May 01

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Biblical Namesake

This is based on a talk I gave in my ward in February 2016. 

I don’t think I’m giving away too much of my identity on the internet when I tell you that my name is Hannah. Growing up, I liked my name: it’s a palindrome, and, for someone of my age, it was relatively unusual. (I mostly only met Jewish girls my age with the name.) I also liked that, like my brothers, I was named after a Biblical figure; I liked the feeling of being part of history, a long chain of tributary Hannahs, and the sense of weight and importance it gave to the name.

I didn’t much like that Biblical figure, though. The lessons I got about her in Primary and even Young Women’s were always lessons about Samuel that framed her only as the faithful mother of someone important, not someone important in her own right. Moreover, every time her story was referenced the other kids looked at me, more or less surreptitiously, and teased me: “Ha, ha, you want to have a baby!” In Primary I did NOT want to have a baby, and this teasing oddly stung, to the point that I dreaded Hannah references in church. (From this I also learned that kids can tease you about anything; kids, don’t do this.)

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Apr 19

Will It Play in Papua?

In another life I was a linguist, interested particularly in linguistic typology, the field of searching for true language universals—and thus some of the deepest building blocks of human language—through description and classification of existing languages into broad types and comparative features. Functionally, and a little flippantly, this means typologists write papers proposing models of how languages work, and then, almost invariably, other typologists familiar with the languages of Papua New Guinea write a response saying, “No they don’t,” with copious counterexamples. Think that all languages have a word for “blue”? Look at Dani. Think that there’s no language with doubly articulated stops? Look at Yeli Dnye. Think that the verb for ‘give’ always takes three arguments? Look at Saliba.  Think that all languages count on their fingers or therefore bias towards base-10 numeral systems? Look at Oksapmin.

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Mar 29

On Being Lukewarm

Some things I proselytize for:

Reading.

To say I love books is to understate it somehow; reading’s influence in my life has been second only to my family. When I read, I learn, I enter new worlds, I bask in the beauty of words in the hands of masters (or, occasionally, wince at the stilted prose of amateurs). Most of all, I get a view into the hearts and minds of others. I’m naturally an intellectual person, prone to abstract away from emotions, even my own, and it’s easy to imagine myself, raised in a world without the windows of fiction, as cold, standoffish, and a little heartless. Books have trained me in the paths of compassion, offering me a chance to use my mind to connect, paring and shaping the natural woman with an effectiveness that ordinary social interaction could never have achieved. Everyone should read.

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Jan 19

Mormon Feminism: Essential Reading

I think I ought to say here that I received a copy of Mormon Feminism from Oxford University Press in exchange for a fair review.

When I was in graduate school, far from the heart of Mormonism, one of my favorite pick-me-up-after-a-long-day-of-thinking hobbies was to swing by one of the many used bookstores near the university and hunt for treasures. One day, to my surprise, I found Brigham Young: American Moses on the Religion shelf. On another visit a few weeks later I found Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, and then during yet another visit Sisters in Spirit—somewhere in my secular liberal town, someone was reading and discarding Mormon history, and I was the lucky beneficiary. Continue reading

Jan 13

Mourning

When I was about 15, my bishop gave me some horrible advice. It was the kind of generic advice you might give to a teenager that in many situations would be harmless and probably even positive. But if he had known more about my personal situation, I’d like to think that he wouldn’t have said what he did. Unfortunately, he didn’t just say, this is something you might want to consider. He said, God is telling me that you need to do such-and-such thing. Because I’d always heard that bishops could be inspired on your behalf, I took him seriously. I did what I was told, and it was awful. And most awful of all was the message that it conveyed, which was that God didn’t actually care about my needs or experience. It reinforced destructive messages I was already getting about myself and some of the situations I was dealing with. My relationship with God was already full of landmines, and it added to the chaos. Continue reading

Dec 02

Stories of Divine Intervention

A painful church experience to which I think many people can relate is that of listening to people share stories of divine intervention that didn’t happen in your life. People might talk, for example, about God giving them healthy children. If you don’t have children, or if your children aren’t healthy, this can really sting. Or perhaps God is reported to have intervened to cure a disease—one from which you or someone you love still suffers. Maybe God spared people from accidents, or blessed them financially. Those who weren’t blessed in those ways are inevitably going to wonder why. As a single person,my favorites are the “how God led me to my spouse” stories. (You might think that this would be a different sort of concern for me, given that I’m gay, but actually there are plenty of gay people who will testify that God brought their partners into their lives.) And hardest of all, I suspect, are stories about God saving people’s lives, when he didn’t save the life of the person you loved. Continue reading

Nov 24

Justice and Mercy

Alma is unarguably the figure in the Book of Mormon who exhibits the most concern for the concepts of justice and mercy—which he notably conceptualizes as different things, even things that are in competition. He thoroughly explicates this in Alma 42, as part of his sermon to his wayward son Corianton. I wish to go briefly over his argument, and then raise some questions about this conception.

