Lesbians, Bikinis, and Feminist Professors

When I was 18, I got myself on a plane and flew from AZ to the east coast with my own money and enrolled in Randolph-Macon Woman’s College. (I went sight unseen as I couldn’t afford the college visit. I went off the catalog!)
It was the red brick liberal arts school of my dreams – and my dorm room looked out one of these windows you see here. 
It was my brother at Caltech, who hung out with smart women, who said, “You should really think about applying to women’s college.” It was empowering to have him say that – for him to envision me going down an academic and ambitious path. The teeniest seeds matter! My brother was one of the only adults I knew that had gone to college. 
Off I went. I experienced fall for the first time (!). I had open lesbian classmates, who always sat together in the dining room (I pretty much didn’t know what a lesbian was prior). I daringly went to a campus therapist for the first in my life and talked about my guilt for wanting to wear a bikini as a Mormon girl. I got mentored by a wicked smart feminist professor who assigned books by Alice Walker, smoked in her office (with me in there) near a velvet couch and piles of books. I was kind of scared of her. But I felt honored that she was taking me under her wing. She gave me an A with honors in writing, which was indeed one of the honors of my life as she was so cool it was intimidating. And my actual school-appointed mentor on campus was the school chaplain, a man who believed in me – and asked me to speak at the college Christmas celebration in the chapel. I was shy and to be honest – scared to death to speak publicly and also uncomfortable to even be in another church. I pretty much had never been in a another church other than the one I grew up in. I tried to get out of it. He wouldn’t let me. So I did it. I stood up to this lectern below a huge cross. And I shared a Christmas message. 
It’s really fun to look back and see moments when the needle began to move in this evolution of my life; in my own development. This was a start – a start to pushing boundaries and getting to know this world in more intimate ways. I WAS SCARED back then. Scared of lesbians, people who smoked, public speaking, other religions, people. But how grateful I am for every bit of that exposure, and especially for every amazing human being that was a part of it.  
When was a time when the needle began to move in your own evolution – when your eyes began to be opened wide to the outside world or new ideas? Did you find it frightening – or exciting? 

With love always, 


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  1. Anonymous August 25, 2016 at 2:04 am - Reply

    Had a very similar experience and am so grateful for it. It scared me while I was going through it but made me less scared by the end. I feel like I live in a world less fueled by fear and fueled more by curiosity, which wasn't the case before. Thank you for sharing this. If you don't mind me asking, did you end up graduating? What did you study? I want you to do a blog post on a timeline of your life and then Danny's, I think that would be fun for us readers!

    • mara August 25, 2016 at 2:15 am - Reply

      Hello!! So glad you can relate to this. I, too, feel less fear now – and more curiosity. It's so much better!

      I did graduate. Though I ended up transferring back to my home state of AZ – and graduated from Arizona State. I couldn't keep up with the costs of living away from home. My degree is in Communication. Though the truth is, I couldn't figure out a true passion while in college, so I just picked this one as I wanted to improve in public speaking. I was literally terrified of it. So I forced myself through it. And then moved to New York within days of graduating.

      And – a timeline! Ha. I have never thought of doing that! But I like it. Thanks for the idea. 🙂 And thanks for reading!

  2. Michelle Bunt August 25, 2016 at 2:57 am - Reply

    Ah! This is one of your best posts ever! I love it! I too have had many moments along my journey of evolution of being scared of new things, experiences and people only to look back and see those things as some of the most important moments of my life. Great title too by the way 🙂

    • mara August 25, 2016 at 4:20 pm - Reply

      haha. Thanks, Michelle!! You're the sweetest. So glad you liked it. It's nice you honor those moments, too. Adult development is something I've been trying to learn more about…and it's fascinating and thrilling when it happens (even if it it comes with challenges or fears.) Sadly, researchers have found that some people don't develop or change beyond a certain point (not that they can't, but maybe they just don't have new experiences.) Anyway, if I can, I hope to always keep pushing the boundaries. I'd love to understand the world and grow in compassion as much as I can. Lots of work ahead.

    • Jessica Brown August 25, 2016 at 7:02 pm - Reply


  3. Katy DeBardelaben August 25, 2016 at 11:26 am - Reply

    I love this post. You were so brave! You flew across the country to go to a school you'd never seen. You were so far away from your safety net. I'm curious why you didn't go to BYU. I think it's awesome you didn't, and shows a glimpse in to the person you would become – someone brave and who challenges status quo. What did your parents/friends/church people think of you going so far away to a non Mormon school?

    Oh yeah – did you get to wear your bikini? 😉

    • mara August 25, 2016 at 4:46 pm - Reply

      Katy – hi dear!! THANK YOU! So fun to hear from you.

      So…I was considering BYU for a second. Really, only because a friend of mine was wanting to go and she hoped we could be roommates. But in the end, I didn't apply. My dream was to go to the east. Also, at that time, it was becoming more and more obvious to me that the Mormon "testimony" or conviction of it being "the one true church" wasn't working for me. I had voiced this to my seminary teachers at the end of my senior year and was feeling more and more like I couldn't live a lie or pretend that I was all in. So, BYU was definitely less of a pull for me. And I'm so, so glad I made it to the East. It was a dream come true.

