Blaire Ostler gave the following “Evening of Affirmation” talk at the Affirmation 2017 Annual International Conference, Saturday, September 23, 2017, at the Utah Valley Convention Center
Hello everyone. I have been assigned the task of sharing my experience as a pansexual woman with you. This is somewhat of a challenge for me—I often have difficulty expressing my experiences and emotions. For me, it’s far easier to bury myself in my research and academia that confront the reality of my emotions, but those emotions usually surface sooner or later. As a result, I often have very vivid and imaginative dreams.
Recently, I had a beautiful dream that encapsulates my experience as a pansexual woman. I’d like to share that dream with you tonight.
. . .
I was preparing for a large social event that took place in at a mansion in the desert. I put on a beautiful gown that was so extravagant it seemed like a costume. I put on makeup so thick it seemed like paint. But I didn’t just put it on my face, I also put it on every part of my skin which was exposed. I brushed the paint on my skin with the skill and precision of a classically trained artist. There were some scars, bruises, and injuries, but nothing unmanageable. No imperfection was a match for my paintbrush. I finished the look with a decorative silver comb in my hair. By the time I was done, I was nothing short of a vision. My exterior was flawless. Of course, I was everything a refined woman should be.
I arrived at the mansion and walked through the over-sized doors that were so opulent they seemed oppressive. I could see my friends and family had already arrived, but strangely they were not wearing costumes. I saw people from my past and people from the present. It seemed as though the room was filled with every person I had ever loved, known, or met in my life. All, but one face was there.
I smiled and socialized with various people while friends and family complimented my ensemble. One friend commented, “You look so put together. How do you manage?” I continued smiling and deflected the compliment. I didn’t have an honest answer. They couldn’t see the volcano that raged inside—waiting to be released. They didn’t understand my exterior, my costume, was an illusion. It was a useful, powerful, and protective illusion. Yet, illusions only last so long.
The costume grew heavier as the evening went on. I wanted to remove the gown, but when I tried to take my costume off I was greeted with adverse reactions by people in the room. Some were disgusted, some were scared, some were annoyed, and some were hostile. My attempts to remove my costume, to engage in honest dialogue, were often mistaken for a sexual advance.
I wandered from guest to guest, looking for any sign of authenticity. I cautiously searched for opportunities to shed my costume, but when honesty conflicted with compassion, compassion won. Honesty only seemed to cause them discomfort.
The costume continued to weigh me down, and I found myself moving to the edges of the room, seeking solace. I tried once more to remove my costume, but a well-meaning guest intervened and said, “I’m sure you already know this, but you can’t stay here without your costume. Don’t get me wrong. I want you to stay, but the costume is mandatory. Think of your children. If you can’t wear the costume for anyone else, surely you’re not so selfish that you wouldn’t wear it for them. Why make them suffer, because of your selfishness?” I nodded once again and agreed with the woman. I would do almost anything for my three children. I could live inside a costume for their well-being and safety.
The straps of my gown dug into my shoulders. The textured fabric and shimmering sequins rubbed my skin raw until I began to bleed. The costume wasn’t simply heavy, it was painful. I could barely stand. Is this what is meant to be a good mother, daughter, and friend? I knew these people. I knew their faces. I knew their voices. Why was this costume a qualifier for their love and friendship? With each rejection, I found myself closer and closer to the back of the large hall next to an exit. I looked out the back exit and saw a large garden fountain in the center of a secluded courtyard.
I quietly slipped out the back and closed the doors behind me. It was sunset and it felt good to be alone. Night was coming, but I knew I couldn’t wait until the cover of night to remove my costume. I looked around to be sure there was no one was near me before slipping the shimmering gown off my body. The weight of the gown fell to the ground with an audible thud. It was no longer my burden. I quickly stepped into the fountain, and rinsed the makeup, paint, and blood off my body. Lastly, I removed the silver comb and let my hair down. I was me again.
