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The Polygamy Question

The Salt Lake Tribune has a polygamy blog and, of course, I found it. While I was on there, I couldn’t help but notice that they covered a post I wrote for BuzzFeed: A “Which Sister Wife Are You?” quiz.

Which got me thinking more about polygamy: a subject I’m fascinated by and simultaneously cannot explain exactly why.

It started when I was in middle school and interacting more and more with my Mormon cousins. My aunt converted to the Church of Latter Day Saints when she was in her twenties, after falling in love with a Mormon man, my uncle.

When I was growing up, my cousins weren’t allowed to have soda or chocolate. They would cram into the car on Sunday mornings and head off to church for hours. Hours. Once they took my brother and I along. We were both very little, but I remember sitting in church and eating bread, then going into a classroom to watch a film, and just wanting to go home. I guess it was like any church service when you’re a kid, it’s just not as interesting as being somewhere else.

Missionaries became a fixture at holiday dinners. There was the Thanksgiving when two missionaries, originally from Vegas, came to dinner. They never came back after my Catholic mother asked if they missed seeing strip clubs. Guess it’s tough to have a sense of humor when you’re doing God’s work. Or the Easter where a handsome missionary came to visit and became keen on my non-Mormon cousin, Caroline. She was just 14 years old at the time, but looked about 18. Needless to say, it didn’t work out.

I remember my mom mentioning that Mormons believed in polygamy sometime around middle school. I’m not sure what prompted it, but I do remember not knowing what that word meant, exactly. I ended up researching it online. Polygamy: more than one wife or husband. That seemed so odd. I thought of my aunt and wondered if there were other secret wives shacked up in her house. I wondered if my uncle had ever suggested such a thing to her. I thought of my own parents and how furious I’d be if my mother or father ever cheated on the other. That’s what polygamy felt like to me, like consensual cheating. It sounded heartbreaking. And, yet, there were people out there doing it. How were they doing it? How were they able to stand it? Was there some secret trick they’d learned so that they could endure it?

I also discovered that members of the Mormon church do not, in fact, believe in polygamy. Or, at least, they say they don’t. They officially stopped endorsing the practice over a hundred years ago, but there are documents that suggest the polygamist vein is a hard one to stop from hemorrhaging. (Especially when you consider that the church founders led an openly poly lifestyle.)

Today, the people openly practicing are the fundamentalist Mormons. Those living in communes like Colorado City or Hildale, and function by rulings from an enigmatic leader and reticence from the followers.

Those are the people who fascinate me. It’s less of the mainstream polygamists, like those you may see on TLC’s Sister Wives, (though, admittedly, I still watch the show) and more the followers who are living in the shadows. Most don’t have access to education or Internet. All are expected to live the poly lifestyle or suffer God’s consequences. And not many are getting the opportunity to tell their stories.

Surely, there are people suffering. Men and women who would want to leave the community, but have no opportunities or skills to do so. But those people aren’t talked about nearly enough. Instead we’re seeing people like those on Sister Wives, who seem happy and well adjusted with their circumstances. In a way, their happiness takes away the much needed attention that the smaller and more isolated communities desperately need.

Some members do manage to escape the lifestyle, like the young girls pictured above, and they get the opportunity to speak out about polygamy. But what about the women still in polygamy? Is it possible that some of them really do like it? Or is it just that it’s all they’ve ever known? What happens if you speak your mind about how you’re feeling? Can ideas that oppose the norm ever really exist in a culture that is, essentially, a cult?

While many women escape the poly life and go on to denounce the practice, surely there are those that would also exalt it? What interests me is that, if those women exist (and I’m sure they do), I’d like to hear their stories. Again, not the mainstream polys, like you see in Sister Wives, but the women who are living under the rule of Warren Jeffs and being denied rights that we all get to enjoy, like the right to an education.

Hearing their stories feels very important to me. It’s part of what drove me to visit Colorado City, and part of what makes me want to go back. I want to meet those women and hear their thinking through this process, even though I know I’d never get access or the chance to do so.

Part of me wonders if I’ll ever get the chance to visit those places again, and part of me has already resigned myself to the fact that I may not. In which case, I’ll just have to keep reading The Salt Lake Tribune’s blog.

Unless, of course, one of you wants to go with me on a trip to Utah again??

‘Sister Wives’ Moving Forward With Suit Against Utah

Like any good American, I am obsessed with polygamy and, in particular, the TLC show ‘Sister Wives.’ Which is why, when I saw the headline, “Judge allows 'Sister Wives’ suit to proceed,” I obviously stopped everything (including the presses) to find out what these shenanigans were about.

The AP is reporting that:

A federal judge has ruled there’s sufficient evidence to allow a polygamous family made famous by a reality TV show to pursue a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Utah’s bigamy law.

