book reviews, LDS, religion, sex

Repost: A review of Happiest Misery: My Life As A Mormon by Jared Lonergan

In light of Mormon sex therapist Natasha Helfer’s excommunication, I’m going to repost a couple of relevant book reviews. Keep in mind, they are unedited and posted as/is. This first one was posted on the Blogspot version of The Overeducated Housewife on September 7, 2014.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been keeping myself occupied with reading, playing computer games, watching re-runs on iTunes, drinking beer and listening to music.  After I finished reading about Betty Broderick, I decided I needed to read something that wasn’t true crime.  Some time ago, I downloaded Jared Lonergan’s book, Happiest Misery: My Life As A Mormon (2013).  I’m not sure why it took me so long to get around to reading this book, especially since I love “exmo lit”.  But now I have read it and overall, I thought it was good reading, though perhaps a bit unconventional.

Jared Lonergan is a talented writer and I was definitely interested as he described being raised LDS in Kansas and Chicago.  As Lonergan explains, it’s not so common to be Mormon in those places.  Like many faithful Mormons, he was very much involved in his faith and did his best to follow its many rules.  One of the many rules of Mormonism is that sex before marriage is prohibited.  So is masturbation.  For Jared, these rules turned out to be very difficult to follow.

Jared starts his story as a nine year old youngster, noticing the pretty women in the church.  One of his older friends goads him into telling an older girl how “hot” she is in a rather vulgar way.  He gets away with it because he’s so much younger and cute.  It seems to ignite a sexual obsession within him; but then, Jared is obsessive about a lot of things, like weight and physical attractiveness, his own and that of other people.

Most of this book consists of an almost obsessive, stream of consciousness-like spew of Jared’s thoughts.  As someone who has studied a lot of psychology, I found Jared’s thoughts very interesting. He’s always thinking about sex, but he knows he’s not supposed to indulge.  So he tries to distract himself or shame himself into thinking about other things.  He doesn’t use a lot of official swear words– only occasionally does he slip up and utter the word “fuck”, for instance.  Instead, he uses the Mormon equivalents to swear words like “fetch” and “frick” and “crap”.  I’ve always found it amusing that some folks think it’s better to say “fetch” rather than “fuck”.  The intent is the same; it’s only the letters that are different.  But Jared dutifully avoids officially swearing, just like he avoids sex and other “sinful” behaviors to the point of driving himself mad.

Jared also has an eating disorder.  He is obsessive about food, his weight, and exercise.  He gains and loses weight, especially on his mission to Bordeaux, France.  He describes his mission as a terrible time in his life and spends the whole time obsessing over the girlfriend he left behind, Annie.  Annie is also Mormon and has dreams of a temple marriage and perfect family life.  Jared wants to give her that, but he has trouble fitting into the Mormon mold.  That inability to conform causes him heartbreak, although maybe in the long run, not conforming was for the best.

Jared’s parents were Mormon converts and they joined the church before Jared was born.  He explains that a couple of missionaries came over one day and impressed them by being respectful and upstanding.  According to Jared’s parents, he wouldn’t have been born had it not been for the Mormon missionaries, who impressed them by convincing them how important family is.  Three brothers followed Jared’s entrance into the world.  Perhaps because his parents were converts, Jared’s upbringing seemed to be a mixture of hardline conformity to Mormon ideals and familiarity with life outside of Mormonism.  Jared writes about his brother, Aaron, who requires multiple brain surgeries.  Mormonism probably helped his family cope, since the church believes that families can be together forever… as long as everyone pays, prays, and obeys, that is.  And Jared does his best not to disappoint.   

As I read this book, it occurred to me how utterly distressing, frustrating, and impossible it must have been for Jared trying to grow up in the church.  He’s obsessive, sexually frustrated, and seems terrified of doing something that will get him sent to the wrong echelon of Mormon Heaven (which frankly, to me, sounds like a really boring place).  He tries to act and look the part of the perfect Mormon, but no one is perfect and some people are less perfect than others.  So on top of trying to come of age and mature into a healthy adult, Jared is trying and failing to become the perfect Mormon male.  He doesn’t measure up and it leads to depression and rejection, since other people expect him to be who he’s not. 

