No one at work knows that I’m Mormon. Is it time to come out of the closet?

Dear AMG:

I am a convert of 14 years. But I still have a hard time identifying myself as a Mormon in public. I started my current job in August and I haven’t “come out” yet as a Mormon, partly because I work in a field where revealing my religion would provoke a lot of discussion I’d like to avoid. But I also am proud to be a Mormon and want to be a full member-missionary. Advice?

SC

Dear SC:

It never fails to amuse me: the reaction I get when folks learn that I’m Mormon. The polite pause. The raise of the eyebrow. The cock of the head. The subaudible gasp. I can see Big-Love-Warren-Jeffs-Proposition-8-Mitt-Romney-Donnie-and-Marie-Osmond-Glenn-Beck flashing before their eyes. And, then, the puzzled looks as they try to reconcile all that against me, the liberal feminist college professor who (it’s true) has been heard to use salty language sometimes. Even when wearing her “I LOVE JIMMER” wristband.

Ah, Mormonism. One of the last exotic identities in America. And one that many of us still feel obliged to closet from time to time. Of course you’re worried about the “discussion” a revelation of your Mormon identity would “provoke.” Thanks to popular culture, saying the word “Mormon” instantly conjures up a range of sensationalistic (and oddly suggestive) questions about polygamy and temple garments. Who wants their coworkers speculating on and discussing their underwear? Mormonism also provokes a set of political associations, and I sense you may be just as concerned that your coworkers will automatically associate you with our culture’s most conservative voices or stances (present or past), especially on deeply personal issues like LGBT equality. Who wants to put their co-workers on the defensive?

Alas, at the end of the day, we have no control what others think of us, and the truth is that what others think of us is actually less important than how we make people feel. If you’ve telegraphed through your everyday behavior that you’re a gracious, respectful, and open human being, folks will be less afraid to follow-up with questions that will help them resolve their own concerns and questions.

I think the answer to your question depends in large part on the nature of your workplace. As a college professor in a liberal arts field, I work in a place where being “out” about your identity is a generally accepted part of the professional culture. But other workplaces have different social norms. So my best advice to you is to do a little workplace anthropology: observe the most effective and dignified way that social information is communicated through your office, then develop a strategy for gradually outing yourself. Maybe you hop up on your desk like Norma Rae and hold up a big sign saying “MORMON.” Maybe you find a way to drop a hint to the workplace-gossip-with-a-heart-of-gold and let him or her do the talking for you. Maybe you borrow my I LOVE JIMMER wristband (I have an extra!) and wear it to work. Maybe you let someone catch you reading the “Ask Mormon Girl” column on your iPhone. Or maybe you acquire some subtly Mormon-rific office decoration: perhaps a lovely beehive-themed folk art tzotchke you picked up in Salt Lake City, and put it in a prominent (but not too prominent) place on your desk.

However you go about it, Sister SC, get on with it soon, because whatever other people think about Mormonism, you have nothing to be ashamed of, and lugging around a secret identity can be a real drag, especially if its something that brings a lot of joy to your life. Turn up the Donna Summer “I’m Coming Out,” and get ready to shout “Yup, I’m a Mo,” even if it’s in your own quiet way.

Right, readers? Or wrong? Are you out about your Mormonism at home, at work, at play? What have your experiences been with faith in the workplace? What advice do you have for SC? Send your queries to askmormongirl@gmail.com, or follow askmormongirl on Twitter.

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10 Comments

Filed under social connectedness, work, working mothers

10 responses to “No one at work knows that I’m Mormon. Is it time to come out of the closet?

  1. Dan Wotherspoon

    Great response to a difficult dilemma. But I’m totally in agreement with Joanna: it’s important to be yourself and to let who you are be a challenge to whatever ideas others have about Mormons. Be a “full fact” for them that can serve to change whatever negative stereotypes they might have about Mormons that you’re afraid of being labeled with.

