Emily Pearson’s memoir Dancing With Crazy is the true story of her personal derailment, both horrifically and humorously demonstrating what happens when mindless obedience to religious authority supersedes plain old common sense. As a young Mormon girl Emily gave up her own personal power, relinquished the ability to think for herself and allowed herself to blow with a wind that carried her from studying scriptures in the Sunday School classes of correctly clothed, righteous descendants of Mormon pioneers, to studying porn on San Francisco’s Castro Street with her gay father and half naked drag queens, to drowning in depression in a stinky apartment in Hollywood, to puking in the toilet of a courting polygamist, to marrying her very own gay man in a Mormon Temple. After nearly losing her mind several times over, Emily disentangled herself from toxic and narcissistic personalities, walked away from a crippling religion and finally learned to think, act and live for herself.
Dancing With Crazy is both heartbreaking and heart warming – an inspiring story filled with religious fundamentalists, transvestites, AIDS, love, abuse, obsession, visions, sex, Satan and salvation.
Oh God, please don’t let me throw up all over my wedding dress.
I wanted to run. I wanted to scream. But all I could do was stare at myself in the mirror of an elegantly marbled bathroom in the Salt Lake Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In twenty minutes I’d be married. To a gay man. In the exact same temple and by the exact same individual that married my mother to my gay father nearly twenty seven years earlier.
Even now I am baffled as to how I got there. I mean, I am more than painfully aware of the long list of events in my life that led me to that moment, and every other horrifyingly bizarre situation in which I had allowed myself to be tossed to and fro, but none of it added up. Nothing made sense. How and when had I so willingly and completely abdicated the throne of my own life? And much more importantly why? When had I vanished into thin air?
It hadn’t always been that way. When I was eleven years old a neighbor boy stole the Christmas lights off our house and, when I found out who had done it, I marched right up to his front door, pounded loudly, and yelled at his mother, “Your son stole the Christmas lights off of our house and I want them back. Right now!”
Where had that girl, the one with the fire in her gut and the world at her fingertips, gone? Someone had stolen my light, my courage, my soul, and I desperately needed that fearless girl to pound on the door of whoever was holding it hostage. I wanted her to scream to the heavens, to the father, to the loves, to the pedophiles and to the Church for me. I wanted her to demand that they return what was rightfully mine. But she couldn’t. She was lost, asleep, or maybe dead. All I knew was that she was gone, nowhere to be found, when I needed her the most.
I once heard someone say that the trouble with real life is that there’s no danger music. I couldn’t possibly agree more. This is exactly the trouble with real life— its glaring lack of danger music. Where is the underscoring, the laugh tracks, boos, and wild applause that would be phenomenally helpful as I stumble through this maze called life? Maybe actually hearing those two notes that undeniably scream “The giant shark is directly behind you!” as I was about to be married might actually have knocked some sense into me. Instead I just stood there, gripping the cold porcelain sink, hearing nothing but reverential silence interrupted occasionally by the terrified beating of my own heart. Seriously, would a little danger music have hurt anyone?
Somehow my body found its way out of the bathroom and back to the side of my soon-to-be husband. We knelt across the altar in that flawlessly ornate sealing room with enormous gilded mirrors on either side, reflecting one another endlessly—a dramatic representation of eternity. Mirrors can do that. They can create magic and they can reflect truth. They can also warp your sense of reality if stared at long enough.
My sense of reality had been warped for so long that I’m not sure I could even tell the difference anymore. For as long as I could remember I had been spinning around in one of those dance marathons of the 1920’s, condemned by Crazy, my ruthless dance partner, to dance with him until I dropped dead. Year after year I begged for mercy, cried that my bones were broken beyond repair, but Crazy didn’t care. He loved the dance. He loved the game. He loved my confusion when he tapped himself in and out, masquerading as different partners. He loved slowing down just long enough create the illusion of reprieve and then, as I was about to collapse in a heap on the sidelines, jerking me back up with his relentless insistence that the dance continue. My misery was his delight. He demanded my submission. He thrived on my diminishment. He lived for my utter annihilation.
Honestly, had I known how closely my life would resemble a carnival fun house with its shifting floors, distorting mirrors, and no clear way of distinguishing normal from crazy, not to mention that it would take me well over thirty years to get off that freaking dance floor, find solid ground and to reclaim and adorn myself head to toe with my own personal Christmas lights, I would have braced my feet, locked my knees, and refused to leave the womb.
