What’s the difference between a therapist and a life coach?  While there is overlap in what they do therapists and coaches have different backgrounds and approaches. In this post, I’ll share my take on how life coaching differs from therapy.

Difficult conversations take place when what feels sacred to your spouse feels painful for you. If you’re in a mixed-faith marriage…

When I was an active Mormon, it never crossed my mind to go to a drag show. Come to think of it, I probably didn’t even know that drag shows were a thing. I guess I hadn’t been paying attention.

It turns out the Santa Barbara French Festival has been hosting a drag show (organized by Les Femme Fatales) for nearly two decades! Although I’ve lived in this city over three years, I’ve never gone to anything like this.

I would have missed this year, too, but fortunately, I was tipped by some good friends who are patiently teaching me how to be an LBGTQ ally. I readily admit that in my Mormon years I was ignorant about just about everything connected to the LBGTQ movement. 

Now, I’m learning.

I have a lot more to learn, but already the process of opening my mind to the beauty of difference has been exciting, joyful, and freeing. I’m meeting amazing people and I love it.

In this post, I’ll share what I learned from attending my first drag show.

Drag show basics

In general, performers lip sync to music (all kinds) while demonstrating creative artistic expression. Creative is the essential word. Part of the fun of drag is never knowing what you might see next. One performer might look like the statue of liberty, another like a popular star or even an exotic dancer.

The performers that create a hyper-feminized look are called queens and during the show are referred to as she/her. A person of any gender or sexual identity can be a drag queen, but it’s pretty common for drag queens to identify as either a gay male or transgender female when they are not in drag attire.

And drag queen attire is most commonly pretty flamboyant: bright colors, a ton of make-up, wigs, false eyelashes and everything eye-catching. This is all about pushing the boundaries of gender identity and expression. This is where over-the-top is both accepted and praised.

A drag queen may show up in more than one outfit during a single show. Here is the same dancer showing how versatile she can be:

Note: Sometimes drag shows include kings, performers that dress in a hyper-masculine way. There weren’t any drag kings at the show I attended.

Drag show audience etiquette

You can wear regular everyday clothes to a drag show. This event is all about the performers and the point is to shower them with attention and respect.

If you plan to sit in the front row, near an aisle, or in the back, bring dollar bills for tipping. Performers walk all over the stage and move up and down the aisles in order to interact with the audience.

Some people show appreciation for a performance by handing dollar bills to a queen during her act. She may stuff these bills in her cleavage or bra strap.  [I didn’t know ahead of time to bring dollars. Fortunately, my friends had me covered. I’m told this type of tipping doesn’t always happen, but if you want to fully participate in the show you should be ready just in case.]

It’s possible that a queen will interact with you in some way; she may even sit on your lap. Let her take the lead and don’t touch her without permission.

It’s ok to take pictures or video. But don’t let your phone get in the way of showering the queens with attention: clap, smile and shout out expressions of admiration.

The symbolism of drag

One reason drag shows are important to the LGBTQ community is that drag queens played a significant role in the stonewall riots and other crucial moments in the fight for equality. You can learn a little more in this video:

Drag shows create an environment where people who have traditionally been marginalized by mainstream culture can tout uniqueness as a badge of honor. No matter how different from the mainstream you are, drag shows offer everyone acceptance. No. Exceptions.

In this way, drag shows are fundamentally a celebration of the courage it takes to step out societal norms: gender identity norms, sexual identity norms, and even culturally established beauty norms. These performances are an artistic and creative way to remind the world:

It’s people, not norms that matter.

And that’s a message that’s worth supporting.

I’ve been to two Mormon Stories events: a workshop in Los Angeles and a retreat in St. George. (Workshops take place over a Friday night and Saturday; retreats include Saturday night and Sunday as well.) Both events I attended were life-changing. For this post, I’m going to focus on three messages I heard at the workshop that had a lasting impact on me.

On our way to meet John Dehlin

I knew John Dehlin would be the sole teacher at the Los Angeles event. I readily admit I was freaking out at the thought of meeting the John Dehlin of Mormon Stories podcast. It’s not that John seemed scary; it’s just that I was scared. Maybe of everything related to my new life.

It had been less than three months since my husband and I had stopped attending church. At this point, neither of us were sure who we were. It was like being in-between two worlds. We could still remember believing, but we didn’t believe anymore. Everything about that time was surreal.

