There are things that happen to a child that are carried with them for the rest of their life. Good things and bad. The bad things tend to be pushed down into the subconscious, but continue to exert a powerful force in our lives. Sometimes we get to work these things out, often we don’t. Sue-Ann Post, like many, suffered from years of incestuous abuse as a young teenager. Unlike many, Sue-Ann grew up in a Mormon family, which meant that even without the added burden of sexual abuse, she was marked as being different from her peers. Add to this a burgeoning realization that she was also lesbian and we have three very disparate but defining forces coming to bear on her as a young adult.
Collectively these things tell us something of Sue-Ann Post’s identity, but not everything. As she says in her book, she describes herself in her stage act as: Australia’s only six-foot, ex-Mormon, lesbian, incest survivor, diabetic, writer and comedian. A bit later on she explains, I don’t want to live a truncated, expurgated life…it’s taken me half my life to weld these disparate fragments into one coherent whole, and I’m not chopping myself up again for anyone.
Anyone who knows Sue-Ann Post’s comedic work would realize that she’s fearless in tackling difficult issues in her stand-up work. She can make an audience weep from laughter as she candidly deals with such unfunny topics as incest or the pain that comes from being rejected by her family. She uses the same tactic in her book, however less for a comic effect than a profound investigation of religion and her upbringing as a Mormon. At the age of 41, Post has made a circuitous journey towards reconciliation with her past, and the book she has written now – full of understanding and deep reflection – would never have been possible ten or 15 years ago.
The book came about from an invitation to appear at the Mormon gay and lesbian conference, Affirmation, held in Salt Lake City, Utah. It quickly suggested itself as an ideal subject for a filmed documentary, and after overcoming numerous hurdles eventually the popular ABC TV program Compass came on board. The book opens with a well-researched and thoughtfully argued potted history of Christianity, followed by an historical overview of the Mormon faith. Here Post balances her shifting views about faith and religion and offers insights into both through glimpses of her life and writing from the time of her break with the Mormon church. At the time of reading these chapters, I was partly impatient for Post to get to Utah to mix it up with queer Mormons, but by the end of the book appreciated the level of detail and philosophical underpinning of this section. It worked to deepen my understanding of her time in Utah and showed an impressive intelligence and love of learning.
In Utah, Post and her companions, Anthea (lover) and Rachel (filmmaker), discovered the value of the Mormon way of life, which is underscored by a desire to help people out and an appreciation of honesty. From a perspective of a hedonistic queer reader, it also seemed strangely not of our time – Post describes the feeling of arriving at Utah universities and never seeing a drunken engineering student (a ubiquitous sight on Australian campuses) as a severely disorientating experience. Even the gay and lesbian folk in the book would seem more suited to Howard’s dream of the 50s than here and now. None of them seem intent on changing the shape of Mormonism, only wanting a place in the religion they care so deeply about. And care they do, showing Sue-Ann and her companions incredible levels of generosity. Here as elsewhere in the book, Post is careful to balance these positive aspects of Mormonism with a candid discussion of the narrowness, sexism, and even residual racism, that also mark out the religion. However, by the time Post leaves Salt Lake City, which has included an alcohol and drug-free ‘dance party’ (it finished by midnight by the way), two stand up performances and numerous conference sessions, she and her partner Anthea are unprepared for the homelessness and poverty of their San Francisco stopover. In deep culture shock, they cut their SF holiday short and take the next plane back to Melbourne, trying to hold on to the humanistic values they discovered in the most unlikely of places.
The Confession of an Unrepentant Lesbian Ex-Mormon is a fascinating book that moves confidently from the autobiographical to the historical to the philosophical. It is told with unflinching honesty and offers insights that will disturb our easy assumptions about those nutty Mormons.