Like any good reality star, Heather Gay has a talent for words. On Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, the 40-year-old medspa owner delivers hysterical, self-effacing confessionals, often roasting some curious element of her former religion, Mormonism, or poking fun at her quest to find a man.
For the most part, she addresses conflict with the same colorful sense of humor. “I’d give a blowjob for a burger,” she famously joked during an argument this past season over a castmate’s rumored sexual propositioning.
On the flipside, Gay’s been recently accused of wordsmithing her way out of arguments and neglecting accountability by viewers online. In the just-concluded third season, Gay has been forced to explain her allegiance to controversial cast member and now-convicted criminal Jen Shah, as well as a confounding storyline involving a black eye she received during a cast trip and her ongoing tiff with her cousin and fellow Housewife Whitney Rose over… who really knows at this point?
Her carefully worded, if often puzzling, rejoinders at the two-part reunion were less than satisfactory by Twitter’s standards. (A recent Instagram comment left by Gay’s sister calling her out only fanned the flames.)
It’s fortunate then that Gay is giving her critics an opportunity to get to know her outside of the distorted world of Real Housewives. Like many a popular Bravo star, she’s putting her witticisms and peculiar life experiences to paper for a new book called Bad Mormon, which was published this week.
The memoir, which has been a plot point in Season 3, outlines her pious upbringing on the West Coast as a daughter of Mormon parents. In the beginning, her protective family unit and insular church community seem fairly idyllic. As she got older and eventually wed a notable Mormon, she had epiphanies regarding the church’s conservative views of women, sex and practically anything self-indulgent. After having three daughters, she made the bold decision to get divorced. And once Gay joined reality television three years ago, she was officially excommunicated from the church.
“I’m in the thick of it right now,” Gay says, describing the family tension surrounding her book when she spoke to The Daily Beast’s Obsessed. “Things are strained with my mother. I don’t know if it’s ever going to get better or if they’re going to publicly… I don’t know.”
Suffice to say, there’s more at stake for Gay with the release of Bad Mormon than the average television personality aspiring to GoodReads fame. When speaking over Zoom, the Bravo star seemed slightly uneasy recalling some of her confessions and proclamations in the book—though she has a strong, confident voice discussing the topics as a writer.
The almost 300-page book is a confident debut, as vivid and verbose as Gay when she’s narrating her life on Bravo. One caveat: Anyone picking up Bad Mormon for Real Housewives gossip or insight into Gay’s current life will likely be disappointed. The book is mostly a deep dive into her pre-television days.
Strategically, it leaves plenty of room for a Part 2, as her years as a liberated woman have only just begun. In fact, the book closes on a steamy anecdote about a night in the Big Apple that ends with a hookup in the back of a cab. It’s not hard to imagine Gay churning out a series of Sex and the City-esque tales from her specific point of view.
Gay spoke to The Daily Beast’s Obsessed about her nervousness about the book’s release, her passion for writing, overcoming sexual shame and defending her buddy Jen Shah.
On RHOSLC, you narrate your life in a very compelling, humorous way. Did you always know you had a book in you?
I mean, I gave up on all of my dreams a long time ago. But yeah, as a young kid, I thought I was a writer. I entered every writing contest I could. I majored in humanities. I dreamed of living in a beach cottage crafting novels. I just never thought the opportunity would grant itself. And so becoming a Housewife put me in that situation where someone else thought the same thing and said, “There’s a book in you, and it should be called Bad Mormon.” It flowed for me immediately.
You mention in the book that you wrote erotica as a kid.
It was based off of movies I had seen and books I had read. I had zero real sexual experience or dialogue with anyone. No one in my immediate group was having sexual experiences. Of course, in my house, we never discussed it, but I had seen The Princess Bride and [loved the line], “As you wish.” I loved writing Harlequin romance stuff. My mom finding it was terrifying to me, because I thought that made me look like a huge whore.
Your parents seemed surprisingly chill the way you describe them. Or was that just your perception as a child because you didn’t know any better?
