Friday, August 26, 2011


It's gotta be weird in all kinds of ways that underwear features so prominently in any religion.  But the Mormons have never shied away from seeming strange, in fact, they tend to embrace it as verification that they're right and the rest of the world is wrong.  It's that thing Jesus said about the world will hate you because it hates me.  Which the Mormons fall back on whenever they do or believe or say or adopt anything that's just flat-out bizarre.  And obsessing about underwear in the name of faithfulness certainly qualifies.

Growing up surrounded by and saturated with every bit of Mormoninity possible, temple garments seemed to innocent little kid me a badge of achievement, accomplishment, spiritual maturity.  When I finally went to the temple and put them on my first time, it was like "Wow, I've arrived, I'm all grown up now!"  I remember going once to the LA temple on a Saturday during the summer just before my mission with a BYU dormmate buddy.  After a session we went to the temple cafeteria for lunch still in our whites.  There were hordes of youth there at the same time still drying out from baptism sessions (the LA temple cafeteria is, like everything else in that temple, huge.  It's bigger than a lot of ward chapels I've seen).  Since dormmate buddy and I were only a couple years older than a lot of them, we attracted quite a bit of attention from these kids since we were in full temple whites and the garment lines were of course clearly visible.  I felt very mature.

Afterward at BYU, the g's were of course a badge of legitimate eligibility.  All RMs there remembered what it was like to be socially dismissed as a non-garmie-wearing freshman boy.  And any observant BYU alum who attended a student ward probably remembers seeing some girl somewhere in some church meeting tracing the garment seam lines on her boyfriend's thighs or arm or chest or back.  That's the only legitimate way to relieve sexual tension there.  Other than biting through barbed wire.

But once you leave Crappy Valley's cocoon and go out into the real world, start working out at real world gyms, that kind of thing, you start realizing that g's maaaaaaaybe aren't quite as cool as you always thought.  Those funny marks are . . . well, kinda funny.  Especially where they're placed.  It's like you've got permanent scars on your t-shirt from what some people might think was the world's most powerful titty-twisters.  No wonder Mormon guys outside Utah act shy and jumpy in "gentile" locker rooms.

I just dealt with it for a long time as best I could.  Figured I'd made a commitment to wear these things the rest of my life so I'd better do it.  When I married, I got the standard advice, it's okay to take them off for sex but put them right back on again afterward.  And since wife was even more orthodox than I was, that became the unquestioned rule.  I remember once when we actually decided beforehand that we wouldn't put them back on again but would sleep without them.  Just that one night.  We were trying to get pregnant and thought that might help.  It didn't, and we both ended up feeling horribly guilty in the morning because we hadn't "kept the rules."  I roll my eyes now to think about it, but that was our mind-set at the time.

Then the whole Prop 8 thing came along and I began seriously questioning everything.  I started doing some business travel, and one evening after work, for some reason I still haven't figured out, I decided I was gonna go get some non-Salt-Lake-approved underwear.  It'd been a lotta years since I'd even let myself consider doing such a thing, so I played it safe and went to Nordstrom and got some boring white Hugo Boss briefs.  Not the same cut as little boys wear, but they were still called "briefs" on the package.  Took 'em back to my hotel room, and tried 'em out next morning after showering for work.

I couldn't believe how it felt.  I could actually feel the fabric of my jeans against the skin of my thighs.  Damn it felt good.  It wasn't a sexual thing, either.  It was sensual.  There's a big difference.  Look it up if you don't know it.  Didn't take me long to realize that wearing the g's all those years seemed to have basically deadened the skin sensitivity everywhere the g's touched.  I was hooked.