Part of my brain was telling me it was wrong (disloyal) to attend a workshop for transitioning Mormons. The question, “Am I really doing this?” kept reeling through my head. But something in my core knew there was no going back. I knew too much.

We arrived a good 10 minutes early and John showed up at roughly the same time. He immediately got to work putting chairs in a circle and willingly initiated introductions. Before we knew it, we were sharing our most personal stories with people we had barely met. By the end of the evening, we felt strangely comfortable.

The next day, John gave us a ton of useful information. Here are three messages that had a great impact on me:

Message #1: Who knows what is good and what is bad?

During the workshop, John Dehlin shared a Chinese (Taoist) story that went something like this:

When an old farmer’s best stallion runs away, the farmer’s neighbor comes to commiserate with him over this terrible loss. But the farmer merely replies, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?”

A few days later the horse returns with three wild mares. The farmer’s neighbor comes to rejoice with the farmer’s good fortune. But the farmer merely replies, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?”

The next day, while the farmer’s son is trying to break in one of the mares, the horse throws him off. The boy breaks his leg and can’t work on the farm. The neighbor comes to express sorrow for this misfortune.  But the farmer merely replies, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?”

The next week the army passes through town, drafting able-bodied young men to war. Since the farmer’s son can’t walk, the army doesn’t take him. At this point, the neighbor begins to think, “Maybe the old farmer is wise. Who knows what is good and what is bad?”

While it’s human nature to see events as either good or bad, these black-and-white judgments don’t serve us well. Good things can emerge from what we once considered bad and vice-versa. Life is continually unfolding.

It’s always our interpretation of a circumstance that creates our experience of it being “good” or “bad.” As our beliefs shift and our relationships change, we have the option to see events as good or bad or neither.

How I’ve applied message #1:

There was a time I thought it was bad timing to leave the church when one of our children still had 22 months left on his mission. I worried my decision might have a bad impact on our relationship.

When I realized that situations we interpret as bad have the potential to be good, I began asking myself, “How could this be good?  Is there any way this could be perfect for our relationship? How could this be an opportunity for both of us to learn and to love?”

As I considered these questions, my brain gave me answers. The shift that took place in my thoughts dissolved my fear; I was more open to trust myself and my son.

My son and I discovered we could have a lot of interesting email discussions without talking about the church. I asked him questions about his personal growth and he asked me about my life coach training.

He was particularly interested in better recognizing understanding emotions. We talked about love, forgiveness, commitment to personal values, and how to “have your own back”. We have gotten to know each other on a far deeper level than we ever did by discussing “the gospel” and missionary work.

At the end of March, I received a letter from him that included these words:

I am grateful for all the advice you send me. It means a lot! I am so glad you have found increased peace in life…I look forward to a lifetime of good advice from you.

I also look forward to continuing to learn from my son. I trust him to make the decisions that are best for him. Whether he stays in the church or leaves, I support him.

Who knows what is good and what is bad? Not me. Letting go of needing to know has been a beautiful thing.

Message #2: Some people need the church

During the initial stages of my faith transition, I wanted to be understood by the community I had long relied on, but usually I just felt pain and confusion.

In some cases, people seemed more worried about protecting their own testimony than acknowledging I was hurting. I saw their reaction as a lack of compassion for me. Not only did I feel betrayed by the church, I felt people I loved were seeing me as a threat at a time I still deeply wanted human connection.

At the workshop, John mentioned that some people (psychologically) needed the church. The church provided them with community, identity, purpose and a way to understand death. The church structured their time, moral values, priorities, decision-making, and relationships.

Some people subconsciously see leaving the church as a sure path to loneliness, emptiness, and despair. For these people, leaving is not an option so there is no purpose in considering that the church might not be true. In their mind, it must be true because they wouldn’t know how to survive without the church.

Until I was 19 years old, I had no religion in my life whatsoever and when the faith transition began, I already knew I would survive. It didn’t cross my mind that some people’s sense of identity might be so linked to the church they are utterly terrified to question it.

[You may also be interested in How to Tell Your LDS Friends and Family You No Longer Believe.]

How I’ve applied message #2:

I realized I had been so focused on what I perceived as their lack of compassion for me that I had lost my compassion for them. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to understand; they simply couldn’t. Their brain’s protective instincts were kicking in.

