not in Primary anymore

too many closets

We’re full of them. From conflating queer identity with gender confusion to stigmatizing outre music tastes, the deep-rooted homogeneity of Utah Mormon culture paves the way for a social structure in which any deviation from the norm has to be outed to be acknowledged. This is a little awkward for those of us who don’t hail from the Beehive state and are bewildered by the idea that a passion for Keira Knightley passes for eccentricity upon moving to the heart of Mormondom.

  • The Closet: We were playing a get-to-know-you game during freshman housing orientation at church-owned Brigham Young University (BYU). The premise of the game, in itself highly problematic, was to put our fellow residents, most of whom we hadn’t even met yet, into superlative categories–for example, “most likely to get the highest GPA”. As the RA read the category “most likely to have a Pinterest,” one of the members of our all-male group scoffed and said “you mean, most likely to come out” to general laughter. This is just of countless examples. The attitude is “well, of course we’ll accept someone if they tell us they’re gay,” with no attempt to destigmatize homosexuality or eradicate the institution of the closet.
  • Feminism: When I came out as a feminist to my mom over the summer…. Wait, what’s this you say? Breaking the news of ideological conviction isn’t equivalent to a revelation of one’s sexual identity? Actually, especially for a Church that had a prominent leader link gays and feminists (and intellectuals) together as greatest challenges`, it is. Both are supposedly incompatible with the church and both can supposedly be changed.* Further, I had two (male) professors instantly cool off quite close professional relationships when I disclosed my ardent feminism, one of which clarified in an email that it was fine if I didn’t “identify with my gender” (?!?).
  • Liberal/Democrat: In another one of those wonderful get-to-know-you activities at BYU, I was perforce obliged to publicly declare my support for free healthcare, by standing, ironically, on the right side of a room. A close relative relayed to me a common view that supporting any pro-choice political party (let alone being pro-choice!) disqualified one (namely, me) from the temple. Especially in the context of the 2012 US presidential election, supporting any candidate over Mormon Mitt Romney, the Republican, is toxic.
  • Lady Gaga: Okay, maybe I’m grasping at straws here, but I’ve had two separate groups of Mormon boys and one girl tell me to cool my passion for the Mother Monster. It was “just weird,” in one view. “I wouldn’t admit that,” said another, explicitly suggesting that the preference ought to be closeted, even as he proclaimed his love of country music!

What are some other Mormon closets? And what can be done to combat the mentality? Or am I just making this all up in my head? Feel free to drop a comment.

`The letter, by apostle Boyd K. Packer, is almost twenty years old and at no time represented the official position of the Church, although it continues to influence the beliefs of some of its members.
*Once again, this belief, though surprisingly and tragically common among members in my experience, does not represent the position of the Church.

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8 Responses to “too many closets”

  1. Brittany

    Oh man, I know that feminist closet. I’ve been forced out of it in too many ward council meetings (at BYU and away from BYU) when I had to set the record straight for the young adult women in my wards and help correct some chauvinistic (but “fun”!) activities.

    That said, I do hail from that Beehive state and from Utah Mormonism, and yes, it can be frustrating. But, I have met and spoken sincerely with a good number of honest, “outed,” open-minded Utah Mormons, who showed me that my thoughts, while progressive with some audiences, weren’t so shocking at all. There are members of our tribe everywhere, even in Utah.

    I don’t think I’ve commented before, but I really love what you’re doing here. Keep it up!

    Reply
  2. Asriel

    This constant juggling/remembering which facts about yourself you can be open about and with whom does get complicated!

    Just to put in a plug for a positive aspect of being in Utah (similar to Brittany’s comment, perhaps), I will say that because there are so many Mormons in such close proximity, I don’t have to go far to find like-minded Mormons, and quite a few of them, too (a minority of a large group is still a pretty good crowd). I feel more isolated from Mormons with views similar to mine when I am attending the YSA branch in my parents’ stake (Midwest United States) than I do currently in Provo.

    Reply
  3. xenawarriorscientist

    Male feminist = “doesn’t identify with own gender”!?

    Because what kind of outre individual would want to be trapped in a consensual, egalitarian relationship with a member of the opposite sex? Wow!

    Reply
  4. EsotEric

    As I read some parts of Boyd’s talk, I couldn’t help but laugh aloud (in that computer lab where people supposedly talk about how excited they are to practice polygamy in the afterlife). The only scripture he backed himself up with was from that “field of precious stones” that I attribute to Zeezrom. To me, the chapter as a whole tends to support an individual approach to ethics rather than an authoritarian one. It characterizes humanity “as gods, knowing good from evil,” implying that we can each personally understand morals, even with the “intellect,” rather than relying on conformist laws. It contrasts current commandments with the first commandments “as to things which were temporal”, implying that the current ones should be spiritual rather than the temporal ones that culturally unify and strengthen the church’s worldly reputation. Most importantly, it emphasizes not “hardening our hearts”, like against all the people Boyd rebuts who are now forced into closets. It’s so bironic: the context of the scripture Boyd uses supports a point opposite to his meaning, and he describes in his same talk how he once humbly admitted to using a scripture out of context. It’s beliefs like his that led to the “September Six” four months later.

    If Lady-Gagaism counts as a closet, countless other -isms do as well. I personally was surprised by how closeted vegetarianism is, especially considering scriptural views on meat. Yes, I know “Jesus ate meat,” and therefore in order to follow his example we must too, but many people now believe Christ actually was a vegetarian.

    The general mentality that pushes people into endless closets arises from that “perfectly normal human reaction” of needing to be part of a group to survive. Prehistoric ancestors of humans might only have been able to survive winter, predators, and other dangers by finding safety in numbers, abiding strictly to traditions and authoritarian alpha males so as not to be ousted or killed, and through “survival of the most adaptable” to useless social conventions, as described by Darwin — wait, I guess I’m not allowed to talk about that because it’s “intellectual.”

    Reply
  5. Curtis Penfold

    Oh my gosh, I really did feel like I came out of the closet when I told my parents I supported gay rights and women’s rights. I was shocked by my family’s reaction, and how determined they were to put me back in the closet.

    And EsotEric: I used to be vegetarian for like a year and a half, and you are so right! Vegetarians get so much crap in the Church, even though early Church members interpreted the Word of Wisdom as being a call to vegetarianism (except in times of famine where eating meat was necessary).

    Reply
  6. Andria

    I really appreciated this post. I recently came out of the feminism closet and the democrat closet, and to my surprise, I discovered that many of my family and friends were feminists and democrats, too! It’s exciting to hear that there are others who share a lot of your views, isn’t it?

    Reply
  7. Pete

    I am sincerely glad to hear that at least some BYU professors are anti-feminists. Feminism is a disease. If left untreated, it will destroy you spiritually. Just ask Sonia Johnson.

    Reply

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