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Santiago interviews Morgan Clae, an ex-Adventist director, producer, and singer-songwriter based in Los Angeles. We discuss purity culture, her time at Walla Walla University, being a student missionary, deconstruction, and becoming agnostic. We also explore the meaning behind the lyrics of Wilder Things, Morgan's song on deconstruction and coming out.
Full Transcripts, resources and more: hell.bio/notes
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Credits: Music: Hall of the Mountain King Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) • Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
Haystacks & Hell Intro
[00:00:00] Santiago: Welcome to Haystacks and Hell, an ex-Adventist podcast where we tell stories about growing up Seventh-day Adventist, leaving faith behind, and building new, fulfilling lives.
Meet Morgan Clae: Director, Producer, Singer, Songwriter
[00:00:16] Santiago: Hey everyone, welcome back to Haystacks and Hell. I'm your host Santiago, and today I'm very excited to speak with Morgan Clae. Morgan is a director, producer, singer, and songwriter based in Los Angeles, California.
[00:00:30] She was raised as a Seventh-day Adventist, graduated from Walla Walla University in Washington State, and spent time as a student missionary in the Marshall Islands. Morgan has been a musician all her life, leading worship and being constantly surrounded by music.
[00:00:47] From February 2020 to February 2021, she released one song per month and has established a dedicated following on TikTok and Spotify. Her debut album, DREAMBOY, is available starting October 13, 2023. In addition to her work as a singer songwriter, Morgan has worked as a director and producer on various projects.
[00:01:10] She's also spoken out on topics including deconstruction, purity culture, and LGBTQ people, and even shared a story about the time she and her husband were kicked out of her parents' home.
[00:01:22] Morgan came out as pansexual in 2022, and her song Wilder Things talks about religious trauma and finding freedom in the very things she was told would destroy her. Make sure to listen all the way through because we'll play her song and get an in-depth look at the meaning behind the lyrics. With that background, let's jump into our conversation.
[00:01:44] Morgan, welcome, thank you so much for your work and thanks for coming on the show.
[00:01:50] Morgan: Of course, thanks for having me, I'm excited.
[00:01:52] Santiago: I wanna start out by asking you what some of your earliest memories are about growing up Adventist.
[00:01:58] Morgan: Oh my goodness. There's this story that my mom tells, and she tells it affectionately. I think I was two, 'cause it was before my brother was born. I'm like running down the hallway in our house and then fall down or something, but like, I'm sobbing and I'm saying, "Jesus, I love you, I love you so much!"
[00:02:23] And my mom's like, "Oh, it's so, so cute!" What I was getting at and what my mom tells me is like, "Yeah, you were just like so worried about like, not going to heaven." And I'm like, oh, that's not, that's not a cute story. That's, that's terrible!
[00:02:41] Santiago: Oh no, yeah.
[00:02:42] Morgan: I would say that, and that's something I like vaguely remember, but I would say that's, that's a pretty terrible place to start.
[00:02:52] Santiago: Wow, interesting. So that, that ties into a question I'm gonna ask you in a little bit. So I want you to hold onto that thought. I saw on one of your TikToks that you talk about being in a conservative Christian middle school. Before then, did you always attend Christian or Adventist schools growing up?
[00:03:11] Morgan: Yeah, so I have only ever been to private schools. From up until sixth grade or up until seventh grade, I was in an Adventist school and then from seventh grade to end of high school, I was in a Assemblies of God school. So yeah, I've only ever been in private, in Christian environments for school.
[00:03:34] Santiago: In that TikTok you mentioned trying to understand while you're in middle school, this stark contrast between hearing about Jesus, but then seeing people hate on Jewish people, gay people, women, and people of color. So I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit more about that and what that environment was like for you.
[00:03:55] Morgan: There were some things that were happening in my Adventist school that were race related, where I was not safe, and my parents pulled me out of that school because of that. And that's why I even switched over to a different school. And so then moving into the assemblies of God school, I think something in Adventism, you, there's this element of I've never interacted with anyone else outside of Adventism, you know, like I've never been to another church, you know, like there's the, the Adventist bubble.
[00:04:29] And so for me, I like full on developed this superiority of "I know who I am because like, I go to like a Sunday church school and I know what I believe." And that environment was also terrible. With the Adventist school, definitely knew it was terrible. Going into this new school, I loved it. I thrived, I did very, very well. And I think that's a common thread for me, especially, you know, where Wilder Things comes in too, is where I've always tried to just, "Oh, these are the rules?" "Okay, I'm gonna do my best according to these rules."
[00:05:08] And then I thrived and I did well. And so being in that environment now, I look back and I'm like, "Oh, it was very, very terrible." Yes, I was one of three people with brown skin in my a hundred person class, and that definitely affected, I had teachers say certain things. But I think especially as a person of color, as a woman, and being in those spaces, at the time that it was like, you know, the 2000s, early 2010s, you know, it, it was just different.
[00:05:37] Especially if you're in that bubble. Social media wasn't what it was, and I credit a lot of like my own learning and growth to social media. But you know, being in those spaces, you don't see those things as a kid.
[00:05:50] Santiago: It's interesting, you, you talk about kind of how looking back, things that seemed normal or not so bad, were actually pretty toxic. And a common theme I've found with some of the other interviews I've done is that we didn't even have language to describe some of these things back then. I was talking to someone who, I asked him, "Hey, you know, did you grow up as a Young Earth Creationist?" And he's like, "Yeah, but back then I didn't even know that term existed. I just assumed this is how the world is and everyone else who doesn't believe that is, is wrong." Speaking of some of these terms that we didn't have back then, what did purity culture look like for you growing up, and how do you think it affected you and your peers?
[00:06:33] Morgan: Oh god, purity culture, terrible. I think as young girls, it disproportionately affects you. There's an element of purity culture that I feel is not talked about a lot, where there's this whole idea within the Christian community that looking quote unquote "natural" is best. Being natural is what you want to be.
[00:07:02] And so there's this insane pressure to be perfect without wearing makeup. To have amazing, beautiful hair without even trying, like all these crazy things. And really what it ties into is, "Because that's what guys like." "Because that is what a man wants." And I have done so much unlearning and I'm so thankful to have a partner who has actually helped me unlearn this.
[00:07:32] However I present myself is for me. I get to exist in the world however I want. With purity culture also, it's so, it's so alienating because you feel — one of my friends put it perfectly, he said like, "You remember when you're like 13 and you start masturbating, you think you're the only one in the world who's masturbating and you think you're gonna go to hell.
[00:07:52] And then that's just what your life is like for 20 years until something happens, or nothing happens." And I was like, that puts it so perfectly where it's like, it's so isolating and alienating and it demonizes all these natural things. For, for the pursuit of what? To, to be "perfect?" So yeah, I have a lot of issues with purity culture.
[00:08:12] Santiago: I think what you just said is so important. And what you mentioned that your friend said, I think I can, I can personally relate to that.
[00:08:21] Morgan: I think we all can!
[00:08:22] Santiago: Yeah, maybe unless if you're ace, I think pretty much everyone can relate to that. And I think you're right, it disproportionately affects young women, but everybody is affected in a negative way. Everybody, to some level, can feel shame, secrecy, guilt, all of these things. And it's interesting you talked about the makeup aspect.
[00:08:44] And I know within Adventism also, at least for many communities, no jewelry is a big thing as well. Yeah, there's this weird push and pull between needing to look good in a certain way, but also, somebody I interviewed previously, Melissa talks about how growing up, she was expected to be perfect and to be beautiful, but to not be vain. So there's all these kind of contradictions. Purity culture could be a podcast in and of itself.
[00:09:10] Morgan: Oh yeah, it's so ridiculous. There was this one video, I think it was, let's say like a, like a night market, and asking guys like, "Hey, like what do you want girls to look like?" And every single one of them was like, "No makeup." "No makeup, no makeup." And then like, they showed them a picture and they were like, "Oh yeah, that's perfect." And they're like, "That's a full face of makeup."
[00:09:29] Then there was one guy at the end, they asked him and he's like, "Oh man, yeah, you could like, I love when like, you match like your eyeshadow to like your outfit. You can do like pretty colors and stuff." And we're like, "He passes the vibe check." "We love him, he passes the vibe check."
[00:09:44] Both: [Laughing]
[00:09:46] Santiago: So you grew up in Washington. You grew up on the West Coast of the United States, which has this reputation for being quote unquote "liberal." And so I'm wondering if your Adventist community placed a big emphasis on the end times and Ellen White, or if you mostly heard people emphasizing having a relationship with Jesus.
[00:10:07] Morgan: That is such a good question and I think so, so important. 'Cause yeah, I'm from Seattle and it's, I think one of the, like the most "unchurched" quote unquote areas. That's something I've heard, I've never looked it up. I was always confused by people saying that Seattle is liberal. I was always deeply confused because every space that I was in was deeply conservative. I just honestly didn't believe it.
[00:10:36] 'Cause I was like, every single person I interact with is deeply conservative, within the Adventist circle, and especially in the Assemblies of God circle. There's the different elements of like what it's like in the Assemblies of God, what's in Adventism. But I think the overarching thing is still, it's like it was toxic, anti-gay, anti-women, anti anything about race. Like it's, it's just all bad.
[00:11:05] Santiago: That's interesting because you've had experiences both within Adventist schools and another denomination, Assemblies of God. You touched on this a little bit, you've kind of seen what other people believed, and even though you were confident in your faith back then, you had kind of this exposure that maybe other Adventists didn't get growing up. Were there any things in particular that you noticed made you different from the other kids who went to that school?
[00:11:31] Morgan: So much of this was internal. I was deeply ashamed to be Adventist 'cause then like we would have something on Saturdays and it was like, "Oh, Morgan can't go to that." And I would always lie and make up an excuse 'cause I was deeply embarrassed of that. Like why I thrived, I was involved with worship. And that was I think very integral to who I am today, just as like a musician. And coping, in a sense, without knowing I was having to cope.
[00:12:03] That's how I fell in love with the first person I ever fell in love with. We fell in love in worship class. Two girls, but we didn't know we were in love. Like, that's a whole thing. So a big thing with being in this space, because I was involved in worship, and I was in a band with drums and guitar and bass and all that. I would go into my Adventist space and be like, "Oh, I'm so much better than you." I think very early on, I knew I wasn't Adventist. I think seventh grade I was like, "I'm not Adventist," but I was definitely, definitely Christian. Even through college, the worship space was the place where I actually like, felt like myself.
[00:12:41] Santiago: That's super interesting. In your church or churches growing up, was the worship very kind of muted? Like did they have this rule about no drums? 'Cause I grew up in a church like that.
[00:12:54] Morgan: First off, I have to like, kind of like rewind and with my dad, my dad has been very influential in my life. He has felt and believed that it was his calling to do music ministry. And what has come with that is he has been the person in the church always saying like, "Why can't we have this instrument?" Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
[00:13:17] When we moved up to Seattle, my dad got into UDub and he was studying there. Right when we got there, he was working at a Presbyterian church and working as their director of music. And so from a very early age, I was, I've always been in other churches, like from a very, very early age.
[00:13:33] Like we would go to church on Saturday and then also go on Sunday, 'cause dad was playing and he was playing with like a full band. When I was in middle school, I believe that's when he went back and was working in an Adventist church. It was growing, growing, growing, growing. I don't remember, and I don't know all the specifics, but it ended and I think it was messy, because of like church politics and things like that.
[00:13:57] So seeing what my dad was going through and all of that, it's always been something that was in our conversation at home of like, "Adventists aren't doing this." "I love this about other churches." There was a brief period in which where my dad, he was so, just disillusioned with Adventism.
[00:14:19] He's definitely, definitely still Adventist, but he just didn't feel whole in Adventist spaces. And so we would go to like one of the churches on Sunday, 'cause then we would actually get to worship. And that was a way that like we bonded. So I can't remember a time in my life where I wasn't aware of what Adventism was doing quote unquote "wrong."
[00:14:41] I think what I saw with my dad impacted me really early on. You know, just suddenly you're around it and you see someone is literally just trying to do the best that they can. And there are just people who just don't like that for some reason. But then it's always equated to something, you know, it's never direct. There's the politics and all of that.
[00:15:04] Santiago: So you're attending Adventist churches, you're also attending some other churches. In all of this, while you were growing up, do you feel like you ever experienced moments that felt spiritual or supernatural?
