Down the Drain

I survived Dry January. Full disclosure: I cheated twice. The first time was a glass of Prosecco at a wake for a family friend. That was a no brainer. Then I went to a writing conference and ended up taking the weekend off of the wagon. I can’t really justify that one except to say writers+social time+a successful agent pitch which resulted in a request for my full manuscript=celebration ÷ wine³. I regret nothing.

But then…

The first Sunday of February Matt invited some friends over for the Superbowl. I do not care about football but I was celebrating the end of January (both dry January and January as a broad concept). I was feeling awkward and under pressure, as I always do when people I don’t know well are in my house. I was settling in but then I managed to embarrass myself. It was one of those Superbowl commercials where they get as many famous football players they can on camera and they throw the ball around and create mayhem, and Matt and his friends were excitedly shouting out the names of the people they recognized. They were having a great time. Then, suddenly, I saw someone I thought I recognized and before I could stop myself I said, “Ooh, ohh! That’s Idris Elba!”

Everyone stopped and looked over at me with that expression people give you when they need to tell you that you are an asshole but they don’t actually want to. “No,” Matt said, gently. “That’s [yet another football star I’ve never heard of].”

At first I was still certain I was right. “He looks just like him!” I said.

Then one of Matt’s friends said, “Yeah, he does. Like… he looks like a black man in an expensive suit…”

And I realized I did it again. I was accidentally racist. Goddammit. I hear people (cough, Republicans) on TV and podcasts and such insisting that there is no such thing as “implicit bias” (Richard Lowry, I’m looking at you) and that they DEFINITELY aren’t racist (despite supporting Trump “because of economic reasons; I disagree with him on many things!” [PS: fuck you]). Meanwhile, I genuinely do NOT want to be a racist and I’m accidentally racist ALL THE TIME! It’s the fucking WORST!

Matt was worried that I wouldn’t know what to do with myself during the game, so he sweetly set me up with a puzzle of a kitten that I could work on while everyone else watched sportsball. But after my gaffe, I couldn’t sit still and do my adorable puzzle. I was embarrassed and racist and stupid and I needed to DO something. So I went upstairs to work on the dishes. The bad part of that plan was that upstairs was where the booze was. And not just the can of wine that I bought to enjoy for my return to drinking (1 can = two drinks. 1 bottle = five). There were many bottles of whiskey that Matt’s friends brought to sample. And also a large bottle of home-made cider, that Matt’s friends so kindly brought, just for me!

I was cleaning and drinking and had, what seemed in the moment, a very funny thought. “My basement is full of people watching football, but I’m upstairs cleaning. I’m like a real Mormon!” Nothing like whiskey to make one feel hilarious. I shared this thought on Facebook and a former co-worker (also an ex-Mormon) chimed in with a dig at the Mo’s.  “Donate your money to a very rich multi-national corporation that doesn’t help the poor and your transformation will be complete!” I realize that if you aren’t Mormon or Mormon adjacent, this will sound like (sorry to mix sportsball metaphors) inside baseball. But suffice it to say, it’s funny. I replied to say as much.

As I was cleaning, however, my phone started sending chimes in rapid succession that said something to the effect of:

[Chime] That super Mormon uncle you never talk to and forgot you were friends with on Facebook as replied to your former coworker.

[Another chime] Your coworker is responding to you your uncle.

[Another chime] Your mother is joining in.

[Another chime] Your coworker has broken into a sweat.

[Another chime] Your uncle has more to say.

[Another chime] Your coworker has sent you an IM asking for some cover fire.

[Another chime] This is the only thing that your Mormon relatives are talking about, other than the half-naked half-time show.

[Internal Monologue] Fuuuuuuuck. (Pours more whiskey.)

Scene.

Everyone left after the game and Matt was not pleased that I drank as much as I did. It started out well! I had my can of wine and a puzzle and lots of good intentions! But I didn’t stick the landing hopping out of the wagon. I whiffed it into the mud on the side of the road and got multiple pints of sludge on my face.

So… taking a break for Dry January was good but not a cure for anxiety and/or binge drinking tendencies. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I wish I could say that I have a plan for what happens next, but I’m still figuring it out. I’m avoiding Facebook. And Mormons. And people in general. Maybe that will help.

Meanwhile, can we talk about when they will come out with the next season of Luther? It’s been too long. The accidentally racist winos want more Luther! At least, this one does. I’ll be waiting in the basement. Checking my phone for updates.

 

 

 

Thanksgiving Crafting

Growing up, Thanksgiving was spent with my large extended family and, while food was the main event, football was also central. If my uncles didn’t get into a fight about something (it’s not just drinking families that argue; Mormons do it, too), like which of them loved Ronald Reagan the most, then they would hunker down around TV and the children (and there were oodles of us) needed to stay quiet. If not quiet, then in the basement. Preferably both.

One year we did a craft around the kitchen table while the menfolk watched football and talked politics. And I loved it! I couldn’t figure out while we weren’t doing that all along! Granted, you can’t do elaborate crafts with babies and toddlers, so I guess there is my answer. But it was so great to have my mind and hands occupied and not be endlessly shushed for a change.

I’ve made the post dinner craft a part of my Thanksgiving traditions. I think the adults enjoy it… some more than others. But the kids always get really into it. A few years ago I brought a roll of butcher paper and gave everyone a large sheet to decorate as wrapping paper. The great thing about that one was that the end product was used up by Christmas and no long term storage was needed. Last year we made ornaments, which require minimal space.

I googled ideas for this year, but didn’t really find what I was looking for. Not that I didn’t find any…. there are tons of them! But, heavens to Betsy, there a lot of crap out there! Too many materials, too much mess, and then what do you do with it when Christmas ends? Also, who are these people who give children glitter? And why do they hate themselves so much?

Though, I will admit this glittered tampon garland caught my eye. Not only would it horrify my mother (my favorite!), but it would finally give me a way to use that Costco size box of tampons that I bought before switching to a silicone cup (Yahtzee!)!!!

But no. Maybe if I save them and trade them for bullets and vodka during the zombie apocalypse.

Instead we settled on Sculpey Clay ornaments. I didn’t want to do the same thing as last year, but I also love to compare the kid made ornaments over the developmental years, so I got over it. I got a pound of white clay and a bunch of other colors for around $20 with a Joann’s coupon. (I also brought screw eyes to make them easy to hang.)

It was perfect. Not too messy, easy to make, and they bake quickly. The kids had a blast and they made a bunch of ornaments. We made some for our own trees and a few to send home with the grandparents for their trees, also.

Here are the three I made:

Best of all, the kids were entertained for over an hour! Maybe that is second best, if you consider that no one glitter-glued a tampon to anyone’s forehead. Depends on how you look at it.

Either way; there is much to be thankful for.

In the Pink

I was recently reminded that I am a NEW stepparent, and as such I have MUCH to learn. It was a weird “off” moment that I’m still trying to make sense of, but here are the basics:

It was a Monday a few weeks ago and Ethan (seven) had the day off from school, but was a regular workday for us. My work has been slow so I took the day off. He has a friend in his second grade class who’s mother has kindly watched Ethan a few times this year when school got out early, so I volunteered to take her son, also. Let’s call him Chad.

