The podcast series LGBTQ Off The Grid explores the far corners of Utah where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people, and those questioning their sexuality are often isolated and unseen. In this March 7 episode, “Transgender in Brigham City”, a solitary transgender person in Brigham City finds community in a coven of witches. This series is in partnership with Utah Public Radio. Edited for content, the transcription of the episode is below.
Mackenzie Quinn Jetton is the only transgender person she knows in Brigham City.
“Just because I’m a queer person, a trans person doesn’t mean I want to [hide] myself from the world in a high tower. I need love, I need connection, I need relationships, I need friends. I’m just like anyone else.”
She also is a witch in training.
“Just because I’m a witch doesn’t mean that I spend my days studying ancient tomes and brewing cauldrons. I have a regular life; I have regular needs, I have regular desires, regular hopes.”
There are many ways in which Mackenzie is isolated, set apart. For one thing, she appears to be a man that dresses like a woman. It is an unusual site in this small town named after one of the original leaders of the Church of Latter-day Saints.
“I get a lot of strange looks, a lot of stares, a lot of gawking because I’m different, because I’m a novelty. Because people are afraid of me and I think it doesn’t help how intensely religiously and politically conservative Brigham City is.”
Mackenzie left the LDS church, and by her own choice, she is not on speaking terms with her family. She’s on her own.
“In a town like Brigham, for many people, their social life is built around the people they know in church, in their wards, their stakes, and I’m cut out of that circle. If I went back [to the Church], I’d probably be excommunicated in a speedy fashion.”
But not being part of the Church has consequences. Mackenzie has several conditions which limit what she can do on her own. She has fibromyalgia, autism, and has struggled with severe clinical depression.
“There are things I need help with doing. Say, in a typical ward, an Elders Quorum might help people like me with things like moving, physical tasks like mowing the lawn. If you need help with paying bills, buying food for the month you could talk to your bishop to get the help. But when you’re locked out of that system, it makes things difficult.
Mackenzie lives well below the federal poverty level. Recently she decided her rent was taking up too much of her disability check. She wanted to move but couldn’t do it on her own.
“There’s an online community of ex-Mormons, and some came from other parts of the state to help me move, and I was very grateful for that.”
It was around that time that Mackenzie decided she wanted to be a witch.
“As my fibromyalgia, my disabilities progressed … it’s basically been hard times. I found myself wanting a spiritual framework to fit my life into, something to give my life more meaning. For reasons I can’t honestly explain, I just became very attracted to paganism and witchcraft. I happened to see, to my surprise in fact, that there was a person in town who claimed to be a witch and high priest.
That high priest is Tyler Hutchinson. He lives in a small house with his wife and three young children. A visit to Hutchinson’s home during Yule, a pagan celebration of rebirth that occurs on the winter solstice, Mackenzie explains what being a witch means to her.
“A lot of people who have similar spiritual beliefs to me call themselves pagans or wiccans. I call myself a witch for a very specific reason. Honestly it’s for the same reason I refer to myself as queer. Because it’s a word that historically has had a lot of negative implications. Witches were burned at the stake and for me it’s about reclaiming that trangressive heritage and turning it into something that’s postive, that’s empowering.
For Mackenzie being drawn to the transgressive doesn’t mean being drawn to evil, it means exploring what is not acceptable in society.
“As a trans woman my whole life is transgressive.”
She also says what you normally think of as a witch — the popular image of a woman in a wide-brimmed hat stirring a cauldron after midnight — is not far off.
“To be quite honest, in some ways I meet those expectations because for me the kinds of magic I practice like brewing potions and knowing how to curse people meet that stereotype.”
Mackenzie says she feels a part of something with this coven.
“Paganism has been around for a very long time in different forms. I feel like I’m part of something bigger than myself — not like in a mystical sense, but more I’m part of a tradition.”
In spite of all the factors that kept Mackenzie isolated in Brigham City, she has found her coven. But when she thinks about the future, she’d like to move to a more populous place, maybe California or Nevada. She says she’d like to find a place where there are “other others.”