[00:15:17] Morgan: Oh, absolutely. Definitely felt a lot of those moments. I have so many moments of like leading worship and like crying while I was leading worship. But I think what's been even more jarring, there was one experience that like, you know, you have those experiences that are just visceral and you can, I think about it right now, I see myself in the exact same space and everyone around me.
[00:15:35] There was a non-denominational like, youth retreat camp thing at one of like the big megachurches that a lot of the kids from my school went to, the Assemblies of God school, went to. And it was like, you know, that last night, where you have the big whatever, you know, like you're building to that, you know, ultimate emotional point.
[00:15:59] And I remember just like being up there, we're all in the front, like worshiping, you know, it's like hundreds of people. And I remember just like raising my hands and like, just being so focused on feeling something. And then I never felt anything.
[00:16:13] And then being absolutely devastated, like devastated for weeks. And then I kept thinking about it, kept thinking about it, kept thinking about it. And then the conclusion I came to was, "Oh, I wanted it too much, so that's why I didn't happen." I was able to move on cause I was like, "Okay, just don't try so hard." I had to come up with something as to why I didn't have this crazy high spiritual experience.
[00:16:37] Santiago: Interesting, okay. There's another podcast I have linked on the site called Born Again Again, it's by a married couple who used to be Christians and I think worship leaders as well. And they've talked about how they also felt like they experienced these things while they were leading worship, while they're in worship, and seeing other people just praising God. And how looking back, it was in their heads. They felt like they felt something, but it's this like, emotional high.
[00:17:09] And it's interesting to hear ex-Christians talk about this because growing up in my church, you know, it was very conservative, very — no drums, no clapping. Very serious in some cases. And I remember my parents and other adults in my life saying, "Yeah, we don't want to have like all of this praise and worship music because it's just emotions, it's just feelings." So it's funny how they could recognize that, but still get a lot of other things wrong [laughing].
[00:17:38] Morgan: That's so interesting. I've never heard "It's too emotional." I've never heard that. It's just like too — like it's, "We don't want rock music in the church." Like I've never heard the "too emotional," that's very interesting.
[00:17:52] Santiago: You know, broken clock is uh, right twice a day, right?
[00:17:56] Morgan: That's very interesting. I'm gonna be thinking about that, that's crazy.
[00:18:00] Santiago: Well, yeah, that's, that gives you a little window into the, into the community I grew up in. So you've posted on TikTok about being convinced at age five that the world was gonna end soon, and that you'd have to flee to the mountains. So on a scale of 1 to 10, how anxious would you say, anxious or afraid, would you say that you were about the end times?
[00:18:22] Morgan: Oh my god, a 10! Like I remember in fourth grade, my fourth grade teacher, bless her heart. She read us, I don't even, I don't know what it is, but she read us this like whole book about the end times. And it was like this family who was having to flee and then they like got the dad, and then the kid, like, it was just like a whole thing.
[00:18:45] I've, I've been so terrified and like also having like, my mom has deep anxiety, which she will never get diagnosed for. And it's definitely hereditary 'cause my brother and I both have it. But like my mom is like the world's most anxious person. And that definitely manifested in like, the way we were brought up and like the things we were taught. There has never been a time at which I had — like, yeah. Terrified, terrified, yeah, 10, absolute 10.
[00:19:15] Santiago: You told this story at the beginning of, you know, praying to Jesus after you tripped and fell as a two-year-old. So alongside that anxiety about the end times in general, as you grew up, were you still kind of constantly afraid of being lost?
[00:19:30] Morgan: Oh yeah. I think this was a major thing in deconstruction for me, was since the time I can remember, I've always had the question, I've always just not understood original sin. I've never understood that. And so at every opportunity I got, from the time I can remember, every pastor, every professor, anyone who could speak to it with authority, I would always ask them, "How does this make sense?"
[00:20:04] And I never have gotten a straight answer as to why every single person on the planet is just fucked unless they commit to Jesus. That was something that has kept me up at night. For years I was searching 'cause I did not understand that. And then eventually, you know, said goodbye to Christianity 'cause it also just, it just never made sense to me, and it never will.
[00:20:31] Santiago: Hmm. All right, so I want to ask you about the time from when you're in high school and then eventually go to Walla Walla. What's the story there, and why'd you end up going to Walla Walla?
[00:20:42] Morgan: There definitely is a story there. I was determined not to go to an Adventist school. There was a, just a Christian school down here in Southern California that I was gonna go to. For my entire senior year we were planning for me to go there and then come summer, it was just like, "Oh yeah, no, like this isn't gonna work."
[00:20:59] So then literally like two weeks before Walla Walla started, my dad and I like went, we drove, cause we lived in Seattle, we just drove over and like had meetings. They went well, I got scholarships and then I went to Walla Walla. So yeah, that's what happened.
[00:21:17] Santiago: Okay, so can you talk a little bit about your time there and just kind of what you were thinking as you started school there?
[00:21:27] Morgan: Yeah, so [laughing] this is where definitely my superiority complex about specifically religion was in high gear. Where I'm in these spaces and I'm like, "Ah, these Adventists, I haven't been here in a while." Like, I was very, I was very outspoken about like, "I'm not Adventist." "I'm not Adventist." Like I haven't been in an Adventist school.
[00:21:50] Everyone would be like, "Oh, you know this person?" I'm like, "No, I'm not from an Adventist school." Like, you know how everyone knows each other? Like, "You went to this." I was like, "No, I didn't go to an Adventist school." And so in those spaces, I felt that I was like, and, and to be honest, I did, I did do very well at Walla Walla.
[00:22:06] I think something that is not talked about enough is that, I'm not gonna say none, but I would say the vast majority of us are not, we're not trying to be bad kids. We're not trying, we're not even trying to stir the pot. We're literally just trying to do our best.
[00:22:24] And so being at Walla Walla, I was just trying to do my best. And I think I did that. I did a student missionary year between my junior and senior year, and that really kickstarted, that's, that's when I started to deconstruct.
[00:22:39] 'Cause being overseas and like seeing, "Oh no, I am part of a terrible system." Where the, the teaching role that I was in is a lot, just teaching music. This is a college student who's maybe two years into college.
[00:22:54] I don't even believe that it was necessarily our fault, quote unquote, getting into that situation. Because what was taught to us was, "This is good." "They need you." "This is a place that you should go. You should go take a year to be a student missionary." But then you get there and you're like, "Oh no, I am part of the problem." Because like you, you see that you're just part of this system where you're just filling a role, you're...
[00:23:16] We had some people there who were, who did a great job because they either really, really cared, and or were also in school for, for education. But then we definitely had some people who just were checked out. If you don't super, super care, and we did have at least one teacher like that, where their kids would just be running around during the day.
[00:23:41] So seeing that, um, and seeing, "Oh, I'm definitely part of a very, very bad system. This is not what it was chalked up to be." But then also too, seeing, and especially these, these brown people who are regurgitating so much of what Adventism has taught them, what colonization and all of that is taking root. And you see that and you see these people who are so poor and so terrified. There's just, there's just, there's just a lot. Where it, it makes you get very, very existential, very, very quick. You see the impact of the systems that you're a part of, and you see it on a, on a, on a world scale. And it's, it's, it's, it's terrifying. It will wake you up.
[00:24:33] Santiago: I'm really glad that you shared that perspective, because I have spent some time in other countries at Adventist churches and doing quote unquote "missionary work." And that was when I was younger. It was before I had deconstructed, I didn't even know the term deconstruction.
[00:24:51] Morgan: Oh, absolutely.
[00:24:52] Santiago: And so my mindset was like, "Oh yeah, we're going over here." "We're, we're helping, we're doing all these things." And so I didn't have that perspective that you had. Where you're in the midst of it, you're in the, you're in the thick of it and you're looking around and seeing this. It's really interesting to hear you describe that.
[00:25:09] The island you were on, I looked it up. It has like a population of about 25,000 people, so it's a tiny island. How did the SDA culture there compare to the SDA communities that you were raised in?
[00:25:21] Morgan: That's a very, very good question. Yeah, for the island, it's very, very tiny. There are parts where like, it's like shaped like, like a crescent moon and like there are parts where like the island is like so thin you can like, it, it it, it's crazy. It's a very, very poor place.
[00:25:37] What you see on this island, there are a lot of Christian groups that have taken root on this island. You have the Mormons. We would see Mormon missionaries, we would interact with them on, on some level. Then there's like the Adventists. I believe there's also Jehovah's Witness. But you do see on this island deeply, like there are pockets of religion. Like if kids were asked like what school they go — went to, and they're like, "Oh, we go to SDA."
[00:26:09] I might be wrong in this, but I think our school was one of the better schools. It's a private school, have to pay to be there. It's very interesting because religion has definitely taken root and you see that, you see it in those communities. I also think that it is definitely a way to cope. Because the reality of it is, flying to this island is crazy expensive. The luxury and the privilege that we have and what we had to quote unquote come and go as we pleased, is very much not the reality for the people that live there.
[00:26:45] They are some of the most amazing people I have ever met. The kindest people. There's, there's not much on the island. People go to Hawaii, people go to Guam for school and like to build their lives and things like that, or go to the other islands. Majuro itself is, there's not much there. And so there's an element of like coping and being stuck. So I think religion is a way to, to cope. I really believe that that's what I saw, of getting super, super involved with these things is a way to give some structure and give some, some meaning to, you know, living in the place that you do.
[00:27:19] And these are not blanket statements. I'm saying this for the very, the very specific situation that I'm talking about, like being in those communities. I'm not saying this at all overall for the Marshallese people.
[00:27:30] Santiago: You mentioned the word "Adventist bubble" earlier. It sounds like there were little bubbles of these different groups. And yeah, apparently the Mormons, like you mentioned, are active there, the Jehovah's Witnesses, several other denominations. And yeah, it's interesting to me to see how even on this tiny island of 25,000 people, like all these groups have kind of descended. And it almost seemed to me just even...
[00:27:53] From reading the article and not even being there, I got the sense from reading all of the different denominations listed out that they were kind of staking claim on different parts of the island. Did you get that sense?
[00:28:04] Morgan: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, definitely. We, because we have our own whole compound and campus, like we lived on campus. Yeah, absolutely. That's a thousand percent true.
[00:28:14] Santiago: Interesting. So now that you've left the church, and it sounds like you were even having some of these questions and critiques back then, how do you view student missionary programs like the one that you participated in, and missionaries in general?
[00:28:28] Morgan: For student missionaries I think it's, I think it's a very predatory system. You're getting 18, 19, 20 year olds to go to a place they've never been before with the promise of "You're gonna make a difference." "It's gonna be the best year of your life and look how you're gonna serve Jesus." And "You'll get to be on a tropical island."
[00:28:48] Like, of course, like, cool, that sounds dope. For me, I wasn't ready to graduate, and so I was like, "I need to get outta the country for a year." And that's not the only reason, but that was definitely a factor. I was like, "I don't have my shit together." "Oh, let me go to this place." You know, but like, not, not in a bad way. You know, like in my mind it was not a bad thing, but in reality, that's not great.
[00:29:12] A lot of student missionaries, that's what happens. You're, you just need a break. And so you go gallivant in someone else's culture for a year. Like, that's what it is. It's very, very heartbreaking because, you know, when I was there, I was the senior class sponsor, like, I went on their senior class trip with them to Pohnpei.
[00:29:35] Like they were, I was so tight with them. They were like family to me. And then you just leave and it's, it's tough. But even at like the age of like my fifth graders, they would, from that age, they'll be like, "Oh, you're just, but you're just gonna leave in a year." Like, these kids are, they are in this cycle and they're fully aware that, "Oh, you're just gonna be here for a little bit, and then I'm literally never gonna see you again." And yes, you can do what you can to stay in contact, whatever, but it's just not the same. It's just not the same at all.
[00:30:08] Santiago: You've talked about how your husband had previously been a student missionary, I think, on the same island before you really knew each other and started dating. So can you walk me through the time between you're doing the student missionary program and the time that you graduate and then start dating?
[00:30:27] Morgan: That's actually been something that I've been so thankful for in our relationship. He went after his freshman year, and that's something we talk about. It's like, he's a child! Like he's not ready to teach high school history! Like that's something that we've, it's like that, that makes no sense. But they let him go. This 18-year-old to go teach other pretty much 18 year — we had students who were older than us. Like that's, that's just crazy.
[00:30:51] Um, but that's something that I've been very thankful for in our relationship where he and I just understand so much about each other. We actually had the same major and it was, we were around each other and we even worked together, but we never spent any one-on-one time with each other.