Chad is a good kid. I sometimes get a little annoyed with him because he is obsessed with what is cool and what is not. The last time I had him in my car I was listening to the Beatles and he wasn’t sure what he was supposed to think about them, so he asked me how many followers they had. I remember how important that stuff felt when I was in grade school, so I get it. I just wish I could protect Ethan from that crap

Ethan asked to go to a trampoline park and I got permission from Chad’s parents to take him. I don’t know if this is a thing everywhere but trampoline parks are big in Salt Lake City right now. It’s basically a warehouse with a raised floor made of a series of trampolines and play equipment that pairs well with trampolines, such as basketball hoops and zip lines. The kids love it. (I actually tried to bounce for a minute once, but quickly realized that my spine is too old for that kind of jarring action, and that my bra was not designed for anti gravitational maneuvers. I managed to get back on to solid ground without doing permanent damage to my body and then got myself tucked back in without breaking any decency laws, but lessons were learned.)

I got the boys buckled in the car and pulled up the address on my phone. As soon as Siri’s voice came up, however, the boys groaned and launched into throwing shade at my phone, which basically consisted of repeating the tirades they have heard from their fathers about Siri. I have personally witnessed several arguments between Ethan’s dad and GPS technology and mostly have found myself taking Siri’s side. Of course it won’t work if you follow every other thing she says, then decide she doesn’t know what she was talking about to begin with, make an abrupt turn in a nonsensical direction, and get yourself lost. Remember the good old days where men just wouldn’t ask for directions? Now we foist directions on them, leading them to mansplain to a robot who can’t pick up on the passive aggression or sarcasm, and the result is the same: arriving dismally late and frustrated to a place you only sorta wanted to go to anyway. Which isn’t to say the old way was better. I just remember it being quieter.

I was ignoring the boys posturing and focusing instead in Siri’s helpful and completely correct directions when I heard this from the back seat:

“Siri is a girl and Alexa is a boy,” Chad said. “Alexa can multiply in the thousands and Siri can’t even add one plus one.” This was followed by laughter.

Before I could stop myself I interjected, “Siri and Alexa are BOTH girls.”

As if that was remotely germane. I should have said that neither are girls! They are both robots! Their developers gave them female voices because it feels natural to give a woman the bitch work of timing your abdominal crunches, reminding you to pick up the dry-cleaning, and to “find out if Burt Reynolds is still alive and report back to me.” (Yes, these are examples of my recent Siri activity. Burt Reynolds died, by the way.)

The boys didn’t respond to my inane interjection. They seemed to be surprised to discover that I was still in the car and heard this conversation. Nothing like being made to feel like a chauffer driving two little lords around in my own goddamned car.

What the fuck? I thought. I know Chad’s mom and she is a badass. She’s an athlete and she teaches advanced education techniques at the university. Does he say crap like that around her? He certainly seems comfortable saying it in front of me.

We parked at the place and I signed them up for three hours of bouncing. Then the guy at the front desk told me that I’d have to buy them each a pair of anti-slip socks if I didn’t bring some from home, so he threw that on the total, which came to around $60. I tried to hide my reaction to the number, but I could hear my mother’s voice in my head saying, “Good gracious; for that price they should leave with a framed degree in bouncing!” I handed over my credit card and the man gave me two pairs of socks. They were black, with little pink ribbons printed all over them. The boys looked at them in horror. Before anyone could ask, the man at the desk said, “October is breast cancer awareness month.”

The boys took them with frowns but they put them on and skittered off to bounce. This time I didn’t bother to hide my reaction, which was a wide smile and a thought bubble that said, Thanks for the justice, Karma! Totally worth the $60.

 I happily settled in with my Real Simple magazine and a coconut La Croix and waited for the three hours to pass, which it did uneventfully. By then, the boys were bounced out and ready for lunch. It wasn’t until they went to the lockers to get their shoes that they remembered the pink ribbons on their socks.

“Gross! I HATE pink!” Chad yelled. “He peeled them off and kicked them away from him. “Pink is the WORST color! I’m throwing these in the trash.” He pinched them between his thumb and index finger like a bag full of dog shit and threw them into the trash with a dramatic gesture.

Ethan laughed. “Me too!” he said. “I HATE pink!” He had already given the socks to me to hold while he changed back into his (oh so masculine) Pikachu socks and I had dropped them into my purse. He dove into my bag (which is oversized and full of odds and ends; I call it my Mary Poppins bag) and started rooting around for them.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I want to throw mine away, too!”

“Well, too bad. I didn’t spend good money on those just so that you could wear them a few hours and then throw them away. If you don’t want them just because they are pink I’m sure some other kid at Goodwill would be happy to have them.” I knew even as I said this that you can’t donate used socks to Goodwill, and that my refusal to allow him to follow Chad’s lead had nothing to do with the wastefulness of the action, but yet again, it was the best response that came to my mind. “Reduce, reuse, recycle!” won out over calling two second graders “a couple of chauvinistic-shit-for-brains-assholes!” in public.

We got to the car and the boys buckled in. It was quiet for a minute and then Ethan said, “Rachel, I don’t have to like pink. It’s just a color.”

I took a deep breath. “That’s true,” I said, starting the car. “But is that all it is about? Just the way you feel about a particular color? Or does it have to do with the fact that you are both boys, and pink is a ‘girl’s’ color?”

I couldn’t take my eyes off to road to check the rearview mirror as I pulled out of the parking lot and merged onto the busy road, but I imagined them exchanging a glance that said, How did she know? I thought that was our thing! We didn’t even mention girls! In that way that every generation thinks it is completely original and paving its own path. But I don’t know what they did. Probably just stare at their shoes. It was only the long pause between the question and Ethan’s answer, “No…” with an implied ellipsis or even a faint question mark at the end that told me I hit home.

“Oh, okay,” I said. “I guess I misunderstood. But I want to talk to you more about this later.” My mom never hesitated to blast me with a correction when my friends around, but I always told myself I wouldn’t do that if I became a parent.

We got home and I got them set up downstairs with food and a movie and then I went out to rake leaves. I had dozens of thoughts and emotions pushing down on me and I needed to get some space to try to manage my oversized reaction. Maybe, if I had given birth to the child and spent every day since with him, this little exchange wouldn’t have bothered me. Maybe I would have picked up on that point, years ago, when he started pre-school and began taking his cues and values from the other children. He would have started the process early – the process of learning that boys were the best and the things they like is cool and girls are bad and the things they like is shit. Maybe he would have bought into it so gradually I wouldn’t have noticed it. Or maybe I would heard some of these statements before and thought, Oh, this is normal. This is the way it goes. The girls say the same things about the boys and how they hate… blue? Maybe?

But I’ve known Ethan for three years now and I haven’t heard anything like that from him. And it wasn’t just showing a preference. The thing that shocked me was the hatred. The disgust in Chad’s voice and his forceful declaration of male supremacy with the Siri thing, and then the way he threw those socks in the trash. It was boastful, actually. “Look at how much I can hate this!” he seemed to say. And it was so infectious. Ethan wanted to be just like that; hateful and cool! Clearly they were trying to impress one another and that was leading to some gleeful one-upmanship. But still. The HATE!

I realize, of course, that I’m primed to be triggered by something like this. The last few years have been focused on stories of the systematic misogyny that women experience in this “developed” country and I’ve spent countless hours thinking about my own stories and what we have learned and how I want our culture to change as a result of all this difficult work that has been done bringing about a reckoning. One question in particular that I have been meditating on is, “Where does it start? Who plants the seed?”

