I grew up under a rock. Seriously.
As a Mormon, there are so many rules that you have to follow that are strict to say the least and unreasonable at best. No coffee, tea, tobacco, alcohol, immodest clothing (which includes shorts or skirts above the knee, any sleeveless shirt, or even jeans that are just a little too snug), swearing… The list of Can’ts goes on and on.
I was in second grade before I even knew that there were churches other than mine. (Even though we drove past a Catholic church every week on the way home from Sunday meetings…probably my earliest case of cognitive dissonance.) As part of a lesson, my teacher asked how many of us went to church. I was surprised to see that nearly the whole class raised their hands. How could they go to church? They all acted so differently! I told my mom about it when I got home, and she told me that there are many religions other than ours.
I’m still not sure why this was such a surprise to me. Hadn’t the Joseph Smith story been drilled into my head since I was old enough to talk? For those unfamiliar with that bit of Mormon history, when Smith was fourteen years old, he couldn’t decide which church to attend as they all said all the others were wrong, so he went to the woods and prayed about it. This is when the “First Vision” (as it’s known in the Church) occurred and God and Jesus appeared to him.
Our media consumption while growing up was tightly regulated. It was easy for shows to get on the banned list. A few of those included Married With Children and Friends, for example. It wasn’t limited there. Even cartoons such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Disney’s Darkwing Duck were off limits. We would never go to any movies rated above PG, and once we started developing our own musical tastes, the songs on the radio were closely censored as well.
Given that, it’s no surprise that in junior high, my parents kept us out of the Sex Ed classes at our respective schools. In our Church, a subject doesn’t get any more taboo than sex. I never got “The Talk” from my parents, so everything I knew about it was what I gleaned from other kids’ conversations. To this day, I don’t know if mine was a unique experience where that goes, or if it was fairly typical. I suspect it’s the latter.
Given the Church’s prudish nature, it’s no surprise that a great deal of the lessons directed to the youth were for the “Law of Chastity” and “Temple Marriage.” All the talks about chastity were things you can’t do. (That seems to be a reoccurring theme here.) No sex before marriage. No necking or petting. No excessive kissing. I even got the impression that holding hands was too much of a show of intimacy that it was unacceptable unless you were seriously dating someone. Of course, exclusive dating was frowned upon unless you were already back from your mission and looking for a spouse. I even got the impression that there were/are sexual acts that are forbidden even after marriage, but, of course, no one talks about it.
Starting at age twelve, the boys and girls are split up into separate Sunday school classes: Young Men and Young Women. At fourteen we could go to church dances, which were held once a month in the church gymnasium. At sixteen we were allowed to date. Group dates were encouraged, as they didn’t want us to be subject to temptations by being alone with the opposite sex. I never had that problem, because I was so quiet, mousy, awkward, and homely that I was never noticed. In fact, I didn’t go on my first date until just before my seventeenth birthday.
I never misbehaved in high school or college, as the Mormon was so deeply ingrained in me, with a good dose of spiritual and parental fear to back up my need to remain “good.” The Church is very patriarchal and though my father wasn’t big and mean, his word was law. The fear of disappointing him still motivates me, though I see more and more that it’s an inevitable thing. As I break free the confines of the Mormon mindset and starting thinking about what constitutes the truth on my own, I am bound to let him down as I move away from the beliefs that he holds dear.
I can only hope that when I am able to come to grips with my new realities, that they will still accept me and my choices.