TW: sexual assault of children
I distanced myself from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a few months ago, but I haven't given much serious consideration to removing my name from its membership records until now. This is actually old news, but Michael Rezendes with the Associated Press, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for exposing the Catholic Church's sex abuse cover-ups, just published an in-depth report that blew it up. Basically, for seven years this guy frequently raped three of his children, including at one point a baby, and posted videos of it to the dark web. He confessed at least some of his misconduct to his bishop, who called the church's abuse hotline, where the church's lawyers told him not to report. And then the next bishop excommunicated the guy and still didn't report. And then the guy was arrested after someone in New Zealand was arrested for watching one of his videos. Fortunately, he killed himself and is currently facing real justice instead of living on taxpayers' money. His three victims are suing the church for not helping them, and the church is trying to get their lawsuit dismissed because it thinks it did nothing wrong. The Associated Press has also obtained 12,000 pages of documents from another lawsuit about how the abuse hotline works.
In 2020, church attorney William Maledon said this in a statement: "As clergy, the bishop was required by Arizona law to maintain the confidentiality of the father’s limited confession." But in 2022 Michael Rezendes wrote this: "William Maledon, an Arizona attorney representing the bishops and the church... told the AP last month that the bishops were not required to report the abuse." Those of you who understand English may notice that these are two different claims, and may further notice, after reading the Arizona law, that the first one is bullshit. This is what the Arizona law says: "A member of the clergy, a Christian Science practitioner or a priest who has received a confidential communication or a confession in that person's role as a member of the clergy, as a Christian Science practitioner or as a priest in the course of the discipline enjoined by the church to which the member of the clergy, the Christian Science practitioner or the priest belongs may withhold reporting of the communication or confession if the member of the clergy, the Christian Science practitioner or the priest determines that it is reasonable and necessary within the concepts of the religion."
There is no conceivable way to interpret that passage as legally forbidding clergy from reporting confessions of abuse, and any lawyer who interprets it that way is so incredibly freaking stupid and/or dishonest that he should be a police officer instead. But maybe he doesn't have enough anger management problems. He also said, "These bishops did nothing wrong. They didn’t violate the law, and therefore they can’t be held liable." Once again, the second part may be true, but the first sure as hell isn't. Now I won't be too hard on the bishops yet because it's unclear how much they were actually aware of. Not that I consider Maledon a reliable source, but in the same 2020 statement where he lied about Arizona law, he claimed, "It was not until law enforcement made an arrest of the father that the bishop [sic] learned of the scope and magnitude of the abuse that far exceeded anything he had heard or suspected." If either of them were aware of or even suspected the scope and magnitude prior to that time, then here we have a disturbing example of members being conditioned to place obedience to the church above their own most basic grasp of morality.
There's also this gem in an affidavit from Paul Rytting, the church's director of risk management: "If members had any concerns that their disciplinary files could be read by a secular judge or attorneys or be presented to a jury as evidence in a public trial, their willingness to confess and repent and for their souls to be saved would be seriously compromised." What exactly is he implying? Granted, there's a bit of a catch-22 if declining to grant confidentiality discourages people from confessing their crimes in the first place, and I see no reason for bishops to tattle about illegal acts that aren't actively harming anyone, but the salvation of a child rapist's soul is one hundred percent the child rapist's problem, and anyone who thinks for a moment that it's a legitimate consideration to balance against the victims' needs can fuck off into the sun.
I was consumed with rage from the moment I read the story. And then the church went and made it worse the next day by releasing a vague, tonedeaf, and absolutely pathetic damage control statement with little more substance than "Nuh-uh, we care about abuse victims so much, this article is wrong." It addresses zero, I mean zero specific details of the cases described in the article. It doesn't refute any of the facts that Rezendes reported or provide any additional context to make them less damning. It doesn't even repeat any of Maledon's arguments. It just expects members to believe that "The story presented in the AP article is oversimplified and incomplete and is a serious misrepresentation of the Church and its efforts" because the church's anonymous PR employees say it is. And of course a lot of members do. A lot of them, starting from the a priori assumption that the church is perfect and always right, are knee-jerk defending it because its reputation and their fragile fundamentalist faith matter more to them than child rape victims do. I shudder to think that I might have done the same a few years ago.
