Here is the full transcript of American basketball player Lance Allred’s TEDx Talk: What is Your Polygamy? at TEDxSaltLakeCity conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: What is your Polygamy by Lance Allred at TEDxSaltLakeCity conference
“Wow, you’re really tall. How tall are you? Do you play basketball?”
“You played in the NBA with Lebron James? What was that like?”
It was fun; we got along well. Lebron, the inner city kid from Ohio, and me, the deaf polygamist kid from Montana.
Poof! “What?! You grew up in polygamy? What was that like? I don’t get it. Why would people do that? Why would they stay? I could never be a second or third wife.”
Not that complicated really. It’s what they know. It’s the world they grew up in. And they know what the boundaries and the rules are. And they’re told to stay inside those boundaries, the physical boundaries of the commune and furthermore the mental and emotional boundaries. Stay inside those boundaries and you will always be safe. Safe from pain.
Most people will choose a familiar hell over an unfamiliar heaven. So, now I ask you: what is your polygamy? What are the thought patterns you have inherited from your childhood? From your parents, your grandparents, your community, that you’ve taken with you into your adult life.
What are the stories and perceived truths that still linger, and that may be sabotaging your adult experience? What are the boundaries and comfort zones you have settled in? Never daring to take risk.
Physically escaping from polygamy at the age of 13, for me, was the easy part. Mentally and emotionally escaping? Far different story.
My grandfather was Rulon Allred, the prophet and founder of the Apostolic United Brethren. I never knew him, as he was assassinated four years before I was born, by the wife of a rival polygamous leader. But I was raised in his Utopian dream, at Pinesdale, Montana.
My childhood was a world of wonder and mysticism, solidified by black and white absolutes. Absolutes that said that we were special; that we were God’s chosen people; that we had the one True Church, with a capital “T.” And that my grandfather was up in heaven, waiting for me.
The nature and appeal of absolutes is that they provide certainty in an uncertain world. And most people will do anything, anything they can, to protect that.
[Video clip -> Interviewer: Could you become a God?
Vance Allred: Yes.
Interviewer: How far would you be willing to go to defend the principle of polygamy?
Vance Allred: I was raised for it, I was born for it, reared for it, trained for it, all my life.
Interviewer: Would you die for it?
Rulon Allred: We are trying to keep all the commandments of God.
Female speaker: Early this morning, Rulon Allred, fundamentalist leader of the Apostolic United Brethren, was found shot dead in his medical office. Witnesses noticed two unidentified females leaving the scene. – Video clip concludes]
So again, I ask you, what is your polygamy? What are the black and white absolutes that you hold on to that allow you to believe that you have the truth, that you are right? And what relationships would you sabotage or endure to hold on to that story.
Maybe you are an expert mental gymnast, like myself. You had to be, growing up in that world of pesky absolutes. On one hand, you are so special; yet, on the other, you’re not quite worthy — you could do better.
You are loved, unconditionally, without question — on the condition you do everything the prophet says. And when you speak of the prophet, you speak very softly, like this.
You are told that lying is a sin. Yet, if anyone asks you if your dad is a polygamist, you have to lie.
What are the mental gymnastics you pull to stay within your paradigm to avoid cutting your losses? Would you like to see a polygamist wedding? Jazz hands!
This is my mother at the age of 16, being placed in an arranged marriage with my father. Now, note: these are not bridesmaids, these are my mom’s sistermoms, and those are my dad’s — one, two, three, four, five, six…There is just a lot of women in that room.
Throughout my basketball career, I’ve had team mates come up to me and say, “Hey yo, dawg! This new club be hoppin’. There’s like a three girls to one guy ratio, we gotta go check it.”
And I’m like, “I’m good.”
As a boy, growing up in polygamy, you saw men in power, the prophets with multiple wives, and so you began telling yourself a story that a woman is how God validates you. More wives equals more worthy, equals more power, equals more blessings, equals more wives, and so on, and so on.
And you’re also told that women don’t need the priesthood because they’re already so spiritual. So, as a boy, I began putting women on pedestals believing that they were inherently better than me, that they somehow had X-ray vision, and could see right through me, and determine if I was worthy or not.
A dialogue went like this one day with my cousin, when I was 12 years old:
Steven Don — and it’s proper etiquette to use middle names when you have 400 first cousins running around the wilderness like smurfs. Steven Don, I think I like Lisa. Do you think she might like me back?
“No, I already claimed her. I called dibs.”
But, you called dibs on Sarah, last week.
“Yeah, so? We’re polygamists.”
Oh. Can you imagine how competitive that world might be? Polygamy? Once a girl began to mature, not only did you like her, but your brothers, your cousins, your uncles — Heck! Even your dad, theoretically, is your competition. And you’re all playing for keeps. Because the founders of the Mormon faith did declare, you need at least two wives to get to the highest degree of glory in heaven.
My fear and anxiety around girls is only exacerbated by how difficult it was for me to hear them, as they speak on a higher register, and I was also very self conscious about how I talked. And I know you don’t really hear it now, but I was in speech therapy till I was 15 years old. I’m going to show you a video, of me speaking at the age of 11. Mind you, I’ve been in speech therapy for nine years up to this point.
I’ve watched this video over 300 times, and I still have no idea what the hell I am saying.
The greatest challenge of a disability is not the actual disability itself. But rather the perceived limitations that everyone around you, and eventually yourself, begin to believe are true. Maybe that is your polygamy.
Or like me, it was impressed upon you as a five-year-old boy by your Sunday school teacher, that God had made you deaf as a form of punishment. That you have done something wrong in the pre-life. And so, for as long as you can remember, really, you always believed you had to earn God’s love.
Well, after I escaped polygamy for years, I believed, deep down, somewhere in here, that I had to be the first deaf player in NBA history, and then God would be proud of me. Then I’ll be worthy of His love.
But not only His love, but the love of a woman as well. This was my polygamy. For years, all throughout my 20s, I avoided relationships, sabotaged them, and my first real relationship occurred when I turned 30, and that would turn into a marriage. And can you imagine the baggage I brought into it?
But I choose clarity now. I choose to shine a light on the mental prison that is my polygamy. If I do not, then I will have lost my marriage for nothing. I choose clarity.
I choose to empower myself with the accountability of choice. We spend our lives giving away our power by how we speak. “I have to go pick up my kids from school.” “I need to turn in my quarterly reports.”
9What if — what if we began speaking like this? “I choose to go pick up my kids from school.” “I choose to turn in my quarterly reports tomorrow.” “I choose not to color coordinate family photos this year, mom. Sorry.”
This is far more difficult than it sounds when you try it, because we have been so conditioned to give away our will and our choice by how we speak — “I have to, I need to, I want to, I could, I should.” I choose.
I choose to empower myself with the accountability of choice. I choose to ask myself: with these thoughts, is this Lance thinking? Or is it my polygamous thought patterns thinking? Thought patterns that no longer serve me.
I choose to no longer be a martyr like my grandfather. I choose the clarity, that it is mental gymnastics, to believe that my self-worth is ever in question.
I choose the clarity, that love is either unconditional or it is not love at all.
I choose to be a leader of my own life. I choose, it is my choice, it has always been my choice, just as it has always been your choice.
This is how you escape your polygamy. Empower yourself with the accountability of choice. Be a leader of your own life.
And now, as I say goodbye, on behalf of the five-year-old boy from rural Montana, who could not hear, nor speak very well, who spent thousands of hours in speech therapy, practicing and practicing, with the hope that one day he might, just might, become one of the greatest communicators in the world.
On behalf of that five-year-old boy: Thank you for allowing him to be heard.