Ugh… Monday morning again. This week, I get to endure it all alone, as Bill is on another one of his many business trips. I truly hate it when Bill travels alone. I get lonely hanging out here by myself. The good thing is, I often finally manage to finish books when Bill goes away.
Early this morning, thanks to a bout of insomnia, I completed Heather Gay’s book, Bad Mormon, which I’ve been trying to get through for the past week or two. I bought this book just as it was published last month. I probably would have read it regardless, but I think it was a discussion on the Recovery from Mormonism board that made me decide to take the plunge so soon after its publication. There was a time not so long ago when I eagerly devoured books about ex Mormons, but I’ve since sort of lost interest in upbraiding the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I also had absolutely no idea who Heather Gay was before I read her book. I don’t watch her on the Bravo reality show, Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, nor am I the sort of person who attends medical spas. I’m not impressed by vapid celebrity wannabe types, nor do I like facades. Someone on the RfM thread mentioned that Heather had been written up in the New York Times, though, and I am a subscriber to that publication. So I probably read the New York Times piece and headed off to Amazon soon afterwards. If you like, you can read the New York Times piece, too. I’ve used a gift link in this review.
Anyway, now I’ve finished reading Heather Gay’s story of becoming a “bad Mormon”. Overall, I’m left with a mixed mind. The book starts out very interesting, as Heather explains her family of origin and their devotion to Mormonism. Heather Gay (nee Deans), now 48 years old, was born in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, the third of six children. Her parents moved around a lot when they were first married, so her siblings were born in scattered places across the United States, much like my sisters and I were (we’re Air Force brats). When Heather was five years old, her parents moved to Denver, Colorado, where they settled for the rest of her growing up years.
Heather’s parents were fairly strict members of the LDS church, and she lived by the strict lifestyle rules of the faith. On the surface, she lived the wholesome lifestyle expected by her family and church leaders. She participated in church activities, dressed modestly, eschewed premarital sex, and did not use alcohol or other forbidden substances like coffee, tobacco, and tea. She dutifully submitted to interviews with her bishop, who asked her probing questions about her sexual habits and other personal topics. This was all normal in the LDS church, where members must prove “worthiness” before they can attend temple ordinances.
Heather attended college at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, earning at degree in Humanities. Then, having graduated BYU at age 21, she decided to go on an 18 month church mission in Marseille, France. She’d had visions of enjoying French culture and becoming super fluent in the language, but the reality was that she spent most of her time there trying to convince very reluctant and resistant French people to join the church. And she had very little success in that endeavor.
Before she could go to France to sell the LDS church to the French, Heather had to attend the Missionary Training Center at BYU. There, she developed a crush on one of her language teachers. She was flirty and bawdy with him– as much as female LDS missionaries can be when they’re being heavily indoctrinated in religion and crammed with language training. One day, their class was in a different room, and the teacher tried to “warn” everyone through a lesson that they were being watched by the powers-that-be. The next day, the handsome teacher was gone, and Heather was sure it was because of her outrageous behavior (which would have been perfectly normal and appropriate for us “Gentiles” at her age). Years later, she looked him up on Facebook and determined that there was an entirely different reason for the teacher’s sudden dismissal.
At this point, I must interject. This part of the book was fascinating and a quick read. I was really enjoying the book through her stories of her mission in France, especially since we’re about the same age.
When Heather got back from her mission, she met her husband, Billy Gay, a member of so-called Mormon royalty. He came from a wealthy, connected family, but to Heather, had seemed very grounded and normal. She loved how he went surfing and lived a low key lifestyle, even though she hated his penchant for booking Southwest Airlines. Although she noticed some subtle signs that maybe they weren’t a good match, Billy and Heather got married, and he bought her a Porsche.
Then, Heather was pregnant with her first of three daughters, and the reality of being a Mormon wife hit Heather with a traumatic force. She was expected to quit working to be the perfect wife, mother, and helpmeet. Heather had a drive to work, a creative bent toward photography, a head for sales, and other ambitions. But she was supposed to be a good Mormon wife… quiet, obedient, servile, and always facilitating her husband’s and children’s dreams. The lifestyle was stifling, especially since Billy didn’t seem to appreciate his wife’s efforts toward domestic perfection. By the time their eldest daughter was eight years old, the Gays’ ten year old marriage was on the skids. Much to Heather’s horror, after a period of separation, Billy served her with divorce papers.
