Apostate

Friday, December 12, 2014

Question

My father is part of a polygamous offshoot of the Mormon cult. He told me all my life that it was my destiny to be the wife of another male leader of his church. My mother never disagreed with him. She was one of six women who were all married to him and raising children with very little money, unable to work, uneducated, often using welfare money.

I was fourteen when I was told my father had received a revelation to give me to one of the Twelve Apostles of his church. But my mother must have put her foot down because that plan fell through, and I was not actually married until I was 16. Instead of being sealed for time and all eternity to a man who was 50 years older than me, I was given to a man who was only 30 years older. My father no doubt thought he was being incredibly liberal.

I struggled to be a good wife. All of my four children were born at home. I never had control over my own finances. We never had television and were pretty much cut off from the outside world. I might never have left the church if I was not befriended by a social worker who figured out that I was in a plural marriage. She began to ask questions about when I had been married, and told me that my husband had committed a crime by having sex with me before I was old enough to legally give consent. I had no idea that I had a right to give consent to a man who wanted to use my body for sex. Even though I had been violated, the idea that I had this right was so exciting that I was on Cloud Nine for days!

Eventually this social worker put me in touch with a woman who helps plural wives to escape from polygamous marriages, and I left my husband. I was able to bring my daughters with me. My oldest, a boy, is nearly an adult. He would not have agreed to leave and might have turned us in to church authorities. I regretfully left him behind, but I pray every day that I might someday see him again and be able to tell him I love him.

I am having a lot of trouble adjusting to life outside of the church. Can you give me any advice? There are so many decisions to make! Life happens at such a fast pace. People in the modern world seem obsessed with superficial things to me. But if I do not take on these values, what values do I endorse? If I keep the beliefs of the church, that doctrine tells me I have betrayed the Holy Spirit and am condemned to eternal damnation for not keeping my wedding vows and not obeying my husband. But I could not stand to see my spirited and intelligent daughters being taught that they were worthless, fit only to become slaves to do all of the drudgery for a man they would not even get to choose for themselves. I could not stand the thought of them having a miserable life, a life in which they would never have modern medical care, and might die in childbirth or suffer from jealousy or be persecuted by sister-wives who disliked them. Polygamy is a lonely way of life in which you have no privacy and nothing for yourself, not even a few moments of the day. It is hard for me to believe that God would have created women to suffer this much. While men are children of our Heavenly Father, they are not superior to me, just as I am not superior to them.

Will this ever get easier? You have written very movingly about having a Mormon background. And yet you seem to be very liberated in the area of sexuality. I cannot imagine being so bold. I am not sure I even want to take a lover. It is so wonderful to climb into bed and find no one in it but myself. Sometimes my daughters and I enjoy music, a movie, or conversation so much that we all fall asleep together. I wake up feeling as if it is a holiday. They get to go to school and learn as much as they can. If that is the only thing I accomplished by leaving, I have made a miracle. If it is too late for me to enjoy total freedom for myself, that’s okay.

Answer

I don’t know if you need any advice. It sounds to me as if you have done an amazing job of finding your own way out of a dangerous situation, and saving your daughters from having an unhappy and scary life. I am familiar with what goes on in polygamous cults, and I’m also familiar with the way the so-called mainstream church and the state of Utah winks at them and allows them to continue to operate. The battery of women and the abuse of underage girls that they promulgate is shocking and ought to be stamped out. I am so grateful that you were wise enough to keep your plan to yourself and get out. I, too, will pray that your son will someday meet with you and say that he loves you, and understand what you did. He has a much bigger reason for buying into the system of polygamy than you did, but he should be ashamed of himself if he thinks it’s okay for a grown man to allow women to be treated like slaves. Nobody ought to rely on others to do their scutwork for them, and treat them like God on earth. As you say, we are all equal children of a loving creator.

I guess if I was going to be presumptuous enough to suggest anything, it would be to just take things carefully and slowly. Don’t be in a big hurry to make changes in the life you have now. You are making big adaptations. If your focus is on your own education and figuring out how you are going to make a living, that’s fine. Be aware that people in the outside world do not have the same ethics or morals that you might have counted on before. There is a lot of hypocrisy and dishonesty, and a lot of competition. So be sure you can trust people before you let them in to the center of your life. Often the most dishonest people will try to con you by presenting themselves as needing help. You sound like someone who would empathize with pain and want to help. But it’s really okay to focus on your own family and avoid strangers who claim they need something.

Your own spiritual values resonate from your letter. I just think you have not been trained or taught to see them as spirituality. The cult placed such a high value on its own structure and on obedience to authority that this was the only thing that was recognized as religious or spiritual. But you are placing a high value on kindness toward your children, concern for their welfare, and a desire to defend your own safety and happiness. Those are spiritual values. Wanting equality is a spiritual value. Wanting justice or peace of mind is too. There are many things that are wrong with the world we live in. Evil is a human problem, and every time we try to correct that evil and treat each other better, we are acting from a spiritual place, expressing gratitude for the life we were given and refusing to waste our time on the planet.

As far as dating goes, what chance have you ever had to feel attraction to another person? You were always told it was your job to just obey, to do what male authorities told you to do. So pleasure was something that other people (men) took at your expense. You have never been able to see pleasure as something that came from your own body or was a priority for you. It is probably a victory for you to enjoy something as “selfish” as a spa day or a really nice meal that somebody else prepared. I don’t know how you would feel about getting a massage from time to time, to put yourself in touch with your own body, and to help you to relax. I think that might be a good way to start doing self-care.

Both Betty Dodson and Lonnie Garfield Barbach have written some good books about female sexuality and self-stimulation. If this doesn’t run contrary to your values, you might want to take a look at their books and see what you think about this as a starting point. This would not involve dating, which brings up complicated issues of the balance of power between men and women. Instead, it would be a way to learn more about your own sexuality. This can be kept as a private matter or shared with a partner. Either way, it is a good way to relax and cope with stress.

I recommend this in part because I think you have been through so much stress, trauma, and hard work in your life that I feel you are probably in need of ways to relax, play, have fun, and let go of the past. I hope nothing I have said here has offended you or gone too far. If so, just ignore my advice and keep looking for the next step you want to take, based on your own sense of what will work for you. You have done well so far, and I think you will continue to do so. I am so glad to hear from you, and wish you the best as your life journey continues to unfold.

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