I grew up in a decidedly patriarchal religion that made it clear to me from an early age that being female limited me in the role I could play in the world. I remember being told that women will always be paying for the sins of Eve. That is not official Mormon church doctrine, but it sure seems to be a precious grudge for a lot of Christian folks. Then, when I was a teenager, I had my first experience dealing with a boy who was too hopped up on hormones to take my sweet and ladylike “no, thank you” for an answer. Like me, he was raised on stories about how ‘boys will be boys’ and that it is the girl’s responsibility to save both parties with her own clear headed dedication to her own chastity, so I knew that was “my job.” But damn, no one had prepared me for how many times the hand will reach out to be smacked away, or how many times “no” won’t be taken for a final answer. Finally, before he could wear me down, I managed to escape. As I drove home in the dark I suddenly thought about Eve. Am I really supposed to believe that Eve pressured Adam into this? Because there is no way. I bet Adam bit into ALL the apples, wore Eve down until she ate one or two, and then asked her to take the blame. And when she hesitated he told her she was pretty and then she lost all ability to resist because she was a damn fool and no one prepared her for this bullshit.

But I digress.

Growing up, I was told I couldn’t do certain things and simply not encouraged to do others. At university, I experienced the way men pursued women and then viciously retaliated if their advances were denied. I sought help from university resources and got shrugs. What do you want us to do about it? They seemed to say. I heard stories about women at parties being taken advantage of while unable to consent to sex and the event being witnessed by other male party attendants who did nothing. Because, Bros before hos? I guess? Finally, my senior year, a friend of mine was murdered by a sexual predator who decided he needed what he needed more than he thought my friend deserved to have the rest of her life.

That was twenty years ago. Last year, a student at the same university was murdered on campus by a boy she dated briefly and then rejected. She reported his stalking behavior to campus police, but nothing was done. What do you want us to do about it? They seemed to say.

That’s when I realized that this world is no more safe for my nieces than is was twenty years ago when I was a young woman being told that I should always be nice and likable and respectful of the priesthood, but also to avoid short skirts and walk home in the dark with my keys in my hand in “ready position.”

Again, I ask: where does it start? When do men learn that their needs come first? Obviously the murderers in these examples are the extreme cases. But if you walk into a room at a frat party and you see an unconscious woman being raped and you back out slowly and go get more beer instead of intervening, what is going on in your mind? At the risk of making an oversimplification of the matter, it seems to me that you do not see the two people in that scenario as equals. That there is some port in your mind harboring the belief that a woman is less than a man. Maybe a 70% person.

It probably seems completely insane to suggest that the seed of that belief was planted by little boys on playgrounds, repeating what they have heard from older brothers and fathers, reassuring each other that they are, in fact, the best! Boys rule! Girls drool! But what if that is where it starts? What if that is the genesis of the darkness? What if those shitty little kid thoughts take root and you don’t even think about it, and then you grow up and one day you are that ex of mine (who totally thought he was a feminist) who told me that it didn’t think it made sense to force companies to fix the gender pay gap because it would be difficult and expensive. Then, when I asked him, “what if it were a racial pay gap?” he said, “Oh, that would be different!” Because somewhere deep in the brain he thought that a woman is only 70% of a person! (And no, that is not the day we broke up, because I was lonely and probably had just bought tickets to something and didn’t want to go alone.)

Maybe I’m totally off on this one, but I gotta tell you… the Mormons I knew as a kid who told me that men had special God given powers but a woman’s job was to make babies and do what they were told were not much more articulate than a couple of grade-school-aged boys.

All these thoughts were hitting me like hail stones as I raked leaves and cried freely behind my sunglasses. I thought with sudden sympathy about the deadbeat parents that claim to be going out for some cigarettes and then drive into the sunset, never to return. Which is when I remembered that all this anguish started over a pair of socks, and I had to stop and laugh.

I took a deep breath and told myself that the lifetime’s worth of shit that this incident brought up for me was not about Ethan and that I was not going to put that on him. But I was genuinely upset, and I needed him to understand at least a small part of why.

Later in the evening, after Chad went home, I was in the kitchen making dinner when Ethan came in and asked for a snack. I got him settled and then I asked if we could talk for a minute.

“I’m a little upset,” I said. “I’m wondering if you can guess why?”

He looked down at his snack and deflated by about 20% as he said, “the pink.”

“Yeah, that’s part of it,” I said. I don’t know how to have heavy conversations with children, but back when I was a boss with 10 or so people reporting to me, I read a book about keeping disciplinary messages short. Get to it, make the point, move on by turning the page onto another topic. So that was what I decided to do.

“I’m glad that you and Chad are friends,” I said, “but he has some stupid ideas.” I waited for him to remind me that we aren’t supposed to say ‘stupid,’ which is his rule not ours, but he didn’t. “That thing about Siri being a girl and not being able to do math? That’s not okay. And like I said today, you don’t have to like pink. But you didn’t say ‘I don’t like pink,’ you said, ‘I hate pink!’ And I’m not stupid. I know what that means. You know that?”

He didn’t try to argue; he just nodded this time.

“It’s not okay to believe that boys are better than girls, just like it is not okay to believe that white people are better than Asian people, or black people, or anyone.” Ethan is one quarter Korean so I knew that would get his attention.

“You know, there are things that I am better at than your dad, and there are things that your dad is better at than I am. I’m better at fixing things, which is something that typically people think of as a boy thing. And you know your dad is a brilliant teacher. Did you know that, not that long ago, public school teachers were all women? It’s true; that was something people thought of as a woman’s job.”

The boisterous kid who was showing off for his friend was completely gone. He was looking down at the counter taking his punishment until I said this bit about school teachers and then he looked up, surprised. I knew I’d managed to get something across to him and started to wrap up the lecture.

“Look, like I said. I like Chad and I’m glad you are friends. But I think I can speak for both myself and your mom when I say that there is no way we are raising a boy who doesn’t treat girls as equals. So whenever I hear your friends telling you to hate girls and things associated with girls and I don’t hear you respond and say, ‘no you are wrong,’ then you can expect to hear from me at some point after because my job is to make sure that you aren’t getting bad programing like that.”

Ethan nodded. After a pause, maybe once he realized I wasn’t going to say any more, he said, “I’m sorry, Rachel.”

“Thank you,” I said. “I accept your apology.” Then it was time to turn the page. I asked him I needed help deciding on a dessert. “I have ice cream or frozen chocolate chip cookies that I can throw in the oven. What do you think?”

I didn’t typically reward my employees with fresh baked cookies to bribe them into liking me again after I told them off, but I wanted Ethan to know we were fine after our first memorable disagreement. And anyway, I was the boss. It was their job to give me cookies. My motto as a boss was: Make me like you, if you can!

I know it wasn’t perfect, but I’m proud of that conversation. I think I handled it well. And I haven’t decided that misogyny begins on the playground. I’m sure it is more complicated than that, but honestly, it’s as convincing an origin story as any other I have heard. But working through my reaction to this incident, I did have a thought that, as I have been given the gift of becoming a stepparent after years of thinking I would never have a child in my life, I am not going to squander this opportunity. I am not going to tell my nieces to watch their hem length or carry their keys at the ready. I’m going to tell my little boy that pink is beautiful and that girls are badasses, who grow up to be badass women like his mom and me.

When he is older, I’ll tell him that “no” means “no” and “yes” means “yes” and that boys are feminists who look out for others. But not yet; that conversation is a few years off yet. I’ll have to make a note, once we get there, to stock up on cookie dough. We’ll need a lot of cookies for that.

My Pioneer Stock (A Pioneer Day Re-post)

NOTE: Sorry for the re-post, but I do love this one! Happy Pioneer Day or Pie & Beer Day! And if you do not celebrate either because you are a normal person, I hope you are having a great Wednesday!

