It always comes as a shock when I tell people I was born and raised Mormon.
It may be because I’m very clearly gay as hell. My voice twangs upwards and I sway when I walk.
I look nothing like the suited-up teens with neat hair, shivering at Doonside station, handing out those professionally printed church pamphlets to uninterested commuters.
I left the church a decade ago at 14. I told people it was because I needed to start earning money. In all fairness, Sunday rates were at their prime at the time - but it was much deeper than that.
Growing up I was devout. I prayed every night, tried my hardest to not watch The Simpsons, and drank LA ICE instead of the caffeinated Coke.
My mum is a ragingly religious 60-something Filipino lady, and despite her age, she is surprisingly energetic - especially during those Sunday mornings. She’d shake me and my four siblings awake, her voice booming a hymn I’ve probably heard a million times in my life. She ran a tight ship, which was no easy feat with five very different kids. Despite living down the road, we’d get to church around 9:15am. Sacrament started at 9. That’s Filipino time for you.
There was the watered-down cordial, the stale bread, and the white pillars that held the building together - the ones that towered over our Toyota van, filled to the brim with freshly showered Filipinos.
She loved the first Sundays of the month - that was Testimony day. Members of the church were encouraged to come up to the mahogany podium and share something that happened in their lives that they were able to turn into a learning moment with Christ.
Mum would sit at the edge of her seat, raring to go up. She was very fast for someone as plump as she was, and she would beat out all the other mums. At the mic, she’d whisper a quick prayer before delving into how well her kids did at school, or how she had helped a stranger with something. I promise she’s a humble person - but I'm sure she sunbathed in the pouts of the other mums.
Growing up under her kind but watchful eyes, I was just as devout as her. I prayed every night, tried my hardest to not watch The Simpsons, and drank LA ICE instead of the caffeinated Coke, prohibited by the faith. But when my parents separated, and my ideas of love and family stopped making sense, religion soon followed suit.
I felt strange about the prohibition of black people joining the church before 1978, and I was confused at the gender politics. Why were there no women bishops? Why was I being taught how to lead, and my female counterparts were being taught to support? Why did my mum run the ship at home, but it was my constantly napping Dad that took the ship’s wheel in public? Why did the other mums keep asking mine why she couldn’t just sort things out with my Dad, like it was only her responsibility?
As much as I try not to, I remember the whispered conversations in chalky hallways, and the snide looks that would make my heart race as I swayed to class. I had almost forgotten the boys, who used to be my friends, making fun of the twang in my voice. I can barely recall the testimonies - the ones that would stifle any expression of sexuality or reprimand anyone with impure thoughts.
“Folding my arms in prayer, begging for someone to make me straight”
After gradually coming to terms with the gaysian inside, I felt like I had to make a choice. I couldn’t be religious and gay - it was impossible. I’d have to either hide my truth inside those white pillars, or live my truth outside them.
Despite leaving the church, there’s parts of me that bristles at anti-Mormon prejudice. Other parts of me carry Mormonism wherever I go - my love for my family, and my distaste for coffee. Because of the church, I very much believe in a higher power - but they’re just not white or chiselled or bearded or in linen robes.
Some days it’s Beyoncé, other days it’s my mum. It’s my ancestors, reincarnated as white butterflies, watching me make mistakes and cry over stupid boys. It’s the universe, pushing me in certain directions, guiding me through tough decisions.
There are things that I gladly left behind in those chalky walkways. I stopped folding my arms in prayer, begging for someone to make me straight. My bible holder, now frayed, sits alone in my old cupboard.
But I do miss the music. I miss the smell of the tattered green hymn books and harmonising with my family during Christmas. I miss the rivalry my sister had with the other choir leader. I miss the other teen brown friends I made, who shared my complex feelings of rebellion and belonging.
I might take my mum up on one of her many offers to join her at sacrament. I’ve heard things have changed. But that’s up to me, and perhaps Beyoncé. I’ll set an alarm and pick mum up, and I’ll drive my Toyota sedan. Maybe we’ll make it on time.
Mark Mariano is a freelance writer. You can follow Mark on Instagram @markusmuch.
This article is part of a new SBS Voices series ‘Keeping the Faith’ – exploring how young culturally diverse people navigate and re-interpret faith, spirituality, family and sexuality in the modern era. To pitch ‘Keeping the Faith’ story ideas contact: Editor Caitlin.Chang@sbs.com.au.