07/07/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Putting the Queer in Pioneer: Tania Katan's Happy Family

It's One Big Happy Family season here at This Writer's Life. In celebration of the book's paperback release I have asked a number of the writers from "One Big Happy Family: 18 Writers Talk About Open Adoption, Mixed Marriage, Polyamory, Househusbandry, Single Motherhood, and Other Realities of Truly Modern Love," to reflect upon how things have changed (or remained the same) in their own lives since they wrote their essays over a year ago. Further, I've also asked various writers I admire to discuss their wild, messy, loving, non-traditional families as well. Below, Tania Katan talks about her happy family:

Putting the Queer in Pioneer

by Tania Katan

Being married to a Latter-day Saint can be, well...demanding.

How would you like to spend your summer in a bustling pioneer community, dressed just like a pioneer and demonstrating different aspects of pioneer life? As a volunteer pioneer at This Is The Place Heritage Park's Old Deseret Village, you can spend time learning about pioneer life while educating and entertaining visitors to the Park. For more information on how you can help, please contact us at...

My lady-friend, Angela emailed me this simple pioneer request a few days ago. We had been talking about volunteering opportunities that we could do as a couple for the summer. I thought she was joking. Until I received her second email.

Visitors to the park will see quilting, weaving on a loom from the pioneer period, woodstove bread baking and butter churning. With samples for everyone!"

"Doesn't this sound like fun, Tania?! I've always wanted to churn butter!!" Angela added to the end of the email.

You can take the girl out of the pioneer community, but you can't take the pioneer out of the girl. That's what I always say. Or maybe it's, once you've been with a Mormon you can never go back, because the trail is thousands of miles long. No, I think it's, why get paid to churn butter when you can tap into your ingrained sense of Work Ethic and volunteer your churning abilities!

I know what this butter-churning thing is about, Angela is trying to reinforce the concept of Work Ethic for me. Or as she likes to say, "Tania, I'm training you, like my sister used to train horses." Then she'll make that clicking noise with her mouth, and I'll stop snoring, get out of bed and begin vacuuming the entire house.

In the seven years that we've lived together it's only this year that I'm really starting to grasp the concept of Work Ethic. As I understand it, it's a tool to get you to open your eyes and see things you've never seen before, like dirty dishes. For seven years I have been unable to see the stack of dirty dishes accumulating in our sink without Angela pointing them out to me, but now I see them! Before Angela was in my life with this Work Ethic I actually thought that the manufacturers of toilet bowls stamped light brown rings around the insides of the bowls, sort of like a toilet target, so you could aim and shoot, but really that's what happens when you don't clean your toilet bowl, isn't that amazing? And I think that Angela thinks that I'm making progress and she doesn't want to allow me to revert back to my old lack-of-work-ethic ways, so she's calling upon her Mormon foremothers and forefathers at This is The Place Heritage Park to help reinforce the idea of hard work.

When Angela comes home from work she's beaming and going on about the Deseret Community. "And we'll both be wearing bonnets! I think we'll be in a live action diorama scene. We'll be given scripts and put in a barn or kitchen. You might be fetching water, while I churn butter. Oooooh! I hope I get to do some Dutch over cooking!"

"Are you serious?" I ask.


"I've got an idea, instead of volunteering in a pioneer community, how about I just do the dishes?"

"Tania, it's not about the dishes. It's about connecting with my Mormon heritage. As a performance artist, and professor of live art, I'm interested in challenging a history where strong women walked hundreds of miles in search of a place to call their own, only to have their male counter parts receive all of the recognition."

When it comes to living with a Mormon Performance Artist, I just follow instructions. Like, if Angela informs me that we will be wearing matching jogging suits, with 6 inch fringe on the arms and legs, and going for a 20-mile walk to the Mormon Temple in Mesa, Arizona, while carrying handcarts, like her foremothers did, and singing, "I hope they call me on a mission, when I have grown a foot or two," I just do it!

I mean, Angela is the one who educated me as to what performance art really is. While I was getting my degree in Theatre I had learned that performance art was an expression of anger, often by unattractive people, who found solace in shitting or slitting their wrists on stage while making animal-like noises. This is NOT what performance art is at all. Performance art is all about actions, rituals and repetition. I guess it's a lot like Mormonism, only with less garments.

"Well, if you really want to go to This Is The Place Heritage Park for the summer, I'll go with you." I say, hoping that my act of altruism will inspire Angela to take off the Brigham Young chin merkin and take me out for a cocktail instead.

"Yea! Oh, Tania, it's going to be so much fun. And when a crowd gathers around us, we'll both chuck our pales of water and start making out!"

"What? What kind of dyke diorama are you talking about?"

"It's going to be so hot, I just made the sexiest undergarments out of an old slip and Velcro."

"So this isn't about me working harder?"

"It's not always about you, Tania! This is about churning butter with irony. This is about a sexy work ethic. This is about putting the Queer in Pioneer!"

Although the idea of re-creating what plural wives really means sounds exciting... There's no way I'm doing this. How can I get out of it? What would Joseph Smith do? Ooh! I just had a vision. "Oh, Angela, this sounds great. Is there an application process?"

"I think you just write them a letter of interest."

"Oh, ok, well, since I'm the writer in the family, I volunteer to write the letter."

"Thanks Tania." She says, hugging me, excited about returning to her homeland with me.

I sit at the computer ready to compose a letter of interest.

Dear This Is The Place Heritage Park:

As a Jewish lesbian with a filthy mouth and very few morals, I think that I could really benefit from the sense of history and community that This Is The Place Heritage Park's Old Deseret Village can provide. I don't know a lot about bonnets or wagons, but I sure like wholesome girls, even more than I like smoking dope, which I'm sure you do a lot of while waiting for visitors, right? I feel that my experience with being a carpet-muncher will surely be "educational" and "entertaining" for the ten visitors that will come throughout the summer. Also, I'm not sure if you realize that Desert is spelled D-e-s-e-r-t not Deseret. As a writer, and generally literate person, I feel like I could bring the gift of the English language to the people of ye humble pioneer community. In closing, I believe that I can play a vibrant role in enacting pioneer scenarios. Whether I'm birthing babies, beating clothes on a rock, or fucking the crap out of the young neighbor woman who wandered into the wrong village, I am ready to live out history, FOR REAL!

Pioneerly Yours,
Tania Katan

Tania Katan is the author of My One-Night Stand With Cancer, which was awarded the Judy Grahn Nonfiction Award, the American Library Association's Stonewall Book Award, and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. Rock-n-Roller Melissa Etheridge said of Katan's memoir, "This book rocks! It's passionate, playful, and downright beautiful." As a solo-performer, Katan has been seen at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, ACT, The Painted Bride, and Comedy Central's Sit-n-Spin. Her work has been written about in The New York Times, Bust, Running Times, DIVA, GCN Ireland, The Scotsman, and other publications. She is a guest lecturer, topless marathon runner, and she's a good time at a cocktail party! For more information please visit: