Queer Mormon Women*: Unweaving the Past
This is a post by Kendahl, aka kmillecam, and is a part of the Queer Mormon Women* series. Click HERE to see all the posts to date.
A lot has happened since the last time I wrote a post for The Exponent. Over the years I have written about ceremonies, healing, and bodily rights. I have written about my journey in Mormonism and feminism, and found solace in the voices here, blogger and commenter alike. This particular brand of feminism here at The Exponent is my cup of tea. These women are thoughtful and accepting. You can see my other previous posts here.
As I perused the body of the work I have done here, I see that I have left out a defining portion of my life. I am a Queer Mormon Woman*.
I have been officially “out” for a little over a year. On National Coming Out Day, October 11, in 2013, having come out to a few people in my life, I decided to finally write a post on Facebook about how I identify as a queer woman. It was a spur of the moment decision, and really just served to make official what most people already knew about me. I was in the process of my divorce, and I was dating women exclusively.
I will be 35 this year. I don’t know why, but that detail is prominent to me. I keep finding that I beat myself up for not “figuring out the gay thing” earlier in life. After all, I was an LGBTQIA+ advocate for several years. I even identified as bisexual for a few years before I finally realized that I am queer. And my partner Corinne has known she was gay, in spite of also growing up in a Mormon family, since she was about 15. Why has it taken me so long? Why wasn’t it obvious to me?
My sister has expressed that she has known this about me for a number of years. My late grandmother said the same when I came out to her about a year ago. For some reason, this makes me feel a little bit better about it. I like knowing that it has been on the radar of some of my closest family members, who love me. That being said, there were a few people who said “I knew it!” in an all-too-gleeful way when I did finally come out, which didn’t make me feel better at all. Being queer isn’t a game for me. It’s my life. This is just one microcosm of the confusion that a queer person can experience as they share their sexual orientation and identity with people in their lives.
But the easiest people of all to come out to? My two boys, aged 9 and 6. They were 8 and 5 when I brought my partner home for the first time. We were friends first, and were dating other people, but soon found that a spark had been born. Having never experienced love in such a powerful way, Corinne and I have been inseparable ever since we met. It was like we had finally found each other after a lifetime of looking for the other. I feel incredibly fortunate that I was finally ready to embrace who I am, leave my marriage of 11 years, and walk tall and proud into the unknown. All the members of our blended modern family are happier than they were a few years ago. My ex-husband and I have made a very conscious effort to be kind co-parents to each other. He deserves to be with someone who can love him fully, and so do I.
Divorce is hard. In my experience, it’s the hardest for the kids. My boys are faring pretty well these days, but it’s an ongoing conversation for them as they continuously wrap their heads around a two-house system.
One thing that a local friend of mine said, an older Mormon feminist who loves me dearly, was that I was in the process of unweaving my marriage. I like that. It sounds deliberate and careful, but a little bit sad. I remember saying goodbye to my ex-husband over our kitchen table. I didn’t move out for a little while longer, but I owed him a conversation where I apologized for taking so long to figure out who I was. I knew he had loved me for years, and there was a part of me that could never fully reciprocate that to him. My sexuality wasn’t the reason we got divorced. We got divorced because we were not a good match in several ways. My coming out simply sped up the process. Many people who know us might think that my queerness was the reason, but that isn’t the truth. It was a painful process to decide to get divorced, our last decision as husband and wife.
But I have to be honest: one of the biggest reasons it was painful was because of the expectations I had been living out from my Mormon upbringing. My ex-husband and I got married while we were attending BYU, because we were told by our families, our church, and our culture to get married. We were told that the only thing we needed in common was a belief in the church. We were told that getting married young was essential to procreating and replenishing the earth. As we became older and wiser, we realized that we could be free of this misguided decision, and part ways as friends and co-parents.
I have to be honest again: I am still angry. I’m angry that it wasn’t okay for me to be queer, and Mormon. I have spent the last several years unravelling the sexism inherent in church gender roles. I’ve talked here and in other progressive Mormon spaces about how painful it has been to be told that my worth lies solely in being a good wife and mother in the kingdom of god. The god I knew would not have created me to be limited in such a way. And in the same way, the god I knew would not have created me to love women the way that I do, only to require me to be married to a righteous priesthood holder for time and all eternity. The only thing that has hurt me more than these gender-based expectations, is knowing that not only was I a woman, but I was a gay woman.
There was something wrong with me. It became intertwined with the messages I was receiving from all other sources of authority in my life. Being a good Mormon girl was all I wanted. I knew that to my parents, it meant that I needed to keep our family secrets. I knew that to my Mormon leaders, it meant that I needed to read my scriptures, pray, attend church, accept callings, and do what I was told to do. I cannot stress this enough: the confluence of being abused sexually, physically, emotionally, and spiritually by my parents coupled with the messages that the church typically sends about girls and women, created a perception of myself that essentially meant that I had to hide who I was.
I truly believed that I was broken. I believed that god was testing me, to see if I could endure the trials placed in my family, and even in my very own body. I struggled to understand why god would make me endure abuse. I struggled to understand why he would make me love girls. I thought it was a trick. I believed that it was because I had been abused, and if I could heal from the abuse, I would be healed from my attraction to women.
I remember a secret girlfriend I had in high school. We would meet secretly and exchange small affections, holding hands and kissing. In retrospect, it was sweet, and age appropriate. I was 15 or so, and she was 16. Also in retrospect, it is tragic to remember how terrified I was to let anyone know about her, or who I was. If only I could have lived in a world and a church where being queer wasn’t something I feared. The religious overlay of an already stigmatized way of being simply adds insult to injury. I knew my non-religious friends would tease me if they knew. But I also knew that my church would tell me that I was sinning, and needed to repent. I was terrified of god’s judgement, even while knowing that he created me. I am still perplexed by the mixed messages, to this day.
I hope you can see why being a queer Mormon girl was so lonely for me. There were no queer Mormons in my childhood. Even after I learned about prop 8, became an ally and then a bisexual member of the LGBTQ community, I still didn’t know any queer Mormon women. It finally occurred to me: where are they?! I knew a few queer Mormon men, and had heard a few of their podcast interviews or blog articles. It wasn’t until I created a queer Mormon woman* space with two other queer individuals, that more and more of us showed up. Apparently we simply needed to define the space, and the queer Mormon women* would show up. I feel less and less isolated every day.
As most things are, this awakening and conscious unweaving is interconnected with the other aspects of my life. I don’t believe, for example, that going back to pursue my masters program in social work in order to become a therapist, something that I have wanted for my entire life, is a coincidence. Becoming who I am really am, and no longer being willing to hide that person, is an exercise in bravery in all aspects of my life. I’m not saying that those who must stay closeted cannot be authentic. I am just saying that this is how I have seen it work for me.
I can only hope that this meandering story of mine will ring true to a few readers out there. Maybe it will create a new LGBTQIA+ ally. Maybe it will quell the hate that is all too commonly hurled at gender and sexual minority people. Maybe they will relate to what I have experienced. Maybe it will make them feel a little bit better about who they are, deep down.
You are not alone. I am a Queer Mormon Woman*, and I stand with you.