Of course, while depressingly widespread, that's not the universal response. A lot of members with a basic grasp of morality are unequivocally condemning how the church handled the situation. And I don't doubt that most local and global leaders are good people who abhor sex abuse of any kind. But if the church as an institution was serious about it, if it really meant the pretty words in its damage control statement, this is the minimum that it would do:
1. Apologize for failing these victims. Of course, this would set an awkward precedent because the church has never apologized for anything. But it's about damn time it did.
2. Commit to evaluating the systems it has in place so it can fix their shortcomings and make sure this never happens again. It doesn't help anything to just insist on how great the systems are when they clearly didn't work in this instance.
3. Compensate the victims out of basic decency whether it's legally obligated to do so or not. The church could give each of them fifty million dollars without scratching the surface of its financial resources. (One of the church's knee-jerk defenders told me, "You don’t know that the Church isn’t trying to compensate them. You have ZERO insight into the discussions that are going on behind the scenes." To which I said, "If the church was treating the victims fairly, I doubt they would have felt a need to complain to the media about how much the church sucks. In fact, doing so would severely jeopardize any potential settlement the church was considering. So I do have some insight in the form of basic logic." Yeah, I'm rude.)
Oh, and minor detail, it would do all these things before it was slammed with negative publicity.
I don't know how much of an abuse cover-up problem the church has and I don't have the expertise to try to estimate it fairly. I don't know how much abuse occurs, how much of that is reported, and how many of the reports are handled correctly. I do know that this is far from the first time a bishop or other leader has gotten a report and done little or nothing about it. The church has been sued for abuse multiple times before, and multiple people on the internet have shared their experiences with being abused in the church and not getting the help they were entitled to. Sometimes local leaders are unduly concerned about the victim forgiving the abuser, about not harming the abuser's reputation, about not preventing the abuser from serving a mission. Sometimes, of course, the bishop is the abuser, though I know situations like that are very rare. But I knew someone whose abuser was her father and the bishop and nobody believed her because bishops are good men. So anyway, whether or not this problem is on par with the Catholic Church's problem or the Southern Baptist Convention's problem, it ought not to be tolerated. However effective the systems in place may be for most situations, they can always be improved, and the church ought to improve them instead of acting like it's being persecuted.
The first real crack in my lifetime of "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints isn't sexist" conditioning came not from any critical source, but from the section on "Mothers' Employment Outside the Home" in the Eternal Marriage Student Manual. I was raised to believe that anything in the church that seems sexist to modern sensibilities is really just misunderstood. But after being in college for too long, some of these quotes that I'd probably already heard growing up really rubbed me the wrong way, and then this line in particular from Spencer W. Kimball jumped out as unequivocally, unapologetically, and undeniably sexist: "No career approaches in importance that of wife, homemaker, mother - cooking meals, washing dishes, making beds for one’s precious husband and children." Translation: Women have the most important divine role, which is to perform household chores for men and children. To be perfectly frank: barf. And from then on I couldn't stop seeing all the sexism that I'd been taught not to see.
In February of last year I linked to this manual section in a blog post about how the church's teachings (aka doctrine) on women have evolved. Within a month, the entire section had quietly disappeared from the church's website. Coincidence? Probably, but you can't prove it. And that wasn't worth making a whole other post about, but yesterday a reddit post brought to my attention some more recent and more subtle deletions from the manual, and I just have to talk about them.
Elder Spencer W. Kimball
“Boys seldom criticize a girl for using too little makeup. Sometimes they say, ‘She’s a nice girl, but I wish she’d dress up, and she uses too much makeup.’ To be overdressed, to be gaudily dressed, to be dressed to look sexy, to be overdecorated is bad taste, to say the least. The young woman is smart who can don just enough powder and lipstick to convince the fellows it isn’t makeup at all, but the ‘real you.’...
