I created this blog about a year ago, and fear has kept me from doing anything with it. Today I take my first step for April Young Bennett whose voice has been silenced. See www.the-exponent.com. She described herself as "replaceable" in her resignation post. She is not. However, if those of us who have been silent until now speak up in her place, maybe her voice won't have been lost in vain. This is for you April.
My Story: I was born and raised a Mormon in Utah. I have pioneer heritage going back to the beginning and my mother can let you know the names of each of the relevant ancestors since, as my dad always puts it, "She spends more time with the dead than with the living." It is my great love and respect for my parents, and also the most precious relationship with my devout husband that has kept me from being open about my feelings and struggles in the church.
Even now, I just paused my typing and switched my screen because I heard my husband and was afraid he might come in the room and ready what I am typing. Why all the fear? He is, as April described her SP, a "good man."
I have eight brothers and sisters and was raised in a "typical" mormon home where my Mom spent her days cooking, cleaning, and balancing the schedules of nine children and my Dad got up early to drive into the city for long, grueling days at the office. The not so typical aspects of my upbringing was the presence of my grandmother who lived with us, homeschooled us, and gave us Suzuki violin and piano lessons. She was inactive and extremely faithful to God, and as I child I thought nothing of it. I was extremely religious and followed both the letter and the spirit of the law to a t. I felt a lot of guilt as I child because my standard for myself was God's standard. I went years without missing a day of journal writing, scripture study, and prayer. I remember falling asleep out of complete exhaustion one night without completing my prayer and feeling like I had betrayed myself and God. I remember another time where I didn't finish my dinner and my mom didn't let me have any dessert because as a result. When I went downstairs to my room my grandmother offered me a cookie, not knowing of my punishment, and I refused it because God would see my sin. I had read and marked my Quad from cover to cover multiple times. My high school friends even held an extra scripture study night once a week. I didn't hold hands, look at the covers of magazines, and I certainly didn't kiss anyone. I was nearly 24 when I had my first kiss and was still entirely unaware of sexuality at all. Yet, I would tremble with fear before and during a Bishop's interview. My life was as straight arrow as straight arrow gets.
The one place where I felt at odds with the church was in Young Women's. All the role models in my ward were wonderful women . . . who all married by 19, and had big families, and were full-time homemakers. I was supposed to want that. That was what God wanted. I pictured it over and over in my head for me as the righteous path for my life. When I got my patriarchal blessing it blessed me with "many children." The problem was I was really good at academics, a fine violinist, and I wanted a career. I knew it was not right for women to have one at the expense of their children, but I figured God and I could work it out and I would choose an "acceptable" career that would allow me to be home with my children. I didn't much want to have children, but I thought that might change when I got older. My mom pushed hard for me to go to BYU, but I got a full scholarship + from Oberlin Conservatory and College. It was a fabulous experience and one of the best decisions of my life. The church was my rock there and I made great friends. I did the double degree program there with a degree in Politics from the college and Violin Performance from the Conservatory. I would return to my home ward over the holidays and the pressure to marry would drive me crazy. One particularly memorable comment came when I was at a bridal/baby (?) shower for my friend. I was sitting next to one of my past Young Women's leaders. She turned, and did not say "How are your studies going?" No one said that. Instead, as always, she said "Are you dating?" It would still always shock me a little because in Oberlin, no one was dating. I said, "No, I'm a little young for that anyway." She said "You're just looking too hard. I told my Jenny, you just need to stop obsessing about it, and quit looking for him and he'll find you. She stopped, and the very next week? . . she found him." Her Jenny (name changed) was not yet 19 as I recall, and I was certainly not looking too hard or obsessing. In fact, I hadn't been thinking about it all. I did think about how the scary narrative of "the one" whom you would "know when you meet" would just appear when you stopped thinking about him.
