April 8, 2006
License and Licentiousness (Or, Self-Portrait as Loud-Mouthed Slut)
Here are some examples of what I looked like as a painfully inexperienced 25-year-old Mormon virgin. (They're popups instead of embedded because that way they don't end up anywhere else on the internet; sorry if this inconveniences anyone.) The first is the portrait of me my mother still displays in her home:
This next one was taken in Provo, Utah, before I went to my second mission president's homecoming talk. Check out the shoes! I still have them but I hardly ever wear them, these great peau de soie pumps with rhinestones on them.
This last one was taken in the family room in my parents' house. I like how this huge television (by the standards of the late 1980s) is still surrounded and dwarfed by this massive wall of books. There were heavily-laden bookshelves in every room of the house I grew up in, with the exception of the bathroom--and in that room, there was a magazine rack built into the wall by the toilet. I think that explains something about who I am.
Anyway, the quality of the photos isn't the greatest: they were scanned on an old scanner and resized with old software. Still, I think I am not flattering myself excessively when I suggest that although the photos are blotchy and blocky in the way that digitized images sometimes are, they nonetheless suggest that I was a reasonably attractive young woman--at least, I had good hair and great ankles, and I knew how to work a clutch purse.
Now, I realize that this might sound like sour grapes, but the fact of the matter is, that at the point in my life when I was pretty much the hottest I'll ever be, I hardly ever dated. Why? Because I was Puritan feminist with a piss-poor attitude about pretty much everything, but especially religion and relationships.
That state of affairs had a lot to do with my mission, which I've written about in bits here on the blog and which was the greatest trauma of my life. I finished it six days before my twenty-third birthday. When I returned to college to finish my bachelor's degree a few months later, I attended Church meetings sporadically and tried to cultivate friendships with non-Mormons, but since I didn't drink, hated going to bars, was constantly obsessed with God and usually melancholy, I met with little success.
You would have been hard-pressed to find someone more virginal and uptight than I was. I had thoroughly absorbed the message about sex crammed down our throats at church: "Sex is filthy and disgusting; save it for someone you love." Occasionally some non-Mormon guy would ask me out, but I ended things the second he asked me to put out. I just wasn't going to do that, for so many reasons, ranging from fear of religious reprisals to deep-seated prudery.
As for how things fared with Mormon guys, well, let's see: a grand total of, hmm...TWO asked me out between the time I returned from my mission and the time I left the Church nearly three years later. The first guy asked me out after I first invited him to see Depeche Mode with me (I won tickets on the radio--about the only time in my life I've done that) and we dated for a while, until he got too thoroughly on my nerves. The second guy--well, he was a 20-year-old missionary, which means he was expressly forbidden to date, but since we'd fallen in love at first sight I hung out with him anyway, made plans with him to get married and live happily ever after, etc, none of which happened because he was, it turns out, gay, though we're still good friends to this day.
Why wouldn't Mormon men date me? I was pretty; I was bright; I had FABULOUS homemaking skills--I cooked, baked, sewed, knitted, and kept a clean house. I was good with babies. I managed my finances well. I would have made an ideal wife. Except there was that piss-poor attitude part....
I was outspoken, you see--outspoken to the point of being confrontational, and I simply could not muster any reverence for patriarchy, which translated into a profound cynicism. If I thought something was full of shit, I said so, even if I was talking to a priesthood leader in direct authority over me. And the fact that I was outspoken and not cowed by male authority was a sign, someone finally told me, that I was also a slut.
I'm not kidding.
Like I said, I was about as virginal and uptight as a girl can be. But plenty of people at church believed I had been sexually active for years. The logic went like this: I was outspoken and critical; because I claimed license to speak, I had to be licentious. It's a very old argument. It has gotten many women in trouble, including Anne Hutchinson, who liked to elaborate on each Sunday's sermon later in the week in her seventeenth-century New England Puritan home. That was fine as long as she only taught other women as they sewed together, but she acquired a reputation for wisdom and insight--and men began showing up to hear her. But church leaders knew that women could not possibly teach men, and stepped in to stop it. Hutchinson was put on trial, where she claimed the authority to preach the word of God. The prosecution argued that any woman who formulates doctrine and interprets the word of God must by definition be sexually promiscuous, for she has betrayed her sex by claiming a role allowed only to men. Hutchinson was convicted of a number of crimes and expelled from the community--she was excommunicated.
Which is why I shouldn't have found it the least bit remarkable that when a Mormon man wanted to shame me into shutting up in the discussion on John's blog, he resorted to criticizing what he knew about how I have conducted my sex life, information he gained from reading the sex archives of my blog. After first belittling my credentials and questioning my professionalism (which was every bit as offensive as he intended it to be, but I could live with it), he wrote:
And since when is sleeping around enlightened behavior Holly? You yourself have come to the conclusion that casual sex outside of a committed relationship is unlikely to bring you any kind of lasting emotional or physical satisfaction. I sincerely hope that isn't what you meant by "working one's ass off to figure certain things out." You could have saved yourself a lot of trouble by asking your average Beehive or Mia Maid about the law of chastity; they would tell you (standing on the shoulders of their enlightened ancestors) that it wasn't intended to keep you from having fun, but rather to bring happiness and trust, and save you from heartache and unhappiness, in your personal relationships.
A Beehive, by the way, is the name given to 12- and 13-year-old girls in the Church youth group; a Mia Maid is the name for girls in the 14- and 15-year-old category. As I said, I thoroughly absorbed the church's message on sex and could have spouted it back to myself, but it wouldn't have saved me any trouble, since it never told me how to deal with getting my heart broken by a man I never slept with, or by one who dumped me in the midst of one of the most committed relationships I've ever been in. "Fun" had little to do with it, and I also can't help thinking that if I'd been given healthier messages about sex when I was indeed a Beehive and Mia Maid, I might not have had such problems figuring out how to navigate gracefully through the challenges involved in sex when I finally started having it.
I said a bit of that to him.... I also wrote,
I want to point out something else you've done in this conversation that I haven't: I haven't heretofore resorted to pointedly denigrating your personal decisions about how to live your life. I admit I read your comments to John about why you stick with the church and thought, "Here's another one of those cowards who knows the church is a crock of shit, but doesn't have the guts to do anything about it." But I refrained from bringing that up, or trying to use it against you.
To the guy's credit, he did apologize for getting personal, and acknowledged the accuracy with which I characterized him. But it was small comfort after he got Melchizedek* on my ass, talking to me like he was some priesthood leader empowered to discuss the details of my life while the details of his were off-limits.
And I think that's all I have to say on that topic for the time being. My next post will have nothing to do with Mormonism, I promise.
*The Melchizedek priesthood is the authority by which adult men wield power in the Mormon church.
Posted by holly at April 8, 2006 2:06 PM