“Young men should keep their faces shaved, their hair combed, their haircuts reasonably conservative, their nails cleaned. Overtight, suggestive pants brand young men as vulgar. Young people can be smart and personable, dignified and attractive by finding an area somewhere less than the extremes and still in good style” (“Save the Youth of Zion,” Improvement Era, Sept. 1965, 761).
This quote is arguably a bit sexist - it reminds me of M. Russell Ballard's "Put on a little lipstick now and then and look a little charming" comment that may or may not have been blown out of proportion a few years ago - but it has the rare distinction of being more nitpicky about men's dress and grooming than women's, so I appreciate that. I assume it was just removed because dress and grooming standards have changed since 1965 (except at BYU) and it comes across as obnoxiously Pharasaical (like BYU). A lot of women like men with beards. Also, I know it's perfectly normal for women to wear just a little bit of makeup and for men to erroneously believe that they aren't wearing any, but Elder Kimball's phrasing here seems to encourage deception, so that's kind of funny.
Women's Divine Roles and Responsibilities
President Ezra Taft Benson
“It is divinely ordained what a woman should do.... The divine work of women involves companionship, homemaking, and motherhood” (“In His Steps,” 64).
“Brethren of the priesthood, I continue to emphasize the importance of mothers staying home to nurture, care for, and train their children in the principles of righteousness” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1987, 60; or Ensign, Nov. 1987, 49; see also To the Fathers in Israel, 3–4).
See To the Mothers in Zion, on pages 352–57.
“A mother’s role is also God-ordained. Mothers are to conceive, bear, nourish, love, and train. They are to be helpmates, and are to counsel with their husbands” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1984, 6; or Ensign, May 1984, 6).
“It is divinely ordained what a woman should do, but a man must seek out his work. The divine work of women involves companionship, homemaking, and motherhood. It is well if skills in these three areas can first be learned in the parents’ home and then be supplemented at school if the need or desire presents itself” (“In His Steps,” 64).
“There are voices in our midst which would attempt to convince you that these home-centered truths are not applicable to our present-day conditions. If you listen and heed, you will be lured away from your principal obligations.
“Beguiling voices in the world cry out for ‘alternative life-styles’ for women. They maintain that some women are better suited for careers than for marriage and motherhood.
“These individuals spread their discontent by the propaganda that there are more exciting and selffulfilling roles for women than homemaking. Some even have been bold to suggest that the Church move away from the ‘Mormon woman stereotype’ of homemaking and rearing children. They also say it is wise to limit your family so you can have more time for personal goals and self-fulfillment” (“The Honored Place of Woman,” Ensign, Nov. 1981, 105).
It's self-explanatory that this was removed for the same reason as the entire section on "Mothers' Employment Outside the Home." I'll just examine a few lines that stand out to me.
"It is divinely ordained what a woman should do, but a man must seek out his work." Translation: women have a one-size-fits-all role, while men are free to seek out roles that fit their individual talents, interests, and personalities. They may, of course, still end up stuck in crappy jobs that they hate in order to support their families, but not for lack of trying. And this really gets at the heart of why "complementary" or "separate but equal" gender roles are not equal at all and never have been.
"These individuals spread their discontent by the propaganda that there are more exciting and self-fulfilling roles for women than homemaking." Translation: if a woman doesn't feel sufficiently contented or fulfilled by menial household chores that her husband could just as easily do, she's been deceived by propaganda. She couldn't have possibly reached that conclusion on her own, and even if she did, she's not smart enough to know what's good for her.
"Some even have been bold to suggest that the Church move away from the 'Mormon woman stereotype' of homemaking and rearing children." Please read this in Owen Lars' voice: Like the Church moved away from the 'Mormon woman stereotype' of homemaking and rearing children by showcasing career women in its "I'm a Mormon" ad campaign?
Benson's anti-feminist masterwork speech referenced here, "To the Mothers in Zion," remains in the manual despite all these other deletions. That's a bit of an oversight, which I brought to someone's attention with the online feedback form in March.
President Spencer W. Kimball
“Tomorrow when I repeat the phrases that will bind you for eternity, I shall say the same impressive words that the Lord said to that handsome youth and his lovely bride in the Garden of Eden: ‘Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth.’ ...
