Ever wonder how those beaming brides posing outside the LDS temple really feel? Are they happy? Are they nervous? Are they resigned? All or none of the above? “Baring Witness: 36 Mormon Women Talk Candidly about Love, Sex, and Marriage” provides some answers to those questions. Elegantly written and meticulously edited, Holly Welker’s new anthology gives voice to a diverse group of LDS women, all of whom felt compelled to fulfill the faith’s unyielding expectation that they become wives and mothers.
In choosing contributors who are straight, gay, single, married, divorced, ethnically dissimilar, and in various stages of belief, Welker avoids the trap of promoting an agenda, and instead presents a fascinating and objective view of Mormon marriage and culture, one that both reflects and resonates with the larger LDS community.
Finding herself single and in her 30’s, Naomi Watkins realizes she has no contingency plan. Only Plan A: “meet a returned missionary, date, fall in love, get married, have a basketball team of babies, and live happily ever after.” Still devout to the faith, she continues to pursue that plan, and hopes for the best, in spite of past disappointments.
Marie Brian exposes the Mormon practice of “creative dating,” describing carriage rides in her pajamas, messy spaghetti dinners (no forks allowed), even a pretend date with a dressed-up dummy she’d attached with a balloon head. “At the time, I didn’t think there was anything risqué about dating something you inflated with your own breath,” she recalls.
Brian’s gem of a story hit me close to home. As a student at BYU, I took part in a number of these elaborate stunts, once dressing up as “James, your chauffeur” for a formal gala at McDonald’s. Evidently, no wholesome Mormon courtship is complete without a cross-dressing activity, a public parade in one’s nightclothes, or the unwitting participation in some sexually themed role-play.
Another standout is Bernadette Echols’ concise and eloquent piece on Mormon divorce. “Our strained and stoic goodbye hung awkwardly in the air by the back door before joining the billowing clouds of dust he churned up as he went rumbling, storming, careening down the dirt driveway,” she begins.
Suddenly abandoned, Echols turns to her ward for sympathy where she finds none. “Were they too ashamed of what had happened to me to speak of it, or did they imagine I was?” she asks. Meanwhile, her cousin, a newly widowed LDS woman, is embraced and comforted by her ward family. Rejected by her own, Echols finds solace in a divorce recovery program at a Methodist Church. It is there that she learns that “one is a whole number.”
The stories continue, different Mormon women with different Mormon marriages: same-sex, mixed-race, inter-faith, and plural. Some succeed. Some fail and try again. And some go on to “Plan B,” content with the knowledge that “one is a whole number.”
Filled with humor, pathos, and honesty, “Baring Witness” presents a powerful contribution to the body of Mormon prose, as well as a keen insight into the minds and hearts of those beaming brides posing outside the LDS temple.
36 Mormon Women Talk Candidly about Love, Sex, and Marriage
Edited by Holly Welker
275 pgs. University of Illinois Press $19.95