I think I did.
My foot must have slipped.
I decided years ago that there was not a chance in hell I would ever write this book. That peeling the skin off of my shins with a carrot peeler would be more pleasant than sharing my guts with Geraldo and Regis again. That I would rather eat my own head than have my pain, once again, lit up and splayed on a public marquee or on the cover of the Weekly World News—– as truly awesome as that was.
But, in the summer of 2002, as I stood in my former bedroom that, much like my life, had been completely stripped of every last hint of the girl that had grown up in it, reading a review in the San Francisco Examiner, I felt the earth shift. Seismically. Not physically, not like the earthquakes I remembered rocking my room as a child, but psychically— which was far bigger. Far more life altering.
I found myself reading the words, “As important as his relationship with his wife is to his story —and as much as his desire to respect her privacy may be commendable—it’s disconcerting how completely she disappears between courtship and divorce.” That was me. I was “the wife.” The review was of a play written and performed by the man I had married nine years earlier. I stood, frozen, reading those words over and over. That theater critic had, in one sentence, summed up my entire marriage. I had completely disappeared between courtship and divorce.
But what that critic didn’t know, what only a handful of people knew, was that I had actually disappeared long before that. By the time I was married, at the age of 25, I had already been a missing person for years.
"Riveting, inspiring and really, really entertaining." - Will Swenson: actor, director
"Emily Pearson has laid painfully, humorously, and poignantly bare a remarkable journey, from which she has emerged with an evolved integrity, compassion, and courage. Instead of floundering in resentment and victimhood from the gripping challenges posed by her many confounding and sometimes devastating relationships - and by her religion that offered mostly debilitating fear, guilt, and massive confusion - Pearson has courageously chosen liberation, love, and laughter. Dancing With Crazy inspires the reader as it depicts the path Pearson has forged, with brutal honesty, toward spiritual health and caring, finally, for herself." - Rocky Anderson: Humanitarian – High Road for Human Rights; Former Mayor of Salt Lake City
"Dancing With Crazy is a triumph of working through the most appalling human conflict to finding one's own reality and ultimate personal strength. The journey is daunting, to say the least, and grueling even for a reader like myself. Fate seems to have placed in Emily's path dark and forbidding obstacles and disguised them most of the time as light - inviting spiritual seduction. There is a tragic dimension that is cruel and insistent in seeming to have a conscious determination to destroy her. But she comes out victorious." - Trevor Southey: Artist
"Only Emily would simultaneously dance with angels dressed in drag and demons disguised as the boy next door. Her smart ass and larger-than-life spirit graces each page of this book as beautifully as her 20-year-old ass graced a Baywatch scene. Both put a smile on my face." - Richard Dutcher: Filmmaker
"Searing telling of truth. Pain into purpose. A wildflower emerged. Emily Pearson is reclaimed and the dance where finally she steps on some toes and not the other way around is delicious to watch. I love this work. I love Emily." - Reed Cowan: Filmmaker, author and journalist
"A work of art. Beautiful, haunting and hopeful." - David T. Howard
"I just finished reading this last night, and all I can say is WOW! This book was unputdownable. I've read a lot of autobiographical memoiry type stuff (Burroughs, Sedaris, on the more humorous side, and other less funny more "Glass Castley" types...) and this ranks right up there. Definitely a page turner! Awesome job, Emily, on writing a book where all the quotes on the cover are actually true!" - T. R. Frentzel
"I just finished the, yes, I will say it, BEST BOOK I HAVE EVER READ! I laughed on the plane and didn't care. I started sobbing, and my wife wondered what was wrong with me! Dancing With Crazy was MY story - the characters and script were a bit different, but so much the same. The story is real, it is raw, it is pure passion and from the heart. Thank you for putting your life to pen Emily. I am one of many, I'm sure, that needed it." - Rick R.
