I usually try to make it to at least a few of the offerings at Sunstone each year, especially anything having to do with the bloggernacle or which is being presented by someone I know. This year I particularly enjoyed a panel discussion about overcoming stereotypes through blogging. It had a really great panel of bloggers from Exponent and fMh, Including Lisa and mfranti, and Cheryl (Bored in Vernal) from Hieing to Kolob. Kevin Barney was the chair and gave some great off-the-cuff remarks at the end regarding his history with the nacle and the stereotypes he has dealt with during that time period. My favorite part of his remarks was when he said he was leery of blogging at BCC at first because he always thought of BCC as “the apostate blog.” I laughed out loud at the thought of Kevin as a Mormon conservative type looking down his nose at what he perceived to be the wild-eyed bomb-throwers of BCC.
It was fun to listen to them talk about stereotypes and blogging because, of course, life in general, and the nacle by extention, is full of stereotypes of one kind or another and it’s an interesting exercise to think about how blogging might break down some stereotypes, while creating or reinforcing others. I always love listening to Lisa and Cheryl was particularly great, talking about how when she blogs, no one knows she’s small and no one hears her tiny voice: as a blogger, she’s a giant. She finished with some of her poetry that was really beautiful and led right into mfranti’s remarks as if they had practiced it. mfranti had previously tried to distract us from Cheryl’s talk by falling off the dais, but was enlightening when she finally got her turn at the mic. She told the story, one I hadn’t heard before, of her conversion and struggle to fit into the sterotypes of Mormonism. I was thrilled that a church member had the intelligence to tell her: “You can be your own kind of Mormon.”
I really hope that’s true. I think we can be our own kind of Mormon, within certain fairly obvious parameters and it’s places like Sunstone (and the nacle, hopefully) where we find out just how diverse this thing called Mormonism can or might be. One of the questions posed to the panel struck me as a funny yet important one: “Are you out?” That is, do people in your family or your ward know that you are a blogger? Lisa said that she had just come out to her mother and her mother already knew, had known for years. This was funny because I remember hearing Lisa speak at Sunstone two years ago where she said her mother did not know about her blogging and she was afraid to tell her. Apparently, there was good reason for the fear, as the conversation was not a pleasant one.
The more I thought about this question though, the more I thought it to be an important one with regard to stereotypes. The two most prevalent (and most inaccurate, in my opinion) stereotypes regarding Mormon blogging are (1) the stereotypes surrounding the “liberal” and “conservative” labels as applied to people and blogs in the nacle and (2) the stereotypes surrounding Mormon blogs and bloggers in general in the minds of most church members: that they are either apostates or in danger of being excommunicated at any moment for fomenting rebellion against the brethren. The only way to overcome these two stereotypes is to be completely “out,” that is, (1) be yourself and own your positions online and (2) be willing to tell your ward and family members about your online activities and the reasons you feel the nacle is an important part of being a Mormon. I’m not saying that’s easy, I’m just saying it’s necessary.
A couple of ways of doing this came up during the panel discussion. Cheryl mentioned that she has become much more open about her blogging after becoming active on facebook. Since she has facebook friends that are both ward and family members as well as nacle acquaintances, she has had to merge her two personalities more than ever before. mfranti described acting as a sort of fMh ambassador who reads every post and comment and responds to those who are either in need or who automatically assume fMhers are picking up speed on the downhill slope to hell. Her efforts to reach out to Mormon “conservatives” who approach fMh in a very stereotypical way deserve credit and have resulted in at least some success stories where, instead of resentment and anger, there is now listening, along with (go figure) an ongoing friendly and respectful relationship.
That’s the way I want the future of the nacle to be. Despite the dire warnings from some who suggest we’re out of touch with (or even hostile to) church leaders and the average member, I see shades of every kind of Mormon in the nacle and hope for more participation from those of every perspective. The only way that happens, though, is through our efforts to talk about this place among our ward and family members and let them know what it means to us. Those discussions should also come with warnings: you won’t like everything you see; not everyone is going to be someone you want to hang out with (place your favorite nacle nemesis here); but there are good people, good faithful church members, good discussions, a lot of good things to learn and hopefully, good friends to make here.
Here’s hoping that we continue the process of breaking down stereotypes, including those about us.