“... You came to get for yourself a mortal body that could become perfected, immortalized, and you understood that you were to act in partnership with God in providing bodies for other spirits. . . . And so you will not postpone parenthood. There will be rationalists who will name to you numerous reasons for postponement. Of course, it will be harder to get your college degrees or your financial start with a family, but strength like yours will be undaunted in the face of difficult obstacles. Have your family as the Lord intended. Of course it is expensive, but you will find a way, and besides, it is often those children who grow up with responsibility and hardships who carry on the world’s work” (“John and Mary, Beginning Life Together,” New Era, June 1975, 8).
“Supreme happiness in marriage is governed considerably by a primary factor—that of the bearing and rearing of children. Too many young people set their minds, determining they will not marry or have children until they are more secure, until the military service period is over; until the college degree is secured; until the occupation is more well-defined; until the debts are paid; or until it is more convenient. They have forgotten that the first commandment is to ‘be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.’ (Genesis 1:28.) And so brides continue their employment and husbands encourage it, and contraceptives are used to prevent conception. Relatives and friends and even mothers sometimes encourage birth control for their young newlyweds. But the excuses are many, mostly weak. The wife is not robust; the family budget will not feed extra mouths; or the expense of the doctor, hospital, and other incidentals is too great; it will disturb social life; it would prevent two salaries; and so abnormal living prevents the birth of children. The Church cannot approve nor condone the measures which so greatly limit the family” (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 328–29).
This section already omitted many quotes that straight-up denounce birth control as evil, because they don't jive with the church's current position that it's a personal decision. So Kimball's quote made the cut the first time around but now it crosses the line. Why? Probably because it pressures couples to have children that they can't afford or otherwise aren't ready to take care of, which is just plain terrible for everyone involved. I'm particularly disgusted that he, a man, considered "The wife is not robust" to be a "weak excuse" for not popping out as many babies as possible. This flat-out contradicts a far more reasonable David O. McKay quote on the preceding page: “In all this, however, the mother’s health should be guarded. In the realm of wifehood, the woman should reign supreme." (Then why does she need so many men to tell her how to do it?)
Looking at this and the earlier deleted Kimball quote, though, I am impressed that the manual made a distinction between "Elder" Kimball and "President" Kimball. Usually when an apostle becomes president of the church, subsequent publications attribute all of his quotes to President So-and-So regardless of when he made them, which is lazy and misleading.
Wayward Children Born Under the Covenant
The Prophet Joseph Smith
“When a seal is put upon the father and mother, it secures their posterity, so that they cannot be lost, but will be saved by virtue of the covenant of their father and mother” (in History of the Church, 5:530).
It's surprising to see anything from Joseph Smith deleted. He's had a better track record than most of his successors. And I don't know why this quote was problematic. I could see the church maybe wanting to move away from the implication that temple sealings remove children's agency, but the subsequent Brigham Young quote implies that far more strongly. Maybe the Joseph Smith quote encourages complacency by focusing on the ordinance (dead works) and not on the parents' actual efforts and worthiness? Maybe recent scholarship has cast doubt on its accuracy? That's all I've got.
I'm grateful for these deletions, except for the last one, which I don't care about one way or another. I just wish the church actually announced or drew attention to them in some way. Yes, I realize it's awkward to explain why quotes from prophets, seers, and revelators are no longer acceptable for publication, but when the church just quietly discontinues old teachings without correcting or superseding them, people who were previously taught those things continue to teach them anyway. Case in point: last year, in a fifth Sunday lesson in a YSA ward in a college town, my sixty-something bishop was very adamant that God wants all women to be full-time homemakers, and told those present to only use their college educations to be better mothers, not to have careers, and that anyone who disagreed (like me) was deceived by the world's lies. Mostly I was pissed off and incredulous that he had failed to notice the shift in the church's position over the last thirty years, but I also felt a little sorry for him when I complained to the stake president (who agreed with me) about him teaching the same thing that the prophets taught when he was our age. With regard to this manual specifically, many institute teachers probably use a paper copy and will never notice the online revisions unless somebody tells them.