My parents were the cool Mormons. They had a sense of humor about themselves and about their faith and about their kids. And they didn’t take themselves too seriously. But they watched us like hawks. I remember my brother was wearing suspenders once and my mom said he looked like a hooligan. We had to look appropriate and be appropriate. And I got reprimanded for that hot dog joke [in the book]. So yes, we knew the expectations were intense. It was strict. But it was strict under the context of what I knew. I just thought we’re like a cool functioning family.
How is your relationship with your mother now that you’ve written the book?
Things are strained with my mother. We don’t speak. And it’s caused my family to change dramatically–my immediate siblings and mom. It’s strained. And this is the fallout that I always feared, which is why I always toed the line. I didn’t want to be ostracized from my family. I didn’t want things to be awkward. I wanted my kids to be around their grandma, you know?
You spend a lot of Bad Mormon describing the church’s rituals and immersing readers in certain ceremonies. Do all of those customs still fascinate you?
Absolutely. I love religion. I love being a scholar of faith. I like scripture and the historical context of it all. I’m taking a catechism class right now at the Orthodox church just down the street from my house. And it’s been fascinating for me to learn what the world thinks because I’ve just been taught that the world is wrong—that [Mormons] are the center of all churches, and we have all the truth encompassed in our faith.
I never looked at anything that would have shaken my faith. My brother was 50 years old when he Googled the Prophet Joseph Smith. That’s the founder of our faith. I didn’t notice a single negative story about my faith, their history or anything. We don’t seek out negative information. And so it’s been fascinating to study faith and to kind of pursue spiritual interests without the context of me being right, just admitting I don’t really know anything.
You write a lot about the gender disparities within the Church of Latter Day Saints, starting in childhood. Is there a single moment when you started to realize Mormonism was holding you back as a girl or a woman?
I started to realize the differences early. Like, who I am won’t work if I want to be a girl that boys like. But I didn’t even accept it as oppressive. I still thought it was notable and romantic for a woman to be the nurturer and the man to be the patriarch and the head of the household. And they work together as a team. And I just thought it was noble to be the second-in-command. And I think that, at my daughter’s baptism, I realized, “Oh, wait. I’m not a co-captain. I’m not ‘the Skipper.’ I’m not even on the ship.” And I think that was when I felt really broken and devastated and oppressed.
On Real Housewives and in the book, you talk about dealing with sexual shame. There’s even a disturbing anecdote where a bishop interrogates you about masturbation as a teen. Have you gotten more comfortable in your sexual and romantic life the more you talk about these things?
I’m having an easier time dating because I’m more confident with who I am in this space. But I’m still super-uncomfortable with dating in front of my kids or talking about a date in front of my kids or being open at all about having a sex life. I can’t help it. I just feel like I’m a mom. I have to be Virgin Mary all the time. And that’s what I’m working on right now, is just having a healthy sex-positive relationship with myself and my children.
Your friend and castmate Jen Shah’s recent sentencing is obviously casting a cloud over this book release. You got a lot of criticism from fans for blindly standing by her on the show. What have you learned from how you handled her allegations?
I don’t really have any regrets other than I just think I was pretty naive. I just look back and think I was still in people-pleaser mode. I think I was just projecting a lot of my own fears and insecurities. I wanted to be the kind of friend that I kind of wished I had. I thought, as long as she’s saying she’s innocent, I’m going to defend her. But everything changed when she pled guilty.
As information is coming out, it’s so hard to stomach—the victims, the facts around it. And no one can be that naive. I just have to hope that the victims get restitution and that Jen can clear up the collateral damage with her family and her life and rebuild it because I believe in the second chapters. But I also believe in making things right.
Keep obsessing! Sign up for the Daily Beast’s Obsessed newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok.
The post Real Housewife Heather Gay on Embracing Being a ‘Bad Mormon’ and the Jen Shah Conviction appeared first on The Daily Beast.