I decided it wasn’t my job to determine who might have a psychological dependency on the church. It was my job to focus on who I want to be.

I want to be the type of person who loves others exactly as they are. While some people are easy to love, it’s those who are most difficult who grow my capacity to love. I have no control over how others think and feel about me, but I do have control over how I think and feel about them. This is where I began putting my energy.

In addition, I’ve decided it’s my responsibility to seek out people who can relate to my journey. While some of my friends don’t want to hear details about my post-Mormon journey, there are many others who will listen and who can understand.

Most importantly, though, I’ve learned how to rely on and trust myself. I’ve learned how to process painful emotions and heal. Even if others aren’t able to meet me with compassion, I can do that for myself. This allows me to be brave enough to be vulnerable for the whole world to see.

Message #3: Meditation is a power tool

John taught us that meditation has a ton of benefits. It reduces pain, boosts the immune system, lowers stress, and increases energy.  It also teaches us how to observe our thoughts, noticing them as sentences in our mind rather than reality.

I used to think that the goal of meditation was to stop thinking. Now, I realize it’s about training my brain to return to present awareness. When we meditate, we learn to notice thoughts without judgment and we separate ourselves from the drama of the stories that tend to occupy our mental energy.

When John walked us through a simple meditation, I was pleasantly surprised. I decided meditation was worth practicing.

How I applied message #3:

A couple of months after the workshop, I joined a (somewhat monthly) local meditation group that I found on meetup.com.  In this setting, I not only learned more about meditation, I also met fascinating people who were willing to be open and vulnerable. 

After the retreat, I downloaded the app Headspace and tried the free beginner course, which provided 10 minutes of guided meditation for 10 days. It was so doable and so worth it! There are a ton of meditation apps available to explore, but you don’t even need an app. Check out Margi Dehlin’s blog for a meditation exercise you can use during times of suffering.

I don’t meditate every day and I still have a ton to learn, but already my life has been enriched by trying meditation.

Mormon Stories events are worth attending

I’ve just shared the tiniest bit of the enormous value of attending a Mormon Stories event. The workshop in Los Angeles with John was fabulous; the retreat in St. George (with Natasha Helfer Parker, Lindsay Hansen Park, Roy Jeffs, and Sam Young) was mind-blowing!  

It’s so worth going to a workshop or a retreat. Or both!

Have the courage to go and you will meet courageous people.

Who knows? I just might go to another retreat and I hope to see you there!

A post-Mormon friend of mine, who I’ll call Eliza R. Snowden, is an avid podcast listener. She was instrumental in helping me put together this quick-start guide to useful podcast episodes for transitioning Mormons. She isn’t ready to put her real name on a post-Mormon website, but I want her to have full credit for her work. Thank you, Eliza!

Of course, this is not meant to be a comprehensive list of amazing podcast content. It’s meant to give new podcast listeners a place to start and long-time podcast listeners a few new ideas.

These episodes are not ranked in any particular order. They’re a mix of church history, science, philosophy, psychology, and what Eliza calls “just-for funsies.” We found every episode on this list useful in some way.

Note: A few episodes may contain swearing.

