What's in a Name?
I recently attended the “What’s in a Name?” panel discussion hosted by Utah Valley University’s Mormon Studies Department. During the Q&A section, I asked a question concerning the risk of queer Mormon identity labels being erased after President Nelson’s conference talk, “The Correct Name of The Church.” In my comment, I identified myself as a queer Mormon.
After the event, a Latter-day Saint woman approached me and asked me why I would call myself queer. She was genuinely perplexed and wanted to know why I would identify with a label that was considered derogatory. She said, “When I was growing up, queer was a bad thing.” Her perplexity was understandable. Growing up I heard the label queer used in a derogatory manner, even by my parents and loved ones. I rationalized I wasn’t really queer and they weren’t really talking about me, because if queer is bad than that can’t be me because I’m not bad.
For me, embracing the label queer is an act of redemption. I am queer and that’s not bad. Call me queer.
Many of my queer predecessors died over this label because it represented an idea that queerness was nothing to be ashamed of. Respecting a person’s label is not simply a matter of civil niceties or politeness, but as a matter of respecting one’s autonomy as a self-determining agent. To label an experience, such as the queer experience, is to confer dignity upon those who wear the label. It is the legitimization of a lived experience. To erase someone’s self-conferred label is akin to murder of the soul—it’s to strip a person of the autonomy as a free agent to self-identify.
However, identity is more than self-identification. It’s also about communal recognition. No one is an island, and we are formulating identities in a symbiotic process of becoming. So when my queer predecessors died over the label queer, it wasn’t just about legitimizing semantics. It was about recognizing and legitimizing an idea, which included semantics. The queer community said, “I’m queer and that’s not bad. Call me queer.”
I feel quite similarly about my identity label Mormon. Nine generations of my Mormon ancestors—Mormon polygamists, Mormon pioneers, Mormons Saints—died proudly wearing the label Mormon. They said with fearlessness, “I’m Mormon and that’s not bad. Call me Mormon.”
As Loyd Ericson pointed out in his presentation, Mormonism is even printed in our scriptures. John Taylor referred to the martyrdom of Joseph Smith as a “broad seal affixed to Mormonism.” In Doctrine and Covenants 135:6 we read, “They were innocent of any crime, as they had often been proved before, and were only confined in jail by the conspiracy of traitors and wicked men; and their innocent blood on the floor of Carthage jail is a broad seal affixed to ‘Mormonism’ that cannot be rejected by any court on earth.”
Joseph Smith himself used the word Mormonism in high esteem. “Hell may pour forth its rage like the burning lava of mount Vesuvius, or of Etna, or of the most terrible of the burning mountains; and yet shall ‘Mormonism’ stand. Water, fire, truth and God are all realities. Truth is ‘Mormonism.’” (History of the Church, 3:296–98)
Too many people have died over these labels, or better put, these ideas, for me to casually abandon them. This is about the preservation of an idea I am deeply invested in. I’m queer and that’s not bad. I’m Mormon and that’s not bad. Mormonism and queerness are essential to my identity and I expect people to respect my labels.
With that being said, it would be unfair of me to ask others to respect my labels and for me to not respect others’ labels in return. The good news is, I can respectfully call you a Latter-day Saint and you can call me a queer Mormon, or a queer Mormon transhumanist. The even better news is, I can wear both labels. As a member of record, I am a Latter-day Saint, and my religious philosophy is queer Mormon transhumanism. These labels are not mutually exclusive.
As we seek full recognition of our various labels, I hope we can respect each other’s autonomy to decide our own preferred labels.
I’m a queer Mormon transhumanist and that’s not bad.