The predominant religion in town may be growing, but that doesn't mean everyone who joins the faith end up agreeing with everything preached their way. --- In fact, the last few years have seen a steady rise in people leaving the LDS Church over various topics and issues, and while some may be silent about their departure, there are a few outspoken voices in the crowd who don't see fit to keep it to themselves. Case in point: Bailey Jones, a self-published author who has released a pair of books documenting her time and feelings on being a Mormon and the outrage that led her to leaving. Today, I chat with Jones about her experiences and books, plus thoughts on the LDS Church today.
Gavin: Hey, Bailey. First thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Bailey: I'm Bailey Jones, which is a pen name, so all the people who keep landing on my blog trying to find out my home address can stop. I'm a wife, mother and an "ex-Mormon," I guess. I was raised in the West in a very Mormon family and attended church faithfully myself all the way into my adult years. Since then, I've left the church but stick around in Utah because, despite the crazy-ass, over-the-top Mormon-church influence here, I still love the state. I work from home as a writer, but in the past year or so have taken on my pen name to share my experiences growing up as a Mormon girl and serving a mission.
Gavin: Prior to your books, did you have any experience with writing at all?
Bailey: I actually have been writing for a few years or so, but I never wrote anything quite like my first book. Really, most of what I wrote before was pretty boring stuff; certainly not spicy, like these books. Writing these books has breathed new life into my writing and so I doubt I'll be stopping at just two.
Gavin: Getting right to it, what was life like for you as a Mormon, growing up and eventually going on a mission?
Bailey: Oh, god, that's a big question. Obviously, my books address the issues surrounding my experiences more in depth. That being said ... in a nutshell, growing up I was a quite abused child but thought my experiences were "normal" because I was so entrenched in a culture that was abusive and worked to cover things up. We had quite a few family secrets and my parents were extremely manipulative, which kept me from reporting any of the activities to the authorities. I acted out in some ways as a teenager but was scared to just up and leave the church because by then I had bought into the idea that I would amount to nothing in life if I "apostatized." Going on a mission felt like my solemn duty to perform as a good Mormon, even though girls didn't have to serve like the guys. But, my mission was an extremely traumatic event in my life. In fact, I still have nightmares that I'm back in the mission field. While I was writing my second book, I was having those nightmares almost every night and at one point almost quit writing the book. So, I would say both growing up and serving a mission were traumatic life events that I'm only fully processing and working through now.
Gavin: When did you start having a changing view on your faith and how it was influencing your life?
Bailey: Looking back on it, I can see that my changing view on things started off very gradual. I don't think I ever felt really comfortable around most Mormons because they were fucking weirdos. I didn't get into the Mormon-clique thing as a teenager, didn't think the kids at my school who weren't Mormon just wanted to corrupt me and didn't agree with all of the social viewpoints of the majority of Mormons. But, where things really started to change for me was my mission, where I saw the inner workings of the church firsthand and realized what a load of bullshit so much of it was. I almost quit my mission but, again, out of guilt and such, pushed on, but those doubts festered in the back of my mind after I returned home.
Gavin: How did the decision come about for you to formally leave the church?
Bailey: The real turning point for me was when my husband lost his job, we drained our savings while he looked for more work and then finally went to our bishop for help. That was when I learned that the organization I had given so much of myself and my resources to didn't give a shit about me, my husband or my kids. That realization hurt like hell, especially since I realized our savings would have been humongous if all of our tithing and fast offerings had been put in a savings account instead of having gone to the church, but I don't regret realizing that truth. Once I realized it was a sham, I decided I was free of all of the bullshit and so I tried coffee for the first time, had a beer, started wearing whatever underwear I pleased and enjoyed strutting around in tank tops. It was quite liberating throwing off those shackles that had always chaffed against my skin.
Gavin: Before you left, how much pressure was put on you to stay, and what was it like immediately after leaving?
Bailey: Oh, my hell, the pressure was intense! We had just about every leader from our ward literally stalking us, the home teachers dropping by constantly and even the missionaries randomly swinging by our house. Once, I was outside in a tank top when some men from our ward came by the house and they got into a huge blowout argument with me on my front lawn about whether or not I could dress how I damned-well pleased! I got so sick of the harassment, I refused to answer my door at one point. But then, I realized it was so ridiculous to put up with the abuse. When I formally left, the bishop, of course, wanted to talk to me about it and I told him I had nothing to talk to him about. It was at that point that all contact with our ward fell off completely. When I saw people from our ward at the grocery store, they would literally duck behind displays and act like they didn't see me. But, I no longer had to endure the harassment. When I told my parents about my decision, they, basically, told me that they were done with me and to tell them when I "grew up" and went crawling back to the church.
Gavin: Once you had left, what changed in your life and what stayed the same?
Bailey: As far as change, I stopped feeling guilty about everything. I no longer avoided getting tiramisu at restaurants, didn't feel bad if I dropped the f-bomb after stubbing my toe and didn't freak out if my house didn't look perfect. I also realized just how much time we wasted with church shit, so I had lots and lots of free time for hobbies, connecting with old friends, etc. My friends who aren't Mormon remarked that I seemed happier than they had ever seen me, and that was before I told them what happened. I also found out that several of my friends whom I thought were active Mormons had either quit going to church altogether or had formally left the church and were covering it up out of shame. But, some of my ultra-Mormon friends just melted into the background and disappeared, never talking to me again. Another huge change was that I could finally admit I didn't have all of the answers in life. As a Mormon, you have it pounded into your head that you have all of life's answers or "God's plan" and so you don't have to think about a lot of things. It was a little scary but also liberating, admitting to myself that some things I just didn't know anything about. As far as things that stayed the same: I still had good and bad days, but the good days were more numerous than before. I still had to work and take care of my kids and my house. My life did not become this horrible existence, like so many told me it would. I did have one good friend tell me that leaving the church meant my family would suffer some horrific event to snap us back into "reality" so we would repent and start going to church again. She even said she hoped that event wasn't that one of my kids were killed in some horrible way. Needless to say, I told her to go fuck herself.
Gavin: How did the idea come about to write a book about your experiences?
Bailey: When I left the church, I had all kinds of emotions in my head. I couldn't afford to go see a therapist and so I decided to write down all of my frustration, anger and hurt. I kept writing more and more about it and, eventually, thought I should put it all together into a book.
Gavin: What was it like writing everything up and putting the book together?
Bailey: It was a huge relief. My husband noticed immediately that I was happier, seemed less stressed and was a much more pleasant person to be around. I think I was holding onto a mountain of hurt in my heart and writing the book was a humongous release. I let it all fly, all of my emotions, and at first, I wondered if I should even publish what I had written. But, something in me said that I needed to have my story heard, whether people liked it or not, and so I decided to be heard. So, the process of getting the book together was calming and empowering at the same time and I don't think I've been the same person since.
Gavin: What was the editing process like for you, and what were the reactions you were getting from those who read early copies?
Bailey: Oh, wow; I didn't show the book to hardly anyone beforehand. My husband, of course, read over it and, much to my surprise, said that I summed things up nicely, cussing and all. I was concerned there were some things in the book that would make him wince, but he told me he was proud of my work. I let a few very close friends read it, as well. One is an ex-Mormon, as well, and he is still pretty defensive about church things, so he wasn't humored by my raw look on quite a few doctrinal points. Still, even he found some humor in the book, especially my commentary on Mormon culture. Another friend who was raised Mormon loved every word so much that she said she couldn't stop laughing as she read it. Still, it was a small group, and you never know if those closest to you are just being nice, so I wasn't really sure how the general public would receive my work.
Gavin: How did you come up with the title, and what made you go for something so brazen?
Bailey: At first, I was going to go with When I Was a Mormon, but looking over the content, the titled didn't quite reflect the brutal honesty contained in the book. So, at the last minute, I changed the title to make it clear to potential readers what the book was all about. The funny thing is, I've had some readers complain about the profanity contained in the book. What do you expect from a book with the word "fucking" in the title?! When my husband saw the last-minute title tweak, he was a little shocked at first, but thinking about the content he'd read, he decided it fit the book even better.
