Heather Gay on 'RHOSLC' Without Jen Shah and New Memoir 'Bad Mormon'

Gay's new memoir bares it all for fans to get a sense of a " freer, more authentic version of myself," she tells ET. 

The wait is over, and Bad Mormon is here. Real Housewives of Salt Lake City star Heather Gay dishes on her Mormon upbringing in her new memoir, released Tuesday, baring it all for fans to get a sense of a "freer, more authentic version of myself," she tells ET. 

Gay spoke with ET's Brice Sander ahead of the book's release, covering her intense childhood and the complicated season of RHOSLC. Catch up on the conversation below. 

It's pub day! Bad Mormon is out in the world. How are you feeling? 

I'm in a fog, it's kind of like how Housewives has been for me since the beginning -- just so much energy and excitement and adrenaline. I can't believe it's really here. 

It seems evident in reading the book that this was an emotionally draining process for you. 

Yes, I think the most difficult thing was trying to honor the childhood I loved and found so idyllic. [I had to explain] how something that shaped my entire identity and informed every choice became really toxic to me and prevented me from living an authentic life and being the mother I wanted to be for my kids. That was the hardest part. 

So coming to terms with who you are.

Yeah, self-realization was the hardest part. My identity, and seeing my story, and finally respecting it for myself, for the first time because I always saw myself with the gaze of my family or the church or being a bad Mormon. I never saw myself as an individual and what I was maybe really born to be. 

You cover a lot in the book, from wanting to raise feral children in the woods to temple secrets, dating, sex and motherhood. What is the thing in the book now that that you are most nervous for them to read? 

I'm most nervous about a lot of the things that I revealed behind the veil of Mormonism. Some of the secret rituals that we do, because my friends who have read it had a visceral reaction. They can feel their heart pounding, they can feel the anxiety. We are schooled to not really investigate anything behind the veil of our church and this book really is a first-person's perspective of that. 

The title, Bad Mormon: You're actually facing some legal issues over that. Did it surprise you that the church would come at you for that?

They've renounced the name Mormon, they don't want to call themselves Mormons, but still, they don't want me to put it on any merch or any mugs or any book tours. They want to still own the name and be the only ones that make money off the name.  

What would you say are the tenets that classify you as a bad Mormon?

Well, a good Mormon doesn't drink alcohol, doesn't have sex, doesn't swear, wears modest clothing, attends church weekly, goes to the temple regularly, is a good wife, a good mother, a good daughter, a good sister -- and I'm bad at all of those things. *laughs*

I do all of those things quite a lot now, so I've fallen off the wagon of good Mormonism. 

How much of you still identifies as Mormon?

Well, every single part of me because that's how I was raised and that's what informed every single choice made in my life and that's why I didn't call the book "Ex Mormon" because it never leaves you. Do I affiliate with or believe in any of the principles of the church? No. I think that it's problematic and bigoted and homophobic and misogynistic.

With the hindsight you have now, do you think you were ever meant to be Mormon?

Wow. I mean I used to believe that everything was divinely inspired by God. I chose my family before I came to earth, that they chose me, and that we were going to return to God together. Now, when you realize there's an estrangement, and that family relationship is forever changed, I think I was always just meant to be me. Maybe not meant to be a part of a church, a part of an extended family. 

What was the first crack for you, the thing you were told to do that you were like, 'this goes against everything I think'? 

I think it was right when I turned 12 because we separated the boys from the girls and we started getting lessons on how to be appealing specimens for marriage. We were taught all of these qualities. Every Sunday we would list these qualities that we wanted to have and none of those qualities came naturally to me, being obnoxious, being snarky, being loud, thinking outside the box. I thought if I'm going to belong and I'm going to be accepted I have to change and I think I knew that around 10, 11 or 12.

You take us behind the curtain, literally and figuratively, of the Mormon church, sharing all these traditions. How much did you struggle with what to include and what not to include? 

I included a lot, but my editors helped me realize that this was not War and Peace. This was just my first book, and I tried to just tell the memories and experiences that left the biggest imprint. There is still a lot more to be said, but even what I said was scandalous so I just kept my story A to Z. But I feel like there's more book in me, where I dive a little deeper.

Yeah I think there are more secrets to be shared 

More secrets to be shared, yeah. 