But speaking of sexism, thanks to the recent states' rights free-for-all opened up by the repeal of Roe v. Wade, a ten-year-old rape victim from Ohio had to travel to Indiana to get an abortion. I hope God is warming up a spot in hell for every politician who thinks it's even an option to force a ten-year-old rape victim to endure pregancy and childbirth. (I argued with a family member who claims that pro-choicers don't care about her at all, that they're just using her as a pawn for their agenda to murder babies, as if liberals don't denounce rape literally all the time.) But I guess I can take some comfort in knowing that Utah, despite ranking as the second most sexist state in the nation and being a near-constant political embarrassment, will never be that bad... right?
Well, nobody is interested in a treatise on my current opinions on abortion, so suffice it to say that they've gotten more nuanced and more sympathetic to the viewpoint that men who know and care very little about women's health should not be in charge of decisions about women's health. If Roe v. Wade had been overturned a few years ago I would have celebrated. Now, not so much. I think it is the "right" decision from a strictly constitutional perspective. I think it was always ridiculous to claim that the US constitution protected a right to abortion. If you want it to, then that's what amendments are for. But I think the decision is unfortunate because many US states will seize on this opportunity to pass absolutely barbaric laws that will hurt a lot of women. The most vocal element of the pro-life movement doesn't believe in making exceptions for any reason. It believes that abortion is never medically necessary and that a child conceived in rape is entitled to the same protections as any other.
Even if this is the "right" decision from a strictly constitutional perspective, it's very disturbing that Samuel Alito approvingly cited Matthew Hale, a 17th-century British misogynist who established the legal precedent of allowing married men to rape their wives until 1991. He famously wrote, "The husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto her husband which she cannot retract." (This, of course, alludes to the broader common law notion of coverture under which wives were absorbed into the legal entities of their husbands, giving up most of their rights as well as their last names.) It's also very disturbing that Clarence Thomas wants the court to pursue this same logic further and revisit its decisions on same-sex marriage and birth control. Targeting both abortion and birth control, which some social conservatives will do as soon as they get a chance, is a special kind of malicious insanity.
I have come to believe that abortions should be reduced through education and birth control, not through legal coercion. I think the consequences of this decision will far outweigh the benefits, and I'm as frightened for the future as I can be in my position of privilege where it won't affect me. I really don't know what more to say than that. Everything I could think of saying has been said more eloquently and more passionately and with more credibility by someone else. I'm sorry to every woman who will be negatively affected. The effects will be so long-lasting and far-reaching that this just may surpass the January 6 insurrection as Donald Trump's greatest legacy. Of course, the fact that Supreme Court decisions are predicated on the political affiliations of the presidents who appoint the justices kind of proves that the whole thing is a farce.
Where, oh where does the time go? Friday and Saturday marked the two-year anniversary of the worst day of my life (which encompassed an entire sleepless night). I'm not going to explain it again. I wrote about it at the time in a blog post which is still there if anyone's interested, but which I don't recommend because it's somewhat incoherent. I was still reeling from shock and confusion and anger, and I jumped around chronologically several times. But it was useful for recording quotes and details while they were still fresh, which has helped me with subsequent accounts. The most definitive one, and the one which I do recommend to anyone interested, is an essay I wrote for class last year called Things That Rhyme with "Elise." Though it doesn't include every possible detail, it is much better-written overall. It left a big impact on my classmates and my professor. Actually, because it was so long, I split it into two parts and submitted them separately instead of writing two essays. And the first part had just a bit of foreshadowing of what I like to think of as the greatest plot twist since (spoiler alert) "No, I am your father." I still laugh a little to myself when I think of how my professor began her feedback letter to the second part.
