Sexism in the ExMormon Community
Guest post by Anonymous. Anonymous was born and raised Mormon, served a mission, married in the temple, raised a large family, and has held various ward and stake callings. She wrote for Exponent previously, before having her records removed from the LDS church.
I formally left Mormonism two years ago, and the experience has taught me some startling things about exMormon life.
The first shocking discovery is that I will never be able to fully leave the church, not really. I did officially leave Mormonism–I went on QuitMormon.com and the attorney there was my mediator in asking church leaders to stop contacting me and please remove my name from church records. But only those who live in a country with GDPR compliance are allowed to truly leave, because the record-keepers at LDS, Incorporated do not delete names; they simply deactivate your records in case you return. This upsets me. Mormons in the UK are entitled to an actual record data wipe because they own the rights to their names. Americans like me do not, so I will never truly be free of the religion that I never chose, but which my parents chose for me when I was too young to consent to it.
I don’t like to talk about the reasons why I left Mormonism. They involve abuse that nobody believes, so I keep those details to myself these days. But now that I am finally free and rebuilding my life, my attempts to find support in the exMormon community constitute a strange and noteworthy journey—
First of all, I don’t live in the Utah corridor, so I found a lot of support from people around me when I left the church. That was wonderful. But nobody around me understood what I was going through. Most of the people I know talk about coming and going from their various churches like it is no biggie. They have no grasp of what it is like to exit a religion so controlling that even the very underwear I donned everyday was decided by central authorities thousands of miles away from me, and I had to meet with men at church on a regular basis and answer their questions about what underwear I had on, just to make sure I was still compliant. My dietary habits, media choices, daily activities, finances, sexuality, and marriage venue were all decided by a small cadre of old cishet white men living in Utah, whose commands for my life changed depending on which of the old guys lived and which ones died. The lapsed Catholics in my neighborhood who report for church only at Christmas and easter—and this is enough for their devout Catholic grandparents!—have no clue what me leaving Mormonism did to my temple marriage and extended family.
So I sought support from a few exMormon support groups both locally and online, with the hope that talking to others like me would help me better navigate the ways that my Mormon friends and family were treating me in the wake of my decision to leave the church. I assumed that others who had walked in my shoes and who knew what it was like to leave such a high-demand religion would be able to help me endure this experience. I imagined that everybody there would be like me: disgusted with systemic oppression, in the process of healing, and thus able to help others heal.
Looking back and considering the demographics that make up the majority of LDS culture, I now realize that I should not have made so many assumptions. Because what I found in the exMormon community was almost the polar opposite of what I expected.
Most exMormons would consider me a traitor for what I am about to say here, but it is the truth—
Most of the exMormons I met are replicating Mormonism outside of the church.
The exMormon community mostly follows (and funds) three prominent white men who they regularly refer to as first presidency of exMos, and they don’t seem to see the irony in that. Sure, there are female voices in the exMormon media sphere, but they are about as prominent (and paid as well, comparatively) as are the female auxiliary officers of the church in comparison to the brethren.
ExMormons hold conferences in Utah, just like in Mormonism. They have t-shirts, stickers, and other car insignia so that they can identify each other in the wild the way BYU sweatshirts and “RULDS2” license plates used to do. They have a “one true” meetinghouse, the exMormon subreddit.
One of the most frequent accusations I hear about exMormons is that they left Mormonism because they were appalled by the religion’s human rights violations (polyandry, pedophilia, racism, homophobia, transphobia, etc). But in the exMormon community, I have experienced sexism galore and seen such subtle racism that exMormons rarely admit to because they refuse to see it. They have lived in all-white sexist communities for so long that they just don’t and won’t listen when those of us outside the Utah corridor call them out on it. I am done talking to them about it, but I have a strong feeling that Mormon women will believe me.
I stopped attending in-person exMormon support group meetings because, during the usual icebreaker period when everybody states why they left the church, I was always getting trolled whenever I said that sex abuse was my reason for leaving. Turns out many exMormon men think #MeToo is just group hysteria, even though most of them left because of “underage polygamy coverups.” After a while I realized a possible reason why: I was the only non-Utahn/non-Idahoan at these gatherings, as well as the only person citing abuse as the reason why I left the church.
The largest hub of support for recovering from Mormonism is the exMormon subreddit. With close to 200K followers, they are THE largest space online for exMormon discussion, but because they are open to anyone, they also leave the door open for Mormon and DezN*t trolls, too. Whenever I tried discussing Mormonism in general, it was pretty easy to spot the trolls and just ignore them. But discussing women’s issues in general, I got downvoted all the way with pretty much no support. I reported gender-based harassment and downvoting parties to the moderators, who reiterated their laissez faire approach, because the exMormon space is not supposed to be as regulated and stifling as Mormon sites. I had to delete my account several times and start over as a result. Most recently, I made a post about discovering a hospital named “Brigham and women” and the visceral reaction that elicited in me as a woman who was raised to worship a man named Brigham but who later came to revile him once I discovered who he truly is. The moderators took down my post, told me that it violated the rules of the subreddit because “it doesn’t pertain to Mormonism.” I argued, “yes it does—it pertains to my experiences as a woman who survived Mormonism and was triggered by this hospital’s name” but they fired back, used my words against me to show that they were right (when I admitted that the hospital had nothing to do with the church) claimed victory, and I remained silenced. And these are the “EX”mormons.
On another occasion, I pointed out how few exmormon female voices are enjoying the patronage (funds, donations, free advertising) that white exmormon men are getting. exMormons keep posting links (ie, free advertising), to white male podcasts, blogs, books, etc but very little space is given to advertising the content of exMormons from other demographics. As I am sure you can imagine, they downvoted the hell out of my comment.
Also, in all online forums there is a weird war going on between Br!ghamite and pro-Joseph factions. Apparently there is a cult up in Rexburg that worships one branch of Mormonism and then the Church of Christ is branched off too, and then DezN*t I think might be Br!ighamite (I have lost track!) but they all have alerts out on these names so if you slip up and mention those names without using asterisks or dashes they will troll and harass you HARD and send you death threats until you need to delete your account and start all over. I could never figure out if these were exMormons, Mormons, another religion, or all three attacking me but it was distressing, triggering, and exhausting to not be able to get support while recovering from religion without getting hounded by male Internet trolls like that—all because I happened to use one of two men’s names. The exMormon community is where these attacks occurred, every time, and where I reported them every time, so even if they were infiltrator trolls from inside the religion, the fact that exMormon spaces is where this was allowed to happen says so much.
This is just a small taste of what it is like trying to navigate exMormon spaces as a woman—one of many.
What I am learning is that even after men leave Mormonism, they still think like Mormons, especially in how they view women, based on the way I am treated when I try to raise my unique perspective in the sea of Utah/Idaho white male exMormon groupthink.
If I want to be treated fairly and magnanimously, I find I am in the best company among people who never attended a high-demand patriarchal religion. Luckily, I live in a geographic region where there are many such folks. But my heart goes out to former Mormon women in the Utah corridor, who think that post-Mormon life among exMormons is all there is. I hope that they make it out one day, out to live among people who treat all humans equally. Because, based on my experience in the exMormon community, religious affiliation does not determine a man’s treatment of women as much as the culture in which he was raised. Actually, this applies to women too, so let me rephrase that: Based on my experiences in the exMormon community, religious affiliation does not determine a person’s treatment of women as much as the culture in which they were raised.