Queer Mormon Women*: Bats in the Belfry
Guest Post by Roxanne Akina Harmon
Roxanne Akina Harmon is a bisexual, body positive promoter of public health from New Hampshire. She seeks to help humanity and gain friends along her yellow brick road to happiness.
This is a post that is a part of the Queer Mormon Women* series. Click HERE to see all the posts to date.
Rescuing a bat in the attic involves two materials: a laundry basket and a tennis racket. My family swears by this makeshift butterfly net. Once caught, the confused critter violently flaps until released into the night sky. The chaos subsides and is forgotten. My anxious thoughts act similarly to a bat in a laundry basket. They erratically shriek inside my head refusing to settle. At one point my mind was host to entire colony of frenzied bats. In situations like church I would sit in the pew mirroring the listening congregation. However, I would not hear a single testimony. The anxious thoughts flapped loudly about my conscious. To soothe this disquiet I imagined my ideal future. I saw my boyfriend and I blissfully wed. I pictured the studio apartment of our future but when visualizing the bed the fantasy dissolved. I would never share a nuptial bed with my boyfriend.
My best friend was my first love. Our emotionally intimate romance never rounded any bases. To my young Mormon mind the lack of carnality proved the maturity of our love. Learning sex was a sin my entire life had led me to conclude that sensual aspects of love were superficial. Attraction was temptation. So I agreed when my boyfriend suggested we stopped being physical. While I treasured our chaste kisses and sweaty hand holding, I understood those acts to be trivial. I let myself compromise physical touch so I could still be in a relationship with the man I loved. That night the bats crept in.
The next month the batty anxious thoughts debated the functionality of this relationship. My relationship was free from trivial touch but what about marriage? I fell in love. The next step was to get married, enjoy a few kid free years, then start producing little hipster babies. This was God’s plan for me. Yet, the bats in my head tried to point out the flaws in my logic; a platonic marriage does not produce babies. I lasted one month in my dysfunctional relationship. I woke each night, my heart racing as I gasped for breath. I barely slept. I couldn’t keep down food. I fantasized that the trucks driving by my window would crush me while I slept. I was in love.
I finally cracked. Our relationship officially ended. Relief took hold as the bats in my brain escaped. The suicidal ideation was through and I could finally think clearly but I was still left with lingering questions. The denial of any physical intimacy in an exclusive relationship made me question the purpose of marriage. When you are Mormon, how much of marriage was defined by sex? The partnership and emotional intimacy I wanted in a spouse I already had with several friends. The only thing that marriage would offer was relief from a life of celibacy. The confusing demise of my relationship proved that eventually I would want more from a life partner than abstinence. This realization shamed me. After all, I knew sex was superficial and sinful unless I ever got married to a man.
Mormon culture cannot be exclusively blamed for my skewed understanding of sex. I grew up in a sex-negative household. At age five I asked what hospital my baby brother came from. Much to my severe embarrassment my mother interpreted my question of “where did Daltrey come from?” as “How are babies made”. Her textbook explanation of birds and bees lacked clarification of the physical mechanics or reproduction. Regardless, she made me swear to never tell the other kids at school. Sex was a dirty secret. The sitcom Friends taught me more about sex then my mother. My only other maternal sex lesson could fit inside a fortune cookie. She requested “Don’t become a lesbian.”
I liked boys therefore attraction for girls did not matter. Out of my righteous desire for happiness I adopted the sexual identity of “well, I’m not a lesbian”. I assumed bisexuality and Mormonism could not exist. If I could choose to be straight why would I grapple with a gay but Mormon conundrum?
After the panic attacks revolving around marriage and happiness, I slowly changed my stance on physical touch. Just like communication, it was merely part of a healthy relationship. It was okay to desire others. In a closet (of all the ridiculous places) I came out to my roommate at BYU. It had been 2 years since my days sitting in a church pew escaping my unhealthy relationship by dreaming of a marriage with no touch. The recognition that attraction was not the sin of lust, meant acknowledging my own sexual attraction. While I wasn’t a Lesbian, I was attracted to women. My attempts to control every aspect of love never cured my anxieties. I cannot control who I love. I only know that if I want a shot at romance, I need to accept that I could fall in love with someone of any gender.