Gavin: What made you decide to self-publish rather than find a proper publisher, and what made you choose Amazon?
Bailey: I realized that there's no publisher under the sun that would put out a book like my first. The few people I broached the subject with told me either that nobody wanted to read a book about Mormons or that I would have to tone things down a lot. The book was about what happened to me, my feelings and I didn't want that to be edited to death, since then it would no longer be about my feelings and instead be about what some editor thought I should say. This desire to maintain control of my own voice was key in my decision since I wanted to tell my story in my own words, with all of the warts and blemishes showing. I've written enough pieces in my day to know what the editorial process is like, and I just felt that for When I Was a Fucking Mormon it was the wrong way to go.
Gavin: What were the reactions you were getting, both from critics and readers?
Bailey: Oh, my god; I've never written anything that divides people so much. It seems like people either love my first book or they absolutely abhor it. I still get e-mails all the time from people who say the book was incredibly therapeutic for them to read, or that it gave them wonderful insights into Mormonism they haven't found elsewhere. I also regularly receive e-mails from Mormons and people who claim they aren't Mormon but are offended by my book. I have been called all sorts of things by these good Mormons, including a fucking bitch, stupid bitch, whore, apostate scum -- you get the picture. The division started immediately after the book came out, and that's when I knew I had something engaging on my hands.
Gavin: Did you hear anything official at all from the church, or did it ignore you altogether?
Bailey: I think the church wishes I would shut the fuck up, but I haven't heard anything from the organization. But, that's not the reason I wrote my first or second book so I don't really care.
Gavin: What made you decide to do a second book based around your missionary work?
Bailey: I briefly touched on my time as a sister missionary in my first book, but I genuinely felt that I had more to say on the subject. I ran across a box of letters and other things from my mission and it brought this flood of emotions and memories back. I started to realize just how incredibly horrible of an experience my mission was, even though it made me what I am now. I couldn't get those emotions and memories out of my head and so I turned to my writing therapy again.
Gavin: When I Was A Fucking Mormon Missionary came out this past March. How has it been received so far?
Bailey: The reception has been similar to my first book: People either love it or hate it. With the presidential election last year, I think there was a larger reaction to my first book since Mitt Romney's religion was a hot topic. One thing I have heard from some people who loved my second book is that it explains some things about missions they haven't seen or heard elsewhere. I guess that makes sense, since I cover subjects like rampant masturbation among Mormon missionaries, the church's prophetic software and being treated like a mini-mom by male missionaries.
Gavin: Aside from the books, you've also become an active blogger. What made you take up writing on the Web as an outlet for your works, and how have your fans responded to it?
Bailey: Oh, the blogging is something I've done for a while, but it became a way for me to develop my voice on Mormon issues, as well as get the word out about my first book. Many of my big supporters visit my blog all the time and send me messages about the posts, but quite a few people are scared to post comments publicly for fear of people they know seeing their names on my blog. I write about some pretty controversial things, and so I understand why people are concerned about fallout for agreeing with anything I say. That being said, I also fairly regularly receive threats on my blog but those comments are never published. Obviously, some people think what I write on my blog is too embarrassing and want to shut me up.
Gavin: Are there any new books or any projects you have on the horizon?
Bailey: I've been working on a collection of stories, more like novellas, that have a sexy and scary tone to them. One of those novellas features some Mormon characters. I've been playing with some other projects, including a piece of science fiction I tentatively am calling From Uranus to Kolob. So, nothing's solid for right now, but when I get closer to publication on any of these projects I will definitely put the word out on my blog and social media.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?
Bailey: I'll keep blogging, I won't shut the fuck up despite some people wishing I would, and maybe later this year, I'll have some news about a future project's publication date.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Bailey: Yeah, every time I see a kid who's been abused, neglected, etc., I want to shake people and tell everyone to go visit Planned Parenthood. Just in the past week, I've seen a few news stories of kids wandering around by themselves, getting hit by cars or almost kidnapped. Sadly, I don't think the "sex education," or whatever the fuck they call it in the schools here in Utah, teach jack shit that is useful for kids who don't want to be parents, either at an early age, or ever.
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