    If interested in a bit more reflection on this (and know I’m always embarrassed to look like I am self-promoting), I am linking here to a short editorial I wrote for Sunstone magazine back in 2001 in which I share a key turning point in my life for fully owning my Mormon identity, let the chips fall where they may. I don’t know if any of my reasons for holding back match SC’s, but perhaps they do someone’s.

    Best of luck SC! Thanks, as always, Joanna for another thoughtful post.

    https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/120-08-09.pdf

  2. Hi.

    It can be difficult to talk about being Mormon, but it gets easier as you do it. I’m in the Navy Reserve. I’ve spent time deployed and onboard ship. It’s hard to hide who I am in close environments like these, so I’ve gotten used to lots of fun questions and some pretty stupid ones as well.

    Once my peers find out I’m Mormon they totally look out for me, start cleaning up their language without any prompting and ask thoughtful questions. I still get ignorant people who think that cruel remarks are appropriate, but for the most part the responses have been kind and eye opening on both sides.

    Amazingly, I have been included in lots of non-denominational Christian group activities and have had lots of missionary moments without making a pest of myself. Most people are willing to listen as I share my experiences with them, because I have listened to them and asked my own questions to understand their point of view.

    It’s not easy to tell people you’re Mormon at first, but after time it gets easier. You don’t have to make a big announcement either. It can be as simple as going out for drinks after work and when asked why you’re not ordering alcohol, simply saying, “Oh, I don’t drink alcohol because I am LDS/Mormon and I am choosing to live by our health code.” Yes, there is a pause, but when I don’t make it a big deal and go on with the conversation all is well. That usually suffices and later on I will get questions and personal stories about other interactions with people from our faith.

    And remember, you once had the courage to choose to be baptized all by yourself, and to tell your family and friends about your decision. You will have that courage again when the time is right. Good luck and God bless.

  3. wry

    By personal policy, I never out myself at work as *anything* political/religious/personal in any way. I can’t stand having anything overly personal in the professional realm, or at least I have a very low threshhold for what constitutes oversharing. I am friendly and social with colleagues all the time, but my personal life is my own and I’m very careful about what I share. I don’t feel restricted or closeted; rather, I feel empowered and liberated in revealing only what *I* want to reveal. For me, this has come about partially as a result of Mormonism — a community where personal boundaries and personal information are perceived as community property. That’s a total non-starter for me.

    But I do admire your approach and I can totally see how it could work for a different situation and personality.

  4. Just come out already!!! LOL. Be proud of your beliefs and your religion. It takes guts to be a Mormon and yet we Mormons have nothing to apologize about. We can live in such a way that we are walking proof of just how “normal” we Mormons really are. If you act ashamed, people will see right through it and wonder why. If you act confident and secure, they will think you somewhat of a mystery and be intrigued by your beliefs. I grew up in California and always stood out as “the Mormon” in high school, at work, on sports teams, and …well…everywhere. People knew they could come up to me and ask me questions. I was able to clear up a lot of misconceptions as a result. I was also able to help people sort out their own feelings about religion and God (without trying to convert them). I never act like other’s religions are less. I show respect and build on common beliefs. I never have minded standing out though. I know it’s hard for some people, but I find that it is so rewarding. Go for it! :D

  5. Not to nitpick, but Diana Ross sang “I’m Comin’ Out.” Don’t mix your Divas, girl!

    But on a serious note, as a gay girl, let me say that the biggest enemy is the closet. If you want people to not think of you as a hated “other,” you have to show them who you are as a human being.

    I have a great sensitivity re: Prop 8 and the underhanded Mormon involvement. It’s a hurtful situation. And I’m guilty of making political association assumptions (not polygamy or temple garments, as I am one who dons religious garments daily). But if more Mormons I knew were “liberal feminist college professors,” my heart would open more. That’s why I’m reading this blog right now, to hopefully find out how diverse the community is.

