Thursday, May 9, 2013

Mormon Chastity Lessons: Elizabeth Smart

          As a teenager, I attended a self-defense class. Our group was made up of Mormon girls between the ages of 12 and 18. The instructor, also a Mormon, chose to end the presentation by telling us “The greater the number of earrings in your ear, the more revealing your clothing, the more you expose yourself to the possibility of sexual assault.” I nodded along with his words; I grew up believing that a woman must dress modestly at all times. I attended a number of lessons in my youth during which the boys – my peers – pointed to the immodest dress of women as a trigger for impure thoughts.
          A couple days ago Elizabeth Smart gave an interview during which she pointed to chastity lessons as contributing to her captivity. Smart, who was held captive for eight months by a self-proclaimed prophet, talked about a lesson she had as a teenager in which her virginity was compared to a piece of gum. In Smart’s words

“I remember in school one time I had a teacher who was talking about abstinence, and she said, imagine, you’re a stick of gum and when you engage in sex, that’s like getting chewed, and if you do that lots of times, you’re going to become an old piece of gum, and who’s going to want you after that? Well that’s terrible, nobody should ever say that, but for me, I thought, I’m that chewed up piece of gum. Nobody rechews a piece of gum, you throw it away. That’s how easily it is to feel that you no longer have worth, you no longer have value. Why would it even be worth screaming out?”

          Chastity object lessons are very common in within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, more commonly referred to as the Mormon Church. Sometimes it is the piece of gum, which, once chewed, nobody else wants to chew. Other times it is the cupcake, which, once licked, is once disgusting to anyone else. Other times it is the rose, which, once passed around and handled by multiple people, turns brown and wilted. There is no un-chewing of the gum, no un-licking of the cupcake, no un-wilting of the rose.
          In the book “The Miracle of Forgiveness” the previous Mormon leader, Spencer W Kimball, wrote

“It is better to die in defending one’s virtue than to live having lost it without a struggle.”

          Earlier this year, Elaine Dalton, the leader of the Young Women’s program and one of the few females in a visible position of leadership within the Mormon Church, said in a world-wide broadcast to young Mormon girls everywhere

“Cherish virtue. Your personal purity is one of your greatest sources of power.”

          This is what chastity is within Mormonism; something that, once it is gone, can never be regained and the loss of which forever diminishes a person’s worth.
          In the light of these teachings, I suppose that if I had been assaulted while wearing a tank top or extra earrings, I would have blamed myself for the attack. I would have blamed myself for my tight clothing or my two earrings or for not fighting enough or for not being faithful enough. And so I am grateful to Elizabeth Smart for having the courage to speak out against these harmful lessons. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Ex-Mormon, Post-Mormon, and Letting Go Of Anger

“I imagine that one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain. “

                James Baldwin, Notes of A Native Son

         I alternate between using the terms ex-Mormon and post-Mormon. My use of these two terms is deliberate; I consider ex-Mormon to be an active recovery stage and post-Mormon as an indicator of a past history. Personally I alternate between being an ex-Mormon and a post-Mormon. Most of the time I am at peace with my Mormon past: in other words, I call myself a post-Mormon. Other times my Mormon past is a source of pain and anger: that’s when I call myself an ex-Mormon.
         These past few weeks I have been firmly in the ex-Mormon camp. I don’t want to go into details, other than to say that I grew up in a pretty toxic family environment. Some of my family dysfunction I see echoed on a larger scale within Mormon culture. Other aspects I suspect are simply my own family’s dysfunction. Either way, the legacy into which I was born is not always an easy burden to bear. To be frank, sometimes it is a huge source of pain.
          When I am struggling, my first emotional response is usually anger. Hanging on to anger is easier than dealing with the pain that comes after letting go of anger. On an intellectual level, I know I need to find a way to move past this recent flare-up of anger. Emotionally I don’t when or how that will happen. I suppose the path to recovery is different for everyone; I am still charting my own way.
          One day this will pass. Even now, I recognize this fact. I am not my family. I am not a Mormon. I am not doomed to repeat the past. My path in life is my own to create.
          I am still searching for resolution. One day I hope to find it. Until then, I suppose the most I can do is to try and get past this. And really, as ex-Mormons, that’s all we can do – search for resolution and in the meantime, live the best life we can.