I have such a sick sense of humor. I mean, I felt really bad about this plot twist, though not as bad as I did about living through it. Everyone was so invested in the story, thought it was so sweet and so cute. I felt like I was preparing to shoot a puppy as it looked up at me with eyes full of love and trust. But to continue:
Yes, there is some mention of race in the essay even though the worst day of my life had nothing to do with race, because I wanted to acknowledge that larger conversation and show my awareness that even when I am misunderstood and mistreated for being different, I maintain some degree of white privilege. There is zero doubt in my mind that my interactions with the police and hospital staff would have gone even worse if I was black. And as much as Officer Nelson can go fuck himself, I'm not accusing him of conscious racial prejudice. But he was very obviously prejudiced against me because of my mental illness, and it's also self-evident that white cops in the US are conditioned to perceive and treat black people as more threatening, while white healthcare workers seem to believe they have different biology altogether. We saw this, for example, with the cops who assaulted a neurodivergent black man named Elijah McClain for "looking sketchy," then claimed he had exhibited "superhuman strength" and the fictitious medical condition of "excited delirium" (both often used by police to justify brutality). We saw this with the paramedics who injected him with ketamine without attempting to talk to him and overestimated his weight by eighty pounds. Those cops and paramedics should be publicly executed just like they publicly executed him. So yeah, I wanted to recognize my privilege of not getting murdered for existing while black. It would have been very tonedeaf not to do so.
I couldn't have asked for more understanding than I got from my professor and classmates. It was kind of intimidating, in the era of #metoo and #believewomen, in a predominantly female class in the hotbed of liberalism that is a college English department, to assert that two women falsely accused me of some form of sexual misconduct. (In saying that, I don't mean to suggest that I have it worse than the women who are actual victims and still don't get taken as seriously as they need or deserve. USU is currently being sued, and its police chief Earl Morris was recently forced to resign, for that very reason.) I am grateful that everyone believed me and empathized with me. I don't take that trust lightly. There was one part of the essay that I'd been tempted to gloss over because it put me in a less positive light, but I realized that if a classmate from my undergraduate non-fiction course (with the same professor) could write an essay about abusing her husband, I could admit to being less than perfect too. And then only one person even commented on that part in their feedback.
Toward the end of my essay, I didn't have room to explore all the introspection and gossip and recovery that filled the months after the worst day of my life, and in particular the process of reconciling what I thought I knew of Calise's kindness and maturity with her very unkind and immature action, so I tried to summarize it. I tried to explain why, to the best of my knowledge, Calise and Talease did what they did. I didn't want to cast them as one-dimensional villains when in real life I know them to be complicated people, and I've forgiven them and I didn't want anybody to hate them. (Maybe someday I'll be able to say the same about Officer Nelson.) But my professor and classmates didn't think that worked. They said Calise and Talease already came across as complicated, and that the end of the essay needed to stay focused on me and not them. So I changed that. In my first blog post about them, even though I did hate them at the time, I kept them anonymous (unlike Officer Nelson) to avoid any appearance of vindictiveness. But after a while I stopped keeping them anonymous because I hope that someday they'll notice what I've written about them and get the side of the story that they never asked for and then barred me from sharing. Is that a socially acceptable thing to do? No, and I don't care. If people are going to abuse me no matter what I do then I'm going to do what I want.
I've written a little prayer/poem that goes like so:
Father, forgive Talease, for she is delusional.
Father, forgive Calise, for she is naive.
Father, forgive Officer Nelson, for he is stupid and poorly trained.
Father, thank you for giving the emergency room staff at Logan Regional Hospital what they deserve. [Note for future historians: this is a reference to the COVID-19 pandemic that made healthcare workers' lives a living hell.]
Father, forgive me, for I am autistic.
Crisis struck last weekend. Prudence, which it runs out I am capable of possessing once in a while, dictates that for the time being I keep it to myself apart from a half dozen friends and all of my Fiction Writing classmates who deserved an excuse for why my second story is garbage compared to the first. For a few moments after seeing the news I never wanted to see, I tried to wrap my brain around the fact that my life and my faith were about to shatter beyond repair. Then I ran into my bedroom to pray but discovered that I couldn't speak. I tried to pray silently but discovered that I couldn't think. So my prayer was just Help me, help me, help me, help me, help me.