[00:31:08] And so then I went from my SM year between my junior and senior year. Then I came back and we had the same summer internship, same film internship. And we started, you know, just spending time one-on-one and immediately started dating. And just been together ever since.
[00:31:25] And what's been so helpful is having someone who fully understand — 'cause there's also the culture shock, there's the readjustment, there's all of, you come back and you're like, "Oh my god," you just, you just see everything differently. And just having that person who just actually fully understands, like, "Oh yeah, this specific person." "Yeah, I reme — like this one student, yeah." It's, it's an unmatched gift and experience.
[00:31:54] Santiago: Hmm yeah, I bet. That's so important and honestly, I think really lucky to be able to have that kind of level of understanding. There's some people who have deconstructed and or deconverted and they talk about how dating people who didn't grow up within their religion can be a challenge sometimes. Because they don't really get it, right? I'll, I'll use myself as an example.
[00:32:22] I felt extremely nervous and naive when I started dating. I had a quote unquote girlfriend in middle school for like two, three months maybe. I had a high school girlfriend for I wanna say like a year and a half, which is not bad for being in high school.
[00:32:42] Morgan: That's great.
[00:32:43] Santiago: But that was done in secret 'cause I wasn't supposed to.
[00:32:47] Morgan: Not allowed to be dating?
[00:32:50] Santiago: Yeah, no, my parents always said after, uh, "Once you graduate from high school and maybe when you're in college," but you know, do, "Do your schooling first." That was always what I was told. So really the first time I truly, truly started dating, was in my late twenties. And so I'm feeling kind of new and naive and I'm a bit of an introvert and I didn't really develop friendships outside of the Adventist circle too much.
[00:33:17] The one exception was my best friend who grew up atheist and has just been secular his whole life. So that was kind of my lifeline whenever, like once I had deconverted and I was ready to talk to somebody, he was one of the first people I spoke to. I also talked to my brother who had left some years before I did. But still, I felt like "I don't know what I'm doing."
[00:33:39] So I felt lucky when I met the woman who is now my partner, that even though she didn't grow up within Adventism, she didn't grow up within such a strict religious environment. She only went to Sunday school a little bit 'cause her grandparents really wanted her to, and that was about the extent of it. We joke about how I'm like Steve Rogers in Captain America, where I'm having to learn all of these cultural references where I just kind of missed out on the last several decades.
[00:34:06] Morgan: Mm-hmm.
[00:34:07] Santiago: 'Cause I wasn't exposed to it. So that has been helpful. But I can empathize with people who are struggling in that area because it's sometimes hard. I think it's hard for people to empathize growing up in a high control religion, which is really what Adventism and many conservative Christian groups are.
[00:34:27] Morgan: Oh, absolutely. Something that, you know, my husband and I have referenced a lot, like we are, our journeys have been very parallel in some ways and very opposite in different ways. Right when we graduated college, we both, you know, moved to Los Angeles.
[00:34:42] And, you know, you're talking about dating, [laughing] and a joke that we've come to have with our close and best friends here, the easiest way to bond with anyone in LA, you just ask 'em, "Did you grow up Christian?"
[00:34:56] 'Cause in LA, so many of us grew up Christian, like so many of us. And something that I've found, one of my best friends, I collaborate with them in everything, and they are just a brilliant, brilliant person. They grew up, I believe Lutheran, in like the Midwest. We connect, I think in a very similar way that like you and I connect.
[00:35:19] As in we just get this, understand this baseline of trauma, knowing fully there's like differences and there's degrees in the conservatism, et cetera. But yeah, like that's been, it's, it's very interesting to be out of that space and then see how many people grew up the same, even not being in Adventism, being in different denominations.
[00:35:45] Yeah, I have so many, I think the majority of our friends all grew up Christian, and I think we have one who, she's loosely Christian. But other than that, everyone has, we all have this like throughline of experience and I think that's why we are, you know, we, we are so close with them.
[00:36:06] Santiago: Mm-hmm, there's that shared experience. There's maybe a tiny bit of trauma bonding.
[00:36:12] Morgan: Oh, it's a thousand percent trauma bonding, that's what it is. One of my best friends, she's a, a lesbian who grew up Mormon. And so like, I think the Mormons are the only ones who have like, some shit on us. Like, Mormonism is batshit. Like the things that she has told us about, I'm like, "Oh, it could be worse." You know, it's, so, it's been, that's been fun. That's been very, very fun.
[00:36:36] Santiago: Yeah, no, I follow some ex-Mormons on Twitter. I follow some ex-Jehovah's Witnesses on Twitter. I don't know if you're active on Reddit, but if you haven't checked out the exAdventist subreddit, definitely recommend that. You will find your people, you'll find even more of your people there. Sometimes an ex-Mormon or an ex-Jehovah's Witness will chime in. And I really appreciate it, I think it was an ex-Jehovah's Witness who said, "Yeah, y'all are our cult cousins."
[00:37:03] Morgan: Yeah!
[00:37:03] Santiago: And I was like, "Oh my god, yes we are!" Because I'm like, yeah, like I see them as cousins. 'Cause we all, I didn't really realize this until I started researching more, but all of these movements came, Seventh-day Adventist, Jehovah's Witness, Mormons, we all came from the 1800s and we all came from this religious revival that kind of swept the United States, called the Second Great Awakening. And I didn't know any of that until I had left and I was kind of trying to make sense of, you know, the faith I used to have and these other people around me.
[00:37:38] So it's just so interesting to see how you're right. Like we are kind of off on our own corner doing our own thing as Adventists growing up. But there is, when you really look and start talking to other people, there are many similarities. Even though we like to think of ourselves as the remnant church and just being kind of, you know, special and set apart, if you will.
[00:38:03] Morgan: What's so funny, you know, being on this side of it, is that every single church feels that they are. The Mormons believe they have — they're the ones. Jehovah Witnesses, they believe they're the ones. Adventists, "We believe we're the ones." And it's just so funny.
[00:38:19] It's so nice to like, get out and be like, "Oh, you're Lutheran? "Oh, you're Mormon?" Oh man like I, there's an artist that I'm working with, we've become friends. I hadn't heard of this. I don't know if you've heard of this. Hers was deeply culty. I need to look into it, but she grew up "Encourager?" Have you heard of Encourager?
[00:38:37] Santiago: No, what's that?
[00:38:39] Morgan: Cult, cult, cult. Um, but we bonded like so quickly and it's like, yeah, everyone all doing just really weird specific things. Like, you know, it's almost like cultural foods of like, "Oh, this one had this type of spice, this one had this type of spice." But it's like, but it's all food. Like, all, all cults.
[00:38:58] Santiago: Speaking of food, did you grow up vegetarian or vegan?
[00:39:01] Morgan: I grew up vegetarian.
[00:39:03] Santiago: Okay, same. And I, and I still am for different reasons.
[00:39:07] Morgan: I'm thankful for it. There was a period where I was trying to eat meat and I just kept getting sick and I was like, "You know, this is okay." "This is the one thing, if I take this that's fine."
[00:39:17] Santiago: Yeah, yeah, definitely. There, there are some things that I think, you know, we can appreciate about the Adventist movement, maybe getting right even if it was for the wrong reasons.
[00:39:30] There are many progressive Adventists who are still very much Adventist, still very much have their faith, who like to point out some of these things. And you know, I say give credit where credit is due, but let's also not gloss over all of the highly problematic stuff in our history.
[00:39:46] Morgan: Oh, absolutely, absolutely.
[00:39:48] Santiago: So, coming back to you and your husband, you both wrote a song called Stay and you directed and produced a music video for it. Can you talk a little bit about that and the meaning behind that song?
[00:40:00] Morgan: So when we moved to LA, my husband got hired, he works at a music software company. I mean, I came to LA to do film and I'm still doing film. But I never like came to LA to like be an artist or be a music producer. Like that's just something that just kind of happened because of the circumstances.
[00:40:17] He, the company that he works with, it's one of the leading industry companies. And so we were, we just got like a whole, thousands and thousands of dollars of a setup for free. Just because, you know, he worked for that company, he's getting all of these effects and plugins, all these things for free.
[00:40:34] And what he was working on was a lot of like educational stuff. And so he's sitting all day like making the educational stuff and just learning and then like showing it to me and being like, "You should do this, you should do," and then we just kind of got excited and then just kind of just started making music. I would say like for a year, like a year and like two months, I spent just like messing around and learning how to produce music. And then, you know, Stay just kind of came out of that.
[00:41:04] Santiago: So was that the first song that you had like written and produced?
[00:41:08] Morgan: Yeah, that was the very first one. That song itself, I think I was working on for that entire year and a half where it's just like I would learn something new and be like, "Oh, I should do this." You know, I would learn something new and I'd be like, "Oh, that's how you make this!" "Oh, okay, okay, okay!"
[00:41:22] And so the process was long, but it wasn't, it didn't feel, feel terrible at all. 'Cause I didn't, I didn't necessarily have a, like an end goal in a sense. I was just like, "Ah, I'm just making this." When we started showing it to people, they were like, "Wait, this is good." And we're like, "Oh, okay, so we should like try to do this." And right when we, we put out our first song, and then pandemic hit.
[00:41:45] 'Cause we put it out in February 2020, and then pandemic hit and everything shut down. Tommy was now working from home. We were both like, it was just a whole thing. The film industry shut down.
[00:41:56] And so like, all of the projects I was working on just stopped. Like we couldn't be in person. And so during pandemic, that's when I went hard on music and like really launched that. I think if the pandemic wouldn't have happened, I don't think we would've done that. I don't think it would've been what it was. You just work hard and then things started to fall into place and you know, we've had a great time and it's still growing.
[00:42:22] Santiago: That's awesome. So, because you've talked about how you kind of grew up around music, right? And you've kind of always been like a musician. You've always been involved in music. So what made you decide to go more of the film direction?
[00:42:37] Morgan: Film and music for me, are synonymous. When I am making a song, I see the visuals in my head. When I have like a film project that I'm directing or working on, I hear the music in my head. Ultimately, I wanna make feature-length musicals where I like write and produce the music for them and then also get to direct them.
[00:42:58] That's my goal. And so for me it's just completely intertwined. In no way is it one or the other, it's all together, if that makes sense. So like stuff like Greatest Showman, that is what I wanna make.
[00:43:11] Santiago: No yeah, that's awesome. I don't know if you've been told this before or if you've seen Book of Mormon, but the Adventist church needs its own version of Book of Mormon, and I would love to see you make that.
[00:43:22] Morgan: Okay. Alright.
[00:43:25] Santiago: You heard it here.
[00:43:27] Morgan: That's a great idea. That's a very good idea. Okay, more on that later. Great idea. Go you.
[00:43:35] Santiago: I have some people, um, that I want to connect you with who can give you a lot of material.
[00:43:40] Morgan: Oh, I would love that, please.
[00:43:43] Santiago: [Laughing] I still have to see Book of Mormon. I haven't seen it, my partner has. I've heard it's hilarious and the songs are just — I've heard the music, and I've seen maybe some clips on YouTube, but that's on my to-do list.
[00:43:56] Morgan: That's top my to-do list now also.
[00:43:59] Santiago: Amazing. So I wanna bring us back to the time where you're in Walla Walla and you talk about how you were deconstructing, you met your husband or your future husband, and you've talked about how you didn't necessarily identify as Adventist.
[00:44:17] You kind of still very much identified as a Christian, but you didn't really identify as an Adventist. So do you remember specific points where you were doubting Adventism growing up and then kind of identified more with Christianity? Or was it kind of just a gradual shift?
[00:44:36] Morgan: I think I never really identified with Adventism. I don't think there was ever a point in my life where I would tell you, out of my own choice, say, "Yeah, I'm Adventist." You know, obviously not even fighting against anything at that point, ah, I just didn't really care. But then when I moved into, you know, being in the non-Adventist space, then I was adamant about saying "I'm not Adventist," if that makes sense.
[00:45:03] Santiago: Hmmm, so I guess that kind of solidified it?
[00:45:06] Morgan: Mm-hmm.
[00:45:07] Santiago: Okay. I've also seen a TikTok you posted about this turning point where you visited a church and had kind of like this strong, visceral, negative reaction to both the lyrics of the music, the worship music they were playing, and the sermon. So I'm wondering if you can share that story. And I'm also curious if that was at an Adventist church or some other church.
[00:45:30] Morgan: No, it was, it was an Adventist church. This was right after we had graduated college, and so it was like one of the first Saturdays where we were down here in Southern California. And as we're getting ready for church, I am just so focused on what I look like. I'm focused on, "Is it okay, do I look okay?"
