Finding My Voice

800px-SennMicrophone Chris EngelsemaThere was a point in my life when I started experiencing a great deal of religious angst.  I was desperate for an open environment where I could blab about all of my questions and concerns without someone interrupting to tell me that I would probably go to Hell.  Most of my more liberal friends lived far away and I felt like I was wearing out my poor husband, since he was my only sounding board left.  I was not at all interested in talking to a male authority figure, such as a bishop, because many of my concerns centered on religious patriarchy.

One day, I wrote a detailed essay at my personal blog about a religious issue that was bothering me. However, I didn’t dare to post it.  What if my family freaked out and thought I was a crazy apostate?  Still, the writing process had been soothing, so I started regularly journaling my concerns at my blog, always saving the products as drafts without posting them.

But just writing my thoughts wasn’t enough.  What I really needed was to talk to someone else about these things and get some feedback.

My ever supportive husband recognized my dilemma. One day, he came home from work and told me he had talked to a Mormon chaplain about me at the hospital where he worked and she—I cut him off.  “She?” I interrupted. “Mormon women can be chaplains?”  I had no idea.  What splendid news!

My husband had asked the chaplain where I might actually post one or two of these permanent draft blog posts.  She referred me to the Exponent II.

I found the website and sent in a guest post. Caroline received my post with kindness.  She posted it a few days later and sent me an email saying, “Send us more.”

So now my secret, potentially apostate thoughts were out there for the whole world to see.  I read the comments on my post and realized that my thoughts weren’t crazy—they weren’t even all that original!   Many other people had been thinking about the same thing for a long time.  I finally had the supportive, reassuring feedback I craved.

I felt better, but like an addict, I immediately wanted more. I sent another guest post.  Caroline had been encouraging, right?

When I sent my third guest post in, I added a little note, “Do you ever look for new permabloggers?”

Pretty presumptuous, huh?  Here I was, a nonintellectual Mormon without any particular religious advocacy experience, just inviting myself to join a blog populated by feminist Mormon superstars who had been advocating about religious issues for years.  I sat there with my finger on the keyboard for a while, daring myself to hit “send”  before I finally got up the nerve.

Another Mormon website, with an apparently large and more conservative following, linked to my final guest post.  By the end of the day, thousands of people had read my thoughts about the temple recommend interview, including many who left comments indicating their none-too-flattering opinion of me.  So, now there were countless scores of Mormons who considered me to be at best an idiot who couldn’t understand basic temple recommend questions or at worst an apostate who recklessly criticized sacred things through global media.

In spite of the criticism, I was surprised to realize that I was okay. I could take it. I was stronger than I had thought.  I had been terrified that someone would think I was an apostate. Now, many people did and I didn’t care because I didn’t believe them.  I was no apostate.  They were wrong.

You’ve heard the saying—negative attention is better than no attention. I never believed that saying before, but maybe it is true.  Being silent is hard.  Being heard feels so much better, even when others don’t always like what they are hearing.

For too long, I had no voice about religious issues.  Most Mormon women don’t.  There are precious few leadership positions for women and the women who get those are selected by men, perhaps because they tend to agree with men.  But I had finally found my voice.  And now I felt better.

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is an advocate, mother, professional, lover of the arts, hater (but doer) of housework and seeker of truth. Twitter: @aprilyoungb

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15 Responses

  1. jen says:

    I love this post, and I can relate… I remember the first time I was “defriended” by someone on facebook for posting something they disagreed with. I really didn’t care. It felt SO good to know that someone didn’t like my voice, because it meant for the first time I HAD a voice.

    I’m also glad that you hit send on that first email, because I enjoy reading the things you write.

  2. Deborah says:

    And this is why we are so glad to have your voice on this site.

    One night several years ago, I had a dream. I was sitting in sacrament and I began to say, loudly, “It’s *not* okay.” My mom tried to shush me, but I shook my head and kept saying, “No, it’s not okay. I have something to say. I have a voice.” That was shortly before we started the Exponent blog in 2006. I know what my deep self was telling me …

    • Angie says:

      I’ve said things loudly in sacrament meeting, like “That’s not funny!” when the speaker made a joke using an ethnic stereotype. But it was in real life and not in a dream. Let’s just say that I’m not the most comfortable person to sit by at church 🙂

  3. CatherineWO says:

    I found Exponent II at a time when I was feeling silenced in my own ward, feeling like I was shouting but no one was hearing. Thank you Exponent II for giving so many of us a place to listen, to be heard, to discuss. And thank you April. I really love your voice.

  4. Diane says:

    I went home feeling like crap every Sunday for three years. My so- called friends stood around and watched my be bullied and did nothing.

    I’ve been de friended by everyone at church but, for one Why, because I used my voice and stood up for myself. And at this point I really don’t care. If we are only friends because of what we believe that’s really not much of a friendship anyway.

    • Nancy Cooper says:

      Diane – your message is heartbreaking to me. I probably have no business responding, because I am not LDS – I’m on this site because I teach a lot of LDS students, and I try to be as understanding of their beliefs as I can be. Do you know that there are many Christian denominations where worship is solely a positive experience? Where no one is bullied, no one is criticized for speaking out, no one is ostracized for their beliefs? Please don’t lock yourself into a religion strictly because it’s what you grew up with. Look instead for a place where your questions are valued, where you are loved for who you are, where worship is positive and affirming and ….loving. I encourage you to go out and visit other churches. God is love, Diane.

  5. Annie B. says:

    Cool, I wondered how some of the bloggers here found it and began posting. The posts here definitely help me to stay hopeful. I wish there was some universal symbol for MoFems to wear, like a colored ribbon so we could find each other more easily in the world. The posters here and a few out of town friends are the only people I know of who feel similarly to me about things.

  6. Danielle says:

    Exponent makes met feel supported and well, legit. It feels great to know I’m not alone.

  7. DefyGravity says:

    April, your experience sounds similar to mine. It’s wonderful to have a place to speak, and writing here has given me the courage to write and speak elsewhere. I’ve had people defriend me or get mad at me, but I’ve also found people who accept me and are kinder to me then the people I’ve lost.

  8. Caroline says:

    April, I love this post. I’m so glad that what we created here is making a difference in people’s lives. We are lucky to have you!

    I think the blog has likewise helped me deal with a lot of my Mormon angst. It makes an enormous difference to know that you aren’t alone in your thoughts, even though it might feel like that after 3 hours of church. I feel far more peace now than I did before we started Exponent blog in 2006.

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