  6. Greg

    I wish the opposite were true. I left the church a year ago, and living in Utah, have not come out as Ex-Mormon, at least not with everyone. I don;t think the members of the church are quite as able to deal with diversity as other groups. Would your advice be any different in this situation?

    • Kathleen Jones

      Greg, there are thousand’s of Exmo’s in Utah (and ALL over the Country/World). If you have not connected with them, please get some support! You can start here: http://www.exmormonfoundation.org (or .com), either works. We’ve got a great conference coming up in October in SLC, that will help any Exmo with their “coming out” phase, and help process through the pain much more quickly! And before you Mo’s start shouting out the “why can’t you just leave it alone” BS, think, just sit and THINK about how you’ve treated someone in your ward who’s “left”. If you are honest with yourself, it hasn’t been with continued friendship. It’s more than likely to never speak to them for fear of the now “apostate” getting any of their none beliefs “on you”. Oh and throw in the eternal Ward gossip about what “sins” they have committed, because it COULDN’T possibly be for Intellectual/
      Doctrinal/Historical reasons….

  7. Julianne

    I have a high profile media job, and this is what works for me… Of course, the hiring manager usually knows that I am a Mormon by looking at my resume, but I’m not as up front with my colleagues about my faith. This is not because I am ashamed of my religion, it is because it is important for me to establish that I am a professional first, and a friend second, before I start talking religion. There are people at work who I will never be close enough to, to talk about something so personal. Once I have proven that I am a good employee who can be trusted, the topic of religion will inevitably present itself. By this time, people are rarely surprised that I am a Mormon.

  8. JC

    My friends in high school all knew I was Mormon, and in fact called me the “Token Mormon,” which actually was a way to welcome me in as one more diverse member of a diverse group. That was in Minnesota, of course, where it was possible to be the only Mormon in the school (which I was, at one point). I tried to show that I wasn’t ashamed of my faith or my practices, which sometimes were at odds with those of my friends. I’m very grateful they accepted me through it all. Not everyone did. I had a teacher who obviously had a thing about my church and wasn’t always the friendliest toward me.

    I moved out to Utah to attend BYU and had absolutely no preparation for the difference in culture there. It was culture shock I hadn’t even experienced in France. I enjoyed making friends who believed the same as I did, but got pretty irritated with how some aspects of my faith were interpreted and practiced–and yes, how some people were treated by certain others. However, having been Out West for many years now, I’ve seen a pretty wide spectrum of behavior in regards to the church and its beliefs. I’m still not a fan of some aspects of the culture in heavily Mormon areas, but I’ve seen a lot of good, too. I think when people get to know I’m Mormon and active in my faith (which I don’t try to conceal but don’t necessarily flaunt), very few don’t have an opinion about it. Some out here in the Mountain West are strongly opinionated against the church and let me know, but I try not to turn it into a feud. Members of the church don’t blink, of course. A large aspect of my background and practices suddenly aligns with theirs. They can predict how I will behave in many situations. That’s fine. Very few haven’t heard much about the Mormons, and I don’t mind explaining what they want to know.

    I’ve spent the majority of my adult life in communities that are populated largely by Mormons, so my experience is much different than that of someone living in just about any other area. On business trips, which I don’t take very often, I do my best to stick to my principles. I’ll politely decline a drink when offered, retire to my room instead of going out to the bars, keep my conversation respectful and away from the raunchy, etc. If that strikes someone as weird, I’ll explain that it’s simply against my beliefs. I can’t control how people will react to finding out I’m a Mormon, but I can conduct my life on the expectation that most people will at least be as respectful as I try to be toward them.

  9. John Paladin

    Wow, I don’t know how you keep it a secret.
    It has been pretty immediately apparent in each of my workplaces when I am asked why I don’t drink alcohol/tea/coffee or smoke/swear/work weekends.
    I have never even really had to consider whether to tell or not tell – it is always out before the thought crosses my mind.

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