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Irene's Entropy: Letter 002

Updated: Apr 6

Heidi Bailey

Dear Irene,


In 1989, I was born into the covenant as the sixth child of devout LDS parents. Nearly a decade

separated me and the next youngest sibling, so my big family felt rather small for much of my

day-to-day life. My evenings were spent learning to read with Laura Ingalls, the March sisters,

and the novelizations of the American Girl dolls: Felicity, Kirsten, Samantha, Addy, Molly. These

representations of the ideal “American Girl” helped me shape an idea of what type of American

girl I wanted to be. They were strong, kind, persistent, brave, smart, and resilient. Unwittingly,

the love of literature my parents installed in me at an early age sparked a feminist flame inside

of me that would only continue to burn brighter, forcing me to abandon the Mormon life I was

expected to lead.


Growing up in Idaho, I was surrounded by many other Mormons. It was largely the norm in our

community. Many of the children I went to school with I also saw at church on Sunday and

mutual on Wednesday evenings. Being a Mormon, being a Conservative, and being a patriotic

American were all of the utmost importance to my parents. I used to take great pride in my

father being the Bishop of our ward when I was small, and the respect it garnered him among

my peers. Even though we didn’t have much money, my blue-collar dad was rich in spiritual

rewards. He worked a full-time job, had a paper route in the mornings, and took his calling in

the church very seriously. With him being so busy, I didn’t spend much time with him while I was

young. He saw his role in our family as the disciplinarian and the ecclesiastical leader of our

home. He lacked the time and desire to build a personal relationship with me, but he never

missed an opportunity to teach me a lesson about the correct way to live a life that will earn me

a spot in the Celestial Kingdom.


I still remember the time my father caught me watching a television show with a lesbian

character at the age of 12. My father was outraged that I had been exposed to such a cesspool

of sin on TV. I jumped to the character’s defense, saying that she can’t help being a lesbian.

She was just born that way. That was my father’s cue to call a family meeting, lecturing me on

the evil perversion and conspiracy that is homosexuality. Innately, I knew that wasn’t true. As an

innocent child, I saw nothing wrong with someone loving someone else, regardless of gender.

However, desperate for my father’s affection and terrified of sinning, I begrudgingly accepted

what he told me as fact. I did that with a lot of things.


Growing up LDS, I was taught very early on that my sole purpose in life is to marry a worthy

priesthood holder and build God’s army. I didn’t get to fantasize about what I’d be when I grew

up because I knew the only acceptable answer was homemaker. I would marry young, stay

home to raise as many children as possible, and support my husband in his career and church

callings. I remember doing the math as a kid, trying to figure out if I could fit in college and a

little bit of a career, while still having a respectable number of children at a young age. I was

never satisfied with the result.


The truth is, I never wanted to be a wife or a mother. But I wouldn’t let myself acknowledge that

fact. Afterall, motherhood is why I was made. That is what was expected of me. So I

doubled-down. I threw myself so deep into trying to be the perfect Mormon girl. I would be the

most devout. The most worthy of salvation. I wouldn’t just be a homemaker. I would raise 12

kids and make all the girls wear dresses and live on a farm and raise goats. It sounds absolutely

ridiculous now, but I felt a massive overcorrection was needed to suffocate the rebellion

happening below the surface – a rebellion I couldn’t define yet, and wouldn’t for many years.

When I was around 14 years old, the rebellion grew stronger, and my facade was starting to

slip. I had too many questions that couldn’t be answered and spending my one life on this earth

in a way that felt like a violation of my very being was too big of a sacrifice to make based on

faith alone. The Church may have taught us gambling was a sin, but in my view, they were

asking me to take one hell of a gamble. I was gambling with my life. It was a bet I just wasn’t

willing to make. Still, I was terrified of what the rejection of my parent’s religion would mean. It

consumed everything in my life and theirs. I had older siblings reject the Church, and they were

in turn rejected by our parents. My dad used to compare me to my oldest brother, noting what a

disappointment he was for his apostasy. I was the golden child in that sense, and I didn’t want to lose any of my shimmer. I just wanted my parents to love me.