You do have that chapter focused on your first time in the temple, and the rituals. Those are things you're never meant to share with people who are not in the church -- you've told me the phrase before of the "disembowel yourself"? 

Well, there are penalties of the oaths that we make, but they've softened them over the years so I never had to make the actual disembowel. I did have to do hand signs that gestured if I was disemboweled I'd be able to carry my own bowels out of the temple so I mean, I see the progression of that ethos. But my father, those are the things that he said in the temple 

So what is the punishment now like what could you face? 

Outer darkness, baby. Outer darkness with no way back, Jeffrey Dahmer is on a higher level of heaven than me.  

You write in the book that you have risked your eternity by leaving the faith and leaning into reality TV. So if there is an afterlife, where do you think you are going? 

I don't want to divorce myself from God just because I've stepped away from Mormonism. I'm kind of on a spiritual journey right now, but I believe that we can be saved in humanity and in service to each other. I believe in God, I believe in religion. I just have to find a new path. 

Okay, and outer darkness is not the equivalent to hell? 

It's worse than hell. There's three degrees, and the third is hell, and outer darkness is -- it's like the black hole. 

And truly just leaving the church and talking about the church is enough to send you there? 

No no no, it's ex-communication, or it's someone that has gone through the temple and then revealed their secrets. 

Is there one temple secret where you're like, 'do I go there'? 

There are a few that aren't in the book, but they'll be in book number two. 

This book is kind of a love letter to your late dad, an apology to your mom, looking back on your childhood and seeing all the things that she was on the sidelines for. She is still in the church yes?

Yes, very active. 

Will she read the book?

I don't believe so. 

Did you send her a copy? 


Have you heard from her during the process at all?


When was the last time you spoke with your mom? 

I saw her on Christmas eve, but we didn't discuss the book or the show. We didn't discuss anything.

And that's part of church culture? Glossy surface, don't talk about the issues?

Yeah, I think it's how I cope with trauma. It's how I have been taught to survive. Pretend everything is OK.

Which speaks to you opening up about your divorce. And I mean, three days into marriage you already do not want to be in that marriage. 

Yeah, and I think he wanted out too. It was mutual. 

But you both have made this internal decision because you're in the church, you're presenting their facade to the world, you're sticking with it. You have three daughters, and then push comes to shove, he serves you with divorce papers, which you describe as the darkest moment in your life. Why was that rock bottom for you when it's not what you really wanted? 

Because it was the only way I defined happiness and it was taking forever. I would forever have a broken family. I would never grow old with the father of my children. It didn't matter if I loved him, it mattered what I was working for. Love was never the motivation, it was the whole package. 

You were trapped in a lot of ways, in a life that was predestined for you. Do you feel free yet? 

I'm starting to, and I think publishing this book and having other people read my story. This book is the first time I've really been able to respect my story, respect my experience, and that gives me permission to be a freer, more authentic version of myself, so I think today might be the first day of the rest of my life. 

I like that mentality.  So, you're coming out of a rough season of Housewives... a lot of this season focused on this fallout with you and Whitney Rose. I think fans have struggled to understand why Whitney offered you olive branch after olive branch in her own way, that you turned down. Watching back the season, do you see anything differently?

I haven't watched the season with enough scrutiny, because I lived it. But I'm always hopeful to rebuild. There just has to be trust, and there has to be authenticity, and I am hoping that we'll see that in season four. 

Ok only up from here, I guess? 

Listen, rock bottom is rock bottom for a reason. 

Your sister wrote under an Instagram video of Whitney that you use people and then kind of toss them to the side. How does that make you feel and what is your response to that?

I think anyone that knows me and has been in my life knows that like I try and champion everyone. There's a lot of strain on my family right now, but I think that the reasons behind it go much deeper and are much more because of what is written in the book than anything. 

Going back to the book, there's this one mention of your parents bringing up your weight as a child. Knowing that you have been body shamed in the public eye, how do you wrap your head around your relationship with your body and your self-worth when everyone's weighing in from that young of an age? 

Well, in a way it got me so much more comfortable. Like, if you're trying to dress to conceal 5 pounds to conceal it from your neighbors, try doing it to conceal it from the world. It was freeing, being on Housewives forced me just to accept who I am. I like my body. It's taken me a lot of places, it's given me three beautiful children. 