      It seemed people around me were supportive of my decision to go there. My school counselors were going bonkers as very few people went to school that far away (and I also had a scholarship) – so they were super proud. And a group of them came to my physics class one day to pull me out into the hallway to tell me about the scholarship. They were beyond giddy. My parents were also super supportive and excited. Somehow my mom was able to fly to the school with me and also wore a new outfit. Probably her first new clothes in a decade or more. She looked great. And I bawled when I said good-bye. Friends and church people also seemed supportive – the head leader of my area (the Stake President) invited me over to his home right before I left as he had some daughters younger than me, and he wanted me to tell them about my experience preparing for college – and he wanted me to do a little Q&A with them. I'll never forget that. I felt so honored, so valued, so trusted – I knew that he valued me and his daughters, too. What a beautiful thing he did.

      And…the bikini. Hahaha. I had actually already worn one while sunbathing in AZ in my back yard (on the side, so no one saw me). It was probably my senior year or something. And it was one of the first times I felt "sexual" – you know? or sexy. Or something. I don't know. But I knew that the church or my parents or the cultural norms would be against it. And that was one of the first times I felt like there were attempts by outside sources to control me or my behavior. And I didn't like it. I didn't want to feel coerced into doing something or not doing it – I wanted to do things because *I* wanted to. And at that time, it was the bikini. I wanted the freedom to wear it. And I think that bikini could represent a lot more than an "immodest" bathing suit.

  4. Loribeth Tanner August 25, 2016 at 2:55 pm - Reply

    I also went to a liberal arts college! My professors pushed me to think outside my own experiences and challenged my beliefs and I'm so grateful for that time. It was just the start of a very long journey of learning that there's so much in this world that I don't understand. I'm still on that journey and I hope it never stops.

    • mara August 26, 2016 at 12:54 am - Reply

      I love this, Loribeth. And I agree with you…I hope it never stops. There is so much to learn.

  5. Marissa August 25, 2016 at 10:30 pm - Reply

    My eyes were opened when I found your blog four years ago and how thankful I am that I did! xoxo, Marissa 🙂

    • mara August 26, 2016 at 12:55 am - Reply

      Marissa!!! Love this. XOXOXO

    • mara August 26, 2016 at 12:55 am - Reply

      And I'm so glad you found it, too. You are a gift.

  6. Meg August 26, 2016 at 3:41 am - Reply

    I loved my liberal arts education. What a gift! I really identify with what you've said about fear. I grew up in a culture that inadvertently taught me to fear "others." I am so grateful that I am not afraid anymore. I've found that, through understanding connection, in my life, fear is almost always replaced by love and compassion.

  7. Miggy August 26, 2016 at 1:30 pm - Reply

    For me it was when I decided on a whim to apply to BYU-Hawaii and then I went and attended school there the very next year. I hadn't gotten into BYU and therefore went to BYU Orem campus (jk–UVSC). Most of my good friends from high school went to BYU and all my new friends were basically just their new friends. I didn't have a car, so my friends would come to pick me up so we could hang out… I just felt like I was having a second-hand college experience. I wanted to move far away, by myself, and figure everything out BY MYSELF. I took this to the extreme probably as when I finally got accepted to the school and bought a plane ticket I didn't even let myself look at a map of Hawaii to see where the campus was in relation to the airport. I thought I could take a cab–ha! (You couldn't. Turns out they were on opposite sides of the island). It was one of the best and most defining years of my life. And like New York, Hawaii is one of those places that gets into your blood and bones–I haven't been back since 1998, but I still love it.

  8. Anonymous September 1, 2016 at 2:40 pm - Reply

    Sarah AllenBrown here! (computer has messed with my Google account)

    Hi Mara, I have felt equal parts liberated and challenged as I've pushed through certain phases of growing up/development. An example that comes to mind right away is hearing my first Buddhist talk and feeling a kinship with Buddhism as I have continued my studies. Watching my spirituality take on new dimensions has been empowering. Interestingly, it has made me a more authentic Mormon (in my view—and for myself) while busting invisible cultural (and self-made) myths. Also when I read the Christian-based book Boundaries by Cloud/Townsend, I started giving appropriate "nos" so that I could give more a more heavy-weight, value-based "yes" given the big picture, as needed. I love personal growth, and like physical workouts, “it hurts so good.” I believe pursuing humility while stretching myself to new and deeper truths will create a balance that will be satisfying and liberating, even while “binding” myself to Truths and practices that require submission. Thanks for the discussion!

  9. Martha September 4, 2016 at 1:05 pm - Reply

    I love this story! A great reminder that every single person we encounter has an impact on us.

  10. Allyson September 5, 2016 at 5:48 pm - Reply

    Read your blog for years and never realized you went to Randy Mac! I graduated in 2006! What a small world! Your family is beautiful and so are you!

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