As it happens, I did meet my future husband at Oberlin, although we didn't date at the time since he wasn't on my radar screen as a potential companion due to age difference and marital status (he was married at the time.) I graduated and went on to Rice University to do graduate work in Violin Performance. My now husband was divorced a year into my graduate studies. We had remained friends through this time and eventually decided to date. We dated long distance while I finished my degree. As my time at Rice was coming to a close I prayed and fasted a lot about upcoming life decisions. I felt very strongly that I wanted to go through the temple to be endowed. I believed taking this step into adulthood and closer to God would help me make better life decisions and bring clarity to what God wanted me to do. I sat in on the temple prep class and made an appointment to see my bishop to get a recommend. When I met with my bishop he simply said I was too young to go to the temple. I was confused because most of my friends were endowed, mostly from marriages or missions, but also from simply desiring to be endowed or wanting to attend a family wedding. I had never heard of an age limit before. He assured me that the bishops had received a letter that asked them not to give recommends to women under 25. I could return on my 25th birthday and ask again. I was furious. I was three months shy of 25, was going to be moving before then, had never heard of any age restriction, believed fully that God wanted me to go, and was further distressed knowing that if I had thrown myself at one of the boys in the ward and we had come in saying "we want to get married next week" I wouldn't be "too young for a recommend." I was ticked.
Feeling like I had been shut off from what I thought would be the inspiration that I craved, I decided to move to Oberlin to date my boyfriend in person and determine if we would get married or call it off. Obviously, we decided to get married. Because my husband had been married in the temple before we had to request permission to be married in the temple. This request was denied with no accompanying explanation, only an invitation to ask again in a year. We both held active temple recommends and we were quite upset when we were told we couldn't be sealed. It was strange to know we could be sealed for other people, but could not be sealed ourselves. We did not want to put our lives on hold for another year, so we went ahead and planned a civil wedding. Of course, the ward couldn't comprehend why we weren't being sealed in the temple, so lots of lovely rumors were flying. Because we couldn't be sealed in the temple, I did not seek out a recommend for my endowment at this time.
A year after we were married we applied to be sealed. We went into the SP office to be interviewed. He interviewed us separately. He pulled out a very disturbing file of papers including copies of private letters I had sent to other people. I don't think we had met before and in this room with just the two of us he questioned me hard about my "adultery." He had taken rumors for truth and I felt he was trying to push me into admission. There was nothing to confess, so it was in vain. I felt so icky and was very upset. My husband said that the SP did the same thing to him in private and that the SP twisted my husband's words when he tried to explain what happened in the divorce. This was awful.
Notwithstanding, our second request to be sealed was granted. At this point we'd been married over a year, and I hadn't been endowed, so I had the freedom of no garments. After I'll I'd been through with the initial bishop's denial of a recommend, the denial of the sealing, the rumors, and the horrific SP interview, I was less than excited to go through the temple, now that it was time. I thought it would be more meaningful for me if I made it a family event, so I went to MN where my grandmother and aunt live and my mother and sister flew in as well. We went through the temple together. I was glad to have them there. I thought the initiatory was very interesting and I love being together with everyone hushed and in white. I had also loved doing baptisms and being in the temple. My first traumatic experience in the temple came at the very beginning of the ceremony when you must commit to the covenants before you even know what they are. I found this very unsettling and I wanted very much to leave the room and say "no, not until I know what I'm promising." I think if I had gone by myself I might have done just that. The temple endowment was not a good experience. I hated the male/femal separation because I felt like I had lost the physical support of my husband. I cringed as I made promises to obey my husband, and that he didn't make those same promises to me. I sorrowed at the portrayal of Eve and the absence of a Heavenly Mother. I felt belittled when I had to veil my face to pray. I was livid when I had to give my husband my new name, but that I wasn't going to be given his. I felt agitated that only men work at the veil. The celestial room was pretty. When we were sealed soon after I felt like property when I gave myself to him, but he didn't give himself to me. It would be a few years before I found fmh, the-exponent, etc. and discover that I was not alone.
The garments were also huge problem for me. When I went home with my husband the night I was endowed I looked at myself in the mirror with just my garments on and cried and cried. I had fought unhealthy body consciousness issues (I'm sure I'll talk more about this later), as most women do, but I was doing pretty well - thank you Oberlin! It had been a long time since I worried about what I was wearing other than, am I clean, presentable, and able to do my work. Now I thought about it constantly. Those garments are not made to fit anybody! They move incessantly, or are itchy, or are too tight, or too loose. I called to get custom made ones, but they told me my needs weren't urgent enough to warrant custom garments. I finally settled into a style and size where I would cut out the waistbands to keep from having to choose between stomach aches or tucking the top of the shorts into my bra, and I would wear the cotton tops so they would look like a regular undershirt when they shifted. I began to hate me, in my body, in my clothes, in public all the time. I never wore them in private. It was too awful. After wearing them everyday for five years, I have decided to stop. I feel so much better!
There is so much more to say, and I will, but hopefully this is at least a framework from which to start to live more openly and authentically. For April, I will not be silent.