[00:45:53] Like, I'm just very, just like full on like, okay, what, what, what's going on here? Okay? And then as we, we get in the car, we're driving over, and I just had this full body dread. I'm like, "Ugh, I don't wanna see anyone I know," knowing I'm going to see people I know.
[00:46:10] It's Tommy and I game planning of like, "Yeah, we'll just walk by." You know, like that's the type where like, nah, like I don't wanna talk to you. I don't have to talk to you anymore. Good, goodbye. Then being so preoccupied with finding our friends and like sitting by them and just establishing that.
[00:46:26] Music starts. I was in this space of like... I wanted to be there. No one dragged me there. I wanted to go. The music starts going and I'm trying to connect with it, and I'm just like having constant issues. I was like, "I'm not gonna sing that!" "I am nothing and you are everything?" "I am trash and you rescued" — No! I was like, "That doesn't feel right." "I don't believe in that."
[00:46:54] And so wasn't able to get into that. Then we sat and then the sermon starts, and then he's like preaching. And I'm just like, "That's just not true." "That's wrong." Ah, he was a white man, don't get to say that. And just having just constant issues. And then we literally walked out, and I turned to Tommy. I was like, "I'm done with church." He's like, "Yeah, me too." And like it was just, it was that. We did this, and it wasn't the thing, and we're done. And that was the last time I've gone to church on purpose. [Laughing] Like yeah, like an Adventist church.
[00:47:31] Santiago: Do you remember what year that was?
[00:47:33] Morgan: Uh, 2018.
[00:47:35] Santiago: Okay. That was the year that I definitively remember starting deconstructing.
[00:47:41] Morgan: Let's go 2018, that was a year!
[00:47:44] Santiago: [Laughing] Yeah. I think you and I are both millennials, right?
[00:47:48] Morgan: Mm-hmm.
[00:47:49] Santiago: My brother is Gen Z and I've interviewed him and there's a couple other Gen Z Adventists I've seen kind of talk about their experiences online. And one question that people have is, what is really kicking off this movement?
[00:48:05] One of the last interviews I did, someone mentioned the fact that Covid has really had an impact because it broke the weekly habit for some people of going to church. And, you know, maybe it shook their faith in some ways. This is just purely anecdotal, I don't have data to back this up, but from my own observations, it seems like it just broke the habit for some people.
[00:48:26] But then there's also the internet and people being less and less afraid to speak up about their experiences, like we're doing right now. So for you, do you see any one of these or all of these kind of influencing you personally or our generation as a whole?
[00:48:43] Morgan: Oh absolutely. One thing I would say also that I think was huge, was the Trump presidency. I think that was massive, especially in Christian spaces. 'Cause there are a lot of Christians who aligned themselves with Trump. And I think that was a big turning point, I think for a lot of people, I think in our generation, of seeing, "Oh no, this is not who I want to be with." Or choosing "Oh yeah, this is, yeah, yeah, yeah. This is, this is what I want." And especially that in tandem, like that was happening with Covid as well. That was an election year.
[00:49:18] Santiago: Mm-hmm.
[00:49:19] Morgan: And I think yes, the internet and social media are a huge aspect of it too because, you know how it was before is we were all just living in our own little bubbles, but now we have something where everyone's screaming and saying "This is wrong." And then you're like, you have to think about it 'cause it's like, "Oh, I never even thought about that as wrong."
[00:49:39] So absolutely yes, COVID, and yes, I think the political climate. Something that I've talked about a lot with one of our professors from college, Tommy and I are very, very close with. But something that he said, my words aren't gonna be perfect, but it's to the effect that "It's really cool to like see that you and Tommy are setting, you know, boundaries and standards for yourself with, you know, your in-laws and your parents, this young."
[00:50:01] What he was saying with that is, "Yeah, me and my wife, we didn't set those boundaries until like later," quote unquote, in life, with in-laws and family and whatever. And what I've said to him is, I don't think that we would've set these boundaries and known to do what we did, any sooner or later than he would've, time-wise, as in like 2001, 2002. Because I think the big thing that has enabled us to make the decisions that we have, is the social and cultural climate.
[00:50:37] And so even though he may be 10 years older than us, if it was 10 years ago and I was this age, I don't think we would've had certain conversations or set certain boundaries with my parents. 'Cause we didn't have the language that, like, that's just not, I think where we were culturally. Which has been very, very interesting. It has been a hard reset, I think, for everyone, regardless of age. I think that's what I'm trying to get at. Where we've had to look and see like, "What are the choices that I'm making?" "What are the spaces I'm putting myself in?" And, you know, "Are these good, and if they're not, what's next?"
[00:51:09] Santiago: It's interesting you mentioned that. I've got another book that you might be interested in. It's called Jesus and John Wayne. I've mentioned it a couple times on the podcast about how... You're right, I think many of us millennials and I think people in general, even my parents, despite being deeply conservative and Republican, couldn't bring themselves to vote for Trump.
[00:51:30] We had conversations about this. And you know, for anyone listening, I've talked before about how I don't want the podcast to be inherently political, but how politics touches all aspects of our lives. And a lot of the things that we talk about are politicized, even if I don't believe they're inherently political.
[00:51:49] So at least we found common ground on that, and I was thankful for that. But I realize that some people did not find that common ground with their parents. And it's challenging, right? Because this is your family, but you see the world in such fundamentally different ways. But I think you're right. The fact that we have the language, the fact that more and more people are speaking about it, I think is giving people the courage and strength to set boundaries with their parents, whereas maybe before they, they wouldn't have felt comfortable.
[00:52:20] I am forever grateful to Abby and Ami, the two women who started the podcast that I have kind of tried to republish and make part of the Haystacks and Hell podcast. And they talk about how, you know, in their thirties, they were able to tell their parents that they were no longer Adventist, but they didn't feel comfortable telling them that they didn't believe in God anymore. They didn't feel comfortable taking that extra step. And it's so interesting to me that my brother being Gen Z, he just didn't really give a fuck, I guess? And he came, he just came out and told our parents.
[00:52:58] Morgan: Gen Z is terrifying! And I love it. I am just, I am so terrified and so excited. Like the whole thing that they did, do you know about like what they did with one of like Trump's rallies? He decided to hold a rally. I think it was like the,
[00:53:15] where the Tulsa Massacre was. And I think he chose to do it on Juneteenth, he was told not to. And Gen Z's like, "Okay." And Gen Z, they all reserved all of the tickets. And so they were like, they built like an extra stage outside. And then no one showed up. And they were confused. Like, Gen Z is terrifying! They are terrifying. And I am so excited.
[00:53:46] And it was so amazing, like seeing all my little cousins, like I say little 'cause they're younger than me. But seeing them, these middle schoolers and high schoolers, all during like the height of George Floyd. They're, they're out protesting every single day. Mid pandemic, like they're flooding social — like, Gen Z is terrifying and I love them and I'm so excited. They deserve everything. Love Gen Z.
[00:54:09] Santiago: Same, same, yeah. They are now the least religious generation, I think, of all time in the US and I'm pretty sure, in other countries. and I think a big part of that is the internet, but also the stigma of so many different things, like talking about mental health, you know, you talk openly about mental health on TikTok and just being able to have, again, I think a big part of it is the language. We have terms to describe what we're going through, and that allows us to have conversations where we're on the same page and we're speaking the same language.
[00:54:43] Morgan: Absolutely, yeah. I have had anxiety my entire life. My mom has terrible anxiety. But I only have that language now. It's not that it's, "Oh, now I have anxiety." No, it's, it's always been there, but you know, you have the language, so yeah, absolutely.
[00:54:58] Santiago: Speaking of all of that, if, if you don't mind me asking, how would you describe your worldview today?
[00:55:03] Morgan: I identify as agnostic. The sentiment that I have is that, you know, with being agnostic, it could be something, it could be nothing. It doesn't matter. And it's not gonna impact how I treat anyone. I'm not gonna treat anyone differently based on something that may or may not exist. What I am going to act on is I'm going to try in everything to act in love and kindness, 'cause that's the only thing, that's the only thing I have control over.
[00:55:31] I think on a spiritual level, there's a part of me, and I also deeply qualify this as I believe this because, you know, I was raised Christian. I think if I was born into a family that practiced Islam, I would be that. Like, I think that a lot of this is, I think a lot of religion is circumstantial, a lot of it. And it's circumstantial and cultural.
[00:55:55] This sentiment that I have is that it could be a box, it could be a group of women, like it could be whatever in the sky. But I feel like if there is a thing, that thing has revealed themself to everyone, every different like culture, group of people, on the planet. That's why we have all these different religions. We have Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, you know, we have all this. And you know, when I was, when I started deconstructing, I immediately felt this need, I was like, "Okay, so if I'm not Christian, what religion am I?"
[00:56:29] And I remember looking up on Google and going through this like PDF of like, "These are all the religions." And I'm like, "I identify with this, uh, but I don't identify with this." And what was so good about that experience, I read through it, I'm like, all of these have so much in common. Like I think ultimately all religions, they aim to do good. All of them do. And then they have their human stuff, which is like, ah, well that's no, like, that's when reading through that I was like, "Ah, I can't do that." Like, that's, don't believe in that.
[00:57:02] I feel like we have a need to explain what exists. Like we don't know how we got here, and that's really scary. That's terrifying. I'm a very existential person, so I understand that. And I want to rationalize it. I think about death way too much, 'cause just like, I, I, I don't know what it is. And so I think if there is a thing, I think that they reveal themselves to everyone, but also, it could be nothing.
[00:57:33] And I think why agnosticism is so freeing for me is because, you know, being in these Christian spaces, everyone's so sure about everything that they cannot prove, which is exhausting. And that's, that was my biggest like, turnoff, reason to leave, quote unquote. 'Cause it was just like, you, you can't prove this and you are treating people differently based on something you cannot prove.
[00:57:59] You're treating women differently based on this thing that you don't know for sure. You're treating queer people differently because of this thing you cannot prove. And so for me, agnosticism is just so, so freeing because it's like, "Yeah, it could be that." "It also may not, but it doesn't matter." How you treat people should not change based on what you believe. And that's kind of Christianity's whole thing. That's where my mind is and it's just, I, I just feel, I feel so free.
[00:58:29] Santiago: I'm so glad you mentioned that 'cause I definitely relate to that feeling of freedom. That sense of freedom. I, I wrote a letter to my parents when I told them that I no longer believed, and that is, I used the word freedom. I told them I feel a greater sense of peace and freedom because I remember... I don't know if you remember back in 2015 when women's ordination was this huge debate within the Adventist church, right?
[00:58:56] First of all as a guy and someone who grew up in a conservative Adventist church, but was also starting to maybe slowly shift my views to be a little bit more moderate, a little bit more liberal. I was genuinely on the fence. And I had a friend who was a more liberal Adventist, and she was definitely in favor of women's ordination. She wanted to go into ministry.
[00:59:23] And so I was kind of hearing these sermons and hearing all these perspectives at my church, but then also doing all of this research and hearing the other side from the other Adventists who are, who are for it. And I was genuinely on the fence. And when I stopped believing, when I left the church and when I stopped believing in all of it, I thought to myself, "How freeing is it that this whole debate that thousands of people have spent tens, if not hundreds of thousands of hours thinking about and writing about and spending money on this, it does not fucking matter."
[00:59:58] And that was so freeing to me. It also kind of made me upset because I was like, "Imagine how much better we would be as a planet if the time and energy and money and resources spent on that was spent on something else."
[01:00:16] Morgan: Oh, I cannot agree with that more. Like that, that was one of my biggest things. Like stepping out of the Adventist bubble 'cause there's this... Religion is about power. That's really what it's about at the end of the day. And you step outside it and you see like, "Oh, no one cares about a GC, uh, a president of a cult." [Laughing] No one cares about you. Like you have no bearing on my wellbeing or my life. Like you could try to come at me, and we would all laugh, the world included.
[01:00:50] And that's the most freeing thing 'cause you're in these places where you're like, "Ah, no, ah, I, I wanna be accepted." "I wanna be loved." But then you get out, you're like, "Oh, they have no bearing on anything." which, it's just, it is mind blowing when you, it's you're, you're in this bubble, you have no idea, but you step outside it and you're like, "Oh my god, it's a bubble!" You know?