Liberated from my bonds, I ran to my car and hopped in the driver’s seat. I sped down the empty freeway lined with endless desert. I looked in my rear-view mirror and saw the mansion shrink into the distance. All the windows were open—the wind blew across my nude body and whipped through my loose hair. Only alone, was I free. I exhaled in relief as I flew down the freeway. The isolation of the desert was protective and comforting, it’s fierce harshness meant safety. Anyone would be foolish to follow me into this wasteland.
There wasn’t another car in sight for miles, other than a semi-truck far off in the distance.
I dreaded wearing the costume again. No matter how beautiful it was, no matter how desirable others found it, there was no point of existing inside a costume. My authentic existence had been quarantined—sentenced to a lifetime of confinement.
The semi-truck driving toward me on the two-lane road was getting closer. It wouldn’t be long until our paths met on the narrow road. I thought to myself, “What is the point of existing if no one will ever know who I am? They can’t love me if they don’t know me, and what is life without love? Perhaps they are better off loving the memory of the costume they had grown so fond of. Surely my children would be better off with another mother—a normal mother.” I concluded there was no reason to exist.
The semi-truck speeding toward me was my easiest way to ensure that I’d never be imprisoned by the costume again. I looked ahead to my left gauging the proximity of the semi-truck, and set the cruise control. I forced the car door open as I sped down the freeway. I took off my seatbelt and prepared to jump. I was certain if I timed it just right, I wouldn’t feel a thing. I then looked to my right to see the sun setting over the desert one last time. I would miss the desert.
As I turned my gaze, as if by magic, I was no longer alone. Suddenly, sitting in the passenger seat was my best friend. I was certain I was alone until that moment, but to my shock there he was, casually leaning back, also completely naked. I wondered as to how he got into the passenger seat unnoticed. I couldn’t remember consciously allowing him in.
He looked at me and smiled. He was calm, peaceful, confident, and strangely unsurprised by the naked queer woman preparing to jump out of the speeding car. He said only one sentence to me, “You don’t have to wear a costume with me.”
I smiled with relief and nodded. I leaned back inside and closed the car door as the semi-truck charged passed.
. . .
I woke up from my dream startled, and wiped a tear from the corner of my eye. My heart was racing. The dream felt so real. I rolled over in bed and there was the man from my dream, my best friend sleeping beside me. The foolish man that followed me into the desert.
. . .
My dreams have a way of telling me my most inner most feelings and desires, and my dreams continually tell me we all need to be each other’s saviors. This is more than just a humanist view of a Judeo-Christian narrative.
I imagine that everyone in this room is on a unique path concerning their faith. I have no doubt we have people here who are among the most active members of the LDS Church and we have people here who are atheists with little interest in religion or biblical narratives.
When I say savior, I don’t mean that to be superstitious, mocking, or derogatory. I mean it literally. We need to be saviors to one another, right here, right now, just as the scriptures instruct. That is what it means to follow the example of Jesus and become members of the body of Christ. To quote Corinthians, “Now ye are the body of Christ and members in particular.” Christ is not Jesus, but rather Jesus exemplifies Christ. If we are to become saviors, if we call ourselves Christians, it is our duty to reconcile and overcome fear, ignorance, hate, hopelessness, and death. We must become Christ which means Christ is as queer as the members that compose its body.
As for me, I am still deeply inspired by my religion, even if it’s little more than a myth or pious fiction, and I don’t mean that pejoratively. The influence of myths, stories, dreams, theologies, and visions should not be underestimated and shouldn’t be considered necessarily fraudulent. Humans are storytellers. Life is a narrative and we are the authors. The story of Mormonism and Christianity is incomplete without queer voices, and make no mistake Mormons are a queer people. It is time to stop privileging views or theological interpretations that neglect the experiences of queer Mormons. We need your voice, otherwise, fear and ignorance wins, and I don’t know about you, but I’m interested in a narrative where love wins.
Be a savior. Be Christ. You are a queer Mormon. Make your story the one that lives. Together, I believe we can make love win. Thank you.