Ever since I left the Mormon Church to join the Church of Sleep-in on Sunday and go to Brunch, I have experienced a significant improvement in quality of life. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t still love my Mormon ancestors. I am particularly proud of the Mormon women. The men did a lot of interesting stuff, and the polygamists are just wacky fun. But the women? The women could give birth in a back room with nothing for pain management but a stick between their teeth and not even wake up the other wives sleeping upstairs. And then they got up and washed the sheets. Those women were ballers.

In honor of Pioneer Day (or, as we heathens call it, Pie and Beer Day), I want to write a brief biography of my Great Great Great Great Grandmother, Phebe Draper Palmer Brown. Phebe was the daughter of William Draper, for whom the town of Draper in Salt Lake County is named (or for her brother William Draper – I have heard it both ways). She was born 1797 in Rome New York. The Drapers moved to Canada when Phebe was a girl and she married her first husband George Palmer at the age of 18. The Drapers joined the LDS church a few years later (though George never did) and Phebe was baptized by Brigham Young. George and Phebe had six children and another on the way when he up and died on her in 1833. She was 38.

Phebe packed up her family and followed the Drapers back to the states. They met up with other Canadian Saints but were driven out of Ohio and then Missouri by Mormon-haters. They eventually settled in Nauvoo, Illinois. She received a patriarchal blessing from Joseph Smith who told her to be good and that she would get another man. This was a little ahead of the polygamy trend, but I don’t think Joseph would have snatched her up in any case. He preferred 14 year-olds who had not yet pushed a half a dozen babies out of their vaginas. Phebe was 40 and she looked like she had pushed two of her seven children out of her eyes.

brown_phoebe_draper

My sisters and I often joke about having inherited our looks from Phebe.

Phebe worked hard to support her family and I have read she had some talent for nursing. Luckily she wasn’t too good at it, because after Phebe failed to nurse her friend Ann Brown back to health, she married her widower, Ebenezer. That was in 1842. Ann left him with four young children and it just made sense to join forces. He was a looker, also.

ebenezerbrown_copy

The Mormon situation in Illinois was becoming untenable. In 1844 Joseph Smith was killed. In 1846, Phebe and Ebenezer joined the group of Saints who were following Brigham Young (now president of the church) west to the new “Promised Land.” They were passing through Council Bluffs Iowa in July and were met by US soldiers. The war with Mexico was in full swing and the soldiers asked Brigham to give them 500 men to take to California to fight. He complied – hoping to obtain government aid for the migration (because he was a “taker”).

Along with another 550ish Mormons, Ebenezer and Phebe both volunteered – probably to get away from the children. Actually, Phebe’s 14 year-old son Zemira Palmer joined also. They pawned the younger children off on relatives in the wagon train.

What would come to be known as “The Mormon Battalion” marched 2,000 miles from Council Bluffs, Iowa to San Diego, California. Phebe worked as a cook and laundress and Zemira served as a Colonel’s aid. The trek was pretty miserable, by all accounts. They walked through the deserts and mountains… for a year. Phebe was one of only four women who made the entire trip and at 49 she was by far the oldest of the four (the second oldest was 22).

Considering the distance and the difficulty of the terrain, they actually made pretty good time. But by the time they got to San Diego, the war was over and the Battalion was dismissed. (There is one story about a herd of wild cattle attacking the Battalion as they crossed through Arizona, so they did see some action.)

Ebenezer and Phebe were out of money so they re-enlisted for another year. They were sent to Sutter’s Mill and were among the group who found flakes of gold in the American River, a discovery the led to the California Gold Rush. They collected a small amount of gold but then received the call from Brother Brigham. It was time for them to re-join the Saints in Salt Lake City.

On their way back through the California mountains, they were part of the group that discovered the remains of the Donner-Reed party. (I know what you are thinking. “What? Not possible! Was your GGGG Grandmother Forest Gump?” I don’t know how much of it is true. I just know what I have read.) The survivors and rescuers of the Donner Party had been unable to bury the dead due to the ice and snow, so the Mormons stopped and buried all the bodies they could find before pressing on to Salt Lake City.

Phebe, Ebenezer and Zemira arrived in Salt Lake in 1848, at the end of a 3,000 mile journey. Phebe had a mule to ride by then, so that’s nice. They settled in Willow Creek, which would later be renamed as “Draper,” as I mentioned before. Ebenezer became the Postmaster, but he couldn’t read so Phebe (who was well educated for the time) served as Postmistress. She also ran a school for small children. Zemira was sent to work in Orderville, which was Brigham Young’s big communist experiment. Two guesses as to how that turned out.

Unfortunately, Brigham Young wasn’t finished with the Draper-Palmers yet. Brother Brigham told Ebenezer that he wanted him to become a polygamist and have more children. Phebe is said to have approved, and in 1853 and 1854 Ebenezer married two more women. One of them died a decade later, leaving Phebe with yet another brood of small children to raise.

Phebe died in 1879 at the incredible age of 82. (Granted, in the photo she appears to be about 127, and it looks like she made at least part of her 3,000 mile march by walking with her face.) That lady was a stone cold badass, and I’m proud to be her descendant.

Also, in reading up on all of this stuff, something has occurred to me that may be a brilliant bit of insight as to how Mormon services are operated. Perhaps the reason that those damn meetings are three hours long is because it was the only time those poor people got to sit down! It HAD to be as long as they could possibly get away with!

One more thing – this is a letter from Zemira to Phebe from Orderville. I think it is adorable in its presciently passive/aggressive tone, which is still the Mormon modus operandi.  I especially love the way he waves off his inheritance and then signs the letter from “your unworthy son.”

Letter from Zemira Palmer to his mother Phebe Draper Palmer Brown

Rage Against the Machine

Last week, in the middle of the Supreme Court hullabaloo, I took a break from my computer and walked down the street to get lunch at a fast food taco place in my neighborhood.  I put in my order and stepped out of the way to wait my turn when suddenly there was a young man in my space.  He stepped toward me and put a piece of paper in my line of sight and said, “Hey, this is for you.”

I flinched.  I was startled by the lack of introduction or transition of any kind and tried to avert my eyes, but then realized what I was seeing was a glossy professionally printed pamphlet with a picture of Jesus and the letters “LDS” across the top. “Oh,” I said, placing my hand to my throat and catching my breath.  “No, thank you.”

The man gave me an expensively orthodontured smile and a quick nod of his blonde and blue-eyed head and went out the front door.  For a second I almost went after him.  I didn’t know what I would say.  “Don’t do that!”?  How could I possibly make him understand why?  Did I even understand why? “Hey, haven’t you heard all the women in the nation are ‘triggered’ right now? Well, we are.  So don’t jump out from behind Coke machines and Guerilla-Jesus them, maybe?”

Then, and every day since this incident at the taco store, I have returned to this thing that happened to me many years ago.  It was the summer of 1997, before my 20th birthday.  I was working on campus at the art museum and I had walked across campus to get change for the gift shop cash register.  I was heading back and a man in a beater car pulled up next to me with the window down and asked me what time it was.  I told him and he thanked me, but didn’t drive off.  I didn’t think anything about it when I walked away but quickly realized he was following me.  I picked up my pace, but before I could go far he plowed the car into a driveway in front of me, blocking my path.  His window was still down and he was yelling at me.  His penis was out of his shorts and in his hand.  With his other hand he held up a pornographic magazine and asked me what I thought about it.

At the time I joked, “I think it was a photo of Pamela Anderson.  That was the worst part.”  But that wasn’t the worst part.  The worst part was looking up at the parking lot in broad daylight on a beautiful summer afternoon and seeing lots of cars but no people.  The worst part was knowing that my path forward was blocked and that if I ran back the way I came he would be able to follow me with his car and overtake me before I could get away down a path the car couldn’t follow. The worst part was knowing that this could and might get a lot worse, and that I wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.