There Heather was, living in a McMansion that, without her husband’s help, she couldn’t afford. She was raising her daughters mostly without Billy’s help, although he insisted on having access to the marital home. Before their split, Billy showed up after Heather changed the locks. There was a fight, and Heather called the police, who filed domestic violence charges against Billy. At that point, there was no going back, and Heather soon found herself enjoying life as a woman outside of the LDS faith, drinking, partying, and getting stopped by the police while driving under the influence of alcohol.
Then, as she struggled to recover from her failed marriage, Heather ran into a woman at church who asked her who’d done her Botox. The woman said she’d been “spocked” (meaning her eyebrows took on a vulcan like appearance, like Mr. Spock on Star Trek). The woman, who was a nurse, offered to put Heather in touch with her boss, an ophthalmologist turned facial plastic surgeon who ran a medical spa in Salt Lake City. Soon, Heather was also involved in the business, and eventually bought it with her friend. As the spa blossomed, Heather found her way out of Mormonism, and apparently into certain television viewers’ hearts.
Like I mentioned up post, I’m of a mixed mind about this book. I loved how it started, even though I struggled to get far at first. Those darn afternoon naps have a tendency to kill my reading efforts. Heather offers some very juicy and revelatory comments about her experiences in the LDS church. I’ve been reading about Mormonism for many years now, since I’m married to an ex convert, so none of what she wrote was personally shocking to me. I was just surprised by how very open she was about it in the book for others to read.
Mormons typically regard temple rituals as secret– er, sacred– and they don’t talk about them outside of the temple. Now, it’s true that Heather Gay is an exmo, but she still has family members in the religion. I would imagine the backlash for being so open could be very serious… not unlike what Prince Harry is now experiencing in the wake of publishing his book, Spare. But just as she once taught church investigators about the LDS religion, so is she now teaching non-members about the church… but in a much more negative light.
My positive impressions of Bad Mormon started to wane as I read about Heather’s divorce. It’s not that I don’t think the divorce was warranted. It clearly was. It’s more that Heather seemed to trade one artificial construct for another. Although I know a lot of people love Mormonism, I’ve always thought of it as kind of the Wal-Mart of religions, borrowing a lot of stuff from many different faiths and passing it off as something “different”. I also know how difficult leaving the religion can be, especially when a person’s entire family is invested and devoted to it. Ex Mormons are some of my favorite people, because a lot of them are very brave and intelligent, while still kind and friendly. I also love that so many of them have lived abroad, like I have. I ‘ve found many ex Mormons to be very thoughtful and interesting people, with good taste in books and music.
I guess I was turned off a bit when Heather went from being a member of a very demanding and kind of fake religion to peddling cosmetic spa treatments. I know a lot of people are into their appearance. Heather writes that looking good makes people feel good, after all. I guess I’m just not that impressed by extremely image conscious people. I find that a lot of them are not very genuine underneath the veneer. Naturally, I don’t know anything about what Heather Gay is like. I’ve never seen her on her TV show. I thought the first part of her book was very interesting and substantive. But then, she falls into this sort of vapid lifestyle change that seems less genuine to me. I found it off-putting, and frankly, simply found Heather’s story about building her business less interesting.
I’m sure there are a lot of people who will love Bad Mormon. I see the book is already getting high marks, with only a modest number of neutral and negative reviews. I did really like about half of this book. The second half, however, impressed me far less. Heather Gay seems very fixated on looks and money and other obvious trappings of success, and while those are important aspects of living to a lot of people, I don’t find excessive image and money consciousness attractive. I am especially unimpressed when the image and money obsession is coupled with religion, although at least in Heather’s case, she finally decided to leave the religion.
Don’t get me wrong. I like having money, and I like looking attractive when I can. I just don’t like a shallow, single-minded focus of those things, because they don’t tend to last, and they usually matter a lot less to most people than less tangible markers of success.
Anyway, I’m truly not sorry I read Bad Mormon, although I do think it could have used some editing, especially in the photo section. I commend Heather Gay for figuring out the truth about Mormonism and living life on her own terms. I wish her well, and hope she continues in her successful endeavors, even if I, personally, don’t necessarily admire what she does for money.
Overall, I think I’d give Bad Mormon 3.5 stars out of 5.
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