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. batsMy 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.

 

 

 

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9 Responses

  1. Kelly Ann says:

    The image of the bats is really quite striking. Thank you for sharing your story.

  2. Liz says:

    This is really interesting and poignant. I have heard so few stories from bisexual men and women, and I’m so grateful for your willingness to share. Thank you!

  3. Caroline says:

    Roxanne,
    Thanks for sharing your journey with us here. Your writing certainly evokes the confusion you were feeling as you were sorting out your feelings, attractions, and identity. I’m glad to hear you have come to a place of self-acceptance and understanding.

  4. EmilyCC says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, Roxanne. I think the imagery of bats is powerful and wonder how many of us sit in the pews trying to calm them.

  5. Ziff says:

    “Learning sex was a sin my entire life had led me to conclude that sensual aspects of love were superficial.”

    This is exactly, precisely what I learned as a kid too. Thanks for articulating it so succinctly.

    I’m straight, though, so beyond this difficult (false!) teaching, things were easier for me. I’m glad to hear it sounds like you’ve come to terms with the far more difficult task (certainly in the Church, anyway) of being bisexual. Thanks for this post!

  6. Ron says:

    I hope you are not implying that your learning that “sex is a sin” somehow is taught by Mormonism, though it certainly sounds like it. Just to clarify, Mormons teach just the opposite, that sex is a sacred and wonderful part of mortality and part of the divine purpose of creation, and that God has given us a most awesome gift of being a co-creator of the physical bodies for His spirit children. The sacred nature of sex demands that it be treated with respect and used only as prescribed by that Being who gave us this wonderful opportunity and responsibility–not only to bring forth children, but to parent those children and raise them in righteousness, teaching them all that they will need to know. Misuse of sex is certainly one of the most serious of sins, but sex itself is one of the greatest blessings given to us.

    • Ziff says:

      I’m not the OP, but just to clarify, the Church is far from sex-positive, and it’s very easy to learn from all the warnings about sex to teens and single adults that sex is evil. I’m glad that you’ve been able to let such teachings roll off your back, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

    • DMV says:

      Ron, I have very mixed feelings about your comment. On the one hand, I fully agree with you. I, too, believe that God intended for sex to be a “sacred and wonderful part of mortality”. However, in practice, it seems that a fair number of us get the opposite message from the Church — like Ziff and the OP and myself. If the success of Sister Brotherson’s book and other material that I read from other LDS marriage therapists, there are a good number of LDS who struggle to internalize the kind of message you describe. In my opinion, if your message is truly the message of the LDS Church regarding sexuality, then we are not doing as well as we should at teaching that message.

  7. Jenny says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. The images of the bats evoked a strong sense of the confusion and trapped feelings that you have had to experience. I am glad that you are working through that confusion and finding a way to fly free and to be you.

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