I liked wearing t-shirts to absorb sweat so I figured I'd just stick with the garmie tops for a while, why pop for a bunch of new t-shirts when I already had enough.  But I obviously needed more bottoms, so I got adventurous and went for some black Calvin Klein boxer-briefs.  That was a big step.  Non-white underwear?  After so many years of nothing but garmies?  I felt dangerously daring as I tried those on for the first time.  Then I got even more reckless and got some bright blue ones.  And soon after, the garmie tops started to wear out, and I decided transition time was over.  Why halt between two opinions.  So I chucked the lot, got a whole stack of regular t-shirts, and haven't looked back.  And now I have evolved to complete decadence, with bright red boxer shorts that have sharks all over them, and the sharks are saying "Bite me."  Bright orange ones with hamburgers and french fries on them and the words "Check out my junk."  Bright blue ones with whales and the words "This blows."  And they are SO comfortable.

Taking off the garmies for the last time seems to all endowed active Mormons the ultimate act of rebellion and defiance.  I'm sorry but that's just weird.  The whole idea that you can judge someone's religious commitment by their underwear.  And there are so many stupid myths about it all too.  First of all, the recommend question is wrong.  You didn't make a covenant to wear the garment night and day, you were "instructed" to "wear it throughout your life."  And what that phrase means is up to each person.  But Mormon culture loves its cheap and easy talismans for judging others, and wearing the garmies has become one of those.  Nobody seems to know that 24/7 garment wearing was NOT the rule until Joseph F. Smith, the original Garment Nazi, took over as church president in 1901.  He preached that the original garment design was revealed straight from heaven and should never change.  He instituted the 24/7 wearing requirement.  He had those new rules posted in all the temples.  And what did his successor Heber Grant do when he took over?  He promptly ordered all those instructions taken down and burned--yes, burned--and authorized the most significant changes to garment design ever, to that point.

All of that is academic to me now, of course, since I no longer accept any of the premises for garment-wearing.  But researching and reading the history of the garment was one of the things that contributed to my progress out of the church.  More contradictory statements and claims by different people who all claimed to be inspired when they spoke.  It became clear that the garment was just another man-made pro forma ritualistic practice that one particular sect decided to cling to, like a barnacle, as a badge of uniqueness. One that, conveniently, became a revenue-generator for the church.  Funny how that works sometimes.

More seriously, though I also realized that the 24/7 garment rule is another means of controlling members' lives.  Make them promise to (buy and) wear this one kind of underwear for the rest of their lives.  Make them feel guilty if they don't do it every single damn day.  Use it as a means of interposing church requirements even between husbands and wives in the privacy of their own bed, when of all times, nothing should come between them.  The more I think about that, the angrier I get at such presumption.  Make them fear that if they ever take the things off for more than is "minimally necessary" for certain types of activities, God will be displeased with them.  Create a culture in which everybody is subliminally curious about what kind of underwear everybody else is wearing.  'Cause if they're wearing garments, they're faithful and you can trust them, right?  After all, they've been to the temple.  WTF?  How creepy is that?  Judging someone's religious faith and trustworthiness by their underwear?  That's just bizarre.  But that's the way it is in much of Mormondom. 

As I gradually realized all that, it seemed more and more pointless to keep wearing the things.  So on the day I resigned from the church, I cut 'em up and tossed them.  Just before, though, I put on both bottom and top one last time just to see how it felt.  And it felt suffocating.  I really felt like I couldn't breathe.  And that was that.  The things I'd looked forward to wearing had ended up smothering me.  Literally.  It was an ironic symbol of what the whole Mormon package had become for me.  So I said no more of this, I need to breathe.  And ever since I have reveled in a regained sense of freedom that is not just physical but emotional, psychological and spiritual too. 

So that's the story of how I've gone through the whole Mormon cycle of Underwear Obsession.  The rest of my family of origin continues to wear their garmies faithfully, or at least I assume so since I hear about them going to the temple and all.  But other than that, I have long since left the ranks of The Secret Mormon Underwear Police.  Gawd, what a silly thing to think about.  So much is more important.  Like which boxers should I wear tomorrow, "bite me" or "check out my junk"?

1 comment:

  1. Ha, I took mine off 2 years ago, but still have one set as a souvenir. My husband and I will be resigning soon (always soon, we're lazy) but I'm going to put them on one more time too. Just to feel like I did the first time I put them on. :( ha ha