Why Ex-Mormons Keep Quiet About Their Experiences
The Daily Beast recently published an article featuring an interview with Sue Emmett, who is the president of the ExMormon Foundation and the direct descendent of Brigham Young. Sue talked about her experience as a Mormon woman with clarity, insight, and compassion. I am grateful for Sue’s courage in going public with her experience as a Mormon woman.
For years, I have been standing by the sidelines, wanting to tell my Mormon story but too afraid to speak out. I want my family to listen when I tell them who I am as a person. In all the years since my exit, no one in my family has ever asked me what I believe in and what my values are. No one has ever thought to ask why I left. I remember the Mormon mindset very well - even the slightest hint of criticism felt like religious persecution. And so I have been keeping quiet, out of love for my family.
I have reached a point where I realize my silence is doing more harm than good. Ex-Mormons keep quiet because we love the Mormons in our lives. We keep quiet because we are afraid of what will happen to us and to our families if we speak out about our experiences. We keep quiet because we do not want to face the condemnation of the people we once thought were our friends. However, silence does not fix the problem - at best, silence is a temporary solution.
In the ten years since my exit, there has been some progress within my family. My mother treats me with all of the love and affection that she treats her other children, although even my mother does not ask about my beliefs. My love for my mother strengthens and balances me, soothing a broken heart. My father has dampened his rage towards me. I feel more comfortable with my identity as a liberal agnostic woman.
But in other aspects, life has not gotten better. One of my brothers has been treating my husband and me badly. He makes snide comments about my husband’s ethnicity, cracking jokes about how all the Indians in this country either own Motel 8’s or 7-11’s. We live three hours from my brother - in the three years since we moved to Texas, we have visited my brother a dozen times, during which he pokes fun at my husband’s vegetarianism, oblivious to the irony of mocking a Hindu’s dietary restrictions when as a Mormon he abstains from coffee, tea, and alcohol. On the rare occasion he visits our home, he feels comfortable bringing meat with him, when my husband and I refrain from bringing coffee into his home. And yet I have kept quiet about my brother’s behavior; I still do not feel that I am an equal within my own family. I am still afraid of losing my family, as so many other ex-Mormons have lost theirs.
I had a difficult exit process - I first started questioning Mormonism when I was fifteen and I stopped believing when I was sixteen, when I was still living under my parents’ roof. I survived for two years by concealing my unbelief. The pain of living a double life - exacerbated by the very negative reaction I got when I confided in a Mormon girl I thought was my life-long friend - drove me to the brink of suicide. When I did leave, my decision was made harder by my mother’s heartbreak and my father’s rage.
Last year, I read the book “Heaven Up Here” by John Williams. I was astonished by his honesty in chronicling his mission experience. Although I never served a mission, I recognized much of his Mormon mentality in the young girl that I once was. After reading his book, I cried. I cried and I cried and I cried, hiding my tears from the world. I had started writing about my Mormon experience six months before, attacking the subject with an honesty that I never dreamed I could talk about publicly. And here was a man, living in the heart of Utah, married to a faithful Mormon woman, who had the strength to leave the Mormon Church and then to write about the good, the bad, and the messiness of his experience with a candor that I had never seen before. He gave me hope that I too could one day be as honest.
My family deals with my lack of belief through willful blindness. And maybe this will never change. But the burden of silence has been lifted. I still don’t know what the full price of my honesty may be. But the freedom is worth the price.