WOWZERS. So, for those of you not caught up with the show, essentially this is a big fucking deal. That’s because last season the Brown family (which includes creepy haired patriarch Kody, and his 4 bride-wives), were forced out of Utah and into Las Vegas. They were under threat of an impending lawsuit that they believed could end with Kody being sent to prison and the families being torn apart. It was all very ’Not Without My Daughter,’ and made for a great episode where there was much ado about packing U-Haul’s.

Now that no charges have actually been filed against the Brown’s, it seems that they are fighting back against the state that chased them away (even though bigamy is against the law, and they were very much flaunting their lifestyle for all of the cameras and the world to see). The thing is, they may actually win this thing if they can prove that, “there’s a real and viable threat to their constitutional rights.”

Selfishly, I would love for this show to stay on the air, so I support whatever the Brown’s need to do. Which, I’m sure, is a huge perk of going on national television and allowing viewers to get to know them as a family. They’ve sparked my sympathy, so much so that I want them to be OKAY and would theoretically write a letter to Congress, or whatever. What I know is that as much as I love the Brown’s, there are still some terrifying polygamist compounds like the one in Colorado City. On one hand, if polygamists don’t need to hide, maybe those compounds wouldn’t exist. BUT, in a more realistic understanding, those communities are run by tyrannical egomaniacs who wouldn’t give up their men and multiple women without a fight. And, by making it easier to practice polygamy, it may lead to increased abuse in the communities.

In other words, what the Brown’s are doing is GREAT if you’re not a 13-year-old girl about to be married off to someone who looks like this. But if you are that teen girl approaching your birthing years, this lawsuit could mean that the state eases up on some of its laws against polygamy (not that those laws have ever stopped people like Warren Jeffs, but you know what I mean).

What do you think about this ruling, should the Brown’s be allowed to sue Utah?

The Provo Chronicles: Poisoning Of The Water.

Okay, so let me just tell you that I woke up this morning in good spirits. We had slept in an actual bed last night, I took a hot shower this morning, I look cute in winter gear, things were looking up.

But! As mentioned in last night’s post, we had some concerns regarding the coffee situation and what we’d be able to find come dawn. After getting dressed and making sure we were wearing Mormon-friendly attire, we set off towards breakfast.

As we drove down University Ave, past BYU, and sidewalks piled high with snow, we spotted Kneaders Bakery & Cafe— a spot that promised endless french toast slices and, drumroll please, freshly brewed java!!

We made a sharp U-turn and pulled into the parking lot, two junkies eager to find our morning fix.

To give you an idea we each ordered coffee and a breakfast sandwich. All seemed well with the world as we anxiously awaited the caffeine to hit our shriveled veins. Once we finished we got back in the car and set off for Salt Lake City.

Surely the caffeine would kick in and then we’d really be moving. Any minute now. Big yawn. Yup, just in a second it’ll….

OMFG. The Mormon chain/poor man’s Panera gave us effing DECAF coffee!!

Now, let me be clear here because there was a Decaf and Regular option. We CHOSE regular and pumped the coffee into our cups on our own. But despite this, we still got decaf, and not the kind of decaf that will give you a light buzz, this was decaf decaf. Flavored muddy water kind of roast not suitable for street urchins to drink out of the trash.

I was livid.

We tried to pull off at an exit on the way to Salt Lake that promised Starbucks— a national chain that we knew and could trust to pump us full of caffeine. We circled the town and no such thing existed, there was a “Beans & Things” local spot, but both of us had been burned so badly that we were not about to try another local establishment.

We waited until we got to Salt Lake; into Temple Square and the shopping district and the area around the University. Nothing. I pulled out my smart phone (thank sweet sassy christ for you, Blackberry), and Googled “Salt Lake City Downtown Coffee.”

To our utter delight there actually IS a Starbucks in Salt Lake. I have a coffee in my hand, and Elizabeth a latte. We couldn’t be happier. My headache is gone, my eyes are fully open, and I feel like we can now take on the Brigham Young memorial and burial site (yup, we’re going).

But I now know this: Mormons do not play around, and they are subtle in their punishing of outside gentiles which makes them sneakier than most. NEVER get coffee from a Mormon chain and expect good things to come of it. Never again.

Provo Is Where The Red Heart Is.

Our main objective was to make it to Provo, and so we have.

Provo is the third largest city in Utah, and it’s also what I’ve been waiting for in terms of being all-Mormon. It’s home to Brigham Young University (BYU) and the largest missionary training center for LDS members, and is also the most conservative city in the U.S…

It’s filled with white, middle-class Mormons, and we just happen to be staying with the perfect example of such a family.

Elizabeth has a friend who was raised Mormon, and said we should stay with his mother during our visit. We arrived in what can only be described as your typical suburban cul-de-sac, and were greeted by probably one of the nicest women I have ever met. She opened her home to us and we are staying in a guest room in the basement (see photo to the left). After our $25 a night excursion, this feels like the Four Seasons.

