Monday, October 7, 2013
The Myth of the Mormon Misfit
Everyone wants to believe they're different than everyone else. Or, more accurately, that they're special. That's just fact, and probably has been since the dawn of man. What might be distinct about our modern experience is the desire to differentiate ourselves, not by good luck or success, but by damage or "otherness". The mainstream is for chumps; the special exist outside the norm.
This is true of society as a whole, and becomes more intensified as the culture becomes more specific. Hence: the birth of the Mormon Misfit.
The Misfit is someone who sees the whole of the church as the mainstream, and themselves distinctly outside of it. The Misfit has something about them--two earrings, a tattoo, a shady past, no kids, career ambition, a graduate degree--that makes them feel apart from the "normal" Mormon. Because I'm a girl, and have girl experiences, I'm going to make the Misfit a girl. She sees the women in her Relief Society as cookie cutter people--"perfect", where she is "imperfect". This imperfection is worn as a badge of honor, because those things that make her imperfect also make her interesting.
Here's the fact, Misfit: you're a myth. For real. You don't exist. Look around. I know you think you are looking, but you're not. You don't know these women. You're calling them "perfect", and deluding yourself into thinking that it's a compliment. It isn't. It's a disservice. It excludes them from the rich interiority of personhood that you have allowed only yourself. They are not perfect, they are true, just like you are.
They look different and maybe they act different, and maybe they like different things, and maybe they're in a different place than you in life, and maybe they even freaking bake bread and sew, but they are just as deserving of Christ's lost sheep attention as you are.
This myth of the Misfit is an old one, and an enduring one. I attribute it's endurance to a profound lack of imagination on the part of the Misfit. Hey, Misfit, can you really not imagine a life or worries that are not your own? What it would be like to be adopted, or black in a predominately white church? Or concerned that you're letting your degree go to waste parenting your four kids, or single and not loving it? Or a Relief Society president with weighty doubts about doctrines, or the million other things that people think while the sacrament's being passed?
It has been my experience that there is only one way to cure this myth. It's deceptively simple, so listen closely. No, that's actually it: listen closely. Talk to these women you have deemed so unlike you, and really, really listen to what they have to say. Listen when they make comments in class, when they refer to their missions, or their first years of marriage, or their teenage years.
I think of my friend Julie, who might seem a bit "perfect". She's blonde, for one. She's got three boys and a lawyer husband. Once, in a comment in Relief Society, she mentioned that she used to have a nose ring, which she's since traded in for pearls. When I look at instagram photos of her big, clean, suburban house, and her mantle decorated for Halloween, I contextualize them with the image I have of her, at church after her very young husband had a very serious stroke, wearing those pearls with a hell of lot more flint and grit than any nose ring could ever evoke. She has--like the rest of us--thoughts and worries and goals and deep reserves of inner strength; which is to say, an inner life.
The fact is, Misfit, you are special. You are imperfect, and damaged, and whatever else. And so is everyone, everyone else. Don't let that make you feel less special. Let it make you feel less alone.