Parts of this book were annoying to read.  For instance, Jared doesn’t like fat or ugly people and he liberally insults them.  But then he turns around and acknowledges his own shortcomings and his inability to be perfect is a kind of torture for him.  It ends up being poignant and kind of tragic.  At one point, he visits a doctor who tells him he needs to masturbate because his prostate is enlarged and causing him pain.  But Jared can’t do that because it’s “wrong”, according to his faith.

Parts of this book are kind of funny, too.  I thought Jared’s overuse of “swear words” like “fetch” and “crap” were humorous, if only because to a non-Mormon, they just sound silly.  I mean, in most ways, Jared is a normal, red-blooded teen with hormones running through his body and sex on the brain.  But he has to substitute the word “fetch” for “fuck”.  So when he has a “nightmare” about almost indulging in lustful sex with a supermodel, he says “Fetch off!” and “Fetchin’ hell”…  and it seems ridiculous.

I thought Jared’s thoughts on his missionary experience were interesting, too.  It seems like being a missionary might have opened his eyes a bit about how others see the church.  He also had his eyes opened about some of the church leaders, recognizing that they were really just men. 

Overall, I liked Happiest Misery, though I thought the ending was a bit abrupt.  I’m not sure how Jared feels about the church now.  I got the feeling he had turned into an exmo, but I’m not really certain about that.  I do think it’s a fascinating look into the psyche of a young man growing up Mormon, especially since I suspect Jared may have had something else going on mentally besides simple growing pains.  I recommend it.

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homosexuality, LDS, mental health

I hope the first thing she did was ditch the underwear…

Last night, I read the news that noted Mormon sex therapist, 49 year old Natasha Helfer, was excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Helfer is the latest person to challenge some of the LDS church’s more toxic beliefs. Typically, when someone does that, especially when the someone is a female, the church responds by holding a “court of love” and kicking them out. I wonder if excommunicated members get an insulting pamphlet inviting them to come back, like my husband did when he resigned his church membership.

Helfer has said that she thinks the LDS church is targeting the mental health profession, while church officials claim that she was disciplined for her public opposition to the church’s teachings. I suspect that church officials aren’t too pleased that Helfer, who is an attractive and intelligent woman with a powerful voice, is leading members away from the counsel of the old white dudes who have been running the church since its inception. That, and Helfer obviously knows a little something about clubbing, as she said “It was so ridiculous. I was treated like I was at a club with a bouncer in it.” Helfer said that when they didn’t let her into the council with her phone, “I did not plead or beg.” It wouldn’t surprise me if her lack of pleading and begging was also offensive. Evidently, church Helfer signed an agreement that she wouldn’t record the proceedings. Church officials asked her to turn off her phone. Since she had prepared her notes on the phone, Helfer declined to turn it off and left.

While I do have a basic understanding of how important religious beliefs can be to people, I also think that Helfer is probably much too good for the LDS church and she’s better off without being constrained by church leadership. I’m sure it was painful on some level for Helfer to be excommunicated, particularly since it was such a public decision. However, I also believe that now she has the freedom she needs to be completely open and honest. It’s like her eyes have been opened to the truth. And now, she can open other people’s eyes.

According to The Washington Post, Helfer ran into issues with church officials when she started saying such horrifying things like masturbation is not a sin, pornography should not be treated as an addiction, and same-sex marriage should be supported. Church stake president, Stephen Daley, who is also Helfer’s husband’s former boss, sent Helfer a nastygram about how “negative” Helfer’s posts were toward the church and its leaders. However, Helfer’s positions are in line with what licensed mental health professionals promote. So… it sounds as if Helfer chose to be a good sex therapist rather than a good (and obedient) Mormon woman.

Helfer specifically posted on her personal Facebook account and podcast comment sections, “The last thing I want for my people is to replace one patriarchal prick for another. You can quote me on that one. Beware of any person/organization/system that assumes they know better than you about what you need.”

Daley took note of that comment and its “colorful” qualities when he chastised Helfer. To her credit, Helfer’s response was, “When will they stop calling homosexual people degenerate and perverse and unholy? They’re upset that I called them patriarchal pricks. If they want me to stop saying bad words, they need to stop calling other people bad words.”

