The guests on Oprah were young transgenders, who underwent hormone therapy and/or a sex change operation because they felt they had been born into the wrong body. One had been born a boy, but was living as a woman. The other had been born a girl and was now living as a man.
The more that I witness the personal stories of such people, the harder it is for me (or anyone, in my opinion) to deny that what they feel is extremely real and often devastating, depending on the support — or lack of it — that they receive from their loved ones.
I found the story of the young girl-to-man especially compelling. It was interesting to see old pictures of when he was a little girl. You could see the unhappiness and, more than anything, the awkwardness. I don’t mean to be mean, but she was a very homely girl. Why? Because she looked like a boy in a wig and dress. Now that “she” has become a “he,” he looks normal. I never would have guessed that he had been born female.
His mother described the living hell that their family went through when this young girl was suicidal because of her mental and emotional agony. As soon as she began with hormone therapy and started on the road to becoming a man, he became a happy person, and the depression and suicidal feelings disappeared. Being Mormon, I tried to imagine being in the position of that mother, who wasn’t Mormon. If she had followed Church policy on gender — which, from what I understand includes excommunication for those who undergo transgender operations — and pushed for her daughter to continue living as a girl, the daughter very likely would have taken her life or at least remained terribly depressed her entire life. Talk about feeling torn.
I’m not a mother. For those of you who are a parent, think about it. If your teenage child was suicidal and you knew that the “remedy” (i.e. a sex change operation) is grounds for excommunication, what would you do? Yes, you could go through the rounds of fasting, prayer, and hope. But what if that wasn’t enough? What if your child was still suicidal or at least extremely miserable? Would you feel torn between your (or your child’s) membership in the Church vs. his or her happiness and well-being?
I find especially perplexing the question of those people who are born intersex.
“Intersexuality is the state of a living thing of a gonochoristic species whose sex chromosomes, genitalia, and/or secondary sex characteristics are determined to be neither exclusively male nor female. An intersex organism may have biological characteristics of both the male and female sexes. Intersexuality is the term adopted by medicine during the 20th century applied to human beings who cannot be classified as either male or female.” (Wikepedia)
If the parents of an intersex child feel forced to decide which gender the child should become through surgery, in order to allow for a future opportunity to serve a mission or marry in the temple, is that any different than transgender operations by those who feel that they’re trapped in the wrong body? The parents and doctors might be wrong, and the child could grow up to feel trapped in the wrong body. To me, I think that would be worse than being intersex.
In “The Family: A Proclamation To The World,” the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles stated:
“All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.”
Where does this leave intersex people? They’re neither one nor the other. Do they have to choose? Is their gender determined by how they feel, or is it determined purely by biology, which is sometimes still ambiguous? Would someone who is intersex be able to serve a mission? Marry in the temple? What would life be like in a church where gender is virtually everything to someone’s identity, when s/he is neither one nor the other, or perhaps feels that his/her mind does not match his/her body?
I’ve tried to imagine what it would be like if someone said to me, “FD, you are a man, so you just need to accept it. You need to start thinking, acting, walking, talking, and dressing like a man. And therefore you should be attracted to women.”
Can you imagine what it would be like if you had to convince yourself that you were actually the opposite sex that you think and feel you are?
I agree with the the “Proclamation On The Family” that “(G)ender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” I believe that our gender is eternal and that Heavenly Father didn’t just leave it up randomly to our DNA to decide whether we would be one gender or the other.
I’m thinking more and more that gender really is a state of mind and spirit: one that is as much a part of us as all the other aspects of our spirit and intelligence. I am female because I feel and act female. If I were sitting in a male body at this very moment but with the same mind that I have now, would I consider myself to not be female?
Heavenly Father can and does allow some of us to be born into bodies that are defective or imperfect, for reasons that are often a mystery to us. The physical state of such individuals does not change their spirit. Could it not also be the same case with physical gender? Could he not have allowed certain individuals to be born into the “wrong” physical body, which then causes a conflict with their spirit, which is of a different gender?
We are taught in Mormonism that our physical bodies are imperfect, subject to disease and defect, and that our spirits and intelligences are eternal. Why, then, should our gender be defined solely by our physical bodies? Should not the mind and spirit take precedence over the body?
A commenter, Chedner, from the discussion on my blog said:
“Say, for example, a young man came to his father or his Bishop or any of his Priesthood leaders and said, “I feel like I am innately a girl.” Would it not be easy to take a day or two of fasting, scripture study, meditation, and end with a sincere Priesthood blessing to discern the true, eternal gender of that child? One may be surprised to find that this child’s mother was supposed to have a little girl, but something went awry within the womb and a male body was formed instead. How is that not possible? It doesn’t threaten any LDS doctrines. Nothing in our canon has to be further revealed, nothing has to be altered or made more perfect. We simply need to fully embrace what we do have: gender existed in the pre-existence; our bodies are imperfect and prone to birth defects.”
A non-member commenter and trangender woman, Just Jennifer, had this to say:
“Simply put, our “gender” is inherent. It is something that is fixed at birth. And yes, it is anatomical, but not in the way that some think. A better term is “sexual differentiation of the brain.” And our genitals may be sexually differentiated at odds with our brains. It all has to do with hormone levels in utero. I was born a male physically. But my brain was female. I struggled for much of my life, not knowing what was wrong. Even when I figured it all out, it took some more years to reach the point where I understood what could be done to rectify the situation. I am now a happy and successful woman. And I am closer to God than I was as a very unhappy parody of a man. Those who wish to tell people like me that I should “just deal with it” are both ignorant and cruel.”
Zoe, a non-member transgender woman said:
“Your post shows not just compassion, but true understanding of a situation most people find incomprehensible. I can’t blame them either, it’s no easier for those of us in this situation. Many of us go through decades of denial, trying to be like others around us.”
Another commenter from my blog, Mina, a non-Mormon, had this to say:
“I just want to say thank you so very much for an amazingly compassionate position from all of you – as a trans-woman myself, I’m not used to such understanding from deeply religious people. I’ll be honest in that this aspect of who I am caused me years of anguish. I had grown up in a very conservative Dutch Reformed community, and even though I knew I was different from a very early age – 4 or 5 if I remember correctly, I denied it into my mid 20’s. Then I came across a very interesting opinion piece by a young Catholic priest. Basically he took the position that we need to remember the Fall from Grace, and that one of God’s punishments was visitation of pests and plagues on Adam and his descendants. The world was MADE imperfect then and there, including how we develop from conception. We humans have added to this imperfection through chemical pollution and the like, and so intersex and transsex are to be expected.”
After reading her comment, I thought, “How sad, that a human being having been born into such difficult life circumstances could be met by anything BUT compassion from deeply religious people. Can we Mormons do any better?”
What do you think? Are we over-simplifying the teachings on eternal gender by Church leadership by interpreting them to mean that either male or female physical body parts are the only factors that determine spiritual gender? Or are transgender and intersex people simply suffering from a mental and emotional trial which they need to bear through this mortal life?