I was raised in an Orthodox Mormon community in Northern Utah. My hometown is actually just a few hours from where Tara Westover, the author of the memoir Educated grew up. My grandmother regularly bought products from Tara’s mother’s natural healing business. Just to give you a sense of place.
Growing up I was precocious. I always had a lot of questions about my Mormon faith. Some of that was okay, and even encouraged. Some of my questions, on the other hand, none of the adults seemed able to answer. I received statements like “you just have to believe” or “we don’t have to understand why God wants us to do what he wants us to do, we just have to do it.” These answers didn’t satisfy my mind.
As an avid reader, I searched for my own answers in church scriptures and doctrine. This only raised more questions. I read the Book of Mormon three times and never got the feelings or affirmations my peers claimed to have received. Even as a teenager I firmly felt that if I was going to dedicate my life to something, I needed to fully understand what it was I was devoting myself to.
While I was growing up, Mormons attended three hours of church every Sunday (recently I’ve been told that this has changed). The first two hours were spent with others in your particular age group and the last hour was the Sacrament meeting with the entire congregation. After I got my driver's license at 16 I would wake up every Sunday morning, put on a dress, and drive to the local bookstore. This was my church, where I would read and sometimes even buy a coffee for the first two hours. (Mormons aren’t supposed to drink coffee). Then I would head back and slip into sacrament meeting before my parents could find out I had been gone.
As a teen, the local bookstore was my church.
I knew as a senior in high school that I needed to get away from my hometown in order to have the space and freedom to figure out who I wanted to be and what I wanted to devote my life to. The opportunity presented itself when I fell in love with a long-time friend, Mike. He was in the Coast Guard so I moved to the Oregon Coast with him. The space from my Mormon community was like a breath of fresh air. For the first time, I had the opportunity to get to know myself and what I wanted without someone else trying to answer those questions for me.
My entire life I had been taught to fear and question the outside world. We were always taught to be kind to nonmembers, but also that they could never be as happy as we were because of the “truth” we knew. There was a hope that if we were kind and stood out as kind enough, then we could attract others from the outside to our faith.
There is a lot of complicated history behind these beliefs and ideologies that I won’t bore you with now. But I will say that I still often hear people talk about how nice Mormons are, and I do agree. There are a lot of truly good people who are Mormons. Some friends and family of mine included. However, what I think most people don’t understand is that the extreme niceness sometimes has an ulterior motive underneath the surface. Growing up I always felt that same sort of energy in my interactions with my community. I felt like I was being watched and like my acceptance was entirely dependent on how well I was able to conform to their standards.
What I think most people don’t understand is that the extreme niceness sometimes has an ulterior motive underneath the surface.
After leaving home in 2009, I never went to a church meeting again. I avoided missionaries and church elders who came by my home in Oregon trying to get me to go again. I just knew it wasn’t for me any longer. I was happier without it. I quickly found a community of people who loved and supported me without religious strings attached and this experience felt much deeper and more authentic. I was able to accept myself as pansexual and someone who wants to remain childfree.
In my new secular life my identity was embraced and I felt safe and whole in being my true self.
In 2015, after a new Mormon doctrine was announced that was particularly hurtful to the LGBTQ community, I formally sent in my request for withdrawal from the Mormon church membership.
Since then, I have continued to grow and change a lot. I’m constantly evolving at my own pace and in the direction of my choosing. Today I consider myself a cultural Mormon (same thing as a Post-Mormon, I just like the way that cultural Mormon sounds better). This means that I no longer believe in the religion at all, but I still recognize Mormon culture as part of what has shaped my cultural identity and family history. Recognizing that part of myself and embracing it has been incredibly healing.
Recently I started a support group for other Cultural Mormon Womxn where we can share our thoughts and stories, while providing support to one another in the new lives we are creating for ourselves outside of organized religion.
Check out Lindy's group Post Mormon Womxn for more info.