Helfer, and other progressive Mormon therapists, noted that many of her clients were left damaged by things they heard said from the pulpit, and they are left to “pick up the pieces” when members with sexual issues that go against the church’s teachings come to them for help. And Mormons, who mostly seem to support science and research efforts, are much less progressive when it comes to issues like sexuality. Below is a video I have shared many times in my blogs about Mormonism and why I think it’s so fucked up. Here’s a reminder for those who haven’t seen it or need to refresh their memories.

This video was made in November 2003 in the Toulouse, France, mission. He touches on masturbation and pornography… just what Helfer is referring to.

And here is a more humorous take on Mormons beliefs regarding masturbation. It’s partly based on a now retired pamphlet called “To Young Man Only”, which was passed out to young men from 1976 until 2016. The pamphlet was all about how to avoid masturbation. In it, Boyd K. Packer, a former church leader, refers to “the little factory”, which causes wet dreams.

Self-abuse is “immoral”? I don’t think so. It’s the safest sex a person can have.

This is a light-hearted, funny look at real church teachings and comments made by leaders such as Boyd K. Packer and Mark E. Peterson, whose words are regularly quoted by church members. But this is a serious issue. Church members have actually committed suicide over issues like masturbation and homosexuality. And some unlucky church members have wound up in “aversion therapy” sessions which have also caused great harm to their mental health. The church is also against banning “conversion therapy”, which supposedly helps people with “same sex attraction” (the church’s term) become straight. It doesn’t work, and causes harm, but the church’s stance is that banning it is disrespectful to their religious beliefs. It doesn’t seem to matter to the church’s leadership that people have DIED over these practices.

And those who haven’t died often suffer needlessly, thanks to unsound and inhumane beliefs that are promoted within the church. I dare anyone who doubts how painful and damaging this “therapy” is to read Jayce Cox’s account of his time at Evergreen, a conversion therapy program that was offered at Brigham Young University and employed electric shocks to reverse homosexuality. Cox’s experiences were featured on MTV in 2004. Evergreen is now defunct, but it was renamed North Star and revamped… and sadly, Jayce Cox, died in 2013. Prior to his death, he worked as a suicide prevention coordinator in Helena, Montana. He was a much beloved friend who died much too young.

Natasha Helfer clearly cares about her clients and doing good work that is promoted by professional mental health organizations. I congratulate her for her bravery, for I know that it’s not easy for people to leave Mormonism, particularly if one’s entire family is in the church and believes wholeheartedly in its tenets. But she’s in good company. According to The Washington Post:

Helfer’s disciplinary case follows those of at least three high-profile former members who were excommunicated from the church for apostasy. Kate Kelly, who advocated for the ordination of women in the church, was excommunicated in 2014. John Dehlin, a well-known advocate for dissenting Mormons, created a forum online to help them gather and was expelled in 2015. And Sam Young, who protested one-on-one interviews between clergy and youth, was excommunicated in 2018.

Helfer has said she plans to appeal the church’s ruling. She has thirty days to do that. Personally, I think she should just abandon the church and go on doing good work for people who need her help. Life is short, and I doubt she’s going to change the church’s stance on these issues. On the other hand, she’s definitely made some big waves… and, as famous Mormon woman Laurel Thatcher Ulrich once said, “well-behaved women seldom make history.” We’ll see what happens.

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LDS, religion, videos

Hosanna SHOUT!

I just learned what the “hosanna shout” is. Yes, it’s a Mormon thing. After I shared the silly sister mishie videos with my favorite ex Mormons, I rediscovered a thread on the Recovery from Mormonism board entitled “Underpants”. Someone posted that they did the “hosanna shout” with their underpants. I was intrigued, but then the thread got buried by new content and I forgot about it. I didn’t know what a hosanna shout was until this morning, when Bill shared with me an official LDS church video about it.

Wow… as a neverMo, I don’t know anything about what makes this so “sacred”. To me, it just looks silly… and when I think about someone doing it with their “underpants”, it makes me laugh even harder.

Here is another uplifting demonstration of the hosanna shout… I’m not sure it makes me feel spirited to watch it, but at least this guy has a little more spunk as he explains how it’s done.

Do they feel better after having done this en masse?

