree with in fundamental ways. I cannot usefully or concisely shrink 200 years of history into a cohesive narrative for the outsider yet. I cannot turn nearly 30 years of lived experience, 10 of it increasingly hard and painful to reconcile, into a blog post. I’m afraid that anything I write will be fundamentally inadequate.
Also, I am a coward. Typing this now, I’m terrified to think what the reaction of a number of people whose good opinion I value might be. Every time I have been open about my struggle with faith and relationship to it, I have paid a price for it. Friends have deserted me, leaders have punished me, and I have even worried about a job because of it. I am frightened to lose more than I have lost by being honest. Not only that, as followers of the news story have seen, there are other prices to be paid. Kate Kelly, a woman more faithful than I probably ever could be, has been cut out of the religion by excommunication. There is a long and troubled history in Mormonism of excommunicating feminists and for a long time I was silent because I feared the same fate, though I fear it substantially less these days.
I am tough but my struggle with disbelief and estrangement from my community over some very big disagreements has left scars. If you were to metaphorically strip me of my coverings, yes you would see a few deep gashes of massive religious doubt. But you would also see a thousand pinpricks of hurtful comments, ugly gossip, insinuation, and spite from members of my own community, for being “other.” You would see the shrapnel wounds from when a friend standing next to me was targeted with death threats for her feminism and I was too close to not feel some of the blast. You’d see friction burns from when people who loved me tried to apply pressure (lovingly, of course) to “fix” or correct my unorthodox opinions. You’d see a brow furrowed by a million doubts and shoulder grown round with the heavy weight of fear pushing down for 10 years. You’d frankly see some marks left from self-harm as I have punished myself for not believing hard enough or hoping strongly enough. I don’t want any more markings on my invisible skin and so I have often tried to cover it up by simply not speaking of it. I’m losing my capacity for silence.
There is so much I want to say about the religion of my youth, most of it good, but I cannot speak about it unless I can say all things, and some of it is bad. Some of it is quite bad. I cannot talk about one half of my spiritual experience without including the other. I want to be able to write why I stayed LDS so long in spite of massive misgivings and conflicts of conscience, and I want to write about how compelling the thought is of completely walking away – without having anyone weigh in on the matter. I want to write about the feeling of being caught in the middle. I’m not sure how to do so, but for the first time I’d at least like to attempt it.
Perhaps finally, I am learning to write hard things. I hope so, because I need to, everyone who writes does. I do not want to do it all the time, I admittedly prefer humor and lightness and think I’m better at those. But I am learning the painful lesson of the value of the hard things and though it’s difficult, I’m glad for it.
Weigh in, writers. What made you able to write about the painful, the rough, the unappealing, the unbelievably personal, and the hard?