  1. Mormon Expression #276 How to Build a Transoceanic Vessel
  2. Infants on Thrones #182 Lowry Nelson VS George Albert Smith
  3. Mormon Transitions #38-39 Jon Ogden – Author of “When Mormons Doubt”
  4. Mormon Discussion #227 Warning Signs of an Unsafe Group
  5. Mormon Discussion #288 Lucy Walker and Spiritual Experiences
  6. Cognitive Dissidents #8 Testimony Gained in the Bearing of It
  7. Cognitive Dissidents #9 Doubt and the Internet
  8. Cognitive Dissidents #11 Gaslighting [Bill Reel reads and responds to this article.]
  9. Radio Free Mormon #3 Hiding Church History
  10. Radio Free Mormon #5 Make Way for Milk Strippings
  11. Radio Free Mormon #18 Faith Not To Be Healed
  12. Radio Free Mormon #33: Selling your soul for apologetics
  13. Year of Polygamy #10 Polygamy in Nauvoo
  14. Year of Polygamy #43 Violent 1850’s Utah
  15. Year of Polygamy #48 Southern Utah Polygamy…Cedar City and Violence
  16. ExMormon Conference 2007 Steven Hassan Releasing the Bonds
  17. ExMormon Conference 2012 Grant Palmer My Aha Moments
  18. ExMormon Conference 2013 Micah McAllister Exit Strategy…with Your Integrity Intact
  19. No Man Knows My HerStory #34 A Secular Come-to-Jesus-Meeting for White Ex-Mormons…
  20. No Man Knows My HerStory #30 Substance Abuse 101
  21. Mormon Happy Hour #21 Yo Mama’s So Mormon She Thinks…
  22. Naked Mormonism CC – The Book of Mormon [found between SpEdEp #13 and SpEdEp #14]
  23. Naked Mormonism #59-60 Smith Entheogen Theory Sunstone Presentation
  24. Naked Mormonism #105-106 Book of Abraham Logical
  25. A Thoughtful Faith #159 Lindsay Hansen Park: Critiquing Progressive Mormonism
  26. A Thoughtful Faith #178-179 The Truth About Marital Intimacy: A Critique…
  27. Mosaic #MormonMeToo Part 1: The First Law of Heaven (McKenna Denson interview)
  28. Mormon Mental Health #65 Recommendations from Two Mormon Sex Therapists
  29. Mormon Mental Health #130 Why the Church Holds the Positions it Does on Gay Marriage
  30. Mormon Mental Health #141 A Story of a Transgender Woman in the Church
  31. Ask An Ex-Mormon Therapist 3 Secrets to Having Happy Healthy Relationships…
  32. The Thinking Atheist Religious Trauma Syndrome [Learn more about RTS here.]
  33. NPR’s Hidden Brain I’m Right, You’re Wrong
  34. NPR’s Hidden Brain The Ostrich Effect
  35. The Liturgist #5 Spiral Dynamics
  36. Secular Buddhism #29 What Happens When We Die
  37. Secular Buddhism # 69 Sitting with Sadness
  38. 99% Invisible #240 Plat of Zion
  39. You Are Not So Smart #122 Tribal Psychology
  40. All in the Mind (ABC Radio) The Creation of Emotions
  41. The Jordan Harbinger Show #16: Unpacking the Science of the Influential Mind
  42. The Jordan Harbinger Show #18 Four Tendencies: The Framework for a Better Life
  43. The Jordan Harbinger Show #28 How to Spot a Psychopath
  44. The Joe Rogan Experience #974 Megan Phelps-Roper (Former Member of the Westboro Baptist Church)
  45. Oh No Ross and Carrie Go Mormon (Part 1 and 2) from July 2011
  46. The Art of Charm #675: Rotten Psychology
  47. TED Radio Hour: A Better You
  48. Mormon Stories #209-213 Dr. William Bradshaw: A Life of Science, Service, and Compassion
  49. Mormon Stories #313-316 John and Brooke Mclay (From CES to Ex-Mormons)
  50. Mormon Stories #317-318 BYU Professor Charles Harrell and the Evolution of Mormon Doctrine
  51. Mormon Stories #430-434 Hans Mattsson- Former LDS Area Authority Seventy (Sweden)
  52. Mormon Stories #472-475 Sandra (and Jerald) Tanner
  53. Mormon Stories #483-486 Christine Jeppsen Clark, Daughter of a General Authority
  54. Mormon Stories #493-494 Brent Metcalfe (Early Years, Mark Hofmann and the Bombings)
  55. Mormon Stories #535-539 Tom Phillips, the Second Anointing, and …Jeffrey R. Holland
  56. Mormon Stories #616-617 Thirteen Years of Silence
  57. Mormon Stories #650-652 One Ordinary Family’s Extraordinary Mormon Transition
  58. Mormon Stories #671-672 Amy McPhie Allebest, author of “Dear Mormon Man…”
  59. Mormon Stories #688 How to Communicate with Orthodox/Believing Mormons
  60. Mormon Stories #744 “Broken Open” by Margi Dehlin
  61. Mormon Stories #759 The Courage of Savannah
  62. Mormon Stories #762-764 Natasha Helfer Parker- Mormon Sex Therapist
  63. Mormon Stories #913-915 Shawn McCraney Interviews John Dehlin

 Bonus Episodes Especially for Women 40 and Over

Mormon Stories #701-704 Kim Sandberg Turner, Founder of WOCA

Mormon Stories #706 Women of a Certain Age (WOCA)

 

[You may also be interested in How to Tell Your LDS Friends and Family You No Longer Believe.]