It was such a long time ago. I can still remember what I was wearing. I remember some general things about what he and his car looked like, and I remember feeling a sense of rising panic. I don’t remember deciding what I was going to do, but I do remember hopping over the hood of his car and running toward the stairs between the library and the Behavioral Science Building that led up to the art museum.  I remember yelling over my shoulder as I ran, “You are sick! You need to get help!” and then later thinking, did I really say that? I’m so sure he went straight to a phone book to find a therapist, you Dork.

Maybe if you know me and you love me, you are thinking ‘she got out of the situation because she kept her head. She is smart. She is X and that that protected her from winding up like one of the girls who are Y.’

No.  Wrong.  I wasn’t physically harmed because I was lucky.  That was all.  But he still got what he wanted from me.  He got off on frightening me.  If he wanted to shock me with the photo or just scare me by reminding me that he could hurt me if he wanted to, it worked.  It scared me.  More than twenty years later, I picture that empty parking lot and it still scares me.

I’ve heard a lot of stories this week about women who did not report assaults or harassment in their past, and I did not intend to report this incident.  But I got back to work and the security guard, who was watching the shop for me while I was gone, immediately saw from my face that something was wrong.  I told her what had happened as a friend, not really thinking about it anything coming from it.  She was the one who called the police.  She had to; it was her job.  They came and took a statement.  A week later, an officer came back with postcards of photos (which I later learned from Harry Bosch novels is called a “six pack”) for me to look at to see if I could identify the man. I told her before we sat down in the main gallery of the museum to talk that I only saw him briefly and wasn’t sure if I would recognize him, but when she laid out the photos I was shocked by my certainty.  There was no doubt in my mind as to which man had exposed himself to me.

The police officer did something like a joyous fist pump and shouted, “Yes! We got him!” I was surprised because I always watched too much TV and expected her to have more of a poker face, but she was elated.  She told me that the same thing had happened to several women on campus and that they now had multiple victims identifying one suspect.

This next part is the hardest part of the story for me, the part that I’ve been grappling with for the past few days. For the next few months, I spoke with the officer a few more times on the phone.  She was always very kind and sympathetic toward me, so much so that when I told her I didn’t want to testify, she just said, “I understand.”  She didn’t even ask me to explain, even though I had prepared an explanation. I didn’t want to testify, because I was afraid. I was afraid that then he would have my name and he would know how to find me.  I was afraid because I figured that there was a low chance that he would get “help” as I had urged him at the time and a high chance he would get no more than slap on the wrist from a judge.  And I was afraid that this was a sick person who was working up the courage to do something much worse than what he had done so far.  And I was in the phone book.  But like I said, she didn’t ask.  She hung up the phone I never heard from her again.

I remind myself now that I was very young when I made this decision.  And that there were several other women who were willing to testify.  My account probably wouldn’t have made a difference, even if it had gone to court, which it probably didn’t.  If it had come down to it, if they had needed me, the officer would have called back and tried to talk me into doing my civic duty, right? But she didn’t.  And maybe that guy did get some help.  Or maybe he didn’t.  Maybe he went on and hurt someone else, even if he didn’t get a second chance to hurt me. I will never know.  I just know that when I see someone like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford tell her story in front of the world, I feel like a coward.  And when I hear other people (men and women) speculate about what she could possibly remember, or how she could possibly still be affected by some bad behavior a few decades later, I shake with rage.

I walked home with my bag of tacos last week with my mind awash in emotions and angry thoughts.  I was still trying to think what I could have told that young man with the rich-people teeth.  The thing that really stuck in my craw was that I had said, “Thank you.”  He frightened me – unintentionally and maybe with good intentions – but he frightened me. And I fucking thanked him!  I’m so programmed to be polite and unburdensome that at forty-one years old I still treat every man I meet with deference and respect even when they get in my face uninvited and ruin my day.

I can’t articulate how angry I am right now.  I can’t articulate to others in my life or even strangers what I need.  I don’t know what to do with all this anger that I am feeling.  And I know it isn’t just women who are angry, so please don’t bother reminding me.  But I also don’t want men to read all these stories about ‘why I never reported’ and get too comfortable with the idea that they have been too sheltered to be an ally, either.  I told the men in my life this story back in the 90s.  I’ve shared many other stories about things that I have happened to me over the years with my partners and male friends.  These are not secrets that the men in the world are just now finding out about; I don’t believe that for a minute.  Many of them seem to be listening with new insight right now, and I am so grateful for that.  Many are not and don’t seem to understand why we are suddenly changing the rules on them.

We aren’t.  Nothing has changed.  But we are angry.  And we are insisting that everyone pay attention.  I am changing one thing, though.  I’m no longer thanking men just for not hurting me.  That part of my life is done

My Pioneer Stock (A Pioneer Day Re-post)

Ever since I left the Mormon Church to join the Church of Sleep-in on Sunday and go to Brunch, I have experienced a significant improvement in quality of life. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t still love my Mormon ancestors. I am particularly proud of the Mormon women. The men did a lot of interesting stuff, and the polygamists are just wacky fun. But the women? The women could give birth in a back room with nothing for pain management but a stick between their teeth and not even wake up the other wives sleeping upstairs. And then they got up and washed the sheets. Those women were ballers.

In honor of Pioneer Day (or, as we heathens call it, Pie and Beer Day), I want to write a brief biography of my Great Great Great Great Grandmother, Phebe Draper Palmer Brown. Phebe was the daughter of William Draper, for whom the town of Draper in Salt Lake County is named (or for her brother William Draper – I have heard it both ways). She was born 1797 in Rome New York. The Drapers moved to Canada when Phebe was a girl and she married her first husband George Palmer at the age of 18. The Drapers joined the LDS church a few years later (though George never did) and Phebe was baptized by Brigham Young. George and Phebe had six children and another on the way when he up and died on her in 1833. She was 38.

Phebe packed up her family and followed the Drapers back to the states. They met up with other Canadian Saints but were driven out of Ohio and then Missouri by Mormon-haters. They eventually settled in Nauvoo, Illinois. She received a patriarchal blessing from Joseph Smith who told her to be good and that she would get another man. This was a little ahead of the polygamy trend, but I don’t think Joseph would have snatched her up in any case. He preferred 14 year-olds who had not yet pushed a half a dozen babies out of their vaginas. Phebe was 40 and she looked like she had pushed two of her seven children out of her eyes.

brown_phoebe_draper

My sisters and I often joke about having inherited our looks from Phebe.

Phebe worked hard to support her family and I have read she had some talent for nursing. Luckily she wasn’t too good at it, because after Phebe failed to nurse her friend Ann Brown back to health, she married her widower, Ebenezer. That was in 1842. Ann left him with four young children and it just made sense to join forces. He was a looker, also.

ebenezerbrown_copy

The Mormon situation in Illinois was becoming untenable. In 1844 Joseph Smith was killed. In 1846, Phebe and Ebenezer joined the group of Saints who were following Brigham Young (now president of the church) west to the new “Promised Land.” They were passing through Council Bluffs Iowa in July and were met by US soldiers. The war with Mexico was in full swing and the soldiers asked Brigham to give them 500 men to take to California to fight. He complied – hoping to obtain government aid for the migration (because he was a “taker”).

Along with another 550ish Mormons, Ebenezer and Phebe both volunteered – probably to get away from the children. Actually, Phebe’s 14 year-old son Zemira Palmer joined also. They pawned the younger children off on relatives in the wagon train.