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Nov 22

Revelation that Calls for Others to Sacrifice

One of the many, many things I find troubling about D&C 132 is that it’s a revelation in which the recipient is put in a privileged position vis-à-vis significant others his life; in this case, his wife. In it, Joseph is promised all kinds of blessings. To be fair, Emma is as well—but only if she’ll swallow the bitter pill of Joseph taking other wives. Otherwise, she’s warned, she’ll be destroyed. Continue reading

Nov 18

A Career of Pain

Adrienne Rich’s “Twenty-One Love Poems VIII” concludes with the lines:

Well, that’s finished. The woman who cherished
her suffering is dead. I am her descendant.
I love the scar-tissue she handed on to me,
but I want to go on from here with you
fighting the temptation to make a career of pain.1

I find that powerful. I’ve thought a lot about that temptation of cherishing your suffering, of making a career of pain. In my life, it’s been a seductive one—to define myself in terms of what I’ve suffered, to make that the center of my identity.

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  1. Adrienne Rich, “Twenty-One Love Poems VIII,” The Dream of a Common Language (W.W. Norton 1978), 29. []
Nov 13

Disappointment

I think I hadn’t realized how much hope I had that the rumored clarification/revision would substantially address the problems caused by recent policy changes until the clarification actually arrived. My heart sank when I read it. I will say that I’m happy to hear that many children who had temporarily fallen into a state of limbo will now be allowed to be baptized. I actually guessed that would happen; it seemed like denying baptism to children in joint custody situations was going to be a step too far for even conservative church leaders. But the fact that other children are still left out in the cold is deeply troubling. Even if the policy only applied to a single child, we’ve crossed a certain bridge now, in terms of what we’re willing to do in the name of rejection of gay marriage. It’s not pretty. And I worry that it will be very difficult to go back. Continue reading

Nov 13

Mercy

We’ve all known the feeling of living simultaneously through events of community and personal significance, times when the public and the private terribly converge. September 1993 was a time like that for me. Again in recent days I’ve reflected on what that time meant to me as a Mormon coming of age, and what it means to me now, more than twenty-two years later. Continue reading

Nov 12

Weathering the Storm

I would indeed be ungrateful today if I didn’t acknowledge the blessings in my life. I say that tongue-in-cheek, but it’s nonetheless true; I have been reminded again and again in this past, difficult week that I have a lot of good friends. People have reached out to me, checked up on me, reminded me that they loved me. I’ve been asked over and over, are you okay?

And the answer, somewhat surprisingly, is yes. I’m okay. I really am. Continue reading

Nov 12

From the Backlist: New Policies

Ever wondered what the ZD backlist is like? Wonder no longer! This is one of many, many discussion threads over the last couple of days.

Lynnette: Another person I know just sent in his resignation letter. I feel like I’m watching a disaster unfold in real-time.

I usually start out upset at things and then calm down some. But this is going in reverse. The more time goes by and I see the effects of this, the more awful stories I encounter, the more horrified I am.

Vada: I’m horrified, too. The posts Jerilyn has been sharing are just about killing me. Especially the ones of parents trying to explain this to their children. Or of parents knowing they’ll have to, but not knowing how. I can’t imagine having to explain to my 7yo that he can’t get baptized next year, even though his brothers did recently. Or explaining to my almost 11yo that he won’t be able to pass the sacrament next year like everyone in his age. It breaks my heart, and I don’t even have to do it.

Lynnette: I feel like there’s been a lot of discussion about hypothetical children who might have cognitive dissonance while real actual children are getting directly harmed.

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Nov 11

3-Dimensional Moral Reasoning

What if we were to start from scratch? What if we were to examine right and wrong using our best moral intuitions, not privileging the traditions of our fathers? Would this be the sum of our moral arithmetic?

penis + vagina = good

penis + penis = bad

vagina + vagina = bad

penis + vagina + vagina + vagina + … = bad, except under certain circumstances when the prophet or temple say it is good

Is this the moral essence of who we are as Mormons? And if not, then why is so much rhetoric and policy fixated on defending the heterosexual, patriarchal family ideal? Continue reading

Nov 10

How to Be an Ally to the LGBTQ+ Mormon Community

If you’re at all familiar with social justice work, or if you’ve been following progressive Mormon discussions on the recent policy changes in the church, you’ve likely heard the word “ally.” In social justice work, an ally is someone who works on eliminating sexism, racism, homophobia, etc., from a place of privilege. For example, a cisgender male working to eliminate sexism can be an ally to his transgender and female friends. A straight person working on eliminating heterosexism can be an ally to their LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters.

I’m full of gratitude for the multitude of ways that the Mormons in the communities I belong to have offered support and care for their LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters this past week. And because I know people want to continue to work on being supportive to the best of their ability, I’ve been brainstorming ideas for being a good ally to the LGBTQ+ Mormon community, especially since things are pretty difficult for us right now. Continue reading