Friday, January 22, 2010

The Outcast

With all the discrepancy and hatred permeating Salt Lake City since the Proposition 8 catastrophe, I've been a witness, better yet a victim to this religious animosity.

Lately, I've been entrenched in the midst of anti-Mormon sentiment. And quite frankly, it's been difficult for me to admit I'm Mormon. Most recently, working with a more liberally inclined and equal rights group has had a profound awakening on my psyche. I knew getting into this type of work (we'll leave the specific name out) I may encounter a vast array of diversity and perhaps a little disgruntlement towards the oh so powerful LDS church. Well my expectations served me well. A little too well.

I was very excited to begin training. The first night my only hope was to leave the class feeling like there was an equal playing field. The class, I knew, had potential to become a forum for peoples' angst against the Mormon Church. But in my hopeful naivety, I thought "maybe, just maybe that won't happen". That night, my hopeful naivety was palpable.

Within the first hour the instructor gave a snide and very presumptuous remark about BYU. As soon as she said the three letter word, I could feel my face blazon with redness while my heart rate raced well above 100 BPM. [Just to set the record straight, I'm a devoted Utah fan, who has made plenty of remarks to BYU football fans. Mind you that was all in good rivalry fun]. I decided to hold my tongue. I was not about to subject myself into a hated target for the rest of the training. After all, this was the first night and there were 40 more hours left. I quickly composed myself and took a couple deep breaths. "This is the first night," I thought to myself. "This will be the only Mormon bashing. Right?"

Touche'. Night after night, I had the pleasure of hearing how the LDS church "suppresses sexuality" and "creates rapists because of this oppression" and "expects women to be perfect" and so on, and so on, and so on. And what did I do? I sat there like an abused puppy and refused to defend my church, whom I am an active member of (for the record--I haven't always been "super" active). I was caught in a conundrum of wanting to stand up for myself and my beliefs while wanting to protect my fragile vulnerability. However, when push came to shove, I was undoubtedly a coward. A shameful, pathetic coward. I looked around the room in desperation to find someone with a "you've got to be kidding me" expression on their face. I found myself painfully disappointed.

The next night I became acquainted with my neighbor. She recently married, is a humanitarian, and travels often to third world countries to share her talents in service. She seemed nice enough and through time we put two and two together. We were both Mormon. I felt a sense of relief for the first time since day one. This was the first time experiencing this sensation, since being born in Sandy City, Utah. And this was my profound awakening.

For the first time I was in the minority. Who would've thought it would occur in Salt Lake City? The headquarters of the LDS church? Prior to this, I had never felt so vulnerable, so exposed and so alone as I had in this training experience. I doubted my confidence and what's worse was that I was almost embarrassed to be a Mormon. Thus, my great awakening.

I suddenly felt very connected to Latinos. I suddenly felt connected to gay and lesbians. I felt connected to anyone who has gone through a feeling of isolation or exclusion. I knew what is was like to be the only Jew or Muslim or black person in a classroom. I knew what is was like to question your identity, almost shamefully. I knew what it was like to hear assumptions about your core beliefs and values. I had gained a new knowledge. A knowledge that will affect me throughout the entirety of my life.

Near the end of training we participated in a bonding "diversity" activity. People were exposed to their core. Drug addictions, eating disorders, homelessness, sexual abuse, and several other dark secrets were brought to the forefront. I was amazed what people in the room had survived.

What I learned from this experience:

-Never assume anything about anyone. It is astonishing to see what normal, everyday people have gone through.
-Stand up for what you believe is right. Don't be afraid to expose yourself, even in a room full of animosity.
-Treat everyone with respect.
-Accept that everyone single person has biases. We have all been raised in different circumstances.
-Do not force your beliefs onto another person.

I hope one day, people residing in Salt Lake can live harmoniously. That Mormon or not Mormon, gay or not gay, Latino or not Latino, can respect each other. I hope one day I will not be called a bigot or anti-gay because I'm a Mormon. I hope one day, someone that is gay will not be labeled as promiscuous or moraless. Instead of perpetuating a destructive disparity that exists in Salt Lake, we should try to understand the person and where they're coming from. Let's not assume anything that validates our stereotypical biases.



Krista said...

wow. i don't think i could have continued going to that class. props to you for that.
i got upset just reading about that.
was your mormonism ever exposed among the druggies?

Kristen M said...

Wow. What are you doing for work? I am so intrigued.

Missouri Jacobsons said...

Very powerful and moving post Ash. I agree with every single word you wrote.

Raising Helm said...

Bravo again for some beautiful writing! and of course for your new found awakening. I don't know how I would have survived. I think I would have cried or fallen into the fetal position. "Mormon" would have been plastered all over my face. Good for you for finding something new and deep within. Good luck with your adventure! Thank you for a bit of a reality check moment. Peace be with you!

Ashley Engar Blackburn said...

My mormonism was never exposed but I just assumed they knew since I probably seemed a little mormonesque. But who knows? I should've told everyone though! Next time!