What would come to be known as “The Mormon Battalion” marched 2,000 miles from Council Bluffs, Iowa to San Diego, California. Phebe worked as a cook and laundress and Zemira served as a Colonel’s aid. The trek was pretty miserable, by all accounts. They walked through the deserts and mountains… for a year. Phebe was one of only four women who made the entire trip and at 49 she was by far the oldest of the four (the second oldest was 22).

Considering the distance and the difficulty of the terrain, they actually made pretty good time. But by the time they got to San Diego, the war was over and the Battalion was dismissed. (There is one story about a herd of wild cattle attacking the Battalion as they crossed through Arizona, so they did see some action.)

Ebenezer and Phebe were out of money so they re-enlisted for another year. They were sent to Sutter’s Mill and were among the group who found flakes of gold in the American River, a discovery the led to the California Gold Rush. They collected a small amount of gold but then received the call from Brother Brigham. It was time for them to re-join the Saints in Salt Lake City.

On their way back through the California mountains, they were part of the group that discovered the remains of the Donner-Reed party. (I know what you are thinking. “What? Not possible! Was your GGGG Grandmother Forest Gump?” I don’t know how much of it is true. I just know what I have read.) The survivors and rescuers of the Donner Party had been unable to bury the dead due to the ice and snow, so the Mormons stopped and buried all the bodies they could find before pressing on to Salt Lake City.

Phebe, Ebenezer and Zemira arrived in Salt Lake in 1848, at the end of a 3,000 mile journey. Phebe had a mule to ride by then, so that’s nice. They settled in Willow Creek, which would later be renamed as “Draper,” as I mentioned before. Ebenezer became the Postmaster, but he couldn’t read so Phebe (who was well educated for the time) served as Postmistress. She also ran a school for small children. Zemira was sent to work in Orderville, which was Brigham Young’s big communist experiment. Two guesses as to how that turned out.

Unfortunately, Brigham Young wasn’t finished with the Draper-Palmers yet. Brother Brigham told Ebenezer that he wanted him to become a polygamist and have more children. Phebe is said to have approved, and in 1853 and 1854 Ebenezer married two more women. One of them died a decade later, leaving Phebe with yet another brood of small children to raise.

Phebe died in 1879 at the incredible age of 82. (Granted, in the photo she appears to be about 127, and it looks like she made at least part of her 3,000 mile march by walking with her face.) That lady was a stone cold badass, and I’m proud to be her descendant.

Also, in reading up on all of this stuff, something has occurred to me that may be a brilliant bit of insight as to how Mormon services are operated. Perhaps the reason that those damn meetings are three hours long is because it was the only time those poor people got to sit down! It HAD to be as long as they could possibly get away with!

One more thing – this is a letter from Zemira to Phebe from Orderville. I think it is adorable in its presciently passive/aggressive tone, which is still the Mormon modus operandi.  I especially love the way he waves off his inheritance and then signs the letter from “your unworthy son.”

Letter from Zemira Palmer to his mother Phebe Draper Palmer Brown

Cougar Town

On return from a work trip, I was waiting to disembark my plane in Salt Lake City, standing up beneath the overhead bins because I am short and I can.  Suddenly, this tall blonde guy in a bright blue Brigham Young University hat, standing in the aisle and leaning on the seat two rows in front of me, caught my eye.  He gave me a smile and a wink.  I smiled back and then dropped my gaze to peer out the window.  He was young and attractive and I admit that I was fractionally flattered, despite the air of a college sophomore “will-flirt-with-anything-that-moves-because-I-am-so-over-powered-by-hormones-that-they-are-shooting-out-the-ends-of-my-hair” that he distinctly had about him.

Step away from the jail bait!” the angel on my right shoulder blared into my ear through a loud-speaker.  I then made a crooked cognitive connection, remembering that the first time I heard about the TV show called “Cougar Town” I had asked if it was set in Provo, home of the Brigham Young University, Cougars.

A few minutes later I stepped out of the gangway and immediately started scanning the hallway of the airport’s terminal for posted bathrooms signs bearing a skirted figure. I found one, walked in and, with a bag on each shoulder, made an abrupt right turn into the first open stall door that I saw.  There in the stall, less than a foot in front of me, I saw – as if in flashes – a bright blue hat, blonde hair, long legs, feet positioned twice shoulder width apart, and (through the legs) an ample stream pouring confidently into the bowl below.

I leapt backward and spun around, narrowly avoiding becoming wedged in the stall doorway by my carry-on bags.  Convinced that I had walked into the men’s room by mistake and not quite sure what to do about it, I began running around in a small circle doing what I reflectively think of as my “panic dance.”

Unfortunately, this happens to be my go-to reaction in emergencies.  The first time I did the “panic dance” was back in college when a crappy plastic lamp spontaneously combusted and I looked over to see a yellow flame within licking distance of the wood paneling of my apartment wall. I leapt to my feet and ran seven laps in a tight circle because my reptilian brain was telling me, “Maybe this will be helpful!”  Luckily, Demetria was there and she put the fire out. (Firefighting is a hobby of Demetria’s. She keeps a fire extinguisher handy “just in case” and is the only person I know who has used it on more than one occasion.)  I no longer remember how she extinguished the flaming lamp, as my view was blurred by a whirling panic dance sequence, but I remember feeling very thankful someone calm was present.

The panic dance I was doing in the airport bathroom might have been less of a circle.  I was trying to figure out how to get out without being seen, and kept changing my mind between running out the door and running into a stall to hide.  I was also trying to keep the heels of my boots from hitting the tile, so as not to give myself away with my overtly feminine clacky-clacks.  During this time, a cute little blonde in her twenties entered the restroom and, just as I did, turned into the first empty stall. Blue hat. Short hair. Intimidatingly aggressive piss stream. She took in these details and immediately joined me in the panic dance.  She was shaking her hands, I was clutching my bags, and we were both running in a crazy loop trying to figure out what we were going to do, all while Mr. BYU obliviously continued to discharge a bladder’s-worth of recycled root beer into the toilet bowl.

I stopped abruptly. It dawned on me that there were two of us and one of him and the math sobered me.  I turned and walked into an empty stall further down the lane, clacking my heels as loudly as possible, and shut the door behind me.  I hadn’t observed any urinals, and obviously Mr. BYU hadn’t either.  I don’t know why I instantly leapt to the conclusion that I was in the wrong room, but even if I was, the fact that another woman made the same mistake was all I needed to feel okay about the whole thing.

I listened as the guy left and waited to hear if he bumped into anyone on his way out.  But as far as I know, he strolled off without ever realizing he had been in the women’s room.  In fact, if only he had been polite enough to close the door to his stall, it’s possible no one else would have known either.

I saw the student once more before I left the airport.  We were down in baggage claim waiting for the belt to start rolling.  He was talking on his cell and giving a wry smile to another woman no closer to his age than I am.  “Damn,” I thought to myself as the conveyor belt creaked to life.  “It’s like he’s drawn to women by an electro-magnetic force.”

Then I briefly imagined another plot for “Cougar Town,” set Provo and centered around the university life that my friends who attended BYU have described to me.  Basically all of the characters will constantly try to work off their un-used sexual tension by exercising at the gym, reading scriptures by lamp-light, or by both making and eating basket loads of baked goods.

“Nah,” I thought to myself as I tugged my rolly-bag off the belt and toward the airport parking lot.  “No one would ever watch that show.”

Ask an Atheist

Last Thursday (April 18th) was “National Ask an Atheist Day.”  I did not know that was a thing until I ended up getting sucked into a Facebook conversation started by an atheist friend of mine who was soliciting questions.

