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A lot of the focus in the Hasidic community, and to a lesser but still substantial degree in the frum Orthodox community, is on a woman’s appearance. Hence, I, not my husband, was always the one causing trouble. It was my too-short skirt that caused my son to be expelled from school the first time, and my immodest wig — it was too long and revealed a portion of my natural hair — that caused him to be kicked out the second time. Finally, the principal of my son’s school requested that I bring my sheitel, my brand new $2,000 wig, to his office for safekeeping so he could ensure I would never wear it again. That was it. I pulled back and wanted nothing to do with the extreme ideologies of the ultra-Orthodox. I was ready to explore other options. But my husband was not. We talked and argued, fought and cried. We delved deep into our souls, examining the source of my angst and of his desire to hold on to the last thread that tied us to our community of origin.
When we were dating, Jonathan was troubled by my discomfort with gender roles in the church, until he experienced a shift in perspective that allowed him to have empathy for me. Eventually, my differences became something he appreciated about me, just as his critical thinking and openness about his own doubts drew me to him. Now I know that I unconsciously recognized that he would eventually be able to understand me, and that we would find rest for our unrest together.
After we got married, the acceptance I felt from Jonathan unlocked a door in my mind; I allowed myself to look directly into the sun of my issues instead of averting my eyes. I gave myself permission to become more nuanced in my belief; for instance, after study and honest consideration, I decided I did not believe that polygamy was an “inspired” doctrine. For the first time, I allowed the possibility that some of the institutional and cultural sexism in the church was not “from God,” as I had always supposed, but rather reflective of the generational and personal biases of church leaders, who were, by and large, octogenarians.
My husband and I began to peel back the layers of our faith and examine our assumptions. There were so many pieces and fragments of our Mormonism; sometimes we felt giddy sorting through them at other times it felt like we were tearing off our own skin as we rejected aspects of our belief that had once been so precious to us. We didn’t want to let go of some of those comforting answers that had buffered us against real suffering. We worried that if our loved ones knew how we felt they would distance themselves from us and see us as strangers. We continued to attend services, fulfill callings and study the scriptures, but all of this was more nuanced. We looked critically at our formative experiences and found that we felt troubled about how much shaming was a part of our development, how honest questioning of the church or the brethren was always discouraged. We began to see this as unhealthy. We also learned that the version of church history and the restoration story we had been taught and taught others on our missions were not accurate, and that felt like a betrayal. I reached a point where I decided that if so much of what I had upheld as God’s truth was actually arbitrary, I need no longer be complicit in my own subordination, or anything resembling submission. I gave myself permission to embrace what nourished me spiritually and to reject what felt poisonous.