Exactly how I ended up on ex-Mormon TikTok eludes me, but I’m happy I made it here. While I’m not a member of the Church of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), one of my best friends and roommates comes from a Mormon family, so I can only assume that’s why ex-Mormon creators like Kayla White and Exmo Lex (among many, many others) began popping up in my feed late last year. These creators, most of them women, openly speak about their experiences with the Church and why they left, while also fending off trolls in the comments.
“TikTok is an emotional roller coaster,” noted White, who began posting on the app in June of last year. “Mostly, I have really great comments and messages [from people] who are supportive and loving.” White started posting on TikTok after receiving pushback from some of her Mormon friends and family members who didn’t want her sharing her experience on her YouTube channel. By chance, White was introduced to TikTok by her sister—and it was love at first “like.”
A few months and over 120,000 followers later, White is now one of the more prominent #exmo creators on the app. She blends education with satire, never shying away from sharing the difficulties that come with leaving such an orthodox community. “My mission is and always has been to find humor through the pain,” White wrote in an email. “I love helping people see how ridiculous something is. I find it healing, and I think others do, too.”
Satirizing the former Mormon experience is common for many of these creators. It acts as both a coping mechanism for the creator and an educational tool for their viewers. Whether that means joking about what it’s like drinking coffee in front of their still-Mormon parents or speaking out about the trauma that comes with growing up in a purity-obsessed culture, these creators risk putting their relationships with their families and communities on the line whenever they hit “post.”
More often than not, though, the act of sharing online and connecting with others who’ve left the church is a freeing experience on its own. “It’s been cathartic,” admitted Daniel Heninger, who goes by DanielDownTheRabbitHole on TikTok and YouTube. “I only learned about the problems with the Church that I had been lied to about, because other [ex-Mormons] were willing to have a voice and share online… In my own way, I want to provide that type of value to other Mormons, [ex-Mormons], and to anyone else who could benefit from it.”
For Carah (who’s asked us to leave her last name out of this article), AKA NuanceHoe on TikTok, the inspiration to start posting about the Church came from the Church itself. They launched their #GiveThanks campaign in November 2020 with the intention to flood social media “with a wave of gratitude that reaches the four corners of the earth.”
“I thought to myself, ‘No, I cannot let them get away with blatant propaganda flooding my social media feeds,’’’ recalled Carah. “‘I must satire them.’” Carah’s videos, like her “Mormon Jesus” and her “Browse Some Books in Salt Lake” series, give outsiders an inside look into what exactly Mormons believe while also poking fun at some of the isms commonly associated with the culture.
Every #exmo creator I talked to had similar stories about what made them renounce the religion. In general, stumbling upon information online and grappling with the gaping holes in the Church’s logic on racism, LGBTQ+ issues, and women’s rights was enough to push these creators to leave behind their beliefs, family, friends, and the community they’d known since they were children.
“I started researching more about the Church and its history [and] I learned that [they’d] kept a lot of information [a secret],” noted Exmo Lex. “I learned [a bunch of] disturbing facts that I had never been taught in all my years [as a member].” One such fact is that Joseph Smith, the religion’s creator, had over 30 wives—some of them teenagers, some of them mother-daughter pairs; another is that the Church’s leaders receive six-figure salaries, though Exmo Lex, like many other Mormons, had been told that they essentially volunteered for the job. A few months after her research began, she and her husband resigned from the Church.
For TikToker Kaci Agee, these issues became personal when she fell in love with another woman—something considered unacceptable in the LDS community. As a student at a Mormon university, Agee couldn’t officially come out as a lesbian, as it could have gotten her kicked out. So for the last year and a half of school, she kept her girlfriend a secret and only attended the minimum amount of mandatory church services in order to graduate.
“While being queer quite literally [ended up kicking] me…what I saw with opened eyes is what shut it behind me,” said Agee. “The judgement, lies, and history of the Church, the intolerance of the LBGTQ+ community, and the inaccuracies of the teachings were what broke me [in the end].”
Regardless of their reason for leaving, every ex-Mormon can agree: leaving the Church is hard. It’s an isolating and soul-shattering process that oftentimes leaves an individual without the community they know and love. It makes sense why former members feel pulled toward sharing their experiences online—what lengths would you go in order to find a sense of community? “Faith transitions out of religions like Mormonism are among the most misunderstood, painful things a human mind and heart can endure,” explained Carah. “I used to say I wouldn’t wish this pain on my worst enemy.”
Every creator I spoke to also made it clear that they aren’t trying to tear the Church down, convert anyone, or push their agenda down viewers’ throats. For these #exmo creators, their goals are simply to provide a safe space for others like them and to create a sense of community in place of the one they lost.
“I wish I could tell [those thinking of leaving the Church] that it’ll be easy,” said White. “What I can tell you is there is peace and joy outside of Mormonism. There [are] new communities, new experiences, new hope to be found. Leaving was one of the most excruciatingly painful things I have ever done in my entire life. But it’s also the most glorious thing I have ever done.”
Illustration by Emma Baynes