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?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow askmormongirl on Twitter.