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Twenty lesbian women reflect on their lives as Mormons and ex-Mormons

Twenty lesbian women reflect on their lives as Mormons and ex-Mormons

Illustration by Marraal from Slate story

Writing for Slate’s Outward section on LGBTQ issues, science writer Sarah Scoles shares reflections and experiences from twenty former Mormon women.

Perhaps most striking in all of these stories is a view of lesbianism and sexuality, espoused by Mormons, that isn’t consistent with the lives and experiences of the women. The many examples include ideas that God sends ‘temptation’ in the form of brushing arms at a movie viewing, or that feeling disinterested in men is normal, because you are predestined to marry only one specific man who you were married to during ‘pre-existence’.

These confusing ideas made it difficult for many of the women to realize that they were gay, in some cases, only realizing long after they’d left the church.

From the story:

It’s easy to say, “How could you not have known you were gay?” And it does seem obvious now, with signs appearing as soon as I hit puberty. But I didn’t know, not for eight more years, four semesters at a women’s college, and three unrecognized best-friend crushes. But a crush was, by definition, something you had on a boy. So putting a girl’s picture under your pillow wasn’t synecdoche for crush—it was simply best friendship. As Janet, who resigned from the church and married her wife in November, put it, “I had no idea that gay was something you could really be.”

The piece was inspired by a document leaked in November of 2015, identifying married LGBT people as ‘apostates’, banned from all levels of heaven, whose children must disavow them in order to participate in the Mormon church.

Scoles sought out 20 ex-Mormon women who identify along the LGBTQ spectrum.

From the story:

While I once considered “ex-Mormon” to be a huge part of my identity, in my current life I mostly use it to explain why I haven’t seen R-rated movies from the ’90s and to get liberal struggle-cred. But in the wake of the church’s new policy, I wanted to find a community of other gay ex-Mormons. I spoke to 20 women—women who self-identify as lesbian, queer, pansexual, and bisexual—about their experiences, hoping to form some kind of cohesive narrative. I wanted to take data and arrange it into a story that makes sense, in a situation that doesn’t.

Perhaps the takeaway is the value in listening to the lived experiences of people who have a diversity of views and experiences; does reading this collection of stories encourage you to broaden your own views of sexuality and religion?

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Paul Martin

It is my own experience, rather than theology, which has shaped my view of questions like this.

Here is my own short story. In the summer of 1974, 11 women were ordained as priests by retired Episcopalian bishops. There was an immediate controversy, and I had no idea how I could make my own judgement. Then I arrived that fall as a Freshman at MIT, and I met Constance Parvey. She was the fourth woman ordained by the Lutheran Church, and was doing a joint service with the Episcopal chaplain. I got to know her over the next four years, and I couldn't see a rational way of objecting to women as priests.

January of my freshman year, I met for the first time gay men who were open about their status. I had read magazine articles (Harper's as one example) which had drawn an awful picture about the behavior of gay people. I was told that they were meeting strangers in the park and having sex all day long. The people I met did not resemble this image in any way. They were nice people, facing the same challenge at school that I faced. The more I got to know them, the more irrelevant their sexuality became.

There is one conversation I will never forget. I showed up at an open meeting to learn about homosexuality. Afterwards, we started talking to each other and one of them asked me if I was gay. Another one intervened and told me that I didn't have to answer that question. The first person had gotten me incredibly frightened, and the second had given me tremendous relief. This was not a time when a gay man would admit something like this to someone they had just met. For a minute there, I had just gotten a picture of what these people were going through.

Later on, I discovered that the Anglican Church believed in Scripture, Reason and Tradition as a balanced guide to deciding difficult topics. This was originally developed by Richard Hooker (1554-1600), a theologian who was a major figure in the formation of the Anglican Church. I will admit my own bias on the importance of Reason. My education is centered on physics and electrical engineering, fields which are accustomed to changing their understanding and approaches when given fresh data and improved theories. Scripture, Reason and Tradition seem a much better approach than simply Authority.

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David Allen

In researching my Master's project in the late 80s (4 year MTh), I had a few conversations in Salt Lake City with LDS psychologists who worked directly as employees of the LDS Church, regarding homosexuality. Their understanding of it was bizarre to say the least. One counselor explained their stance and told me that LDS boys/men had sexual relationships with other males because of a hyper engrained sense of the LDS understanding of chastity. He believed that the reason LDS guys became sexually involved with other guys, was because they felt that sexual relations with other guys was less sinful than breaking the Church's teachings on chastity and being sexually involved with females before marriage.

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