Read Leaving The Mormon Behind: How It Started here.
I remember the days leading up to my first visit to the Mormon temple. I remember trying to prepare for it as best I could. I took the lessons, though they were mandatory since we had not married in the temple. The Ex and I completed them over the summer, though he had been through before. They taught me very little about what I would actually see and do in the temple ceremonies. I read as many books as I could, and I stayed away from the internet. That’s what they told me to do. They told me reading the internet would only alarm me, and after-all, it wasn’t true. I learned later that much of what is on the internet was incredibly accurate.
I packed my bag, picked out a pretty white dress that covered every inch of my body, found some white nylons, and hoped to all hell that I wasn’t doing this just to save my marriage. Except, I was.
He blamed me for our inactivity in the church. It was my fault that we didn’t have a temple marriage. It was my fault that he no longer held a calling. It was all my fault. I should have been insulted. Instead, I saw it as a challenge. I wanted to prove him wrong, and I did.
The day I went through the temple, I drove to Cardston with my mother. They had driven down on the very icy roads, just to be with me. Next month, The Ex and I would travel to Edmonton to be sealed together. And two months later, we would officially separate. The temple didn’t save our marriage, but I proved him wrong.
It was a big deal. I remember everyone telling me it was a big deal. I believed it was a big deal. It was a bigger deal than my wedding day, it seemed. I was told that I would remember that day for the rest of my life. I did. I do. I will.
|Cardston Temple, Alberta
Image Courtesy of LDS Temples
There is nothing I can write that will accurately depict, describe or allow you to envision what it is like to go through a Mormon temple. Sure, I’d gone through and done baptisms for the dead as a youth. But that, Mormons will openly tell you about that. The rest of it? They won’t share, and they aren’t allowed to.
My mother told me I would wonder what I was doing. She shared her own story, where she wondered if she had made a complete mistake after going through her first endowment session. Then she went on to tell me that she continued to go day after day, until it all seemed normal. I was assured it was okay to be a little anxious, and that it was okay to be a little freaked out if I didn’t understand everything I heard or saw, or even did. It was something I would get used to. I felt an odd pinch of concern at the fact that the temple needed “getting used to”, like it was some sort of cult like ritual that couldn’t ever be questioned.
I wouldn’t get used to it.
I never got used to the cold touch of a strange woman’s oily fingers as she placed them on my bare skin, anointing specific parts of my body for the physical and spiritual good. I never understood the aprons, or the hats. I never understood why we were sworn to secrecy. I never understood why there was so much gender segregation in the temple, more so than I had witnessed in regular church services. The secret handshake scared me more than I can ever begin to describe. The garments I was forced to wear didn’t make me feel safe, or protected, they made me feel exposed and beaten down. A drone.
But most of all? I didn’t like the veil.
Yes, it was the stupid veil that is part of the costumes they require members (the women wear a veil, the men wear a hat)to wear in the temple that made me break. It wasn’t the ludicrous stories that were told in the movie you watched during the session, or the required signals, or passwords. It was the veil, and the prayer circle. My feminist roots can be traced way back to many of my past experiences, but the day she officially emerged was the day I realized that Mormons would never see me as an equal because I was a woman. I was cursed to being second rate, lesser than all those men, for the rest of my life. If I had daughters, I would have to teach her the same.
I couldn’t do that. I wouldn’t do that.
That day, after I had heeded my mother’s advice and devoutly attended the temple as much as I could, I found myself struggling to understand why I was determined to make myself embrace something that seemed so foreign, and so wrong to me. As I sat in the final room before we “crossed” the veil to the Celestial Room, my mind was muddled with thoughts. I tried to push them out. I tried to convince myself that I was wrong. They called for members to stand in the prayer circle. Then they called for the women to cover their faces. A sign of respect to the priesthood.
My breath became shallow as I bowed my head, my face covered. This was as good as it was ever going to get, I reasoned. This was all I would ever be if I continued in the Mormon church. Nothing more than a woman who needed to be hidden to show respect. My eyes filled with tears. I felt my body begin to shake. I felt horrified. I felt like I had been lied to by all those who had led me here, telling me it was wrought with blessings and loveliness It wasn’t. It was just a ceremonial way, costumes and scripts of telling me what I already knew:
As a woman, I would never be good enough. Not good enough to have the priesthood, just like Heavenly Mother was not good enough to be discussed. Not good enough to be anything more than a submissive woman, a vessel in which my only earthly good was to birth children and care for them. Not good enough.
I sobbed that day. I almost collapsed. A lady next to me, who I am sure thought I was having a spiritual experience, held my hand. I wanted to be sick. I wanted to scream at all of those in the room. But I didn’t. I finished the session. I did the secret handshakes, I gave the password, and I smiled my fake happy smile as I crossed into the Celestial Room.
And then, I ran.
I never returned to the temple.
I never returned to church.
My marriage ended. He returned to full activity. I did not. Maybe he was right; he wouldn’t have had the partner he wanted if we had been together. I would have fought him, even if it was quietly. And I did fight him. I fought him when I left him, because I was better than the patriarchy he used to harm me, the same kind that was endorsed by his family, and our Bishop. I was better than that.
I had been told by my parents my entire life I was not good enough. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that I would want to be as far away from any person, or organization that was content to belittle my gender, and hold me back.
I am a woman, and as far as I was and am concerned, that means that I could never be Mormon.