Okay, so the family is sweet as pie- but what about all the Mormon religious stuff? Well, if I’m being honest, I took note that the Listerine in the bathroom is alcohol free. Also, as we drove through town I made sure to spot any Mormon touches that the local businesses had.

I saw a breakfast shop that featured “freshly squeezed juices” but no coffee, and we ate dinner at a Japanese restaurant that only served herbal teas. There are banners on every lamp post that read “We Are BYU,” and some of the local stores have the letter “Y” in bold letters across their window panes (we learned that students at BYU say they go to “The Y” so, hence the stores school pride.)

But we did pass coffee shops, and two bars, and a clothing store called “Gen X Clothing” that offered sparkly sequin tube tops and mini skirts that I didn’t expect.

Today Is THE DAY.

So, last night we did a lot of research into Colorado City and found accounts from people who have been to the large polygamous compound that flourishes there. We have found a lot of differing accounts.

From, circa 2008:

“With the arrest and conviction of Warren Jeffs, the leader of this community, change may be in the cards. Nevertheless, these are not communities that welcome outsiders and, for the time being, should be avoided by travelers.”

That warning obviously spooked us a bit. We are two young women, who are total outsiders, and throughout this journey we have been in a state of acute awareness that we do not belong. Nonetheless, we researched on.

This is a blog post from John Hamer, who visited the compound, again in 2008:

“Colorado City was more like I expected, although I was unprepared for the size of the community — there truly are a lot of fundamentalist Mormons. This much older town (founded in the 1920s) is laid out in traditional Utah fashion, with overly wide streets separating large square blocks — resulting in the unkempt, low-density feel so many Mormon towns share.

The houses in Colorado City were more normal in size, lacking the ostentation of Centennial Park. There were also a large number of unfinished homes, some of which were inhabited while others seemed abandoned. In that way, the community was reminiscent of towns we’ve visited in Argentina…

We had expected a closed community, like the private FLDS town near Eldorado, Texas. Instead we found a rural town with all the public institutions you would expect: post office, town hall, police department, community college, grocery store, hardware store, restaurant, and other services like insurance agents.

Although the grocery store “Foodtown Cooperative Mercantile Corporation,” was communally operated and owned by the UEP trust, its goods were absolutely normal — precisely what you’d expect from any small-town grocer. Notwithstanding the FLDS Church’s reputation for being isolated from the modern world, their Cooperative Mercantile was well stocked with the latest types of chips — I bought a bag of Spicy Sweet Chili–flavored Doritos for the road.

The store was filled with FLDS women wearing the distinctive outfits that we have seen on CNN from Texas. Unlike the Little House on the Prairie garb worn by fundamentalists on the compound in Big Love, FLDS women have a very strange style all their own. To me their clothing resembles over-sized Victorian dresses, generally in a single vivid (often pastel) color. Long hair is universally combed up (often way up) and back. Unlike Amish country, where both men and women look different from regular American society, FLDS men appeared to dress like any other rural westerners.”

Hamer’s account made us feel a bit better, and was sort of more of what we expected to encounter in Colorado City. We anticipate getting strange looks, and we hope that’s sort of the extent of action taken against us.

We also found this post from a UK site called The First Post:

“Colorado City is a frankly bizarre place. It sits under soaring red cliffs, entirely surrounded by wilderness. And many of the vast and palisaded houses really do have far fewer windows than normal; some houses have hardly any windows at all. The streets feel oddly blind.

And the people are equally strange. Everywhere we saw women in long pioneer dresses, with dozens of children in tow. The women were big: like Stepford wives on steroids.

Our visit went smoothly - until we got the camera out. That got people staring and pointing. We backed away. Then one guy started running towards us, and not in a friendly way.”

Who knows if the women will actually be huge there, or if the townspeople will react differently towards us because we are women and not men. My hope is that as a woman, I will be less likely to be chased because I am “harmless”… right?

And finally, a blog journal entry from Thomas, who traveled his way across the Southwest:

“A few interesting facts about Colorado City:

Many of the “houses” (which could more appropriately be called compounds or hotels) have large walls to keep out prying eyes despite their rural location.

The city is situated several miles from the main road and lacks signs marking its location.

Most of the vehicles in town are Surburbans , 15 person vans, or full sized pickup trucks.

There are large playgrounds at almost every house.

I visited on a Sunday, so there was very little activity. The few drivers that passed stared at me as if I were an alien.”

I think part of the fun of visiting Colorado City will be observing how we are received by the polygamist community. We agreed not to take photographs while in the community, because according to all of the accounts we have read that seems to be the point of contention. And right now I have my “wedding ring” on so as not to seem too much like an evil-she devil type of floozy.