My Danish ancestors arrived in Utah dreaming of utopia. The Mormon Church played a more socialist tune back then and attracted followers as discontent with the emerging capitalist order as with traditional Christianity. But what my ancestors found when they arrived was a utopia under siege by theocratic pressure and political instability. Over time, they learned the hard way that utopianism rarely delivers on its promises.
I reflect on this now after years spent ignoring my Mormon past. My feelings toward the Church found expression in teen angst during my formative years only to end up in the dustbin of adult ambivalence later on. I barely consider Mormonism or my Mormon upbringing anymore except to contemplate its socialist origins and my own queer politics. The Church rarely factors into my day-to-day experience of the world.
But I am also white, cisgender, male, and heterosexual. I may not be Mormon, but I occupy a body and adhere to social expectations that many Mormons associate with authority and virtue. I can do more than “pass” as Mormon. My race, gender, and sexuality allow me to enjoy the privileges associated with Mormonism. So Mormon Country is pretty easy for me to navigate when I want it to be.
Many of my loved ones have had a different experience. They have suffered the onslaught of racism, sexism, and classism that now plays hegemonic on the state’s feedback loop. I cannot speak directly to their feelings on these issues—because my embodied perspective is nothing like their own—but I can be quiet, listen, and try to put myself in their shoes. This kind of exercise in compassion goes against my conditioning. Patriarchy sank its hooks deep into me at a young age and keeps me tangled in comfortable positions of privilege. (Hooks aren’t like splinters. They can’t be simply extracted with tweezers. They have to be maneuvered from the flesh and dug out.) So I question my conditioning and adopt new ideologies.
I suspect that the dreams of my ancestors still haunt the “cultural halls” that stand tall and proud throughout Mormon Country. Their voices continue to echo in spectral reverb even as they’re drowned out by the booming masculine drone that attempts desperately to maintain authority in space supposedly anointed for it. If we find the quiet corners outside the profane noise that pollutes every sterile hallway of every church in every valley, can we commune with the dead? If so, what will they say? “This land is your land, take it back!”