With our roots as a lit mag in Utah and the heart of the queer mormon experience, we keep our eyes out for others trying to raise awareness of the culture and experiences of queer mormons. We recently heard of the QMW Project and their call for papers. Their website explains the topics of these papers surround the experiences of queer Mormons, no longer practicing Mormons, and Mormon-adjacent people—specifically those of “queer women, trans and nonbinary people, intersex people, asexual people, and queer polyamorous women that fall into these categories.”
Below you’ll find our short interview with the leaders of this project, Kerry Spencer Pray and Jenn Lee Smith. You’ll also find resource on how to submit and who is eligible. Don’t wait—their deadline is by February 15!
Interview with Kerry Spencer Pray and Jenn Lee Smith of the QMW Project
peculiar: What is the QMW Project?
QMW: For a lot of reasons (patriarchy, culture, habit), the majority of stories you hear from queer Mormons are the stories of cis gay men. This is made more difficult by Mormonism’s strict sense of gender and gender expression. The stories of queer Mormon women, of nonbinary people, of asexual people, of intersex people, and of trans people are often untold and unheard. We collect these stories because we want to change that.
p: How did it get started and how long has it been going?
QMW: Almost a decade ago in the early days of Secret Facebook Groups, a small group of queer Mormon women got together to discuss their experience and they named the group QMW for “Queer Mormon Women.” The group grew to include nonbinary people, intersex people, trans people, asexual people, and femme people and the name in the group description was changed to “Queer Mormon Warriors” (because all of us have to fight to be heard). In the last year we launched the blog to make our stories more publicly available and we also signed a contract with the University of Utah Press for a book which will come out in the next year or two.
p: We also find the intersection of mormonism and queer identity fascinating (if you couldn’t tell, haha). Tell us a little about what draws you all to this topic.
Jenn: Growing up in Provo and Price, Utah, as a POC tomboy meant never fully settling into a comfortable sense of belonging within the religion. Later in life, post-marriage to a man, I had an awakening to my queerness that was so terrifying and shameful that I told NO ONE, quit my job, and moved to another town. Fortunately, I couldn’t run for too long and found within a racially diverse academic setting the freedom to figure out the race piece. When I came out to my spouse, I found a close, supportive partner to help figure out the queer piece. For me, producing the film Jane and Emma was cathartic in helping to bring to the big screen a woman of color at the center of an LDS film. Now, working on the QMW Project is cathartic for creating a space for voices from marginalized queer Mormons. I watch films and read stories to know I am not alone. If these stories are out there but haven’t been told, then my passion is to help bring them to a larger audience and readership.
Kerry: Queerness can be a much more . . . amorphous experience for a lot of women—especially Mormon women who have been taught their entire lives to subjugate their own needs so completely. When I finally came out to myself, I was married (to a man) and I knew, like, two lesbians (who were not Mormon). I reached out to one of them and she introduced me to people who welcomed me into this vast underground network. Like Jenn, I realized there was a huge need for our stories to be made more public. Mormonism shapes every aspect of our lives and the way we conceive of ourselves and even the things we think are possible. It drastically shaped my life and the lives of all the queer Mormons I know and it’s important to me that we talk about how.
p: We noticed on your site that the QMW project shares the name of a secret Facebook group you were a part of. One of our editors met their boyfriend of three years at an underground, gay-mormon dinner group (and Facebook group), so this speaks to us. What are your thoughts on these groups and how they help or speak to queer mormons?
Kerry: They’re so important to the way we find each other! Queerness is such a taboo subject in Mormonism. For me there was literally not even ONE Mormon I knew for sure I could reach out to. Of course, after I came out, it turned out queer people were everywhere. Many of my friends had been quietly queer and I’d never known (even if, by all rights, I should have, lol). Secret groups provide people the space they need to make connections to other queer people and to discuss the things that feel too taboo to talk about more publicly.
p: What do you hope to accomplish with this project?
Jenn: I hope to gain more knowledge, more truth, and better understanding via the authentic voices of those who have never quite fit into marriage and family discourses of the LDS church. Single people of the church have asked what makes us different. The difference is the persistent shaming of queerness via the language of some in the leadership and via culturally influenced rhetoric of its members that do not target non-queer people. This is a complex issue and we feel it is best explored by the sharing of stories.
Kerry: I don’t want other people to be in the place I found myself. Queer people are everywhere and no one should feel so completely alone. Mormon women are taught to subjugate our own needs and our own voices so completely we forget we have them. Nonbinary and trans Mormons aren’t even given space in Mormon doctrine, which is so completely set on a binary and so blind to the people it leaves out. It hurts us. I want fewer of us to hurt.
p: What’s something we haven’t asked that you want to tell us about the QMW Project?
QMW: We are often asked if this is a safe space for those who are no longer practicing Mormonism. Will we be promoting celibacy and partnership with the right gendered partner? No, absolutely not. We aim to share the real-lived experiences of those who wish to share and if we are to promote anything at all, it will be to show compassion for ourselves and to choose the path that is best for our emotional, physical, mental, spiritual well-being.
p: Where should new readers start?
QMW: We have so many good pieces!
Kerry’s story is here.
We have so much wonderful poetry, but I love this one by Hope Dargan.
I adore this story from Judith Mehr, who spent her life working for the church as an artist and painted so many of the iconic paintings we all know.
p: What things do you publish and how can people submit to the project?
QMW: This first book will be a collection of narrative essays, but we also publish poetry, art, comics, and other essays on our blog. The reason why we titled this the Queer Mormon Project is because we envision several other published works after this collection of essays. For example, there are many beautiful, insightful works of poetry that have been submitted. We hope to collect them into a book of poems in the future. There are submission instructions at our website.