Now, if someone did this with a pair of underwear, it would probably be a lot more interesting. But it would also depend on the underwear used. Are we talking tighty whities? Bikini briefs? Temple garments, which I have seen, since Bill was still LDS when we were first married. They look kind of like long underwear, only there are markings in the top and on the right knee of the bottoms. The ones Bill wore were in Army olive drab, but they’re usually white. If people did the hosanna shout with temple garments, there would be more of a display for everyone to enjoy.

This topic comes up in the wake of yesterday’s silly sister missionary rap videos. There was the one I linked to yesterday (and the link no longer works, but the videos are still public on Facebook), and another that was shared as I was going to bed. I assume the young women who made the rapping videos are feeling pent up, bored, and need to blow off steam. I’m all for that, and in fact, I have nothing against being silly or even sharing the silliness with the world. I’ll even give them props for being creative with their rhyming and dance moves, as well as outwardly admitting that their raps are pretty corny.

But if you’re going to do that and post it publicly, you should probably expect that some people are going to react accordingly. The hosanna shout is probably sacred to church members, but to those of us who haven’t been let in on the secret of why it’s so special, it looks pretty ridiculous. And so do some of the other entertainment efforts put out by the church.

At least it’s catchy.

For example, this video above that surfaced a few years ago probably required a lot of work… but it’s still pretty cringeworthy. And the one below… another reworked parody about how being “virtuous” is so beautiful kind of makes those of us who aren’t in that culture blush at the message. A lot of my more liberal friends would probably have big issues with this message, which seems to be that “modest is hottest”. Some people are offended by that message, because it can be akin to “slut shaming”.

Oh lordy… Not sure about this. But each to his or her own, I guess.

Mormons seem to be very good with using whatever’s trendy to spread their world views to the masses. I’ve seen a lot of people taking popular songs and turning them into faith promoting messages. Sometimes they’re really well done, because there are a lot of very talented folks in the church. Sometimes, they make you want to crawl away in a hole and have a good laugh. The video below is kind of funny, although I’m not sure I’d want to make a video affiliating Trump with the church. Trump would make a pretty horrible representative for the church, given his admitted love for “locker room talk” and grabbing women by the pussy. But Trump is a reality TV star and, unfortunately, has been in the White House since 2017. So it makes sense that he’d be used in a video about being a missionary…

Perish the thought!

Below is an anti-masturbation video put out by Brigham Young University-Idaho some years ago. I saw it when it was widely released on YouTube and people were supposed to take it seriously. However, for those of us who don’t think masturbation is akin to waging war, this video is ridiculous and kind of creepy… and cringeworthy in a variety of ways. Some people think it’s hilarious. Some think it’s infuriating and damaging. But it didn’t go over well and was laughable to enough people that the church took it down.

Wow… I didn’t realize that self pleasuring could lead to drama akin to war… I got a kick out of some of the comments on YouTube about this– “Saving Ryan’s Privates” and “Full Metal Jack-it” indeed.

It’s hard to take this video seriously, even though it’s technically well produced. I get that the Mormons don’t like it when members engage in the “selfish” practice of autoeroticism. Personally, I’ve got no problem with masturbation. It’s very safe sex and completely normal. But even if I did agree with the LDS stance on jerking off, I would not equate it to being at war. That goes way too far, and makes it easy to mock the belief. I also understand, though, that this video is also about avoiding pornography, which some people have a legitimate problem with. Most people don’t, though.

Anyway… all of this stuff is entertaining to nevermos like me. I know that many church members take it seriously. I’m sorry to mock them, even though I do think a lot of this stuff is highly “mockable”. They wonder why many people don’t have a lot of respect for the church and aren’t interested in joining? It’s because in addition to giving up some of life’s pleasures, like coffee, tea, booze, tobacco, and masturbation, one might also be called to be involved in a corny video promoting the church. And some people are simply too cool for that. As cool as I’m not, I consider myself in that group of people.

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LDS

Reason #255 why I don’t like Mormonism…

Today’s post is about sex. Don’t read it if you’re squeamish or don’t like TMI.