So I tried. I tried so hard to believe. I read my scriptures daily and prayed in earnest. I

desperately wanted to feel the spirit swell within me, letting me know the Church was true. I

wanted to feel close to Heavenly Father and have him answer my prayers. I wept for divine

intervention to fix whatever was wrong with me, to enable me to conform. For a full year, I was

secretly in a full-on faith crisis. I couldn’t share my fears and struggles with anyone. It didn’t feel

safe. I didn’t want to be seen as evil or sinful. I had to be perfect. So I went to battle. Alone. I

was battling my innate identity, praying that an unwavering faith in Christ and His Gospel would

prevail. It was a battle I was determined to win, but ultimately lost. It was the loneliest year of my

life.


One day, I decided that I couldn’t spiritually, mentally, or physically take another day without

being true to what I believed and felt in my bones was right. I’ve always valued honesty and

authenticity. I decided to tell my parents after church one day, but it didn’t exactly go as planned.


Out of respect for my parents and their beliefs, I refrained from taking the sacrament. As soon

as sacrament meeting ended, my mother pulled me into the parking lot, demanding to know why

I didn’t partake. I pleaded with her to wait and talk about it when we got home, but she wouldn’t

budge. I finally told her the truth – I didn’t believe the Church was true, I didn’t believe that

Joseph Smith was a prophet, and I didn’t even believe in God.


She got my dad, and we went home. I told them that I loved them and respected their beliefs,

but I just didn’t share those beliefs. She cried, he yelled. They interrogated me, wanting to know

which of my friends or teachers in the “liberal” (Idaho) education system forced me to think this

way. They believed that I had been brainwashed. They couldn’t even conceive the possibility

that I had come to this conclusion on my own. My father even made a thinly veiled threat to

throw me out of the house. I felt so degraded, so discarded, and so betrayed. That was the day I

learned a parent’s love can absolutely be conditional. I was 15 years old.


Needless to say, the remainder of my teenage years were not the most pleasant experience. I

got a job and worked as much as I could, trying to minimize the time I spent at home. I was

severely depressed and anxious, and soon turned to self-medicating with pills and booze.

Anything to numb the rage and deep pain I felt. I stopped caring about school or any other

ambitions I once had. By the time I was able to leave my parent’s house, I was a full-blown

addict. Where I had once tried to drown my true self with an excess of religion, I was now trying

to drown her with chemicals, sex, and anything else that gave me a moment of relief. I

continued this way through most of my 20s, making one poor choice after another, and never

really knowing who I was.


Finally, at 27, I entered addiction recovery. It was terrifying and traumatizing in a whole other

way. It also saved my life. What was scariest about being sober was being forced to face myself.


I had zero idea who I was and I was afraid to find out. What if I didn’t like her? The first year of

sobriety was so cloudy, so full of ups and downs. I had to learn how to simply exist–a skill I’d

never needed before. And it was hard. Really hard. But it allowed me to slowly discover more

and more of that true identity that had been hiding dormant inside of me for so long. At 29, I

finally realized that I was gay. And like the lesbian TV character I defended when I was young, I

knew there was nothing perverse about it. It was just another part of my authentic self.


It’s been more than 5 years now since I embarked on my journey of sobriety, healing, and

self-discovery. And you know what? It’s still hard. But I can handle the hard now. It takes a lot of

work, a lot of therapy, and a lot of support. I no longer have a relationship with my parents, and

that makes me sad. It is painful when the people who are supposed to love you the most hate

all the things about you that you’re most proud of. That make you most you. I’m creative and

strong-willed like Jo March. I’m adventurous and unconventional like Laura Ingalls. I’m kind and

resilient like Addy Walker. I’m scrappy and inventive like Kirsten Larson. Most importantly, I love

authentically, fiercely, and unconditionally. My greatest source of pride is that I have built the

most wonderful and loving chosen family. I have collected a hodgepodge of folks over the years

who have come into my life at different times and in different ways – who truly know me, love

me, respect me, and are willing to ride out the good times and the bad. They make life more

beautiful and the pain of losing my biological family sting a little less.


I am not a child of God. I don’t have faith in any church or its leaders. I don’t have loyalty to any

organization or powerful man. Rather, I am a child of this astonishing universe, I have faith in

myself and those I love, and my loyalty is to truth and justice. Everyday I commit to making this

world a safer and more magical place to live. And just like my life in orthodoxy, I am more

successful in honoring my commitments on some days than I am on others. But even on my

darkest days, I’m able to face the world as my fully liberated and authentic self – a gift far

greater than anything I was ever promised by religion. Jesus didn’t save me. Authenticity did.


With so much love and gratitude,


Heidi Bailey,

Oakland, CA

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