I reached out to this guy in the ward that I know a little bit for a priesthood blessing. I didn't want to be too much of a burden on the guys I usually ask. While waiting for him to get back to me and then waiting for him to arrive, I cooked a frozen pizza and force-fed myself half of it, despite my complete lack of appetite, because I was starving. I offered the rest to him when he arrived, and he said it would be a good idea to make himself eat, and he appeared to have an even harder time doing so than I did. He wasn't doing well. He asked if he could stick around for a while after the blessing so he didn't have to be home alone. He asked if I've ever had questions about my faith, and I outlined the most recent one in very vague terms. I didn't want to tell him about my situation because I just wanted comfort from the blessing; I didn't want to open the channels for advice that I wasn't ready to accept. And he gave me the shortest blessing I've ever gotten and I appreciated that. He cried afterward. I think it helped him more than me. So that was cool.
I invited him to accompany me to Come Follow Me with people from the ward. While there, I went through mood swings and wasn't in hell the entire time. I sat there for half an hour while two girls and four guys discussed the proper care and washing of different kinds of hair, a topic that I found altogether uninteresting but still better than being home alone, and then as I was poised to go be home alone again some others arrived very late and we played Werewolf. I threw myself into it with gusto. When I figured out that my in-game lover was a werewolf, I protected her with as much zeal as I would a real-life lover who murdered people. When others falsely accused and killed me, I was only upset that it would lead to her death as well. I can be selfless like that.
I didn't look forward to bedtime because past experience had given me some idea of what I was in for. I'd gotten the obligatory blessing, and I would pray, and I would get sufficiently calm and peaceful to fall asleep, and I would wake up an hour or two later in a cold sweat with my heart doing its best impression of the ungodly screaming over the bridge of Rammstein's creepy and inappropriate song "Mein Teil", and there would be no more calm or peace or sleeping for the remainder of the night. Well, I did wake up and fail to get back to sleep until the sun rose, but the rest didn't happen. I didn't feel good by any means, but I felt all right. I soon came to the realization that God was shielding me from the worst of the pain. And He continued to shield me throughout the week, and I thanked Him and prayed more and tried harder and got better. Wednesday morning I woke up from a nightmare that ruined most of my day, Thursday morning I woke up from a nightmare that ruined the next half hour, and Friday morning I woke up from a nightmare that I was able to put out of my mind right away.
It's not like I'd never thought to pray for comfort before. I'd just rarely noticed any of this magnitude, no matter how hard I pleaded. I don't know what's so different this time, if the nature of the situation has made me more desperate or more deserving or what. I do know that whatever suffering remains is a part of life that I shouldn't try to avoid or expect to be exempted from. Now I feel like I'm in a good place where I haven't stopped hoping for and believing in one specific outcome based on God's previous communications to me no matter how unlikely it looks at the moment, but I'm also patient and trying to be open to any outcome and the necessary understanding that will come with it. I know, I hate having to be so vague too. I'm annoying myself.
One thing I've consciously done to enhance this effect is listen to a playlist I started nearly two years ago, which has taken on ever greater significance. Sometimes, like in the mornings when I wake up feeling like a dead battery and vulnerable to all manner of negative emotions, songs like "Head Above Water" and "Echoes of Andromeda" and "Boasting" have returned to my head.
I canceled my Tuesday morning classes so I wouldn't have to get out of bed until I felt like it, which greatly disappointed my students, I bet.
My ex-neighbor and dear friend Steve drove up from Salt Lake on Monday evening. We talked a little about what happened, but mostly watched Disney+. We watched Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and then some of my favorite episodes of The Simpsons - "Bart Sells His Soul", "Miracle on Evergreen Terrace", "The Springfield Files", "Lisa the Skeptic", "Bart on the Road", and possibly another that I forget at the moment. He went home around noon on Tuesday, which I later realized was his birthday. He gave up a third of his birthday for me. And I couldn't believe it was two years to the day since we went to see Jojo Rabbit, aka one of the finest films ever made. Where does the time go?
