"When the women of the church convene for their annual meeting in Salt Lake City, they are likely to hear things like:
“Sisters, we love you. We pray for you. Be strong and of good courage. You are truly royal spirit daughters of Almighty God. You are princesses, destined to become queens.” And they may be gently admonished to refrain from gossip or increase their self-esteem.
|Fine and not so fine lines|
Mormons learn early that “maleness” is by nature potentially sexually dangerous. These lessons begin with the Book of Mormon itself. “For the natural man is an enemy to God,” Mosiah 3:19 reads, “and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man.” This “putt[ing] off the natural man” requires a total prohibition of sexual activity before marriage and strong taboos against masturbation.
Obedient Mormon boys are thus excluded from their peers’ conversations about sexual discovery. Participating in the casual misogyny and homophobia typical of teenage boys’ locker rooms induces discomfort and guilt in a boy who regularly hears admonitions to abstain from sex of any kind before his wedding night—with himself or anyone else.
Mormon boys might laugh at or even tell gay jokes, but they cannot brag about how far they’ve “gone with the girl” or what they’re planning to do with their prom dates. For a Mormon boy, becoming a Mormon man means not becoming a man, at least not the “natural man” engendered by the adolescent onslaught of testosterone. This means that, perhaps paradoxically, while most
Mormons would assert that both biology and God establish gender at birth, Mormon men’s experience of masculinity is highly performative. They learn that the natural tendencies of maleness must be subjugated to religious principle.
This performance is taught most intensively during the two years of missionary service that devout Mormon men undertake, most often beginning at age 19. Two-by-two, Mormon men knock on doors or pass out church pamphlets and Books of Mormon on street corners. During their mission, they are instructed never to be apart from the companion. They eat, work, pray, and sleep “in the same room but not in the same bed” with their companion.
Missionaries are even instructed to conduct a weekly “companionship inventory,” the instructions for which read like a self-help book for married couples: “Discuss the strength of your relationship with your companion. Discuss any challenges that may be keeping your companionship from working in unity or from being obedient.”
This intense camaraderie combined as it must be among celibate 19- and 20-year-old men with sexual repression, is Mormon men’s induction into masculinity. In this context of profound homo-social bonding, they learn that masculinity is both a privilege and a danger. It is something to be controlled and sublimated to religious ideals of gentleness that are, in many other contexts, coded feminine.
If, on the one side, the danger is giving into the “natural man”—becoming promiscuous or abusive—on the other side the danger is that one might become too gentle and meek...
The performance of Mormon masculinity is a difficult balancing act, a tightrope walk between poles established by a brutish, hyper-masculine “natural man” and an effeminate gay man."