Amanda Farr gave the following “Evening of Affirmation” talk at the Affirmation 2017 Annual International Conference, Saturday, September 23, 2017, at the Utah Valley Convention Center
I’m a relative newcomer to the Affirmation community. In the interest of getting to know each other better, let me paint a little picture. I can remember lurking in the corner of the BYU library, way back in the winter of 2004 reading some of the very first posts on feminist mormon housewives. Those posts threw me into a new world and way of thinking, and as a result, I have these angsty, deeply emotional, ridiculously ernest journal entries from that time. There is this one– it’s a doozy. Like, y’all. I can’t believe I’m telling you this, but, while I can’t remember all of the entry, I do remember I ended it by saying “Maybe God answers prayers with feminists?”
Yeah. That was me. Precious li’l me.
I’m so mormon, my high school nickname was… Mormon. I’m so mormon, I stayed in on friday nights so I could make flashcards for the Stake Seminary Scripture Chase. Flashcards, folks. Flash. Cards.
As an aside and for the record, I kicked trash at those scripture chases.
Another aside: I have been informed by my dashing partner Jen ─that part was edited in but I like it, so I’m keeping it─ that kicking someone’s trash is a uniquely mormon phrase. I had no idea, so I am freely sharing this information with you. You. Are. Welcome.
I’m so mormon, I planned what I was wearing to the next stake dance… on the way home from the stake dance. Am I making my point? Don’t worry, I can keep going.
I’m so mormon, I went to Girls Camp with two different stakes on more than one occasion. And not like, bi-stake girls camp. No. Like a week with one stake, and an additional week with another stake. Every single summer. Although, now that I’m thinking about it, that might have had more to do with the whole being gay thing… Anyway.
I’m so mormon, I went to the Hill Cumorah for my High School senior week trip. Voluntarily. And I was excited about it.
I’m so mormon, I didn’t need to google how to spell Cumorah while writing this out.
The point is, for a young girl growing up in western PA, where my stake was easily a three hour drive from boundary to boundary, being Mormon was the largest part of my identity. I wasn’t just A mormon. I was mormon.
So it will come as no surprise that I did what many young mormon women do– I set my sights on the temple. That sacred not secret place we all strove to enter someday. The temple, I was told, could “fix” the things that were “testing my faith.” Like, maybe perhaps, my ever present attraction to women. I don’t even think I could name it as an attraction, the way I could name the articles of faith, or list the prophets, or sing “Come Come ye Saints” but I knew it was there, I knew it was testing me. I knew I couldn’t say it out loud.
It was my secret.
It wasn’t sacred. Sacred was the temple and the temple is holy. The temple isn’t a sinister secret. The reason we don’t talk about the temple is because it is sanctified, divine, the house of the lord.
But my secret? There were other, much more pernicious reasons for not talking about that.
And so I buried it deep within myself. I carried it with me everywhere, because that’s the thing about secrets. We have to hold them. People don’t place secrets on a shelf– people keep secrets. They aren’t given away. Secrets are to be tightly held, kept under wraps. The temple, the sacred, that is what we are to seek out.
In my supremely Mormon brain, very simply put, if the sacred was good, then the secret must be bad. Black and white. Capital T truth. The fullness of the gospel. That’s what the church taught.
And the gospel, the gospel that I loved so much– it was the good word. The word that taught us to mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort. Such a holy teaching. The Word that taught us the greatest way for us to be like Him, that radical Jewish teacher become Savior, was to consecrate ourselves, to devote ourselves, to those around us. The word was good. And the word was who I was.
But that secret. That secret was also who I was. And I knew it was bad, definitely was not sacred. There was nothing sacred about my secret. Who I was, who I loved; I couldn’t help but process all of that as bad. As unclean. Unwanted. Unworthy.
All of these parts of me, the mormon part of me and the secret part of me, they all sought peace inside a tumultuous place, and there was none to be found.
For a long time, I thought the tighter I clung to my secret, the smaller it would become. It was a paper ball that I crumpled up in my fist, squeezing it tighter and tighter. It was now dirty from my palms, and grossly covered in sweat. But try as I might– temple marriage, Relief Society presidency, babies and adoption and filling out food orders and service projects and all things sacred– I couldn’t manage to crumple that secret into a ball small enough to disappear.
It’s funny, what happens, when you carry something around for so long. In the beginning, you think you can do it forever. “It’s just a ball of paper” I would whisper to myself. Tiny, barely perceptible. But year after year, it seemed to grow instead of shrink. And my arms began to ache, and my heart struggled to function under the growing burden. And one day, my body broke, and my secret came tumbling out.
I was… gay.
There it was. This secret I refused to name, this burden I tried so hard to carry. Suddenly it was there, no longer hidden in my clenched fist, just there. Out in the world: dirty and covered in my sweat. Lying open for everyone to see and judge.
Broken, I looked in the mirror and… saw someone good. Someone who loved the people around her. Someone who served her community. Someone who fought for a safer world for the children in her home. And it didn’t make sense– because this part of me was supposed to be bad, but… it wasn’t.
For the first time, I realized the only thing bad about my secret was that I was keeping it.
It took so much practice to stop keeping that secret. First, only to myself in the mirror, and then tiny parts of it to trusted, beloved friends and many, many tear-filled conversations with my ex-husband. There were some terrible conversations with family and overwhelmingly loving conversations with friends. And finally the whole truth to the whole world. I am a gay Mormon woman. I am Mormon. And I am gay.
And all of those identities are sacred. All are holy. All are anointed truths that make me who I am.
As a mother, I look at my children, and I see the freedom with which they live. They have somehow escaped these scary secrets about their identities. My daughter, Charlotte now 7 years old, had no fear when I came out to her. She quickly and unabashedly questioned me, “Uhhh, do I have to be gay? I don’t want to be gay.” As I assured her that she could absolutely be straight, she shrugged her shoulders and said, “Well, okay then” and promptly left to go play barbies. She knows who she is. We all do. Nothing about Charlotte is a secret.
My nine year old lives in a world where being genderqueer is accepted and quite frankly, expected. A world where when the game console asks a group of fourth grade boys to “select a gender” and only offers male/female they independently, and rather academically discuss the follies of a gender binary and the ridiculousness of needing to declare their gender on an Xbox profile. “As if it even matters” they all scoffed.
I know, my babies are young, and they will come with a new generation of secrets. But I pray the lesson they will learn from me is that the energy we use to hold those secrets so tight, ultimately becomes the power those secrets have over our lives.
Who we are and who we love: those truths are sacred.
I can stand up here, and talk a big game about secrets. But the truth is, I still keep them. I keep them for me– little ones, like where I hide the oreos. But I also keep truths secret in some effort to protect that other, sacred, Mormon identity that I have.
I drive by my former ward building, and from the back seat, my four year old pipes up, “That’s our church! Why don’t we go anymore?” and the seven year old asks, “Yeah, mom, why did they kick you out?” And I sit in silence. I still don’t have the heart to share that secret.
I still haven’t found the courage to open my first, and let that secret fall out. I cannot turn around and look them in their perfect eyes and say, “It wasn’t just me they rejected.”
“It was you.”