Saint Misbehavin'

Life on Planet Mormon

NT: People believe that the story itself wasn't sensational enough without grafting on sexual abuse, so you just made one up.

Beck: If I had left it out, it would have haunted me the rest of my life. I wrote in the book about calling one of my closest friends, a very Mormon woman who'd gone to Harvard with me. She said, "If it was anyone but you, I'd say get yourself to a therapist. But you can't ever tell your story, because you can't discredit your father." And while I was finishing up my book, I read that she killed herself. And all I could think of was, I'm either going to be her, or I'm going to be me and live.

NT: I've read about your and your husband's "search for your sexual identities," but there's nothing about that in Leaving the Saints.

Local author Martha Beck spills the beans on magic underwear.
Local author Martha Beck spills the beans on magic underwear.

Beck: That's the next book! Yeah, John grew up gay and Mormon. He identified as gay from an early age, and went through the hellish experience of trying not to be a gay boy in a Mormon community. And I grew up completely traumatized by sexuality in general. I fell in love with boys, but had no sex at all. After we left the church, John struggled with homosexuality and finally said, "Well, I'm just gay." And I said, "Yeah, you just really are." So we officially unmarried each other, sexually. I didn't want to have another man in my life, either. I got close with a platonic friend, and she and I became partners, and all four of us co-parented the kids for 10 years before I wrote Leaving the Saints. And here's what I found out: It really does take a village.

NT: I've also read that you were abused by a neighbor when you were a kid. But you don't mention this in your book.

Beck: There was a teenage boy who set a trap for me when I was 9 years old. He took me into his bedroom, shoved a chest of drawers in front of the door, and started rubbing against me. My editor cut out that chapter because she thought it was irrelevant to the story. Now she's kicking herself for having removed it. And my family claims that my father rescued me from this situation. In fact, the kid's little brothers went and told my father what was happening. He came over and dragged me home by the scruff of the neck, and he was screaming, "The Lord is going to hit you with a ton of bricks." If this was a rescue, why didn't my father call the police? Why didn't he call the boy's parents? The fact that my family accepts this incident as a normal occurrence of childhood says a lot.

NT: Your father sounds like a real drag. Still, I'm sorry about his recent passing.

Beck: You know what? He was 94 years old and he lived a very rich life. The morning he died was the morning the New York Times was going to run a long article about my book and my family's response to it on the front page of the Arts section. That morning I woke up all nervous about the article and I sat up in bed and started to meditate. I had the most tangible sense of my dad's personality in the room, and it was so happy. It was like I'd been hearing this beautiful music through a broken radio all my life, and now I was hearing it clearly for the first time. A couple of hours later I got word that he'd died, on the same morning that the paper ran every secret I ever had in my life. So my father and I were both set free on the same day. Which is very cool.

NT: Well. I'm sorry this horrible thing happened to you.

Beck: That's kind of you, but don't be sorry. Whenever an opening is carved out by grief or abandonment, it creates more space for happiness. I'm fine.

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