"Emily - for the thousands of prayers seemingly ignored....You shared your prayers with thousands of us. We hear you. We answer you with awe, love, acceptance, empathy, and forgiveness. Thank you for having the courage and outrageousness to write (part) of your story. A story for every child of the '70's, and to the parents who raised us - lest we fail to move forward. Thank you for writing till the tears stung our eyes and choked in our throats, for making us glad to be part of the human experience, making us laugh out loud, and most of all, for affirming the truest truth: we are our own eternal companions. And for Savex. Lots of Savex." - Luz Lewis
"Dancing With Crazy poignantly details Emily Pearson's heartbreaking story of personal redemption. While masterfully detailing her journey from blind obedience to finding her own remarkable voice, Emily also tells the story of anyone who has enough courage to step forward out of tragedy and reclaim their spirit. Dancing With Crazy is every bit as beautiful, smart-assed, inspirational, and full of life as the author." - Steve Andrews
"I should be wearing all black right now because I'm grieving the end of Emily's book. Emily is so off the charts real in her writing, so likable, so magnetic, so clean, clear, and honest. As painful as some of the events are in her childhood, Emily doesn't write about them with scary horror movie organ chords in the background. She just...writes about what happened, how exquisitely painful it was, but she doesn't milk it and she manages to keep not just a sense of humor, but an off the charts sense of humor through it all. Some could go through similar situations and just aim to make it out intact. She chose to not only survive intact, but did so without being self-righteous about her victories over the crap and pain. Emily is purely confident and proud of her grit in the end. This is an excellent book for anyone who is working toward being his or her true self (aren't we all?). And really, it's just a damn good read - action, drama, romance, therapy, comedy, tragedy, and cross-dressing nuns on roller-skates." - Wendy Reeves-Hampton
"By the time she was in her 30s Emily Pearson had lived through more tragedy and heartache than most people do in a lifetime. I couldn't put this scintillating memoir down, I read it in a day and half. Her story broke my heart but is a testament to the power of the human spirit to survive, no matter what the obstacle. Her wisdom and worldview are inspirational." - J. Seth Anderson
"DO buy this book. Just don't plan to read it until you have the time to not put it down. It's a fitful, riveting read about a woman's journey through a life so full of "out there's" that they just simply can't be made up. While Emily's clearly unique experiences are solely her own, she is easy to relate to, and her wit and humor will rock your socks off through her roller coaster ride of life. Through determination and sheer will against a cultural force that continually told her she was wrong, Emily realized she always possessed the magic contained in ruby slippers, or in her case, Christmas tree lights. Prepare to cry out of empathy and delight, and walk away, like Emily, knowing a little more about the personal power you possess." - Sandy Brunnenmeyer
"I read this book in less than 24 hours; I simply could not put it down! I began it on a Sunday night, and Monday I got up early to read it before work and just would not take calls or go to work until I finished it. I can't remember finding a book so compelling that I let it get in the way of my highly driven work schedule. I was sad when it came to an end. I found Emily's wisdom and courage to overcome difficult circumstances and ability to be honest about them to be incredibly inspirational." - Cheryl Nunn
"This is a can't-put-it-down fascinating story that brings me to tears then has me laughing out loud. Ms. Pearson has overcome obstacles that could have destroyed her, and she not only has the courage to reveal all to the world, she tells her story in a way that is uplifting and entertaining. She has reached a point where she can stand up and shake her fist at the devil, and along the way has learned to be really cautious whenever someone says God has told him He wants her to do something. Go Emily! I can't wait for your next book." - Roger Harris
Photos & Video
"My dad. How do I even begin to describe Gerald Pearson? My mother has always said that he shone. She’s right. He did... My daddy was everything. He was every Christmas morning, birthday, and summer vacation rolled into one."
"When I met John Chidester I instantly liked him too. He was very sweet, talented, funky and cosmopolitan."
"[John] had discovered his alter ego – Sister “X” (short for “Xplosion”) of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence."
“Oh, my God, you look just like her!” John shrieked... Undoubtedly assisted by the fact that they were all as high as rainbow kites, to them I was the spitting image of a young Marilyn Monroe."
"John turned on some music and I felt myself come to life in a way that I had never experienced before."
"Being in front of the camera was like being on stage. It was where I belonged. With the camera snapping nonstop it felt like John and I were dancing. And Gerald, even though he was alarmingly weak and unable to shake an ongoing cough, sat on the couch and beamed"
"All afternoon the camera snapped faster and faster as I watched my entire life fall perfectly into place"
"I walked into his room with a strange man and a guitar, shut the door behind us, knelt down by his bed and Kim began playing. Roger stared at me in disbelief. I reached out and took his hand"