I've realized that if I had been born with a supermodel body, I would have had an entirely different life, and that speaks to more about society and the way that we treat women who aren't in that scope of body range more than anything. I think now I am no longer going be ashamed or apologize, because I know women of every shape and size that have much more to contribute than just women that are pretty on the cover of a magazine.

Season one you were shot out of a cannon into this, 'all-star housewife,' so beloved. This season you're walking out of some smoke, fire everywhere. How do you process that roller coaster?

The truth is about Housewives, I've watched it. I'm a fan. No one gets through unscathed. You don't just sky rocket to the top and stay there, that's not interesting to watch. But I was as frustrated with season three as anyone. It happened to me, I was living it and I'm still the same girl, I wasn't conducting myself any differently, but reality television is an edited narrative.

This book is my narrative and my story. I don't feel the need to explain, or offer excuses. I am messy, I am figuring out who I am, I am doing it on television, and that's either something you're going to tune into or tune out. 

You were asked this question at the reunion. I wonder with some more time if you have a different answer: Biggest regret from season three? 

The biggest regret is still not going to bed earlier that night. Like I said at reunion, but I thought more about it and I realized, especially now just having a lot of clarity about me being a people pleaser and being a Housewives lover. I think that I would add go to bed earlier, but when you wake up with a black eye, go to the hospital, go home, don't continue to film a reality television show where they can make it anything they want it to be. Just remove yourself from the situation. 

Do you think the truth of the black eye will ever be revealed?

I mean I spoke about it at the reunion. I think it's clear that I'm the last person to ask because I blacked out. I want to know as much as everybody. 

What is the takeaway from the last three years that you're going to apply moving forward? 

That I'm the luckiest girl in the world, that I got a second chance, that it should never have happened to someone like me, and it did. I hope that I can seize every single moment and take every single opportunity and do it for all the moms out there that don't get to.  

Jen Shah. Do you think the show can survive without her? 

I think Housewives can survive without any of us. It's its own zeitgeist, its own force, and Salt Lake City is a small, insular very culturally intriguing situation. I think if you can get women to put their lives on camera from Salt Lake City, you'll always have a franchise there.

We are a week and some change from Jen reporting for her sentence. When was the last time you spoke to her and what was her mindset? 

You know everything really changed when she plead guilty. My focus immediately went to the victims and the restitution that she's working to get back to them. 

Knowing everything you know now, would you change how you spoke to her about everything? 

No. I was defending a friend who said she was innocent, and I would always be that girl that's a friend. I always want to be. 

In the book, the chapters that discuss Housewives expose some reality of how some of these relationships really were only buoyed by the show. Jen was someone who was in your life kind of peripherally, Whitney was also someone in your life peripherally, so I think that provides some context for when people throw around. Having experienced this and being a fan, have you changed the way you operate in relationships because of the show?  

Not with my closest, of course not. If anything, it's just made me appreciate and cherish them more. I don't want it to affect my relationships on Housewives, I'm on Housewives because I'm unfiltered there to be authentic and real and raw and vulnerable. It's hard to be vulnerable when you've been hurt in a relationship, but I wouldn't do season 4 if I wasn't ready to show up as that person again. 

Rihanna follows you on Instagram, and you DM from time to time. When that sort of person enters your orbit, how does that mess with your head?

It just is a second lease on life, you feel seen when you felt invisible and subordinate for your entire life. To have someone as strong and as representative of female power say, 'I see you, I identify with you, and keep being you,' that's empowering. 

Rihanna is a viewer of the show, there are a lot of viewers of the show out there. What is your message to the viewers who left season three wondering if they don't know Heather anymore?

I would say there's lots of versions of me that they still are to see. You don't have to like me. You just have to watch. It's messy, and we're all good, bad and ugly. Every single one of us you know 

And you can now read and learn a little bit more. 

Yes, I would say to them go buy Bad Mormon and read it because that is the story of me becoming a Housewife, not the story of me being a Housewife, and that's the truest narrative. 

What do you hope is the major takeaway for the reader of Bad Mormon

Representation and visibility. We are a community of bad Mormons, or anyone that's disappointed their family or lived authentically and it's caused huge conflict, or has questioned their choices or been shamed for who they are. They're going feel seen, and they're going to feel represented. They're also going to be entertained because I think it's a great book, a great read, I'm very very proud of it. 

Bad Mormon is out now.