My identity within the church was boiled down to one simple thing. A sex object. A tool.
I did marching band all through high school and part of that included heavy wool uniforms. We wore them in the summer. They were black. Underneath my uniform, I would wear volleyball shorts and knee high black socks. After practice and performances I would sit at the back of the school and wait for my mom to pick me up.
One Sunday, after a Saturday afternoon competition my mom pulled me aside. She asked what I had been doing after practice. I was confused. Apparently a woman whose son was also in the band had seen me wearing my "immodest and ungodly" shorts and had to tell my mother. There was no possible way that she would allow me to wear stuff like that, according to the other mother. After explaining to my mom that I was just wearing my clothes that I usually did, she went to the woman and defended me. She said she would rather I be immodest than get a heat stroke.
I was always grateful to my mom for standing up for me. She always did. Not anymore, but I think it was because she saw a lot of herself in me.
Growing up, I had three sisters. Two of them were very into glamor and as a result I learned to walk in high heels very young. I always loved wearing them. I still do. My brothers, all five of them, are incredibly tall and I liked being close to their height and being able to look them in the eyes. I also have naturally long legs. My favorite thing to wear to church would be high heels and skirts that barely made it to my knees. Within the modesty standards, but barely.
My uncle called me a slut. He and his friends called me a slut and a whore. I was twelve. Imagine calling a twelve year old "easy." My step dad threatened to fight them in the church parking lot if they didn't leave me alone.
I didn't actually know that he defended me like that. I wouldn't know until a couple years later when he used it as proof that he loved me despite saying I was going to Hell for being gay.
At girls camp one year, when I was fifteen, our stake young women's president taught a lesson. She was a sweet woman. She had been my mom's young women's president and she was mine too.
She had a basket of oranges. She pulled an orange out of the basket and said that it represented sex and purity. She was never one to mince her words. She grabbed a thick, black, permanent marker and wrote "bad" on the orange. She told us that the world and even some people in the church might try to tell us that sex is bad and sinful. However, it's not, you just have to wait until the orange is ripe. If it's labeled as bad, you'll never be able to see it as anything else. That being said, if you peel the orange prematurely, if you get involved where you shouldn't be too young, you'll never be able to put that peel back.
And no one wants a peeled orange.
The first part of that lesson, I do like. If I ever have kids, I'll use that first part, but not the toxic purity culture bit.
That following school year, a few months before I turned sixteen, I started dating someone. He was, simply put, not a good person. Over the course of our short six month relationship, he manipulated, abused, assaulted, and raped me more times than I can count or care to remember.
Remembering the lesson I had been taught at girls camp, my self worth plummeted. I felt worthless. I was nothing more than a peeled orange, chewed up gum, a licked cupcake. I decided that my life was over. I couldn't get married in the temple anymore or have a good husband because everyone would know. I was marked as "bad."
I was, in essence, reduced to my body. I wasn't a person. I never had been. I was just a woman. A pretty little thing to be used to carry children, to know nothing, do nothing, say nothing. Shut up and take it. Be a good wife, a good mother. But I was bad. I was corrupted and tainted and sinful and disgusting. The one purpose I had, to be pure for my husband, was gone.
I dove headlong in the scriptures and teachings of the prophet. There had to be something there for me. God wouldn't leave me alone in this time of anguish and loss. His servants, his faithful and loving servants would surely have words of solace for me.
"At some point in time, however, the Lord may prompt a victim to recognize a degree of responsibility for abuse."
"Your virtue is worth more than your life . . . preserve your virtue even if you lose your lives."
"It is better to die in defending one’s virtue than to live having lost it without a struggle."
I didn't fight. I couldn't. I was, and always have been, physically disabled. I have weak joints and bones. At that time I was small, barely a hundred pounds. I couldn't fight back. I couldn't. It couldn't have been my fault.
But it was.
The prophets and apostles said it was my fault. I should've fought more, even if it tore my joints and left me bruised and broken. I should've fought. It was all my fault. I was exactly the immodest, immoral, ungodly, whore that everyone thought I was. And as Spencer W. Kimball said, there was no way for me to regain my virtue.
I was abused by five more men after that. Two boyfriends, a friend, my father, and my step father. My parents were physically abusive and verbally. I was neglected, yelled at, slapped, punched, verbally assaulted by the ones who used to stand up for me. I, of course, didn't tell them that I was tainted, but it was like they knew and were punishing me for it.
Of the two boyfriends, one was a member of the church. He left me with bruises and I thought I deserved it. My once good friend took advantage of me, using his size to keep me complacent.
I tried to fight. I tried and I tried so hard. I wanted so bad to be that perfect girl in the church. I wanted to be that pure and virtuous woman who had never been touched. I wanted to be the Molly Mormon who had never been abused, who had it easy, who's loving husband took care of her and loved her.
But it was all my fault.
If I wanted to be good, I had to be dead. The prophet told me so. It was all my fault for not fighting till my last breath. It was my fault for being tempting. It was my fault for being born.
Until I saw a light. My amazing partner, a pagan Irishman with far too much interest in "devilish interests", like dungeons and dragons and tarot cards, told me it wasn't my fault. A simple thing really. Just telling me I didn't deserve any of that and bad people just do bad things. It wasn't my fault and I'm not a bad person.
It took a while for me to understand that and accept it. Despite years of drilling it into my mind that it was my fault, I was learning that it wasn't. And if the prophets said it was, but it wasn't, were they really prophets of God?
Could I trust leaders that tried to keep me in perpetual darkness? Could I trust leaders whose teachings made me think I didn't deserve to live? Could I trust leaders who weren't loving and caring without strings?
The simple answer was no. I couldn't trust them. They made me hate myself. Being in the church, the thing I hated the most was never policies. It wasn't modesty or the word of wisdom. It was me and how I could never be part of that perfection. I so often wished to die, because I couldn't kill myself, that would be an unforgivable sin. They made me hate myself. They made me hate that little girl who climbed trees in the summer, that little girl who caught snakes in the creek with her brothers, that middle schooler with a mouth of crooked teeth telling bad jokes, that teenager racing down country roads blasting Dolly Parton.
They made me hate her when it was never her fault.
When I left, I was so lucky to have so many supportive friends, even though my family wasn't there. My family who used to defend me so vehemently. Their love was clearly like that of their God, conditional and difficult to receive.
My friends helped me experience all the things I should've. We went out and played volleyball on warm Sunday mornings. We watched R rated movies. They loved me unconditionally. They loved me as a woman and when I came out as nonbinary, they loved me still, even when, especially when, my family didn't. They taught me that I'm not the scribbled on orange. I'm like an orchard, blossoming and beautiful, full of knowledge and experiences.
Most importantly, they taught me that it wasn't my fault. I am more than my trauma, I am more than my abusers. And I hope that through my experiences I will be able to help others know that they are loved, unconditionally.