(Reblogged from August 2011)
Sometimes you have to write it down and actually look at it in print to confirm how bizarre, ridiculous and crazy something really is. My then wife actually said that to me.
Think about it…
- Sitting in a Mormon worship service you know exactly what underwear most adults are wearing (And who isn’t wearing it but should be). Where else could you say that?
- At regular intervals your local Mormon leaders will ask you in a private meeting behind closed doors what underwear you are wearing and what underwear you regularly wear day and night.
- It’s possible to evaluate a fellow church members’ “worthiness” or to check up on someone who might be straying from their temple covenants by copping a feel on the leg or shoulder. And I’ve experienced it.
- Wearing clothing that wouldn’t hide the garment-covered areas (such as thighs or shoulders) would be considered “revealing” to Mormons… not so much because of the skin that is actually revealed but more for the fact that it reveals what underwear you are NOT wearing.
- Mormons consider Michelle Obama to be immodest because she wears dresses and tops that show her shoulders… an area that “should” be covered by garments.
My ex-wife and I didn’t fight a whole lot in our marriage. That was partly my fault because I’m non-confrontational to a fault. Even when I did stand up for myself on occasion and pick a battle here and there, I almost invariably ended up giving in after a time. My ex-wife’s distinguishing personality trait is to not take no for an answer. In fact, her family warned me about this before we even got married. And true enough, if she ever got an idea or had an opinion that conflicted with mine there could either be a short discussion that led to her getting her way or a long drawn-out months-long discussion that led to her getting her way. Family size, moves and large purchases often went this way. That’s not to say I never got anything I wanted or that she never acquiesced. It’s just that she picked her battles more skillfully than I did and if she picked one there was no backing down.
But ridiculous as it may sound, my underwear is where I drew the line. THAT’S the hill I chose to die on. The biggest argument that my ex-wife and I ever had was over my underwear.
See, for the uninformed or uninitiated out there, the rumor of “Mormon magical underwear” is true.
“Magic” just isn’t the appropriate word for it. Mormons really do begin to wear special underwear as soon as they are “endowed.” This means that they have participated in the 2 temple ceremonies called “washing & anointing” and “endowment.”
[Cut to Peter Griffin chuckling, “Eh eh eh! He just said “endowed!”]
This generally happens just before the highly anticipated mission or marriage, which ends up being between ages 19 – 21 for most active young adults. Before that time, Mormon youth and teenagers can wear whatever underwear they want…boxers, briefs, panties, boxer briefs, granny panties, even a thong I suppose.
Call me naive but it never dawned on me as a teenager that I might one day wear the same underwear as my parents. Since the Mormon temple ceremonies are so hush-hush, Mormon underwear, actually called “garments,” are never talked about in church and rarely discussed at home among members. I saw my parents in them and I knew they had something to do with being Mormon because other adults didn’t wear them.
Back then, they were dastardly one-piece “union-suit” looking things cut off at the knees, and the units my parents wore were made of this ugly polyester silk-like material that turned grey in the wash. They were nasty looking. I think it was the early 80’s just before I entered the temple for the first time when the Mormon officials modernized the design.
Before you get too impressed with how progressive Mormon leadership can be, their version of modernization entailed offering a greater variety of materials and offering 2-piece garments, a top and a bottom separately (but they still had to be worn together). What you ended up with was a t-shirt and boxer-briefs that extended to just above the knees (so that Bermuda shorts would just barely cover them).
The actual distinguishing factor of garments is that there are masonic symbols embroidered into them in 4 places: over each breast, over the navel and over the right knee. Each of these symbols is tied to a specific promise (Mormons call these “covenants”), a special name and a special handshake (called a “token”) which is explained during the endowment ceremony. One purpose of the endowment is to explain the marks in the underwear that you will wear for the rest of your life.
Both men and women are expected to wear this style of underwear 24/7 with only few exceptions: sex, bathing and sports (and apparently performing because Donny and Marie, BYU cheerleaders, dancers, etc don’t wear them).
What this means in everyday life is pretty significant.
You can obviously only wear clothing that covers your garments. This is not too difficult for men but extremely challenging for women.
Sex becomes encumbering and deliberate because garments are unappealing in the first place. Yet, garments even more dramatically affect touching and tenderness before and after sex. There’s very little skin to skin contact when the great garment barrier needs to be crossed first. And then afterwards, there’s a rush to put them back on – at least there was in my marriage. There was no just lying there, or sleeping together with skin to skin contact.
The garments are an ever present reminder that God and the Mormon leadership are there in bed with you and your spouse.
Still, I have to be honest that when I was living as a Mormon I never really questioned garments nor was I bothered by them all that much because they were just part of the life that I knew.
I never experienced or even anticipated anything magical out of them and I don’t think the majority of Mormons do. When I put them on that first time (with the help of an old Mormon temple worker dude who had just spent the previous 5 minutes touching me in uncomfortable places) I was promised that they would protect me from harm and be a constant reminder of the promises I made to God on that day.
I think most of us interpret that as protection from “spiritual harm,” not that they are going to be an imaginary cotton superhero blocking falling bridges or shooting flames (but there are plenty of faith promoting urban Mormon myths which do conjure up such images too) .
But as soon as I stopped believing in Mormonism wearing garments instantly became at once ridiculous and oppressive to me. The light fabric seemed to weight 100 pounds each morning as I put them on after showering and I was disgusted at seeing my ex-wife in them.
As time went on I began to realize that garments, among other things, were one aspect of the religion that crossed a universal personal boundary.
When I first came out as apostate and gay to my ex-wife, I was emphatic that there was nothing about ME that had changed and that I wasn’t planning on changing. At that point I was completely honest is saying it was enough to be open to myself (and her) and to stop beating myself up over who I was, and what I did (or didn’t) believe.
After about a year or so later, however, I couldn’t take the boundary violations anymore.
I had originally imagined that I could continue public displays of devotion (such as attending church and praying as a family), but it became clearer and clearer that expecting me to keep up the private actions of faith (such as wearing garments, paying tithing, reading scripture and praying) was unreasonable and out of line. Shedding my garments was the last one to go.
When I shared my intention to stop this personal worshipful act of devotion to a God and a church I no longer believed in, my ex-wife blew her gasket. It was the proverbial last straw.
She took my underwear removal as a slap in the face (even though her face never ever came close to those garments, believe me). And as I said, establishing respectful and appropriate personal boundaries is where I drew the line. It was the hill I chose and on which I died.
Months later and a few ultimatums later she filed for divorce. She apparently found the skid-marks in my underwear more symbolic of our marriage.
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