During the Warren Jeffs trial, I couldn't help but reflect upon the position of women within the Mormon Church. Although the LDS Church has tried to distance itself from Jeffs by saying that he was a leader of a breakaway sect, Jeffs' group highlights all of the major problems with Mormon doctrine. The practice of polygamy was officially discontinued by the Mormon Church in 1890. But women still hold very little power in Mormon society. The ideal Mormon woman is a house maker with lots of babies to tend and she obeys her husband. Women who do not fit this mold have a difficult time living up to the still-prevalent expectation. And this is especially true for lesbians.
Gay Mormon Women: How Oppressed Can You Get?
Andi and Hailey are my favorite lesbian couple. In fact, they’re two of my favorite people, period. Getting to know them over the years has been fun. So when I started working on this series about gay Mormons, I knew I had to interview them.
Andi was born in American Fork, Utah in 1977 and Hailey was born in Logan, Utah the same year. Hailey laughs when I ask her to describe her family. “We were the Brady Bunch. I am the oldest of 6 children. I have three brothers and two sisters. My dad was a farmer up until I was 8 and then he went back to school. He got his degree in History and Geography when I was 12 or 13 and became a teacher. My mom was a homemaker, but then she went back to school. And when I was 16 or 17 she got her degree in English and became an English teacher.”
Hailey explains that because she was the oldest child, “I was expected to take care of the house when my mom went back to school. I made sure dinner was on the table and that the other kids did their chores. I was a very obedient child. I did everything I was supposed to do when I was living with my parents.”
While Hailey describes growing up in a typical Mormon family, Andi’s experience is very different. For starters, her parents were separated and divorced by the time she was born and she spent her time between families when she was growing up. Andi describes herself as a child as “a tomboy. I liked to do boy stuff. I played baseball and soccer and neighborhood football. I liked to watch cartoons and WWF wrestling on TV.”
Hailey’s family was very involved with the Mormon Church. “My mom was always very active, but my dad was not. He was an on and off again Mormon, but Mom always the steadfast, wonderful Mormon person. Dad watched rated-R movies stayed home on Sundays to watch football.”
Andi says when she lived with her mom the family went in and out of activity. And her dad was never active in the Church. “My family has a funny relationship to church,” Andi explains. “Dad does not talk about church. I have no idea what the fall out is. He’s from Utah, so he has a very Utah perspective on Mormons. Outside of the state, Mormons aren’t the same people. Utah Mormons are really traditional, very conservative. My mom, on the other hand, has an out-of-state perspective on Mormons.”
“I didn’t really know anything about the Church until I was 10. We met some missionaries when we were living in Dallas, TX. At that point, I was two years behind everyone else because most Mormons get baptized when they’re 8.” Andi says she went by herself to church with the missionaries. “Mom didn’t seem to mind. I have no idea why I went. I just thought you should go. Mom told us this was our religion. I went so I could get baptized.”
After getting baptized, Andi describes another period of inactivity. “I got reacquainted with church in high school. We were living in backwoods Georgia. One of the most crazy mistakes I ever made was when I went to seminary because there was this cute boy in the band. He invited me to go with him and the speaker was really good. So I decided to go back. I started going to seminary and my whole family became religious fanatics.”
Despite varying levels of religious activity, both Andi and Hailey say that their families expected them to get married in the Temple. “My mom had this crazy vision of sewing my wedding dress and she’s been lamenting that for years,” says Andi. Hailey tells me that “it was pretty much expected that I would get married to a man in the Temple and have many, many children. There was time I wanted to get married in the Temple, but it wasn’t clear to me that it would be to a man. That changed when I went to school and actually had a choice about whether to go to church and whether I actually believed things I had been practicing for so long.”
Andi and Hailey met each other at a small Utah college. Andi says she knew she was a lesbian “in the third grade. I was positive. Because at night before I would fall asleep used to day dream about the girls in my class in various Cinderella ball gowns and think how lucky I would be if I could be their prince charming. I always felt like a boy. But that’s when I knew I was gay.”
