I shouldn't be blogging right now--I have a million things to do, and at the top of the list is "Finish three papers for Sunstone," the first of which I have to deliver in twelve days. But something is really occupying my mind right now, and I have to address it while it's an issue.
I wrote about Mormonism for a Mormon audience for a long time--like, two decades. And the non-mo forums I published in were mostly literary magazines, because that's where people with MFA's in creative writing and PhD's in English lit are supposed to get printed to have a respectable cv and get academic jobs. OK, it's respectable, but it means that your stuff gets read by, like, four people.
Last year I started thinking, "I want to get PAID for my writing, at least a little bit, and I want to write for bigger audiences." So I started trying for bigger venues. Since then, my writings on Mormonism have appeared in the New York Times, Bitch, Religion Dispatches, and the Huffington Post.
The reaction to the HuffPo piece, which is currently the featured article on the religion page (that will change tomorrow), is pretty illuminating. It's about Pioneer Day, and discusses the Pioneer Day parade of my dreams. I'd want people like Carol Lynn Pearson, Dustin Lance Black, the guys from The Mormon Worker and Lavina Fielding Anderson in my ideal Pioneer Day parade. The graphic at the head of the story is a picture of Dustin Lance Black.
But most of the comments are all like, "MORMON? Did someone say 'Mormon'? OOooh, ick! Let me list all the nasty things I know about Mormons!" And then they chide me for "ignoring" the Mountain Meadow Massacre, or the bank failure in Kirtland, or ask if I've ever heard of Prop 8.
Prop 8? What the hell is Prop 8? Oh, THAT. No, I just included three gay rights activists in my list of Latter-day pioneers by accident.
Most readers also assume that I'm a believing, active Mormon, even though I refer to myself as a secular saint* and announce, albeit not quite quite explicitly, that I'm not active.
But there are a few people who get what I'm saying, and what I'm trying to do: present Mormons as complex, diverse, and self-aware. Because within the body of orthodox believers, there are people who get themselves excommunicated for documenting ecclesiastical abuse (that would be the utterly awesome Lavina) and people who start websites of Mormon humor (that would be Chris Bigelow).
And the church PR department needs me to do this work, so that when a piece about Mormonism gets published somewhere, at least a few more people respond by saying, "Mormon? Did I hear the term 'Mormon'? Mormons are weird--and hard to understand. I better read this." They need Ask Mormon Girl for the same reason.
Even though the bastards in the Church Office Building will NEVER thank us.
*I came up with the term "secular saint" after reading this comment in this discussion of "Mormon" as a label. I'm happy enough calling myself a Mormon or a Post-Mormon or a member of the Mormon Alumni Association, but when this guy gets all proprietary and says that people like me don't have the right to the term "Latter-day Saint," I thought, thanks for the invitation! So I started wondering how I could appropriate that term, and I decided to call myself a secular saint. it's already a coinage referring to people "venerated and respected for contributions to a noble cause, but not recognized as a canonical saint by a religion." But I don't see why it can't work for me.