Once a quarter I do lunch with two friends I'll call Carla and Elle. We are all three writers, all Mormon, all wondering whether or not to admit it.
We meet at a Cafe Rio, the unofficial restaurant of Mormonism, its Tex-Mex comfort food transporting us back to our shared home state of Utah. Sometimes we play 'spot the Mormons' while there. Often we see the missionaries. Always, we order the same meal.
"It's too late for me anyway," I say, digging into my heaping tin-full of sweet pork Barbacoa salad. "I outed myself with Normons." I say this not because I regret Normons, but because I would be a fool to not realize it has marked me forever.
Carla says she wants to include Mormonism in her standup because there's so much material, but how the last time she did, a guy backstage afterward asked if she was a virgin. I recount a recent job interview in which the interviewer asked if I "wore the Long Johns." Elle says it's time to tell her blog followers she's a Mormon. I kindly point out that they already know she's from Utah.
You see, there is no casual claiming of Mormonism. Claim an inch of Mormonism, and the baggage of a people claims you.
The up-side of claiming Mormonism, we all know, is differentiation. There are far fewer female Mormon writers trying to make it than just-plain female writers. We wonder, why fight it? Why not make it our shtick? Why, when it is, after all, what we know?
Claiming Mormonism means claiming the expectations of our people. It means opening yourself up to being measured against their bar.
Claiming Mormonism means taking some sort of stance on it, and sometimes we are not exactly sure where we stand.
We dream of being Anne Lamott, who prays to the rainbow and refers to God as She. We extol Brené Brown and her good old Texan faith. We idealize Liz Gilbert, with her come-one-come-all Gospel of Big Magic. We like believing in God, but can't help wishing our church was a bit less confounding.
I think of Joanna Brooks, who had the courage to start Ask Mormon Girl, and who later wrote The Book Of Mormon Girl. I remember how beautifully she captured the good and bad of being Mormon.
I admire Joanna for her courage in so wholly claiming our religion. And then I realize vaguely that people once told me I was brave like that, and can't help but worry that I don't seem to be anymore.
After we finish eating, my friends and I discuss ways Elle could casually break the news of her Mormonism. Nothing seems casual enough. We riff on projects tucked safely in the back of our minds, the things we would, or could have, or will someday write, if we decide we can handle being asked about our underwear.
We go our separate ways and continue writing, skirting the issue of our Mormonism, as though we can talk about anything without talking about it.
Because when we write about grace, we write about Mormonism. When we write about battling perfectionism, we write about Mormonism. Even by not writing about sex, we give away how thoroughly Mormon we are.
But Mormonism is our world. It is, as Joanna Brooks says, "my first language, my mother tongue, my family, my people my home; it is my heart, my heart, my heart."
We can claim it or not claim it. But we can't not write about Mormonism.