It was a typical temple recommend interview. I had a previous temple recommend because I went to the temple to do baptisms when I was 12. I was 13 on that spring day when recommends needed to be annually renewed, so I was due for another.
My friend’s father was the bishopric member doing the interviews for the young women, I guessed because she was in my class—so it seemed nice that he was doing all of the Beehives. I had known the family ever since I could remember. The interview was on a Wednesday night, in-between whatever regular youth activities were planned.
The questions began and were average. But then he went off script. He asked me if I ever did certain sexual things, but he used slang terms with which I was not familiar. I did not know what those things were. So I asked him. And he told me, rocking back in his chair with his legs spread. No one had spoken to me about specific sex acts before, and I became frightened as he continued to ask me questions that were nothing like any temple recommend questions I’ve ever had before or since. I still sat through the interview, and finished it because I didn’t want my family to think I wasn’t worthy of a temple recommend.
I never wanted to be in a room with him again. I was terrified of him being in the temple doing the baptisms—I didn’t want him to touch me. I didn’t even shake his hand after the recommend interview, and rushed out the door—pretending I was too dumb to know or remember to shake his hand.
Luckily, another good man was the one to perform baptisms. But I was still afraid. It was just words—but words that were used when I was alone, and powerless—in a place where I wanted to come out of the room with the token that would show I was worthy.
This man tried to “meet” with me for “official church business” a few more times, but I found ways to be too busy or distracted. To my knowledge at that time, he was not meeting with anyone else for these meetings. I was afraid and didn’t know what to do—“maybe if I were ugly, he would leave me alone?” Wanting to be ugly was a strange concept, but I felt ugly on the inside from the things he said to me. How could I be ugly to him, but still acceptable to my friends?
Nearly a year later, and I was 14. Because there were only four Mia Maids, we were all in the Mia Maid presidency, and sort of rotated taking turns of who would be president. I was to be a counsellor this time around. And so this man asked me passing in the hallway to be a counsellor, as I never allowed myself to be in a room alone with him. I said, “Let me pray about it….” And briskly walked away.
But I was terrified. I wasn’t familiar enough with church callings to know others would be in the room for me to be “set apart.” All I could imagine was being interviewed by this man for more detailed sex talk, and then him putting his hands on my head… or other parts of my body. Rumours were swirling amongst the young women about certain men and certain young men in the ward. Not the good kids of rumours– the terrifying kinds of rumours of things– things that President Kimball said that we should fight to the death to avoid, lest we become too complaisant in protecting our own virtue.
Luckily, I had a friend who was not a Mormon. And this friend had some electric clippers. After an afternoon at her house, my head was shaved on one side, and asymmetrically chopped on the other. Then I added some jet-black stripes on my otherwise mousey blonde mane. I ripped my jeans in certain places, and bought black Rit dye for most of my clothes. I was no Cyndi Lauper, but I tried. I looked cool. And ugly—at least I hoped I looked ugly to this man.
It worked! I wasn’t called in the Mia Maid presidency! And I still had a temple recommend.
My mother told me I was wicked–after all, black nail polish doesn’t look pretty. She suspected I was drinking alcohol or smoking weed with my “non-Mormon” friends. I wasn’t. I just looked wicked. And I was avoiding one of my Mormon friend’s fathers. But to my mother, rejecting a calling just solidified my walk down the dark side. That and the copious black eyeliner I used on my eyes and lips.
But when others looked close, they would see embroidery floss knotted and secured with a safety pin on my jeans. And they would see me meticulously weaving friendship bracelets in joyful pastels, and bright rainbows—colours of freshness and light! Bracelets that I shared with my fellow Young Women—tokens of healing and friendship. Because in becoming ugly, and looking the part of darkness, I was protected. I protected myself. Because no one in church was protecting me.
Other Young Women in my ward were not clever as I was, even though we began to talk openly about it. They were traditional Mormon pretty, “not allowed” to dress like me. I never asked if I was allowed. I did it to protect myself.
And thus, being Mormon pretty, they were not protected. They were not protected by the friendship bracelets. They were not protected with their temple recommends.
And they were most certainly not protected by the Bishopric.