[01:01:12] Santiago: Yeah, somebody posted on the exAdventist subreddit the other day. I think the title of their post was "We Give the Church Too Much Power." And I stopped dead in my tracks when I read that, because this whole podcast is talking about growing up Adventist and how this system has had so much power and control over our lives. But then reading that post, I was like, "Well, hold up." We gave it that power. We didn't have a choice as kids, right? Many of us didn't have a choice growing up,
[01:01:46] but as adults and as we are starting to learn new information, kind of break out of that bubble, we have a choice. I want to be careful here 'cause I want to acknowledge that there are people who have had serious harm, serious trauma, that this system still in some way maybe holds power over them. At the same time, you're right, the GC president has absolutely zero bearing over our lives unless if, unless if you happen to maybe work for an Adventist institution or something. Again, there's, there's, there are some complexities there, right? There are some caveats, but I agree, by and large, the church does not have power over us anymore.
[01:02:30] Morgan: Absolutely. And I think, 'cause I have so much trauma from the church, but I wouldn't say like, I think there is a, like a difference between like the power and like acknowledging "You did me wrong." And I'm, I can only speak for myself. For me, when I gave it power, I allowed myself to be responsible for the things that they were doing to me.
[01:02:57] But by not giving them power anymore, it's fully saying, "No, this is your fault." And I'm gonna, I'm doing my work to unpack this, but this was not my fault. Which is empowering and healing to know.
[01:03:12] Santiago: One other thing I really appreciate about what you've shared, I think I saw a TikTok where you've talked about the word "anger" and how we were conditioned to see that word in a negative light. And in that video you said something that I really, really loved. You said "If people were never angry, nothing would ever change in the world." What would you say to someone who is struggling with guilt about feeling angry as they deconstruct or deconvert?
[01:03:41] Morgan: I don't know if anyone else has, if this is anyone else's experience, but I, to this day, this is something that I am working on and I have to, I, I hope, I, I think this is just how I've been conditioned. Every emotion that I feel, I question it. Anything that I feel, good, bad, anything. I don't feel that I am allowed to feel that way. I, I, I just get really weird with my own emotions. I get very disembodied. I experience like depersonalization where I'm outside my body and being like,
[01:04:13] "Does this person actually get to feel the way that they're feeling?" So much of that I attribute to religion and the conditioning that happens with... Just what we're, we're told we're allowed to feel and do. Sit, stand, don't sit, don't stand. Like all of that conditioning, we're not allowed to trust ourselves.
[01:04:35] When I chose to just trust and follow the question "Why," that is what was so freeing and helped me. "Hey, this is making you feel uncomfortable." "Why?" "This?" "Okay, so then that's the reason." Why, why, why? And just trace that back. And for me, I would get to the root of the issues and see like, "Oh, it's because this was taught to me as a child and innately I don't believe I'm a good person." And so like that shows that the system is broken. Like, you know, just chase that back.
[01:05:08] And also if there are times, I look at my own emotions. I'm like, "Why do I feel this way?" Something that happens to me when like, something really, really good happens, I'll feel really shitty. I'll feel like a terrible person. I had to ask the question of like, "Why, why do I feel that way?"
[01:05:22] And it was like, "Oh, because I'm not allowed to feel good about myself in Christianity." Like that's what was conditioned into me. And so I would say like, that's, that's very helpful. Chase the "Why," I would do that.
[01:05:34] Santiago: Yeah no, I think that's so important. I don't know if you grew up with this, but I remember growing up, performing music in church or speaking, or doing different things. And whenever someone gave you a compliment, the default was...
[01:05:48] Morgan: Glory to God.
[01:05:49] Santiago: Exactly, "Praise God," "Glory to God." And you were definitely taught that accepting praise was a bad thing. And so I gotta imagine for you that's also kind of still somewhere in there, right?
[01:06:02] Morgan: Oh, absolutely. Like, yeah, [laughing] last weekend we went out with some of my husband's coworkers, and I'd met them for the first time, sharing with me like, "I really like your music and like the way that you produce," et cetera. And I, [laughing] I got so awkward! I just didn't know how to respond. 'Cause I, I actually don't know how to respond to that. I just went like, "It's all hard work, thanks." Like, 'cause I actually don't know how to respond to that, to this day.
[01:06:31] Santiago: I can relate on some level. I, I actually remember when I first started dating as an adult, I think this was like a first date. I received a really, like, genuine, nice compliment from the person I was on the date with. And I got awkward. And I was, I was able though, to recognize and tell them in that moment. I was like, "Thanks, I, I'm sorry." Like, "I don't know how to take compliments well and it's something I'm working on." But that was some, that was something I experienced on a first date, like...
[01:07:03] Morgan: You are not alone in that. It's just like, "Ahh!"
[01:07:06] Santiago: Yeah, so, so giving compliments and receiving compliments is something that I still have to kind of work on and something I need to maybe think a little bit more. 'Cause I totally forgot about that until just now. But yeah, it's something that I, I still wanna work on personally. [Laughing]
[01:07:23] Morgan: Yeah, it's, it's, when you see all the things that growing up Christian and Adventist have impacted, you're just like, "Goddamnit, like I can't take a compliment normal?" Like, you gotta take that from me? Like, come on!
[01:07:35] Santiago: [Laughing] Yeah, so speaking of your music, you wrote a song called Wilder Things, and you've described it as being about religious trauma. So first of all, I wanted to ask you, how'd you come up with the name Wilder Things?
[01:07:49] Morgan: This song was like me coming out publicly. I'd come out to, you know, all of like the people close to me for a while before that. But with that, it's the heart of my deconstruction. Kind of what we talked about earlier with, you know, why I'm agnostic. Why would I treat someone differently based on something that I don't know?
[01:08:10] There is so much shit going on, why do you care about people wearing jewelry? Like that's just, that's just stupid. There's so much, there are wilder things. There's crazier things that we need to be working — global warming. This is coming, it's gonna affect all of us! Like, let's focus on that. Why are you so concerned with someone's orientation or what they are wearing? The line in the song is,
[01:08:34] "This world has seen much wilder things." There's so much going on, and let's put our time to better use. Like, why are we, why are we, why are we doing this?
[01:08:42] Santiago: I think part of that comes from this fundamental difference in our worldview, right? They believe there's a better life coming and everything is about preparing for that. And we're like, "Well, we don't know that there's a better life coming, so let's do everything we can about the one we know we have."
[01:09:00] Morgan: Yeah, absolutely.
[01:09:01] Santiago: I wanna do a lyric breakdown because I saw some of your TikToks where you started talking about that. So I wanted to kind of, for everyone listening, I really want them to, first of all, make sure that you go follow Morgan on TikTok and on Instagram and follow her on Spotify and YouTube. Do all the things. Those will be in the description. For everyone listening, I wanted to give them an opportunity to hear from you directly, all of the lyrics, kind of your thinking behind that and the meaning. Because when I first heard that song, it brought back memories for me. I, I froze when I heard the line "Holding out my hands to find the glitter in your dust."
[01:09:39] And I, I, I feel like I had chills because it brought back memories to me of deconstructing and trying so hard to find redeeming qualities in my faith as I was going through deconstruction. I was still teaching Sabbath school to the youth group at that time, while I was deconstructing. And I did my best to incorporate themes of justice into all of the Sabbath school lessons that I believed were still in line with Christianity, even as my own faith was unraveling. So anyway, that was kind of how I interpreted that line.
Wilder Things Lyrics Breakdown
[01:10:14] Santiago: I would love to do like a deep dive of your intent and meaning behind the lyrics.
[01:10:18] Morgan: Oh, I would love to do that. My husband and I, we write together, and so there's like so much meaning in our lyrics. I cannot talk enough about them, so yeah, very excited.
[01:10:27] Morgan (Singing):
I've spent way too many years wondering what you'd say
Way too many hours wishing me away
Waiting for the day that I would finally measure up
[01:10:44] Morgan: I feel like that's very clear, especially if they're this deep into this podcast, they're gonna know what that means. But I think that's just very desperately, like, even to like that memory that I shared at two years old. Just wanting to belong, just wanting to do things right. Waiting that I would finally be enough, and especially like my issues with original sin, where it's like, "Oh, I'm never gonna be enough." But I, I wanna be enough.
[01:11:12] Morgan (Singing):
I've spent way too many nights dying in your walls
Way too many daydreams keeping myself small
Holding out my hands to find the glitter in your dust
[01:11:29] Morgan: When I say like dying in your walls, this actually goes to a metaphor that my uncle, who is a pastor in the Adventist system, once, like set it up as. He said, his parents' generation, our grandparents, their generation, there's people up on this wall. They were yelling down at them, "This is the way you need to do things." They said, "Okay," they joined the people on the wall.
[01:11:59] Then there was our parents' generation, who when they got to the wall, people up on the wall were yelling down at them, and they yelled back. And they've still been there, they're still there. Either they jumped on the wall, or they're still standing in front of the wall.
[01:12:16] Then there's our generation who walked up to the wall. The wall yelled down at them, and then we just walked around it. And then the wall was like, "Wait what, you can do that?" And I've never heard it put so perfectly. Like this, especially in this first verse, it's me — it's this very, you know, like how we've talked about for me, like visuals and music, they're just completely tied. It's this, someone inside a box, like inside literally a castle, just suffering, suffering.
[01:12:47] But like, "I hope it gets better." "I hope it gets better." "Way too many daydreams, keeping myself small." That line is very, very much about the queer experience. And also it's, it's, it's, it's, [laughing] it's one of those lines that's like about everything. 'Cause it's also about purity culture too, where saying like, "I want to wear this outfit, I wanna wear this makeup," but like, no, I need to be like this to fit into what the wall needs me to be. Like, I need to be this person to acknowledge that. So even in like my dreams, my dreams are even qualified. I don't even get to roam freely in my dreams. I get to say, "Oh, I wanna do this someday," but with this qualification, you know?
[01:13:31] "Holding out my hands to find the glitter in your dust." That line is very, very visceral for me. I have this image of medieval like period pieces where there's like, you know, like a king walking down and then you have all the poor people just reaching out, trying to like, touch them. Being like, "If I could even just be close to that person, I will be fine."
[01:13:53] You look at that, you're like, that's, that's terrible. Like fuck the king, but it's with, with this same sentiment of "This is all bad." Like inside the castle, it's just gonna be bad. But you're trying your best to grasp on, "Oh, I can like, become a student missionary." "Oh, I can like, lead worship." "I can like do my best," like finding the glitter in like the terrible, terribleness.
[01:14:19] Morgan (Singing):
But Imma take a step back and not worry 'bout how they'll react
The thoughts they turned into facts
Oh, I'm seeing through the cracks
[01:14:37] Morgan: The line, "The thoughts they turned into facts," that is massive for me. That's all of my issues with how they treat queer people, people of color, women, like all of that. Where it's these, "Oh, I believe this and I'm teaching it as fact." You know, being agnostic where it's you, you don't know that. And I think it's so, so, so, so dangerous and so harmful. And it, it ultimately in a lot of situations, it does lead to violence when you teach these things that you cannot prove, that are not definitive, but you teach 'em as fact.
[01:15:18] That's why like we have, we have so many people who "unalive" themselves because of these things that they are taught, that we are taught, that are our facts. And if you don't fit into it, uh, you're broken. So yeah, I have very, very, very, very many issues with that. And then saying, "I'm seeing through the cracks."
[01:15:37] Morgan (Singing):
So I throw my hands up high and scream
This world has seen much wilder things
I'm taking back the future they've defined
My joy is not a fantasy
I'm liberated from their strings
So love the beat they hate and dance in time
[01:16:14] Morgan: "I throw my hands up high and scream." Something that has been so liberating for me is like going out as an adult. Especially living in Los Angeles and like going to West Hollywood. Just like having the time of my life with my closest friends and having just...
[01:16:29] There's something that's just like so beautiful about like screaming and dancing your favorite songs with your best friends. It's great! And that's almost, for me, that's a, a form of protest because, you know, we're told that, "Oh, you do this, you're gonna, you're gonna become an alcoholic, you're gonna get human trafficked. You're gonna, you're gonna die."
[01:16:50] But also the, "You'll be back," which is a whole other element. It's literally me saying, "This world has seen much wilder" — like screaming that, saying, "Why are you so focused on these hateful and terrible things? We have other things that are actual issues." Especially now with all of these anti-trans and anti-drag laws. Like this is, I have just been like, these are my, this is my response that like, there's so much more. There are terrible, terrible things happening. We had another terrible shooting this week. Like, why are we worrying about this?
[01:17:29] Santiago: I a hundred percent agree. There is actually a clip floating around, you've probably seen it, of this politician in Tennessee. When it comes to drag queens he's like, "Yep, we're not gonna stand for that." "We're gonna do something about it." But then this shooting in a school happens and he gives some story about his dad fought in the Korean War and people are gonna be people...