Most of the questions were some version of “how can you prove that there is no god?”  I was reminded that the way most people define atheism is wildly different than the way that I define it.  I know that language evolves and words come to stand for something far beyond their original definitions.  That is a natural phenomenon of language.  But the words “atheist” and “agnostic” do have simple meanings, and that is important to me.

Here is the origin of the word “atheist:”

And here is “agnostic:”

 

An atheist is without god.  An agnostic is without knowledge.  That is it.  The way I define my atheism is very much in line with the basic components of the word, and not all the other things that people want to put on top of that simple absence of belief.  I live without a belief in a god.  That is, I do not accept any version of a god that has been presented to me and therefore I do not worship one.  Do I know for certain that there is no god or anything that might take the place of a creator? No, I don’t. I accept that I don’t know, therefore I consider myself both atheist and agnostic.

Most of the atheists I know describe themselves this way. And most of us don’t want to tell you that you are wrong to believe in something we don’t accept or that you are backward for keeping your traditions.  I understand that atheism isn’t for everyone, just as Mormonism definitely wasn’t for me.  I would love to be a live-and-let-live atheist.  But then someone inevitably wants to teach creationism in science class and I can’t just ‘let live’ anymore, because I consider that an encroachment on the separation of church and state.  But that’s a whole other conversation.

I was reading the thread with interest and not weighing in, but then I lost my self-control.  I really need to get out more.  I don’t get enough human interaction working at home and I have been making Facebook debates my substitute.  I’m going to get myself into trouble.

The question was something like, “If you know that the word ‘atheist’ offends people, why wouldn’t you call yourself an agnostic instead? And if I lack belief in a god but believe in a higher power or force in the universe greater than myself, am I an atheist?”

This is what I wrote in response:

I know the word atheist is loaded and most people define it differently than I do (simply without belief in a god). I think of it like the word “feminist.” It’s loaded with controversy but its meaning is simple. I guess I would say, in answer to your question, I’m an atheist feminist living in Utah. I have accepted that my basic beliefs are offensive to the general population.

As for the second question, this is how I think about it: I am confident there are forces in the universe that we will never understand. We are so limited in our scope and ability to comprehend, that I am confident that we will never know enough to understand the questions to ask, let alone the answers that are out there. (Which is why I love the Douglas Adams answer to life, the universe and everything turning out to be 42.) But let’s just say for a second that we could, and it turns out that the answer is a physical law or a set of physical laws that guides the universe, and we all go, “Oh! Now it makes sense!” And then my bishop from my childhood jumps up and points and me and says “See! I was right! I told you there was something!” Then I would turn to him and say, “Excuse me, but is it a bearded magic man who cares a whole lot about whether or not I masturbate? No? Okay, then fuck off.”

I didn’t tell him that, yes, by my definition, he is an atheist.  I kept this to myself because it was clear that word was inherently pejorative to him. Nor did I tell him that most of the people I meet who consider themselves agnostic are actually atheist by my definition.  I don’t tell my ‘agnostic’ friends that, either.  They seem to think that agnosticism is a politer form of atheism.  Or rather, a refusal to take a side.  The Switzerland of dogmas.  My atheist friends think of themselves as agnostic, but my agnostic friends think of themselves as people who just don’t care and would like to talk about something else, now.  But they are living without a god.  They are atheists, too.

That’s okay.  I hold fast that words have meanings and those meanings are important. But I also want the right to define myself and what I believe.  I can give others that right as well.

Latter Day Saints and Sinners

I allowed myself to be drawn into another family’s facebook fight last week.  I knew it was a bad idea, but I couldn’t help myself.  And anyway it has been so long – I think I just needed to be reminded that you aren’t going to change anyone’s opinion.  Not on the topic of homosexuality.  And not on facebook.

A little background…

When I was a kid, my Mormon bishop was unequivocal about homosexuality.  It was a choice, and it was a bad choice.  This was the message I got from everyone in my community.  But in the last few years, I have noticed a distinct evolution in the way Mormon’s talk about our LGBT brothers and sisters.  Suddenly, there was a different tone.  It is still bad, of course.  But they seemed to get that it wasn’t a choice.  I think the word I have heard most is that it is an “affliction.”  As in, “Have you heard? Her son is afflicted with same sex attraction.”

In the beginning I thought that just the fact that they were moving on the issue was good, because it showed progress.  But I quickly decided that was wrong.  In fact, I’ve decided that the new stance is as or more toxic.  They still believe you have a choice.  If not a choice in who you love and are attracted to, then you have a choice in what you do about it.

This is best explained by the Josh and Lolly phenomenon.  Josh and Lolly Weed are a couple who came out several years ago as “mixed attracted” for lack of a better term.  They wrote a long blog post that went viral and gave a lot of people in the church hope that even if their child suffered from this condition that they could still live a “normal” life, centered around a person of the opposite sex, their children and their church.  And the Saints rejoiced.

But then, a few months ago, the Weeds wrote another post announcing that they were wrong.  It wasn’t working, and they are divorcing.

As a result, in the Utah parlance, people are flipping the freak out.

Last week a woman I know through a writing group posted this blog post written by one such flipper outer titled “Actually, the Mormon Position on Gay Marriage is Stronger Than You Think.  I read the title and knew that I was clicking on danger but as I said already… yeah.  It was a slow work day.  The post has since been removed, but here is the gist: So it didn’t work out for the Weeds.  That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work!  You don’t have to be attracted to a person to love them, you just have to endure the times when you aren’t ‘feeling it’ until you develop that deeper truer Fiddler on the Roof kind of love.  Then he cites his experience of enduring his wife’s postpartum depression without filing for divorce as proof that this can be done.

It was stupid and my general response was a big eyeroll and an “Oh yeah… I forgot about the enthusiasm with which these people will turn themselves into cognitive knots out of desperation to not have to admit they were wrong.”  Then I started looking through the comments that were being posted and I saw that another person from the writing group, a young and out gay man, returned missionary and current student in good standing at BYU, was trying to have a discussion with the poster’s inlaws, cousins, and other hard believing friends.

“Oh God,” I thought.  “Calvin needs some cover fire.”

So I weighed in and said some pro LGBT stuff, basically stating that I know many LGBT folks in life-long partnerships that are as full of love, sacrifice and commitment as any other couple I have ever met.  Sometimes I think that the one helpful thing one can do in these circumstances is remind everyone that they are talking about real people.  Here is an example of a comment that I got in response.

A homosexual relationship cannot meet the purposes for eternal marriage. Being in love longterm by itself means very little in the scope of eternal purposes for marriage. But in reality, there are relatively few homosexual relationships that are longterm anyway. The media has been very successful in painting a certain picture of homosexual family bliss, but the reality is much much more often promiscuity, damaged people, disease, and misery.

So I said:

I think we worry too much about the afterlife and deciphering God’s plan. I would rather focus my energy on doing the most with this life and caring for my family and loved ones, who are not the promiscuous damaged and diseased people you may think they are. But even if they were, I believe that the Jesus Christ I have read about would pull them in closer and not shun them, IMHO.

That same God loving lady responded with:

It is one of the most successful tools of the adversary, to convince people that disapproval of a sin is equal to hating the sinner. It has become a most powerful lie.

Oh my mistake.  I thought you just wrote off an entire community as diseased and damaged people, which sounds a lot like hating the sinner to me, but whatever.  I don’t know how we got to this place where it is far worse to call someone bigoted than to be bigoted, but that seems to be the way of it.

