Ex-Mormons Are Flocking to TikTok to Tell Their Stories
“I find [it] just endlessly fascinating,” says Kelsey Bourgeois, an ex-Mormon who left the church in 2011, in a phone call. Last month she made a TikTok about how wearing thongs is considered taboo if you’re a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a religion also known as Mormonism that was founded by Joseph Smith in the 1800s. Rules for members of the church include no drinking alcohol or coffee, no sex before marriage, no same-sex marriage, and no viewing of pornography. There are now dozens of comments from people claiming to be Mormon telling Bourgeois she’s lying, she’s “fake news,” or that she shouldn’t make her experience sound like it’s universal to the entire religion.
“People were really mad at me about that,” Bourgeois says. “My comments were just full of, ‘That’s not true. We totally wear thongs.’ I just thought, ‘Why is this the thing you’re mad about?’”
That TikTok wasn’t Bourgeois’ first about her former religion. In April, she told a funny story about how she thought God was punishing her for masturbating by giving her diarrhea. It has more than 100,000 likes, and while Bourgeois says she never intended to become an ex-Mormon creator, people wanted to hear more. So she delivered.
“My intended audience, in my mind, is not current, active Mormons,” she says, adding that she’s unsure if her videos, and the videos of other ex-Mormons, circulate among current Mormons. “My intended audience are people who are questioning it or people who left who might need some validation. Because I know how painful and how hard that is and the most emotionally rewarding part of it is connecting with people in my comments and DMs.”
Bourgeois is just one creator in a large community of ex-Mormons online who share their experiences with the religion. The #exmormon hashtag on TikTok has more than 120 million views with creators entertaining viewers and educating them on what they say are the dark sides of the religion.
Even though Maddi Skinner (no relation to the author of this article) grew up Mormon, she says ex-Mormon creators on TikTok taught her things she never knew that the church allegedly tries to hide—like Joseph Smith’s marriage to a 14-year-old girl. (The church quietly acknowledged Smith’s multiple marriages in 2014, according to The New York Times.) Skinner graduated high school early so she could leave the church in 2015 when she was 17 years old, and has since made TikToks about her experiences with the church.
It’s not just TikTok videos. Skinner says she and other ex-Mormons chat on a Discord server to talk about their online struggles, and they’ve also created a hashtag called #Ward666. The hashtag stands for a fake virtual ward, a type of Mormon congregation, created by ex-Mormons on TikTok giving one another fake callings. It’s an attempt to make fun of their past religious lives. For instance, when one user was jokingly appointed ward clerk, he made a spreadsheet of the fake organizations within the ward, including “Non Binary Old People’s Quorum” and “Ward Spreader of Actual Historical Facts.”
Lexi McDonald, a 27-year-old ex-Mormon, is on TikTok and YouTube, and her “faith crisis” TikTok, which tells McDonald’s story of growing up Mormon only to find out the religion was “quite harmful,” has more than two million views. She says while Mormon family and friends have distanced themselves from her, the ex-Mormon online community understands and is supportive.
“When I first got out of the church, it was so validating to me to be like, other people have been through the same thing,” McDonald says. “It makes you feel like you’re not alone.”
Skyler Olson, a 25-year-old ex-Mormon, left the church in 2018 and has also connected with other ex-Mormons on Discord. After a conversation among ex-Mormons on TikTok went from the church to the video game Fallout, something clicked for Olson. He then created the Exmo Gamers Discord in October, which has more than 300 members and continues to grow.
“A lot of times [ex-Mormon groups] are focused on negativity, and while we want to make sure that we validate people who have negative experiences leaving the church, I also think it’s important to be able to focus on positivity, as well and hope and the future, instead of just focusing on the hurt that we’ve all experienced,” Olson says.