[01:17:52] Morgan: Yes, I saw that! He's like, yeah, we, we're, "We're not gonna do anything about it."
[01:17:57] Santiago: Yeah, so that really shows where the priorities lie.
[01:18:01] Morgan: Absolutely, yeah, and that's, that's what I'm saying with this. Just this like general frustration with this, this distraction and this deliberate choice to not actually deal with real issues.
[01:18:16] Santiago: On that last line of the chorus, "So love the beat they hate and dance in time." Growing up in a church where there were no drums and dancing was definitely vilified, I was wondering, is that a, is there some reference in there about Adventist views on quote unquote "worldly music" and dancing?
[01:18:34] Morgan: Oh yeah, so like with this last half, "My joy is not a fantasy, I'm liberated from their strings." The line, my joy, I, I wanna back up to that. "My joy is not a fantasy." There are so many things that made me happy that, you know, you, I would feel terrible about the next day. And like that, especially in reference to queerness as well. If you are a certain orientation and this is the person you wanna be with, that's not made up in your head.
[01:19:00] And also with choosing to not be in the church? Most joyful thing on my, in, in my life. That's not a fantasy, you know? What's been taught to us is this brainwashing of, "Oh, you'll leave, but you'll be back." You know, like you always have the grandmas getting up.
[01:19:16] This is something that my husband brings up a lot. In the church that he grew up in, there was always the grandmas getting up and saying, you know, "Pray for my son. You know, he's not in the church, but like, you know, like, we'll pray for him to come back."
[01:19:28] This idea that no one is actually happy if they're not in the church, you know? But just clearly saying "No, my joy is not a fantasy." Like where I feel safe is where I feel safe. Where I feel happy is where I feel happy. The people and the relationships that I have, that's authentic and you don't get to convince me out of my own joy.
[01:19:48] And so the, with the line, "So love the beat they hate and dance in time," that for me is almost, it's a blanket statement for queerness, it's for deconstruction. It's all of these different things where it's like, if, if someone wants to have a problem with you, they're gonna find a problem with you.
[01:20:05] Loving the beat they hate and dance in time, that comes back to like me feeling just so authentic and feeling happy and safe and loved in these spaces that I was told are toxic and terrible for me. So loving the beat they hate, it's saying like, "Just exist." Like, they don't get it, and that's fine. They aren't gonna get it, and it's not about them.
[01:20:32] Morgan (Singing):
Guess I've fallen from the tree And I know what they say
Bragging from their knees, and Saving all the strays
Praying for the day that I will finally cry for help
[01:20:49] Morgan: Really, with that, what I'm referencing very clearly is what I just said about like, you know, the grandma standing up saying, oh, like "I pray for my, my son or my daughter. You know, they'll, they're not in the church anymore, but I hope they'll come back."
[01:21:04] Santiago: I really identified, and I think many Adventists could identify with "bragging from their knees and saving all the strays." Melissa, if, if you haven't heard the interview I did with her, definitely check it out. She talks about how she grew up without being taught about true empathy. That she grew up being taught this condescending, kind of judgmental, "Oh, we'll help you, but you know, you should really pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" type of attitude. And how after leaving, she found a stronger, more centered moral compass and empathy, like genuine empathy for people.
[01:21:49] And so when I, when I read that line, I immediately thought of my conversation with her. Because she does talk about how, and I think it's probably changed, right? There's maybe some moderate, liberal, progressive Adventists who may hear this and say, "Well, that's not my church," right? But it is in many churches.
[01:22:09] Morgan: Yeah, and yes, I just agree with all of that. A few years after I was into deconstruction, like mid pandemic when it was like safe to finally see family again, I have this memory where, you know, when I was at my parents' house and, you know, they pray in their house before meals. And they prayed, "Ah, we gotta save these people," you know?
[01:22:31] And I was just like, my mouth was just my, my jaw was on the floor. I was like, "Wait, what?" And this is just like, like this, this is a, this is a weird thing. And I think this is the line, "Praying for the day that I will finally cry for help..." Like my parents, and this is something I've talked about a lot and realized, my parents genuinely believe that them treating the way that they do treat me, is them loving me.
[01:23:01] And all they want truly is for me to say, "Oh Jesus, I need you." That's what they want. And so, like, they're praying for the day in which I realize that I fucked up. Like the levels of like, almost removal of like, responsibility. "I hope eventually you realize that you're, you, you are broken and that you come back." Like that's, that's, that's so messed up! And there's so many, like, there's so many levels to that.
[01:23:29] Morgan (Singing):
Such a barricaded love, no wonder I feel shame
Infinitely nameless ways I am to blame
So I’d sew on my mask so I could smile as I melt
[01:23:49] Morgan: "Such a barricaded love, no wonder I feel shame." "Infinitely nameless ways I am to blame." "So I'd sew on my mask so I could smile as I melt." The thing that I was saying about like, you know, you think you're the only one in the world masturbating. But that seeps into every part, I think, of just our growing up to this day. You know, I struggle with believing that I'm a good person.
[01:24:13] What really started was the, you know, the issue of original sin. I just can never get behind that. And so, sewing on your mask so you can smile as you melt. Like it's the, it's just trying to cope and just trying to be okay and, you know, you're still on the wall and you're just like, I'm gonna make the best of it that I can.
[01:24:31] Morgan (Singing):
All the years they took from me
Beauty vilified fully
Chains around my hands
They had me Damned
Why was it mystery?
Glitter covered tragedies
Footprints in the sand, Solid as land
My own affirm my journey
[01:24:53] Morgan: So the bridge is where I start to really express like my anger and frustration. You know, when you have that moment where you, you "wake up," quote unquote. And I think you continue to have these moments, there's so much anger. There's just so much, so much anger of like, "My childhood didn't have to be this way. Why do I have these mental health issues? Like, why, why do I have to be traumatized like this? You did this to me as a child," you know?
[01:25:18] And so "Beauty vilified fully," I feel like there are just so many things in my life where, you know, how my dad treats queer people and how he, especially with trans people. They're, they are not dangerous. Like, that's not the conversation we're trying to have. But that was the conversation that they were having with all of us.
[01:25:39] And they were like, just vilifying all these beautiful things in life. All these beautiful people and experiences, all of these things. When I say "Glitter covered tragedies," this section is like so visceral and like, my favorite, favorite part of this song, honestly. Saying glitter covered tragedies, you look at the stuff in the Bible, and you zoom out and you're like, "Wait, that's not a good story." "That's not great." Even, you know, the story of Jesus getting crucified, like a glitter covered tragedy. Like, "Oh, but it worked out in the end," you know, like, and then that's everlastingly mighty. Like that's the thing that, like it's on the pedestal and that's what we act according to. Like, that is just wild to me. So that's what I addressed there.
[01:26:25] But this ugh, these lines, "Footprints in the sand solid as land. My own affirm my journey." There is that Christian metaphor that to this day my mom will start saying it and she will burst into tears, always. And I think you know what I'm talking about, where it's like the footprints, you're walking on the beach. You're walking with Jesus and then you look back and there's one set of footprints.
[01:26:53] Santiago: Right.
[01:26:54] Morgan: And really what it is at the end of the day, that metaphor is Jesus taking credit for all of the shit that you have pulled yourself through. And these lines are like some of the most, like these are lines that are like ta — like I have tattooed on my heart in a sense. The footprints in the sand are solid as land, also referring to the wise man who built their rock.
[01:27:19] Like saying, you know, you don't build your house on the sand, you build it on like the rock. It's this marrying of the two metaphors, or the two stories of saying, "Jesus has taken me through all of the bad things, and you've also said the sand is not a good place."
[01:27:39] But it's saying "These footprints in the sand are as just as good as the land, and they're mine. They're mine. I have pulled myself through this, the things that I've conquered, I have done." 'Cause I think what Christianity does so deeply is it just removes you of agency. "You haven't done anything for yourself." "God has done everything for you."
[01:28:05] Santiago: I think there's value in humility to a certain degree. There's value in crediting people in your life that have made an impact on you. But I think you hit on something super important, which is that this idea of humility and meekness can be taken to such an extreme to where you take zero credit for anything that you have personally accomplished. And I think, you know, being on either extreme is not good.
[01:28:36] Morgan: Absolutely, definitely humility and giving credit, and all of those things. I think what I'm really getting at is in those spaces, it is the people who are here who have mentored me, who like my partner, you know, having him to help me through this. He's the one who has helped me through it.
[01:28:56] You know, it hasn't been someone, a floaty guy in the sky. It's been a real person. I think that's what I'm trying to get at. And that we as people have agency and we actually can help. It's not just "up to God's plan." We can make a difference and we can, we can do great things. That's really what I'm trying to get at.
[01:29:17] Morgan (Singing):
Broken glass, I took the keys
Conquering these open seas
All the rumors smashed
I’m free at last, Loving my victory
Charging forward blissfully
Finally who I’m meant to be
All horizons spell wonderland
So I throw my hands up high and scream
This world has seen much wilder things
[01:29:46] Morgan: "Broken glass, I took the keys, conquering these open seas, all the rumors smashed. I'm free at last, loving my victory." So for me, I have this visual of like, you're breaking out of the castle. Like this is the part where you're, you're breaking out.
[01:30:04] "All the rumors smashed, I'm free at last, loving my victory." I think that just goes into just the freedom that, you know, when we talked about, you know, you, you're in the bubble, then you step outside the bubble. And you're like, "Oh, everything's fine."
[01:30:17] Santiago: Yeah.
[01:30:18] Morgan: "Charging forward blissfully, finally who I'm meant to be, all horizons spell wonderland." After being frustrated and angry and having to break out during like, you know, this journey, this is like the, the joy that comes at the end. And this is how I feel about, you know, where I'm at in my life. I've told my husband recently, like this, like past year is the first time in my entire life I've actually felt like myself. It's this joy where it's like, I'm just excited for all these new experiences and just to exist in this way, and on my terms.
[01:30:55] Santiago: Yeah no, that's beautiful and I'm so happy for you.
[01:30:58] Morgan: Oh, same, same for you.
[01:31:00] Santiago: It's difficult sometimes to describe in words to family or to people who still believe. Like you said, we're, we're conditioned to feel like we need this and that there's no joy outside of faith. When I wrote the letter to my parents, I talked about how we were told, we were taught that you cannot have joy and peace outside of faith.
[01:31:24] Morgan: And I think that's where so much of our fear comes from when we leave. That's why I immediately was looking for another religion. 'Cause I was like, "Okay, I, I have to be fulfilled, I have to be happy." "And that only comes from a religion." Yeah, which is, I could not agree more with what you said.
[01:31:42] Santiago: So you've also described Wilder Things as your coming out song, and you've talked about how in 2022 you came out as pansexual and attended a Pride event for the first time. So I, I want to hear the story there and what coming out has been like for you.
[01:31:58] Morgan: Yeah coming out there was, I had a very traumatic experience with someone who they, they're just, they're a hurting person. They, as a queer person, went on a whole rant about a mutual acquaintance that we had, they identify as bi, the said queer person, they went on a rant about them, said, "They're not even bi, they've never been in a relationship with a woman." Like all these things. And where I was like, really trying to figure out. And I was like, "Oh, okay, so I guess I, I'm not queer." "I don't get to be queer."
[01:32:31] But then I did some work and, you know, it was very, one of my close friends who I talked about earlier, um, their name is Lolly, we both started our same journey of realizing that we were queer. You know, I have my life partner, they have their life partner who they're gonna be with for the rest of their lives. But then like realizing you're queer in a hetero relationship, it's just, it's just very interesting and like we've had just like a lot of parallels through our experiences and just figuring out shit together.
[01:33:01] But then eventually, like I did come out, and I was like, yeah, "This is who I am." and I think, yeah, I released Wilder Things during Pride because I was like, yeah, I'm taking this back. Like I get to be queer. This person doesn't get to define who I am and who I'm not. And you know, from there, the song I just released, it's called 26. And what happened in November of last year, I reconnected with the first person that I ever fell in love with, who we met through worship class.
[01:33:30] It's this whole crazy story, but even before, like before we had reconnected, I had written a whole song about her. And about like, "Ah man, it'd be crazy if like we met now" instead of like, when we were like teenagers and in like the toxic spaces that we were in. And it's just like been like a whole thing.