I lost an entire day on this thread.  I stopped commenting, but I kept reading.  Calvin was fighting a good fight, but he was getting ganged up on and no one wanted to hear what he had to say.  I was proud of him, but was hurting me to watch.  Finally, around midnight, I couldn’t take it anymore.  I fired this off in the comments (please forgive the run on sentences – it was late and I was feeling feisty):

Calvin, I should PM you… but I’m going to just say this publicly because as we say in Utah County “what the heck.” If the article’s data is correct and 40% of millennial Mormons are struggling with their faith over social issues, then the church is in a crisis. As has been stated in this thread many times over, there is a clear choice. Accept all on faith and stay, or find that is not possible and leave (where I find myself). You have somehow made another choice. The bravest choice. You have your testimony of The Heavenly Father and you have what you know to your bones to be true about yourself… in your own heart. Clearly, the dissonance is painful for you, and yet you stay and fight for an answer. It seems to me that those of us who want the church to survive in the future might look to you and your choice and say “how do we resolve this together?” Not to lecture or to call you wicked or to say your choices are to remain celibate and die alone, without knowing love or affection, OR to leave… Here is the thing. I have what I want. I have a Supreme Court decision ruling on my side. The fact that the future of the church weighs in the balance of the next generation, and it seems they are split… a person who has been fighting this fight since the 90s might see that as icing on the cake, and there may be days where I do. But you aren’t me. You have taken the braver path. You are staying to fight the brave fight. There will be many people who will tell you to sit down and listen. Those people want to validate their own decisions. What they don’t understand is that they are validating my decision, with every young person they call wicked and push away. On my basest most broken level I want that. I want the church to fail for everyone the way it failed for me. I want my decisions to be validated. But I have – even now – an elevated level, where I see that this church has the power to help people find meaning in this world. And that part of me wants to tell you to never be discouraged. Keep seeking. Keep asking questions. Keep challenging the accepted views. Sooner or later, for the sake of the future, they will sit down and listen.

If not, the Unitarians are lovely and they don’t care if you wear jeans to church. Just sayin’.

 

Calvin and I ended up taking the conversation over to private message and had a long chat about all of this.  It was really good to decompress and to ease some of the frustration by preaching to the choir instead of to the gargoyles.  The next time I saw him I gave him a big hug and I felt like I had adopted a new nephew.  I know I didn’t budge any minds on that thread; we all left as self-certain as we began.  If I managed to give Calvin a little encouragement, then maybe it wasn’t a lost day after all.

Did I mean it? Do I hope he stays and fights this fight?  Not really.  It was killing me just watching him stand up to some strangers on facebook.  The actual church?  I can’t even imagine.  If I could make his decisions for him, I would get him out of that church and introduce him to some truly compassionate people.  But that’s the whole point.  I don’t want anyone making decisions for each other.  I want us all to have the space and empowerment to find our own paths, wherever they may lead.

Choose Your Love; Love Your Choice

I resigned from my religion today.

Rather, I resigned from the religion I was raised in, which is Mormonism.  I have been out and proud as an atheist for years now.  I have thought about resigning many times but never bothered to do it.  Partly because they make it a hassle.  They call your family and tattle on you and send missionaries by your house to try to talk you out of it.

Last week, however, the LDS church announced (it was leaked and then confirmed, but whatever) that they are changing some official policies regarding same-sex couples and their families.  The quick and dirty version is that same-sex unions were upgraded to “apostacy” and participants in such unions may be disciplined and excommunicated.  That isn’t really the big part – people have been excommunicated for being gay before.  (Though it seemed the church had been softening its message to the LGBTQ community in recent years).  The bit that has everyone up in arms is the fact that they are now prohibiting baptisms of the children of same-sex couples until they are of adult age and even then they have to disavow their parents’ marriage or partnership if they want to be allowed into the fold.  There are more details but they are covered in many places.  If you are interested in learning more this rant delivered by Lewis Black is a good and entertaining summary.

I was shocked and dismayed by the announcement.  It threw me into one of those fury fits that make it difficult to concentrate on anything else.  I spent most of last Friday social notworking from the office and posting things on Facebook like this lovely quote from the current president of the LDS Church, Thomas S. Monson, who apparently didn’t mean “the disparity among some folks regarding the way that same-sex unions should be recognized” when he said “problem” or “child” when he said “person” (that heartless dick).

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Once my passive/aggressive “beat ’em with their own words” hate-post phase passed (which took a couple of days) I calmed down and I had to do some serious soul-searching.

Why is this hitting me so hard? I haven’t believed in ages. I’m not invested in the organization doing or saying the right thing. I can’t comprehend how the LDS church still manages to hurt and disappoint me, even now.  After nearly forty years of being embarrassed and enraged by them, what are my expectations?  And most importantly, who am I really angry for?  Who in my life does this change actually affect?

I have many LGBTQ people in my life, including a child that I would put under the Q category.  But none of them are active Mormons. Most were never Mormons. Of course, I see any systematic discrimination as a slap to the face of the entire community.  But this was something different.  For me, this was personal.

I have decided that it has to do with my own difficult childhood growing up Mormon.  And let me first qualify that statement by saying I had a very easy childhood compared to most people growing up poor in the US in the 1980s. We were under the poverty line, but it was a privileged kind of poverty.  I had two college educated parents who came home every night.  No one drank or did drugs and our neighborhood was so safe that not only did we sleep with the doors unlocked, in warm months we slept with the doors wide open.

I had it pretty easy. But I never fit in.  The kids in my neighborhood weren’t allowed to play at my house because my dad wasn’t an active Mormon and was a known coffee drinker.  I’m sure it didn’t help that I was also a weirdo.  But my dad never came to church and I got teased about it, especially from the girls. And that was just voluntary douche-baggery. This new shit is ordained doctrine from on high. “Ostracize the third grader who lives in the house down the street from you!  For he has two mommies!  And that’s just groddy!” [congregation shouts in unison:] “So say we all!”

Yes, I’m a straight ally.  Yes, I believe that this stance is hurting people and communities.  And I have always been happy to stand up and say that I disagree with the Mormons on a host of issues.  In fact, I’m hard pressed to think of a Mormon stance that I do agree with.  Have they ever said they believe in the theory of gravity?  There may be some common ground there…

But I believe that this proclamation was a bridge too far, not for the adult me, but for the child me.  I was the kid who was different.  My family didn’t conform and I was punished for it.  I didn’t understand it then, and I don’t understand it now.  It’s cruel and it’s stupid and they don’t get to do it in my name.  They won’t miss my membership on their roles because, frankly, I never paid tithing.  But it makes a difference to me.

I went to a rally in downtown Salt Lake City today and stood in line to have my paperwork notarized and signed by a pro bono lawyer.  It was a beautiful day.  Over 1,000 people showed up to resign or show solidarity.  It was a fun event and I’m proud that I got to be a part of it.

  
I don’t kid myself that the next time the Mormons proclaim something draconian, such as “women who work outside the home shall hence forth wear ankle bracelets!” (should I be writing that? I don’t want to give them any ideas…) that I won’t be outraged and hurt and be thrown into painful reflections.  But at least now I can say that I’m not one of them any more.  We have parted ways.

Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll hear some headline out of Temple Square I will be able to just shake my head and move on with my day.  The fact is, I don’t want to fight with them any more.  Isn’t that the point of separation? We both get to be set free?  I’m free of their craziness and they should be free of my negativity.  I want to focus on the good that leaving religion behind has done for my life.  I don’t want to spend one more minute clawing and throwing shade at the LDS Church.  And if they want to go on being the cold corporate international syndicate of mean girls that they are, then that’s exactly what they should do.

(It took less than a minute to type that last sentence so it doesn’t count.)

 

 

 

 

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