I recently started following Dr. Jen Gunter on Facebook. Dr. Gunter is a Canadian OB-GYN who advocates for women. She is the author of The Vagina Bible, which I haven’t yet read. She also provides abortions and fights for women’s reproductive freedom. It’s no secret that I’m a big believer in letting women make their own choices regarding pregnancy, childbirth, birth control, and everything else that comes with being female. Although I have never been pregnant myself, and therefore, have never had an abortion, I strongly believe that women should have access to them. The reason they have them is no one else’s business but theirs. Dr. Gunter cheers for causes I believe in, so I follow her.

Last night, Dr. Gunter shared this blog post. She writes that she was inspired to Google “premarital exams” after reading a viral Reddit post from a woman who claimed her ex fiance’s father wanted to check her hymen before they got married. I saw that post myself and was shocked by it, although after thinking about it for a few minutes, I realized that even in 2019, this kind of shit is still going on. I’m not sure what belief system the Reddit poster’s ex fiance’s family follows, but I do know there are legalistic religions out there where this kind of thing is “normal”. Thank God the Reddit poster called off the wedding. I’m sure her would be father-in-law’s demand to examine her genitalia was just the tip of the iceberg of what she would have been expected to tolerate if they had gone through with the wedding.

When Dr. Gunter Googled “premarital exams”, she found an article put out by the University of Utah’s department of OB-GYN about “premarital exams”, as well as an ad. Dr. Gunter was obviously shocked to read about this offering in Utah. She clearly hasn’t had much exposure to Mormonism. Good on her for that. Dr. Gunter also noticed that there is no similar “premarital exam” offered for men by the University of Utah’s urology department.

I was one of the first people to comment on Dr. Gunter’s Facebook post. I am not LDS myself, but thanks to Bill’s ex wife’s insistence on converting to Mormonism and raising his daughters in the religion, I have become very familiar with the culture. The “premarital exam” may not be a terrible thing on the surface. Basically, it’s a gyno appointment for young women who are about to get married. LDS women typically marry young and a lot of them are virgins on their wedding days. So they go see the doctor to talk about sexual stuff that, apparently, they never learned in high school, college, or at home… or from personal experience. They might also come home with “dilators”, which, in blunt terms, are instruments that are intended to help the woman get herself ready for penetration.

For about $150, you too can train your vagina, just like some young LDS women do before they marry… In fairness, there are cheaper versions available. This one appears to be “top of the line.” I remember hearing about the dilators for the first time when I took a Psychology of Women class at the University of South Carolina. But they were supposed to be used to treat vaginismus, which is when the muscles down there are too tight.

Dr. Gunter was clearly horrified by this exam, and she offered quite a rant about it. I don’t blame her for being horrified. She seemed especially upset about the dilators and antibiotics on hand in case of a urinary tract infection. But then she goes on about how women marry women, and that having severe pain during sex might actually be because of the man being a “lazy lover”. I suppose I should have also mentioned that a lot of LDS men who are getting married for the first time are virgins, too. In fact, Mormons are discouraged from masturbating. While I’m sure that’s a rule that is frequently broken, those who follow it probably don’t know much about what pleases them sexually. They might not even know what an orgasm is and how it’s supposed to feel.

I’ve shared this a few times, but it bears repeating. These guys are being yelled at for doing what is natural and instinctive. They’re all legal adults, and presumably, mostly virgins. Imagine them on their wedding nights.

As I’m writing this post today, I’m thinking about two young LDS people on their wedding night. They’ve waited all this time to have sex for the first time. They’ve recently taken out their “endowments”, which means they’re probably wearing underwear that is definitely not sexy… and they’ve been taught these underwear are “sacred” and have to be handled in a special way.

But when it comes to having sex, neither of them knows what the hell they’re doing. They’ve spent their whole lives having to talk about their “non-existent” sexual habits with their bishops. Sex is dirty and sinful, unless it’s intended to make babies, which you are only supposed to do after you’ve married, and the wedding must be between one man and one woman. Plenty of gay and lesbian Mormons have gotten married to straight people because that was what was expected of them. So, imagine too that you’re not even attracted to the person you’ve married. That person is “temple worthy”, though, and can take you to the “Celestial Kingdom” and bring new spirits to the Earth who are waiting for families that they’ve chosen (seriously, these are LDS beliefs).