[01:33:46] I've had a lot of people like reach out and say like, wow, like these, like this actually like, really, really resonates with me because something that I fight just so deeply in every part, I just feel such imposter syndrome with my own feelings in everything. So even I was like writing that song and I was like, "Is this actually how I feel?"
[01:34:07] "Is this, did I actually love them?" Like, was she actually like the first person I fell in love with? And then like, we, a big part of our reconnecting, we like really rehashed everything. And we were like, yeah, we were in love. Like, she like slept with my scarf at night. Like, yeah, we were, we were in love.
[01:34:25] You know, we like talked about our feelings for each other. Like it was, it was a whole thing. And so what it has been for me, and I think this also like comes into, you know, me feeling like myself for the first time in my life. It's been all these experiences, especially with that too, and specifically with queerness, that's like really affirming for me.
[01:34:48] "This is who you are." "You're not making this up." "You do get to be in these spaces." And yeah, it's been, for the first time in my life, I actually feel like myself and I'm, I'm just genuinely loving it.
[01:35:00] Santiago: That's awesome. I'm so glad you brought that song up and shared that backstory because it touches on something that I think in Western culture, but also, especially I think in Christianity and Adventism, there is this idea that "God has someone for you." And I remember that I had a very difficult time with that as a young adult. I had, I guess you could say, a situationship with an Adventist woman.
[01:35:37] And I was [laughing] and I was so convinced that we were supposed to be together, and I had this whole kind of vision. We had similar backgrounds, we were involved in some of the same ministries. We had many of the same tastes and values. And looking back, I'm a much different person than I was back then. And I haven't kept up with this person, so I don't know if they've also been on a path of discovery and leaving religion. I don't think so.
[01:36:15] And so looking back, I'm like, well, yeah, that probably wouldn't have worked out in the long term. But growing up within purity culture, growing up within Adventism, I had this idea that there's one person out there for you. And I think that that idea of a soulmate or one single person out there for you is so toxic.
[01:36:34] Because I remember as a kid thinking, oh, "I'm gonna marry the person I love, and even if they die, I will never get married ever again, because I gotta be faithful to them even after they've passed away."
[01:36:48] Morgan: That was it for me.
[01:36:49] Santiago: Exactly, yeah! And so I don't remember anyone ever really teaching me this specifically, saying that out loud. That was just kind of the way I interpreted the beliefs that I was surrounded by. And I've come to recognize now that that's not necessarily true. Because when I'm hearing you talk about writing this song and reconnecting with this person that you fell in love with years ago, I appreciate the fact that you feel comfortable enough to write a song about that. And I gotta imagine that, you know, you've had conversations with your husband about that, and you both are comfortable enough in your relationship to where you can talk about it, and it's not this secret that has to be like digging at you.
[01:37:31] Morgan: Oh, absolutely. And I think a lot of that, you know, just comes down to having, you know, a healthy relationship. Where my husband, we, we talk, it's kind of kind of a joke, but not. I'm so honest, and not like cruel, 'cause I think, you know, being blunt can be cruel at times. There was a time I was trying to like, I planned him a surprise party and he just knew. And I like, it just, it just doesn't happen. Like we can't lie to each other. We're just, we're just very open and that's just who we are as people. I want him to exist as authentically as possible.
[01:38:06] And that's just kind of how I am. Like I'm no bullshit. We're not gonna be putting on any fronts. I think he fully understands that for me, I only am able to write things that pull from like my experiences. Like, I can't make, I can't make things that I don't care about. Like, it just doesn't, it just doesn't, it just doesn't happen. And not that I even set out to do that, but it's like, if I wanna make something, it's gonna be about something that, you know, I see in my head or can tie to a very, very real and lived experience. So I think it's like a way of healing and just, just understanding myself also.
[01:38:46] Santiago: Yeah, for sure. So speaking about the relationship you have with your husband, you've told a story about how you were both kicked out of your parents' house, and if you don't mind me asking, can you share that story with us?
[01:39:00] Morgan: Yes, absolutely. This past year, my cousin who we're not related by blood, but she's my, like my little sister. My brother and I were the ones who were there when she took her first steps. Like my auntie was in the shower and she was just walking between the two of us and we were screaming. And my auntie hopped outta the sh — it's a whole thing. She was my maid of honor. She's my, my like best friend's sister.
[01:39:20] She graduated high school last summer. And so we went up to Seattle to go obviously be there. Something with my husband, he paints his nails. And that was something he started last March. With his OCD, he just, for his entire life, he's just like ripped off his nails, just so you know. Just, that's just been a thing. 'Cause I get my nails done and he, he was like,
[01:39:43] "Hey, can I go with you to get my nails done?" I was like, "Yeah, of course, whatever you want." And that has been literally like a physical deterrent from him ripping it off. 'Cause he'll get like the hard powder on top and then like, then get like you, it, you can't rip it off. Like it's, it's actually like a physical deterrent. It's the only thing that's worked. And he chose to do it on his own.
[01:40:04] And it's been a big thing for him because he's, this is something he said. That he's felt, his hands have looked beautiful in his entire life, because they've always been like, bloody and cracked and just like ripped, like, just looking really, really bad. So when we went up for graduation, his nails were painted. We hadn't really seen my dad yet because the day before he was working, and we were running around that whole day, like helping prep for graduation and everything. So comes graduation morning and graduation I think is at like 2:00.
[01:40:35] My dad knocks on our door and he says, "Hey, can I talk to Tommy?" And we had just barely woken up and we were both just like, "What?" "Okay, that's weird." So anyways, Tommy goes downstairs. I am not a morning person. I am a deep sleeper. And so I took me a second, like I did not know what was going on. My dad sat him down and asked him, he said like, I think this is verbatim. He said like, "So why the fingernails?"
[01:41:03] And Tommy's like, "Oh," and then he explained, you know, what I explained to you. "OCD, first time in my life feeling that my hands are beautiful." My dad was like, "Oh, okay." "Um, so I made you an appointment and we're gonna go get them taken off before we're around everyone else."
[01:41:19] And I was like, wait, what? Anyways, they start, I don't wanna say a fight, because it was, they weren't yelling at each other or anything. They were having like a conversation. Tommy starts crying. My brother who lives at home, he was leaving to walk his dog. And he heard what was happening in the kitchen and he came in and started yelling at my dad, saying like, "You can't do that to him." "My friends who come over have their nails painted, like, this is a very normal thing for straight guys," like, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
[01:41:53] So yeah, I didn't fully understand what was happening. So I think as my brother was interacting with my dad, Tommy is texting me and he tells me like, "Hey, he's telling me to get my nails, we're gonna get it taken off."
[01:42:07] And I was like, oh, absolutely not. Like I was, I woke up right then. So anyways, I go downstairs and there is an element of my dad trying to like, save face. There's just weird social dynamics. But I get downstairs and like he's silent for a second and he just like stares at me. So my dad and Tommy are sitting at the table.
[01:42:32] So I go over to Tommy and I'm like holding Tommy. And then there's like a couch over here and my brother comes and sits there. So we're all like, surrounding my dad now that I'm realizing it, but not like, actually. And my dad like has this mo — I remember this, my dad just like kind of stared at me 'cause I was like staring back.
[01:42:49] I'm like, okay sir, continue. Like, what, what are we... And so then, then he gets into it. And it was very funny 'cause it was also, it was June, so it was Pride Month. So I had like my nails, like crazy rainbows and everything. And so like now I'm the one having the conversation with my dad and there's just like a lot of things he went into.
[01:43:13] What he had told Tommy was like, "I've built up a reputation in this community and over the last like 20 years and I don't want that to be ruined today." And so what I did with my dad, I very, I just walked him through things. I just asked him questions. I said, "Okay, so if that color was on my nails, you wouldn't have a problem with it." And he said yes.
[01:43:34] And I was like, okay. "So this comes down to you being uncomfortable with men showing femininity and well, things that are typically designated as feminine." "This is a you issue." "You gotta work on these things. This has nothing to do with you. We're not saying you have to love it. We're not saying that you have to get your nails painted. But you don't get to treat Tommy differently because of what he decides to do with his body." He went into, "Well what if a child sees that?" [Laughing]
[01:44:03] Santiago: [Laughing] Oh my god, "Think of the children!"
[01:44:09] Morgan: We have to come back to that at the end 'cause of with what's happening recently. But he said that, and I, I'm so proud of myself, I like carried myself so well during this. But I immediately responded. I was like, "I hope that a child would feel free to express themselves however they want to be. And that anyone who treats them differently based on their appearance is a bad person and not someone that they should be around."
[01:44:31] He was just silent and then he just like pivoted. 'Cause I was like, I mean there's not really anything you could say about that. I got to the point I said, "Okay dad, well this, this comes down to like, you have deep rooted issues with homophobia." Like that's what it comes down to. "You are just an extremely homophobic person." "You need to work through this, but Tommy's not gonna change his body."
[01:44:51] And I kept asking him and I said, you know, "In every part of this conversation you've been saying Tommy needs to adjust to you." "Tommy needs to adjust to you." And I asked him, I was like, "At what point do you choose to step outside of your comfort zone and just be kind?" "You know, at what point — you're, you're saying that everything is on us." "Do you have no part in this?" And that's a question that he could just not answer.
[01:45:18] So then he said like, "Oh, what's gonna happen next time you guys come here?" And I'm like, "Well, if you're not gonna be nice to Tommy, we're not, we're not gonna come." And he's like, "That's your decision." I was like, "No, no, no." "It's not our decision." "You are creating the situation and we are having to act based on that." "This is not something that we are doing."
[01:45:37] 'Cause I think something that we see with people like this is they try to make it, "This is your fault." "You're deciding to do this." It's like, "No, I am just existing and you are having an issue with that." "You don't want me here." "If you're not gonna be nice to me, this is the consequence."
[01:45:55] I haven't spoken to my dad in a very long time. But I know to this day, that's something that he, he holds to that "Tommy and I are the ones who have created this problem." "We're the ones who walked out." "We won't talk to him," when that's just not true.
[01:46:10] Santiago: Hmm. Yeah, there's a whole generation or more of us who are setting boundaries with our parents and they can't seem to understand why or accept the reasons that we're giving them. So the guy who started Prager U writes this blog post, at least I think it was him, Dennis Prager. He writes this blog post about how there are a bunch of parents who are gonna be alone for the holidays. And how it's so sad that their children can't bring themselves to be kind to their parents and go spend time with them.
[01:46:51] And it, it's, it's all of the children who were raised on the bullshit of James Dobson, Focus on the Family, all of this just really tox — yeah. All of this really toxic parenting advice that some of our parents and grandparents either, you know, were taught themselves or they bought these books or listened to these radio programs and bought into it.
[01:47:13] They're reaping what they have sown, to use that terminology. And it's like, yeah, if you're not going to be willing to treat us with empathy and dignity, why would you be surprised if we pull back?
[01:47:31] Morgan: Yeah, absolutely that. I think that especially with this, I think with my father specifically in this situation, he's so committed to that he is not the issue. And until he is able to see that he's the issue and makes that decision, there's, there's nothing to really be said. And that's what we made kind of clear to him. We said like, you know, "We are happy to talk about this, but you know, this is something that's not changing."
[01:48:00] And my brother went and had more conversations with my dad too, and we really are getting, like, he's just a deeply homophobic person, deeply. Where any sign of femininity, something that is typically deemed feminine on a man, freaks him out. Freaks him out.
[01:48:21] It's no one's responsibility but his own. And that's what we've made clear to him. It's like, we're happy to give you resources, we're happy to talk through these things with you, but we, we, we are not gonna adjust to these bigoted viewpoints.
[01:48:34] Santiago: You've mentioned in a couple places, and I think in some other interviews, that your dad was a big influence on you and your love for music. And you've talked about how your parents are very forward thinking on issues around race, but have this homophobia.
[01:48:50] And so I'm wondering, you know, when you think about the influence that he had, all of these kind of memories of him introducing you to all these concepts of music, I don't know what the right term would be, but like maybe kind of a bittersweet aspect to that?
[01:49:05] Morgan: Yes, absolutely. And I'm learning, you know, this is still, I have been since, like June of last year, you know, no contact with my dad. I've had one phone conversation with my mom, um, which is not, I, I was constantly FaceTiming my parents, you know? Like, this is very, very drastically different than what my relationship has ever been with my parents. But, you know, through this, it's been a lot of learning for me.
[01:49:34] And also, you know, I'm realizing this, I'm building my family now. Tommy is my family. I have my chosen family and you know, that's, that is okay. That's fine. Definitely bittersweetness. I have, I have a lot of work to do to heal. So it's definitely something I am working on and working through.
