guest post by Desiree C.
“Rule number three, wear your heart on your cheek
But never on your sleeve, unless you wanna taste defeat
Rule number four, gotta be looking pure
Kiss him goodbye at the door and leave him wanting more”
– How to be a Heartbreaker (Marina and the Diamonds)
I’m a huge fan of Marina and her work – especially her album, Electra Heart. This album is the construction of her alter ego (Electra Heart) who sings about aspects of American culture and the corruption behind it. She has four different archetypes including: prima-donna, home-wrecker, teen idol and su-barbie-a.
This last year I’d been going through my faith crisis, which manifested into different stages, and at times would be more extreme than others. I would use Electra as a way to draw correlations to my experience as a Mormon woman. In other words, I would use the lens of Electra’s experience as a complicated woman critiquing American culture as me being a complicated woman critiquing Mormon culture.
Electra would be my outlet to release pent up emotions I felt daily as I struggled with experiences of cognitive dissonance. I’d leave from church or institute, plug in this album, and sing really loudly as I aggressively drove off. One second I wanted to be this perfect Mormon woman who was dutiful and calm and happy and sweet and pure and selfless (get the picture?), another second I wanted to be that bold and fearless and courageous and independent and intellectually thinking feminist… I couldn’t have it both ways.
I started to develop a pretty serious case of depression because I couldn’t deal with not meeting expectations of being what the Church wanted. Being a convert, I at first was over-zealous at becoming exactly what the Church wanted. Why? Because never before had I ever received such an unequivocal amount of positive reinforcement because of my choices. I was raised in an environment that lacked that positive reinforcement that I so desperately needed because of my already fragile self-esteem. I was giving public speeches where people not only listened, but laughed along and paid attention to me. I was craving and becoming addicted to that attention. I needed to get more hits. It was like the need to inject myself with this drug of supporters loving me for doing what the Church wants me to do.
You may notice when members say, “I love new converts! The fire they have is inspiring!” Yep, that was me back when I first started my journey. So eager to be the perfect Mormon girl. I was eager for a church calling. I was eager to be on a council at my local institute. I was eager because for the first time in my life, I was fitting in. I was making friends. And lots of them! Making friends had never been so easy. I also met my best friend and partner through the Church, whom I’ve been dating seriously for about a year and a half.
The thing that started my whole faith crisis was the day when I started to think, “Wait, why don’t the women have the priesthood, and why do I not see any women clergy-like figures? Why aren’t there any female bishops or female apostles? And why are all the apostles white cis-gendered males? Where’s the diversity? Where’s the gender equality?” The thing that had me hush up for a while was, “Oh you can have babies and we men can’t. So it’s equal but different.” I was also introduced to benevolent sexism, which at the time was misinterpreted as being put on a pedestal because, as a woman in the Church, I was “precious.” It wasn’t until an old high school friend of mine pointed out, “Yeah, just like the separation with African-Americans in history. Pay attention to the correlations here.” That at first terrified me. What? My Church that I’ve fallen in love with wouldn’t have women be equal to men?
BUT THE CHURCH IS TRUE! So everything culturally and doctrinally has to be 100% true…if it isn’t…then how is the Church true?
That thought was the first domino falling into another domino. Thus, my fragile testimony was collapsing all too easily. Each domino would be different aspects of the Mormon world, culturally and doctrinally. Each domino would be each controversial matter that made me question the validity of the Church. The dominoes would be questions on polygamy, the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, horses in America, The Book of Abraham, the law of chastity, word of wisdom, was Joseph Smith for real, the lack of information with where tithing goes, the treatment of the LGBT community, etc…so many freaking dominoes.
Bringing Electra into this, I want to express my gratitude for the existence of this album and character. If I were a musical artist, I believe my favorite part of my work would be that my fans could relate to my lyrics through their own experiences. That everybody has a different story attached to the feelings and experiences of my songs. And I feel like I’m that fan, attaching my own story and experiences to these lyrics.
My favorite song on the album is “How to be a Heartbreaker.” Why? Because it most closely examines how I deal with the Church. Especially the quoted lyrics at the beginning of this blog post. “How to be a Heartbreaker” is Electra’s bratty side taking over where she turns off her empathy and just likes playing with people’s hearts for fun in order to protect herself from being hurt. While I really didn’t want to personally hurt the Church by turning off my empathy, I did at times feel like I had to stop being so angry just so I could fit into the Church lifestyle I was currently accustomed to. I feel like that heart on my cheek is the symbol of my devotion I once had for the Church. I’ve taken that devotion and moved it from my sleeve to my cheek (over-zealous to discrete and embarrassed about being Mormon) so I would never have to taste defeat. Because defeat would mean I’d lose everything…everything. My one way ticket into the highest level of the Celestial kingdom, my new friends, my boyfriend…everything. I’d lose this new identity I was so deeply attached to. And I’d have to deal with the shame of being fooled and so strongly believing of something that wasn’t true. I’d be embarrassed. I’d be called an apostate and be sent to outer darkness after I die on this planet. And I was in no way ready to deal with that. Sometimes, leaving is scarier than staying. Even if you know in your heart what is best for you.
With the other part of the lyrics, the line, “gotta be looking pure” stands out the most to me. This starts going into my personal feelings with how sexuality is taught and managed within the Church, especially for women. Women are taught that their value and their virtue are in keeping clean and pure for the boys before marriage – that I’m tainted if I engaged in premarital sexual experiences. That type of message can be totally damaging to a girl’s psyche, body acceptance and self-esteem. So the idea that I look the part…“looking pure” but tease boys, on some level, gives me that control I want regarding my female sexuality. I want to be in charge of expressing it however I want to and how much I want to. The real me would never want to tease boys…I’m not into that. But to just fantasize about this alter ego, gives me a sense of power I don’t feel within the Mormon world.
I feel like I’m finally at the place where I can calmly feel sadness, frustration and anger without going back into depression. That I can somewhat distance myself from the expectations the Church has for me and be truly happy with what I want out of life. I’m happy being this weird social misfit within the Mormon culture. I love adding to the diversity and not thinking mainstream thoughts. The Gospel isn’t black and white. While most of my choices aren’t in line with what Mormonism teaches me, I still want a place in this church. Because, damnit, it’s my church too. I just want to be a happy and healthy 21 year old truly free to do what I feel like is best for me. And to be accepted for it without hearing “you’re being led away by Satan” or “you’re on the verge of apostasy” or “you’re influencing well-behaved Mormons to go bad.”
My favorite thing I learned with my activism supporting the LGBT community is that being a bridge and understanding both sides is what makes things better. I chose to stay for now, because I want to be that bridge. Especially with issues that relate the most to me, like furthering the knowledge and insight I’ve gained with my research on feminism and the LGBT community – by trying to be like Jesus.
I someday envision a world where women are equals to men. Not just cis-gendered women, but women throughout the gender spectrum. I envision that there isn’t a binary gender system and a family proclamation that has gender assignments just for males and females – that women of color feel equal to women who are white. Also, that all people within the spectrum of human sexuality are free to openly love one another. Is this not Godly and holy and beautiful? Wouldn’t all this be ever so lovely?
Desiree identifies largely as a Russian Mormon feminist who enjoys a good Arnold Palmer, guinea pigs, all shades of red hair, and her literary hero, Anne of Green Gables. She joined the Church in December 2012 at the age of 19. Living in the Bay Area helped form her love of eating organic coffee ice-cream, watching documentaries in local theaters, exploring views on nature walks, and enjoying local farmers’ markets. Overall, all she wants in the world is equal love and opportunity.