Letter to an Ex-Mormon Man

I’m going to be blunt here. This is a letter about the continued habits of men who were once Mormon once they leave Mormonism. This may sound rude, but I am honestly just trying to show what is going on and the ways in which Mormon patriarchy has been so deeply embedded into the psyche of those who are trying to leave that it remains in places that they don’t see.

Ex-Mormon men often leave Mormonism because of historical issues. This means that they don’t often think about the women’s issues that have left so many women angry with the church and disaffected. And that’s a problem. What I hear when I hear ex-Mormon men talk about historical issues is often an assumption that if the hierarchy was just a better hierarchy, then it would be OK. If you find yourself saying, “I loved Mormonism and it worked for me until I saw that it was a lie,” then you might need to reconsider your entire experience within Mormonism because you’ve just admitted you never noticed all the people who weren’t served by the dominant white, male narrative of Mormonism.

Ex-Mormon men often talk over ex-Mormon women. This happens online all the time. It also happens in person. I admit that I sometimes do the same thing because I’m autistic and I’m aware of the fact that I tend to talk over people when I feel passionate (this sometimes codes me as masculine in my social presentation rather than feminine). As a remedy to this problem, I get out my watch and time myself to try to make sure that I give myself less time than other people in the conversation. You might try to do the same. I also find myself trying in mixed ex-Mormon groups to give other women the floor, or talking over other men to try to point out the female experience because I’m loud and not easily offended. Most women are not like this and expecting them to get over their entire socialized experience within Mormonism is perhaps not fair. Let’s all participate in the work of sharing the conversation.

Ex-Mormon men frequently continue to read and recommend nearly exclusively male-authored books in their quest for a replacement for Mormon authority. I am especially annoyed by this because I’m a writer. I don’t know if I should greet every ex-Mormon man with some information about myself to deflect their tendency to tell me to read a book by a white dude if I’m working on an essay about a particular topic, but I’m tempted to hand out my resume. My dude, I have a PhD from Princeton in literature. I’ve published 15 books with national publishers and am a national bestseller. If you had any interest in the writings of Mormon women, you might have already heard of me or read something I wrote. I daresay you actually have read something I wrote already, but aren’t aware it was written by a woman. This should not be my problem. Please start doing the work of dismantling your own assumptions by making a goal to read only books written by women in the next year (and please add some POC in there, too).

Ex-Mormon men are used to being in charge and they often unconsciously or consciously take on that role in ex-Mormon spaces. This can be manifest in a variety of ways. I see it sometimes in the way that chairs are set up, but it usually less obvious than that. Men are often the ones to set up groups. They often invite others to their houses for get-togethers. They often do organization of get-togethers, or take charge of greeting new people. These are all outgrowths of some of the ways in which you were socialized as a Mormon man. You don’t have to keep doing this. It may be best if you don’t. If you see that your ex-Mormon group tends to not have very many women, there’s a reason for this. It is you.

Ex-Mormon men listen to other ex-Mormon men. If you suggest that they need to add women to their conversation, they often become defensive and begin to suggest that there are no ex-Mormon women who are visible or who are making content they might enjoy. This is patently ridiculous. But it is true that ex-Mormon women are often expected to do their work without payment or without demanding the kind of notice ex-Mormon men get naturally. Just ask some of them about it and they’ll tell you how little ex-Mormon women get paid for doing the same work as ex-Mormon men (can I raise my hand here, too?). Can we please stop doing this? Can we investigate our own motivations and inclinations toward particular figures in the same way that we investigate Mormonism? Or no?

Ex-Mormon groups often begin with introductions about previous credentials within the church, as if having been a bishop makes you a more legitimate voice once you’ve left. We could talk about why this is a problem on other levels, but one reason it’s an enormous problem is that we’re duplicating the power structure of Mormonism by talking about it in this way. We’re making men more visible because they had all the leadership positions in the church. And also, the women who had leadership positions in the church may partake in some of the problems of patriarchal authority structures for women, as well, ie women who learn to make themselves smaller in certain ways are promoted more by men.

Ex-Mormon men are trying so hard to be heroes, sometimes even to ex-Mormon or Mormon women, that they forget to question this heroic role as itself an outgrowth of Mormon patriarchy. Women don’t necessarily need or want to be saved. We don’t need you to tell us what we think or want or how Mormonism made us who we are. Listen instead. Mormonism isn’t a monolithic experience, and there are ways that some Mormon women felt seen and heard within Mormonism. See the whole picture, please.

Ex-Mormon men are often so sure of their new truths that they want to proselytize those around them. They become as black and white in their views of what is right and wrong (often the reverse of what Mormonism taught them were right and wrong) that they are furious if anyone disagrees with them or questions them. I’ll say it again. Stop telling Mormon women they’re oppressed. Let them tell you their own experience.

I’m aware of the fact that what I’m talking about here is sometimes the first stage of leaving Mormonism. I’m trying to offer grace to those who are newly out, to give them space to make the next step. But if those of you who are further along could do some of the heavy lifting here and nudge the ex-Mormon dudes who will only listen to you, I’d really, really appreciate it. Tell them the first thing they need to do once they’re out is to spend time de-patriarchalizing their behavior and attitudes. Thanks!

If you’re upset or thinking “This isn’t me,” take a few days to reconsider this defensive response. Also, please don’t read this as anger. I’m really fond of almost all the ex-Mormon men I meet and I just see them behaving this way and wish I could help show them what they’re doing to drive women away because I don’t think most of them want this result. Also, please be aware that the “niceness” default that you have programmed into you as a result of Mormonism isn’t the same as kindness. It’s not listening. It’s patriarchal and condescending.

End rant.

Author of The Bishop’s Wife mystery series, The Mormon Sabbatical Podcast, Princeton PhD, fiction editor at Exponent II, autist, she/her

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