Now we turn them loose to have sex for the first time… can we say disaster? Hopefully, they are attracted to each other and married for the right reasons. But, as I have discovered in about twenty years of unofficial study, plenty of them aren’t and haven’t. And their first time having sex just plain sucks.

I remember reading Deborah Laake’s controversial book, Secret Ceremonies, in which she describes her horribly awkward wedding night to her first husband, Monty, a man she didn’t love. She describes washing out the lambskin condoms her father-in-law gave her as a wedding present. Here’s a screenshot from a 1993 review of Laake’s book that appeared in The New York Times.

“Nutty ceremony” indeed.

Deborah Laake, sadly, died by her own hand in 2000. She had breast cancer, but she also had issues with mental illness. I read her book twice. The first time was when it first came out in the early 90s. Then, years later, I read it again with Bill. He confirmed it wasn’t full of lies, as a Mormon couple I had known in the 90s claimed it was (and they hadn’t even read the book themselves). However, I do remember the book was mostly about sex and how weird it was in Mormonism.

Sick and wrong…

On my old blog, I once wrote about a Mormon bishop who was defending his right to question an eight year old child about his “sexual habits”. When I was eight years old, I didn’t have a clue about sex beyond the most basic facts. And yet in this church, children are expected to divulge their “sins” regarding “self abuse”… also known as masturbation. Imagine you’ve spent your whole youth being taught that sexual stimulation is sick and wrong, and self pleasure is “dirty” and improper. And then you are expected to perform sexually on your wedding night. Sure, both parties are going to be nervous. And remember, there’s no liquor on hand to settle one’s nerves… Ugh. Sounds like a nightmare.

I have never made it a secret that I was myself a virgin on my wedding day. It had little to do with religion, though. I never dated much before I met Bill and never met anyone I wanted to have sex with who also wanted to have sex with me. I likely would have had no issues having sex if I’d had a boyfriend other than Bill, who was LDS when we were dating. He had only been with his ex wife and wanted to wait until after our wedding to have sex the first time. As it turned out, we waited until two weeks after the wedding, because just like Ginny in Sixteen Candles, I got my period on my wedding day. Fortunately Aunt Flow waited until after we said “I do” to make her appearance. It was just icing on the cake on a day that was fraught with mishaps. Consider that my husband’s dad, who was also his best man, locked his knees and almost fainted right before we said our vows. Yeah… it was best to just wait. Fortunately, our marriage has been much better than our wedding day was. That’s the way it ought to be.

Anyway, because I’ve been hanging around ex Mormons ever since Bill and I started dating, I’ve gotten to know a lot about the church, even though I have never been a member. I’ve made some exMo friends, read lots of books, and now that Bill’s younger daughter is speaking to him again, have had some direct knowledge in what the church’s teachings on sex can lead to. Actually, in younger daughter’s case, I’m grateful that she waited until she was in her 20s to get married and have babies. But she’s not finished with college, despite being very bright and capable. Her husband recently found a job, but they’ve just spent several very stressful weeks after the birth of their baby girl in July, trying to nail down housing and employment and health insurance… I’m glad she’s at least mature and mostly sensible, but her children are both under two years old. I really hope she gets some contraception and waits a bit before having the next one… or just stops with the two she has.

I sense Dr. Gunter is a curious type. I hope she’ll do more exploration of how religion can really fuck up a person’ sex life and mental health. I was actually pleasantly surprised to see that the people responding to Dr. Gunter also mentioned that this whole “premarital exam” shit is all about the LDS religion and its demands that women be wives and mothers. It’s not that I don’t think it’s a good idea that young women find a gyno that they like and with whom they feel comfortable. I wish I had done that myself. But my first gyno exam horror story, which I’ve already written before, is another rant for another day.

I just think that young women should be empowered to make their own choices about sex, having babies, getting married, and all of that other stuff. And really, the virginal LDS men probably would benefit from counseling about sex before they get married too, if they are going to encourage women to do it. And yeah… the LDS church needs to catch up with us in the 21st century. The premarital exam should not be called a premarital exam, and it should not be done simply because someone is getting married to a man and about to have sex for the first time. The exam should be about health, promoting well-being, and responsible caregiving. You know, like any other physician’s visit should be, for men AND women.

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