My classmate and colleague Kylie also offered to hang out, so after our class on Tuesday I went up to ask if she was still good to hang out that evening. As soon as I started to speak, she put her hand on mine, and I thought about how USU's sexual misconduct prevention trainings told us not to touch someone without permission, even though we know full well that's not how neurotypical people live their lives. And I thought about my old friend Bracelets who used to touch me on the shoulder a lot until she saw the Temple Grandin movie and decided I didn't want to be touched. And I thought about a girl in my ward who came up to give the closing prayer after I had spoken in sacrament meeting, and touched my knee as she walked by. I think, in fairness, that this isn't just about neurotypicals vs. autistics but about women vs. men. Because women are raised to be more affectionate and nurturing, I think they can touch men's hands or shoulders or knees without these automatically coming across as romantic or sexualized gestures, whereas the reverse is not true.
I remembered when a friend in high school was crying about her grandmother dying, and I needed to comfort her but I didn't know what to do but I didn't want her to think I didn't care so I finally admitted, "I'm trying to decide if I should put my arm around you or not," and that made her laugh through her tears a little so I guess it was better than just putting my arm around her. Speaking of dead grandmothers, I was at the funeral of mine a couple months ago, seated right next to my grandfather, who howled with grief a couple of times. If ever there were appropriate contexts to touch someone without permission, these were them. And it was still hard, it still rebelled against my conditioning, to put my hand on his wrist. And then I felt awkward. Should I take it off now? What if he wants to move his arm? I'm not really letting him move his arm. I envied a little Kylie's ability to put her hand on mine all casual-like just because she knew I was having a rough time.
I couldn't think of anything more exciting to do than watch a movie, but fortunately for me, Kylie hasn't seen any Star Wars except for Rogue One and both of SNL's Undercover Bosses skits with Kylo Ren, so I picked the original Star Wars movie to guarantee that I would get invited back at least eight more times. She observed that Darth Vader is a jerk for kidnapping his own daughter, that stormtroopers don't aim very well, and that the use of computers in warfare was a pretty new idea in 1977 and that's probably why the movie was so popular. After the next movie, she reiterated that Darth Vader is a jerk for strangling his own men, and also reflected on the lack of women and racial diversity that's been somewhat fixed in the more recent movies. She said Princess Leia is an interesting character - specifically, it's interesting that she's a strong character but she still has to be sexualized. I hate myself for using that word twice in one post. Anyway, Kylie wasn't judging; she said the movies were fair for their time. I should have apologized in advance for what happens to Leia in the next one.
She made me watch the SNL skits, and I made her watch the Robot Chicken sketch that introduced the world to Gary the stormtrooper.
I also talked to my old friend Eliana on the phone a couple times, and the first conversation mostly turned into her complaining about the Church. Kylie has left the Church too, but we have nuanced and mutually respectful discussions about it, and I look forward to reading her folklore paper about how patriarchal blessings might have roots in the Smith family's fascination with folk magic. When Eliana left a couple years ago she still believed in the Book of Mormon and stuff but didn't trust the leadership because of their past mistakes and current LGBTQ policies. Now she sees nothing good, wholesome, or true in any of it. I didn't try to argue and I hoped that my listening allowed her to let off some steam. But I kind of wanted to ask, Can you live with yourself knowing that I'm still in the Church because of you? I used to tell her about all kinds of issues that bothered my testimony, and she was so chill about all of it and confident that the Church was where God wanted her to be. She was my anchor many times. You never can tell what the future holds, can you? Anyway, we don't talk much anymore but I appreciate that she's still there for me.
For Thanksgiving, I was going to visit a nearby great aunt whom I shamefully never visit because I'm always welcome but that means I have to kind of invite myself at any given time, but she got sick. So I went to my bishop's house. Although I haven't always cast him in the most flattering light, he is a great guy. I wish I could say the same about my last bishop. Some others from the ward also showed up, and someone else in the ward had a friend who wasn't in the ward but was going to come, but he went to the wrong house so we started without him. He showed up fifteen minutes in and guess what? He was one of my students. So he saw me without a mask on and sat right next to me and that's kind of funny, isn't it? I hope he didn't take it as a personal jab when I said that I like teaching college students because if they don't want to be there, they don't show up.
Today I tried really hard to pay attention in church and be open to the Spirit, and I did pretty well. I didn't even close myself off when a couple of people in Elders' Quorum said a couple of things about gender roles that made me want to stab my eyes out.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.