[01:49:52] Santiago: I gotta imagine it's difficult to speak about that. So, first of all, I appreciate you being willing to talk about it. I'm wondering for anyone who's listening, who is maybe going through a similar situation, has maybe thought about going no contact, do you have any advice for somebody who could maybe relate to what you, what you just shared?
[01:50:13] Morgan: I can only speak from my experience. If someone is making you feel sad, someone makes you feel terrible, terrible about yourself, is not willing to just love you as the person you are, they don't deserve your energy. And it is so tough when it comes to family. And I think, I don't know if you relate to this at all, but especially for me as a person of color, family, family, family, family, family, especially on my Asian side, it's just like everything is family. Auntie says like some crazy, crazy batshit thing, but like, that's just auntie and we just sit there and we're just like happy.
[01:50:47] At the end of the day, yes, family is amazing, but there are some deeply broken things, even in our cultures. Very patriarchal, very homophobic. The boundaries that you set for the type of people that you keep around you, that applies to your parents. And that your parents have to treat you with respect. You know, like that's, that was kind of a crazy statement for me, that was like, "Oh, my parents have to treat me nicely." "Like, my parents don't get to treat me however they want and I'll just be around them."
[01:51:22] I would also say no one gets to tell you what your boundary needs to be. So if you feel that no contact is the right thing for you, do that. If you don't feel that's the right thing for you and you still want to be talking, and even if it's not the best thing, no one gets to tell you what's the right thing for you.
[01:51:41] 'Cause I think especially in conversations also that surround queerness, you know, I have friends who, you know, they're out and openly queer and their parents are very, you know, quote unquote "anti" their lifestyle. But those people are still, you know, talking to their parents every day trying to have those conversations. And if you wanna do that, you get to do that. No one gets to tell you where your boundaries are. Your boundaries are for you.
[01:52:08] Santiago: Mm-hmm.
[01:52:08] Morgan: And trust your gut. Trust your gut and whatever you feel you need is probably what you need, and follow that.
[01:52:14] Santiago: I think that's really well said and super important. You've also talked about how getting tattoos is a way to kind of reclaim your own body, and I'm wondering if you can describe the first tattoo you got and how you felt after getting it.
[01:52:30] Morgan: Yes! I am a huge nerd. The first tattoo I got was the Triforce from Zelda, The Legend of Zelda. Like I've always wanted a tattoo. But I didn't know what, and then recently I was like replaying through one of like the old games, like re-released for Switch. And the, the Triforce stands for power, strength and courage. No, wisdom and courage. And I was like, that's really cool. And so I got it and I just, just like, felt like myself. I never even thought I would get a tattoo, but like the moment I knew that's what I wanted, I got it.
[01:53:03] I just have felt like myself. My parents have never said a thing about my tattoos. Had this very, very funny moment where right after I had gotten it, we were like home for Thanksgiving. And 'cause it's on my wrist and my mom was like mid-sentence, we were sitting at the dinner table. My mom was mid-sentence, saw my tattoo, stopped talking, stared at it for a good five seconds, which is a long time in the middle of nothing.
[01:53:31] And then just kept talking, like they will never acknowledge it. Um, but yeah, it's, you know, and it just goes back into the... This is the first time in my life I've just fully felt like myself, just doing the things that I want, after, you know, having to, you know, adjust to others for so, so long.
[01:53:48] Santiago: Yeah, it's funny you mentioned that because I accidentally showed my tattoo to my parents. My first, and so far, only tattoo is on my shoulder. And I was wearing this t-shirt and the sleeve just came up like over my shoulder while I was doing something. And my mom stops dead in her tracks and she said, "Is that real?" And I was like, "Oh, shit."
[01:54:19] Morgan: I get it like, on such a deep level. Like the, the jokes that Tommy and I have had. That same trip when we were there, I had just gotten like, like a second piercing. And like, not like a normal part, quote unquote "normal" part of the ear.
[01:54:33] And we went out to dinner with my auntie, who's the, the mom of like, my cousin who's graduated. Like, she's like my second mom. Um, so it was just Tommy and I. And so I don't know how it came up, but like Tommy said, like, "Oh yeah, have you seen Morgan's new piercing?" And like, she saw it and she like put her head on the table. But yeah, I get that, I get that.
[01:54:53] Santiago: Oh man. I wanna transition to talking a little bit more about your work. You're in LA. You have been doing freelance work, you have, you know, worked at some companies before as well. What advice would you give to anyone who's looking to either be a singer songwriter, or work as a director or producer?
[01:55:14] Morgan: So on the film side, when I first got to LA I was DPing, I was shooting, just constantly. I was on the camera side of it, but I always knew I wanted to be a director. I didn't come to LA to be in camera, but something that just kind of happened per chance was the Walla Walla program. Like, it really prepared me.
[01:55:37] Like, I knew a lot about cameras and lighting. Because of the program I had just interfaced with so many things that a lot of the same people my age had not. So when I got to LA I was immediately finding a lot of work, just either ACing or DPing. What I would say specifically, if you're wanting to direct, I would say get on to every set that you can.
[01:56:04] An actual industry set is nothing like you had in college. It's just not. And just be on a bunch of sets as much as you can. PA, I would say yeah, camera work is I think a great way to transition in. Because then you just see how it works. You get to see directors in real time.
[01:56:22] On the music side, I feel like my advice isn't as good because, you know, the way that I've quote unquote come into this is, I don't think, like traditional in a sense. Like I didn't come to LA to do music. That just kind of happened. What I would say with this is if you're looking to be a producer, what I did for the first year that I was producing,
[01:56:47] I made five beats a day every single day. Some were good, most were terrible. And that's good and that's part of the process. But by spending that amount of time you are, and this is something that everyone, like all the big producers have done, like to get to where they are, they just constantly put out a lot. Did a lot, did a lot.
[01:57:06] You know, when people compliment and I respond, "It's hard work," I genuinely mean that because it's, it's the time. You know, so little of creativity is talent. It's time. When I think about the amount of time that I spend ideating for a song,
[01:57:23] I would say it's literally like ideating and writing is, I would say 5% of the process. The other 95% of the process is making sure, like it's all problem solving. Like getting the mix to where it needs to be.
[01:57:36] Making sure the beat like, "This isn't fitting right." "Okay, now try this, try this, try this, try this." Like so much of this is time, and if you put in the time, you will get better. But if you don't, I, I really think you're holding yourself back.
[01:57:49] Santiago: I think it's interesting to see kind of the opportunities that exist now versus even maybe a decade or two decades ago where you're able to self-publish and self-release and do a lot of things thanks to the internet. When I was preparing to kind of put together these questions for the interview, I went as far back as I could on your TikTok, and I think I remember you talking about how you had maybe like a hundred followers, a hundred monthly listeners on Spotify or something. Now I think you're on the way to 10,000, so congrats on that.
[01:58:24] Morgan: Hard work!
[01:58:25] Santiago: Yeah, no, I, I can only imagine there's so much, so much time and effort that goes into that.
[01:58:30] Morgan: Thank you, that means a lot. Yeah, just keep trying. You put in the time you, you will see results. I, I feel like that's how it is with everything.
[01:58:38] Santiago: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
[01:58:39] Just a quick note: we originally recorded this episode several months ago and since then Morgan's following has continued growing. Make sure to see the links in the show notes to follow Morgan and her music.
[01:58:52] So, coming back to Adventism specifically, I wanted to ask you, in what ways do Adventist beliefs or culture still affect your life today, if at all?
[01:59:07] Morgan: I don't think they really affect me, but the times that they do are when, you know, recently I had someone who I knew in college. We were pretty good friends, like they were at our wedding. They reached out to me and said like, "Oh, I've seen your TikTok and about you deconstructing." And they ended up saying some pretty problematic things to me. Like what they were saying was insulting and problematic.
[01:59:33] They didn't know that they were saying that, but I addressed it and I, and we're good. They're healing, they're healing. And so I think the ways in which I'm still affected by it in a sense because, you know, being this deep into deconstruction, where it's like I, you know, for the first time in my life I feel like myself, I know who I am.
[01:59:55] And having people who are, you know, on that journey, and colliding with wherever they are at in their journey, I think those are really the only ways I really am still impacted. And if and when things, you know, ever get better with my parents, I think I'll definitely still be impacted. But as of now, it's, it's, it's really not much.
[02:00:20] Santiago: Hmm, got it. Yeah I think that's really important is like you said, having conversations with people, addressing things as they come up. At least for me personally, something that gives me hope is that things like agnosticism, atheism, just doubt in general, has been vilified so much.
[02:00:40] And some of the people who have been really big speakers and authors in this space maybe grew up pretty secular and can't empathize with people who grew up in it and are leaving. But now that the people who grew up in it are actively speaking up about it, we can have empathy for people who are still on the inside and kind of walk them through that process and maybe help them land a little bit softer.
[02:01:07] Morgan: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, it's the, it's the shared experience.
[02:01:10] Santiago: Yeah. Taking into consideration all of the things we talked about, are there any positive messages or ideas that you took from Adventism or Christianity in general? Any cultural practices or any memories?
[02:01:24] Morgan: I'm sure there are. Practices I can't necessarily say. What I have taken from these circles is, is people. You know, like these are the people I've grown with and gotten out of it with. And so I would really say like that is the only thing that I would say has been the, the positive thing out of all that.
[02:01:50] Santiago: Totally fair. The term you used of chosen family, I think is so important. And as difficult as it is, I think you're living proof that it is possible to find and build and maintain that chosen family even after you have left the community you grew up in.
[02:02:06] Morgan: Oh, it absolutely is. Just, just be yourself and you will find like-minded people. You will, it's, it's fantastic. They will come.
[02:02:15] Santiago: Yeah. So you've also spoken about mental health, anxiety, depression, and I'm wondering, again, speaking from your own experience, what are some of the things that have helped you in general, and specifically after leaving the church? And what would you say to someone who's listening right now and maybe experiencing some of those things?
[02:02:39] Morgan: I would say the biggest thing, medication. It was I think 2021, that's when I like officially got diagnosed with, you know, severe depression, severe anxiety. And when I got diagnosed, the clinician who diagnosed me, she just put it very plainly. She's like, "Yeah, you have chemical imbalances in your body." Which is fucking revolutionary to a Christian. Like someone gets cut, you don't tell them to pray about it. You give them a bandaid.
[02:03:11] Like this, "You pray it away." "You sleep, you just diffuse some lavender oil." Like that's not, that's not gonna fix a chemical imbalance in your brain. I would say if you are struggling with this and you have not gotten diagnosed, please get diagnosed. Like please see a professional. And I understand with the state that we live in with healthcare, that's not even an option for everyone. I had the, I had the privilege of being able to get diagnosed. I have the privilege of being able to be medicated.
[02:03:49] But that has been the only thing that's changed. That and her putting it into those just very, very clear terms of "This is off in your body." "You need this." That has just made all the difference. And also is just yeah, so, so reassuring that it's, it's literally just, it's a chemical imbalance. Those chemicals aren't just gonna appear, and you need this. And that's, that's all that it is.
[02:04:12] Santiago: Being able to hear it in such clear terms, like you said. Yeah, I gotta imagine that is also in a sense, freeing. I wanna say thank you so much again for the work you're doing, for being willing to come on here and speak and share your experience.
[02:04:27] I have no doubt in my mind that it's gonna be helpful for the people who are listening. It's been cathartic for me. All of these conversations I get to have are so cathartic, just being able to connect with people. The last question I want to ask you is, where can people find you and how would you like people to support you in your work?
[02:04:46] Morgan: Oh, that is amazing. Yes, please follow me on TikTok, Instagram, definitely Spotify and wherever you get your music. Would love your support through music. And it's pretty good. So you should listen to it.
[02:04:59] Santiago: You heard it there. Go ahead and check out the show notes if you're listening on a podcast app, check out the description if you're on YouTube, go check out those links. Give Morgan a follow. All right, Morgan, thank you so much again.
[02:05:14] Morgan: Yes, thank you so much. And what you are doing is so important. This is what a lot of people need, so thank you for doing this. Thank you for, thank you for being you.
Haystacks & Hell Outro
[02:05:24] Santiago: Thanks for listening. If you have a story to share about your Adventist or fundamentalist experience, we'd love to hear it. You can submit stories on our website at hell.bio — that's H E L L . B I O, or leave us a voicemail at 301-750-8648 and we might feature it in a future episode. Thanks again for listening. We'll see you on the next one!