Jesse Walker surveys the history of Mormonism through the many rumors, conspiracy theories and above all sexual panics that have surrounded it. The 1855 best-seller Female Life Among the Mormons presented itself as "the memoir of a woman hypnotized into marrying a church elder":
At one point in the narrative the author asks another ex-Mormon how Joseph Smith managed to master Franz Mesmer’s mind-control method—Mesmerism—before “its general circulation throughout the country.” Her informant replies that “Smith obtained his information, and learned all the strokes, and passes, and manipulations, from a German peddler, who, notwithstanding his reduced circumstances, was a man of distinguished intellect and extensive erudition. Smith paid him handsomely, and the German promised to keep the secret.” What’s more, “You, madam, were subjected to its influence. So have ten thousand others been, who never dreamed of it. Those most expert in it, are generally sent out to preach among unbelievers.”
The church started promoting polygamy privately in 1843, and it acknowledged the practice to the outside world in 1852. This heightened the sexual dimension of stories like Female Life Among the Mormons: In the popular imagination, Mormon men were out to add gentile women to their harems, by hypnotic seduction if possible and by force if necessary.
Sounds odd to think of Mormons as emblems of sexual license and transgression, isn't it? But that's part of the history of LDS-phobia. Maybe it has led to an over-compensation in today's super-clean, perfect-big-family image. But Mormons are and were people too. Kevin Sessums just came across a 1901 photo of Brigham Young's 35th son, Brigham Morris Young, in drag. It's so racy it's below the jump.
Brigham Young had 55 wives and fathered 56 children by 16 of them. Brigham Morris Young was his 35th son and founded the Young Men's Mutual Improvement Association (YMMIA), the predecessor to the Young Men program of the LDS Church. He performed as an Italian opera diva, "Madam Pattirini", in north and central Utah venues from 1885 to the 1900s. He could produce a convincing falsetto, and many in the audience did not realize that Pattirini was Young. He was married himself, with children.
There's hope for old Mitt yet.
(Image: "A Mormon and his wives dancing to the devil's tune," illustration to the book "Startling disclosures of the wonderful ceremonies of the Mormon spiritual-wife system: being the celebrated 'endowment,' as it is acted by upwards of fifty thousand men and women in secret, in the Nauvoo, in 1846, and said to have been revealed from God." Published in 1850, via Wikimedia Commons.)