Hello! My name is Eve. I am a Utah Mormon.
I am part of a group that is increasingly, and rightly, overshadowed in the Church at large. I’m a seventh-generation descendant of pioneers and polygamists (through Benjamin Franklin Johnson alone I’m probably cousin to every fourth person reading this post), and I was raised in the heart of Utah County and the backyard of BYU. I sincerely hope that the minority of which I am a part continues to shrink. I absolutely want to see the Church become more and more linguistically and culturally diverse.
That said, let’s get a few stereotypes out of the way and review some basic good manners.
(1) I am not a dolt. Unsupririsingly enough, I speak in the dialect of the region of the country where I was raised. However, this truly amazing instance of linguistic cause-and-effect in my speech patterns really does not, in itself, constitute incontrovertible evidence that I was dropped on my head as child. Just because I speak like the Utahn I am doesn’t mean I’m stupid.
A brief review of the dread Utah Accent of which, like apostate levels of narrowminded, fundamentalist zeal, every good Utahn reflexively accuses some other part of Utah of harboring:
(a) The preposition “for” is equivalent to the evergreen; the verbs “feel” and “fill” are indistinguishable.
(b) “Sentence” has one n (the second one); neither “sentence” nor “mountain” has a t.
(c) Especially late in a seh-unce, the present participle is often signaled by a termimal in; in the summer one might frequently be found “goin’ swimmin’.”
(d) “Controversial” has five syllables.
(e) To make “aunt” inequivalent to “ant” or to pronounce either and neither with long is is to give oneself airs.
(f) Only because I didn’t grow up fifty miles further south do I not speak of the “Spart of the Lard.”
What can I say? This is my accent. I have no other.
(Oh, and to this day it makes me grin to hear Easterners say “Co-lor-ah-do” and “Ne-vah-da.” We are talking about the national gambling capital and the state of legalized prostitution here, right? That would be Ne-vaaa-da.)
(2) I am not hopelessly naive. Yes, I have heard of tank tops, miniskirts, vodka, crack, meth, raves, gangs, porn, and illicit sex. I have even viewed and been offered some of these substances and practices (and no, I won’t reveal which ones). No, I am not shocked by the very existence of divorce, alcoholism, poverty, homelessness, mental illness, child abuse, domestic violence, rape, prostitution, or the partaking of the sacrament with one’s left hand, to paraphrase Robert Kirby. My childhood was not conducted in a little Kleenex-box diorama in the basement of the Salt Lake Visitors’ Center.
(3) I am not plastic. Don’t mistake my congenital politeness and reserve in personal interactions for affectation or insincerity.
(4) I am not a hick. While I’m no connoisseur of the arts, nor even much of an informed amateur, I had the obligatory years of music lessons, went to conerts and recitals and art museums, and had access to just about anything I wanted to read through the BYU Library. And yes, I’ve heard of Marx and Darwin and Freud. Even (gasp!) Heidegger. Once or twice.
(5) I am not a theological oaf. I do not live and die by every word that proceeded out of the mouth of Elder Bruce R. McConkie in the first edition of Mormon Doctrine. I do not confuse the local Republican Party’s assemblies with fast and testimony meeting. I am literate and therefore capable of perusing the standard works, First-Presidency statements, and church handbooks and making distinctions between doctrinal principles and widespread cultural practices.
(6) I am neither a sheep nor a spoiled brat. Just because I didn’t walk uphill both ways through the snow to early-morning seminary or have to navigate high school norms that made alcohol more or less obligatory does not mean my faith has not met equally severe trials. Being born in the Church did not exempt me from finding my own conversion (and trust me, those of you who’ve never lived among a large concentration of Mormons–conversion at home has its own peculiar challenges, like seeing one’s faith daily blown off by people who embrace it in name only and having every single wart of the Church magnified and shoved in one’s face by the local press). Only in Utah has simply declaring my Mormonism been insufficient to exempt me from drugs, partying, or illicit sex (since so many other self-identified Mormons are happily indulging). Only in Utah have I ever had to endure the regular demolishment of my religious convictions in the classroom.
So those of you have never lived in Utah for any length of time, or who dropped in only for four quick years at BYU and never really saw the rest of the sate, please spare me the tales of how cushy my spiritual life has been. Trust me. It hasn’t.
(7) I’m painfully aware that Utah culture is weird. But a culture is like a family–unless you’re part of it, you ridicule it at your peril. I don’t make fun of Catholics, Hindus, Polacks, Jews, or Texans, and when these people make fun of themselves in my presence, I enjoy their ability to laugh at themselves, but I know better than to join in. I am unacquainted with any culture in which it is considered good manners to begin disparaging someone’s native place on very first acquaintance. When I introduce myself at church as from Utah, please don’t say, “I’m SO sorry!” and laugh at great length at the your own hilarity and at the ridiculousness of what is still–after all is said and done–my home.
(8) Finally, I am not unrepresentative. Don’t think you’re flattering me by telling me that I’m not really a Utah Mormon or that I’m refreshingly atypical of the denizens of my native state. That’s like praising me for my rigorous masculine intellect–or confiding in me in hushed tones your relief that I’m not like those effeminite, wussy women who crumple at the first sign of challenge or disagreement and dissolve into tears. Uh-uh. I am not going to stand idly by and smile thinly while you perform the intellectual gymnastics necessary to sustain your tenuous stereotype by rigorously excluding all of the data (i.e., me) that does not conform to it in every particular.
There! That’s much better. Now that we’ve got all that out of the way, can we be friends?