Queer Mormon Women*: Personal Narrative 101
This is a post that is a part of the Queer Mormon Women* series. Click HERE to see all the posts to date.
“Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.”
-Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Narrative One: You always knew there was something strange about you; you just didn’t know what to call it.
In the first grade, you’re lining up outside after recess, and there’s a girl named Meggie with long, curly brown hair who loves horses and wears purple. You want to kiss her, just once, on her perfect freckled cheek. So you lean in and as you do, and a boy yells, “Ooh, she’s gonna kiss a girl!” All the kids start laughing. Your face turns red and you yell, “I was not!” You were just going to tell her a secret, you explain. You cup your hand and lean down to her ear to make the lie real, but you can’t think of anything to say.
Narrative Two: You were the perfect straight Utah Mormon girl until you grew up and were exposed to The Media and The Intellectuals, who taught you words like “bisexual” and “queer.” Now, you’re going through A Phase.
Your bishop asks, “Are you sure you’re not just trying to make your parents mad?” Your BYU therapist says, “Most young girls go through a period of fascination with the female form; that doesn’t make you bisexual.” Your friend tearfully asks, “Why are you trying to rewrite your own history?” Under their scrutiny, you start to question yourself. You haven’t so much as kissed a girl before. But you remember the time you thought God set Y Mountain on fire to punish you for how you felt about women. You stick to your guns, insist to everyone that no, you really are bisexual. As a result, chaste as you are, you lose your bishop’s trust and (you think) your family’s love.
Narrative Three: You’re either a repressed lesbian or a straight person with a weird kink. Bisexuals don’t exist.
To certain lesbian and straight communities, people like you are lying about something. You worry that whether you marry a man or a woman, no one will take your sexuality seriously—they’ll see you with your partner and merge the two of you into . You’re as nervous about coming out in lesbian circles as you are in straight ones. Once you’re married, neither side will care what you have to say. And why should they?
Narrative Four: God hates people like you.
You’re pretty sure this isn’t true, but if everyone believes the lie, you’re not sure the truth matters. People insist that God loves all His children equally, but for some reason, He doesn’t want them to have the same civil rights. After every Conference session, you approach your parents and peers with a little more trepidation, knowing that although they’ve been told to have charity, love one another, and learn to live with difference, the main thing they’ll remember is this: people like you are attacking their families. People like you are a danger to society. People like you will never be people like them.
Narrative Five: One story is not the only story.
I haven’t had a voice in so long that I’m not sure where to begin. I’ve assumed the labels and identities others inscribed on me—the angry feminist, the malcontent Mormon, the queer activist, the suicidal daughter. I’ve played a part in other people’s stories. I’ve accepted narratives others have told to me, about me.
I’m tired of it, but I don’t know how to craft my own identity. Which labels do I keep? Which do I shrug off? Who am I if not the person my friends, my family, my spiritual leaders think I am?
I have to start from scratch. I have to pick up my own pen and doodle on my own skin instead of letting others tattoo their opinions on me. I will draw waves and birds and ships on my parchment skin. I will write poems on my stomach and stain my feet red with desert dust. I will cry if I feel like it and laugh if I feel like it. I will double pierce my ears and take back what is mine—my body, my choices, my sexuality, my language. I will scrawl “I am a bisexual Mormon woman” across the page in blue cursive script, and I won’t be ashamed.
It isn’t much, but it feels like a start.
K.M writes: I am a graduate student studying English. My husband and I are both from Utah and enjoy hiking in the Utah desert and mountains. I recommend that everyone listen to the Ted Talk in the epigraph, which is entitled “The Danger of a Single Story.”