Hailey, on the other hand, says that she didn’t know she was a lesbian until she met Andi. “We weren’t dating but we spent a lot of time together. I would go visit her. And we would spend all night on the phone. She asked me one day why we were so close and she made me question myself and be honest with myself. I was probably 19 or so and I was scared. I was not honest with her initially. I told her I didn’t know what she was talking about. I wasn’t a lesbian.”
When I ask both of them to describe what the coming out process was like for them, I get very different answers. “Coming out is a continual process and I’m still very far from out,” says Hailey. “Mom was first person who outed me. I didn’t have a choice to come out. She asked me if I was involved with my roommate (who is now my wife). She just confronted me one Sunday morning while we were preparing to go to church. I was putting on my make-up before church. I had been struggling with how to tell her 6-9 months, if not a year. I couldn’t keep it to myself any longer. We went to church, prayed, read scriptures. And then we prayed and went to church some more. I even got a priesthood blessing. But I finally told her the truth, that I was in love with a woman.”
Andi says she came out to her family by choice “when I was 18. I had a girlfriend my whole senior year of high school. But I was in the closet the whole year. We broke up that summer and I just couldn’t accept it. I was loosing control over reality. I had this huge heartbreak and couldn’t tell anyone about it and no one could understand why I was such an asshole. I got dumped for God and a future husband. That wasn’t good. So as I slowly lost touch with reality, it all exploded with a suicide claim. I wasn’t serious. I’m too weak to kill myself. But it was a desperate cry for attention.”
“I told brother first because we’re very close. I just thought he wouldn’t tell on me. We’d been hiding things from our parents together for years. I can’t remember if he told on me. I told my mom next. She was really supportive, but that was not genuine. But it was the right answer at the time. And slowly over course of next 3 years, I started coming out and out and out. No one comes out once. It’s more like 50 thousand times. I still come out every day. There’s always some ass out there who sees me as a straight woman and I shock the hell out of him when I come out. Everyone in my family knows I’m a lesbian. It’s old gossip now, it’s not even fun.”
Andi and Hailey both say that they have gotten mixed reactions from their families about their marriage. “But there’s no hiding it,” says Hailey. “I have a wife.”
Neither of them are active in the Mormon Church anymore, because as Hailey explains, “I don’t believe in organized religion. God is a personal relationship with a higher being. I don’t believe in specific god. I just believe in a higher being. I don’t think organized religion will get me to some form of salvation they all talk about.” Andi says she often questions if there’s a God. And she has occasionally gone back to church for special family occasions. “But other than that we don’t have a lot of religion in our life,” says Andi. “I’ve talked about going to a gay church. I even looked one up but never really went. If I converted to another religion mom would be very disappointed.”
In terms of what they feel they’ve lost since leaving the Mormon Church, Andi and Hailey agree that is has affected their relationships with their families. “I’ve slowly gotten my family back,” says Hailey. “But if it’s ever going to be to the same level as it was before, I can’t tell you.” Andi echos that statement. “I know my mom loves me, but she doesn’t love me the way she did when I was a member of the Church.”
Family plays a very important role in the Mormon culture. And although they both feel a sense of loss in regards to their birth families, Andi and Hailey both say they have a definition of family that extends beyond bloodlines. “Family are the people you love who take care of you and who you take care of,” says Andi. Hailey agrees. “Family is not blood. It’s the people that love and care for you. There will always be people that actually understand and love you better than your immediate family.”
Neither of them expect the Church to change its stance on homosexuality any time soon. “The Church changed its position on African Americans holding the priesthood. So anything’s possible. Crazier things have happened,” Andi tells me. “But I don’t expect it in my lifetime, especially since the Church is governed in Utah and they’re very fundamentalist in Utah.” Hailey goes even further than that. “I don’t foresee it any time soon. The country hasn’t accepted that change, so the Church will be far from it.”