The Proclamation on the Family states: “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” What is meant by gender? One’s biological sex? One’s gender identity? The sexual stereotypes and cultural norms associated with one’s biological sex?
The word gender is constantly in flux in the English language. Here are some examples of the different meanings associated with the word “gender,” and how they might fit with the Proclamation on the Family:
- Gender is popularly used to denote biology (e.g. male or female sex). This could be what is meant, that we were male & female blobs of intelligence who became male & female spirit children who became male & female citizens of planet Earth. That we always were and will be male & female.
- Gender can refer to sexual identity: “an individual’s self-conception as being male or female, as distinguished from actual biological sex.” This could be what is meant by the PoF, especially noteworthy since it specifically mentions the role of gender in identity.
- Following this interpretation, there are related issues for the multi- (hermaphrodite) or trans-gendered because the church’s stance is generally against gender reassignment (transgendered individuals can be baptized, but not receive the priesthood, and individuals should not be baptized if their transgender operation is planned. This stance does not specifically address hermaphroditic gender determination).
- Additionally, some cultures embrace a third gender identity: individuals who run counter to gender stereotypes (e.g. the Two-Spirit people of Native American tribes), a non-sexual gender (e.g. eunuchs or hijiras), or individuals who are “beyond gay and straight” (e.g. the Muxe of Oaxaca, MX).
- “Gender…is a grammatical term only. To talk of persons…of the masculine or feminine g[ender], meaning of the male or female sex, is either a jocularity (permissible or not according to context) or a blunder” — Henry Watson Fowler. Hey, I had to throw it out there, but that’s one of the earliest meanings of the word, and it does still mean that. It’s just irrelevant to the PoF. Or is it? Grammatical gender assignment in languages is often different from language to language and doesn’t follow social gender constructs in all cases. It is frequently arbitrary. Kind of like social norms.
- “Among the reasons that working scientists have given me for choosing gender rather than sex in biological contexts are desires to signal sympathy with feminist goals, to use a more academic term, or to avoid the connotation of copulation.” — David Haig in 2004, The Inexorable Rise of Gender and the Decline of Sex. Was the word “gender” used merely because the word “sex” might be misconstrued to refer to copulation? Maybe so. Imagine the mischief of anti-Mormons talking about “eternal copulation.” Oh, wait, they already do.
- Gender refers to sexual stereotypes that are socially constructed. This is the interpretation of the PoF that seems most commonly held, although it’s problematic in light of the cultural origin of most gender roles. Some sexual stereotypes seem conflated with biology (women’s bodies literally “nurture” babies in utero and potentially through nursing), while others vary greatly from culture to culture (e.g. men in kilts, Rosie the Riveter, female warrior societies, SAHDs). If the characteristics are cultural constructions how can they reflect eternal purpose? Coincidentally?
- The term gender role was coined in 1955 by sexologist John Money, (prompting the question “What the heck is a sexologist?”). He said: “The term gender role is used to signify all those things that a person says or does to disclose himself or herself as having the status of boy or man, girl or woman, respectively. It includes, but is not restricted to, sexuality in the sense of eroticism.”
- Elements of such a role include clothing (except as I recall I was born nekkid), speech patterns (swearing like a sailor?), movement (walking swishily?), occupations (what about SAHDs and female soldiers?), and other factors not limited to biological sex. Clearly, nothing on this list is eternal.
- Possible gender characteristics referred to in the PoF include: By divine design, fathers are to preside (in some wards, this means “fall asleep on the stand between talks“) over their families in love and righteousness (so, not like Pinochet) and are responsible to provide the necessities of life (like clean diapers and formula?) and protection for their families (clearly, this means killing spiders). Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children (nutritious take-out and microwave meals, for example). In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation (lots of caveats here, including the wide open “other circumstances”).
- From dictionary.com, we find a “Usage Note”: Traditionally, gender has been used primarily to refer to the grammatical categories of “masculine,” “feminine,” and “neuter,” but in recent years the word has become well established in its use to refer to sex-based categories, as in phrases such as gender gap and the politics of gender. This usage is supported by the practice of many anthropologists, who reserve sex for reference to biological categories, while using gender to refer to social or cultural categories. According to this rule, one would say The effectiveness of the medication appears to depend on the sex (not gender) of the patient, but In peasant societies, gender (not sex) roles are likely to be more clearly defined. This distinction is useful in principle, but it is by no means widely observed, and considerable variation in usage occurs at all levels. So, I suppose the answer is: “Your guess is as good as mine.” Speaking of which . . .
So, what do you think is meant by the Proclamation on the Family?[poll id=”47″]
I think the Proclamation means exactly what it says. Our gender is an essential characteristic of our eternal indentity. However, I think we run into problems when we assume that we know without a doubt exactly what gender entails. I think that many equate it with what genitalia we are born with and and I think that they read too much into the Proclamation (perhaps even the Church leaders themselves, who have made a policy of excommunication for those who undergo gender reassignment surgery). The Proclamation doesn’t say that gender = penis or vagina, X or Y chromosome. I think it’s rather ambiguous for a good reason. We simply don’t know everything about gender at this point.
Hrmm. I’m not sure, but for whatever it’s worth, I taught (briefly) a transgender woman on my mission. She was born a man but had surgery and now identifies as a woman, albeit a 6’4″ 300 lb woman :). Anyway, we gave her the Family Proc and to our surprise, she loved it. She felt like that sentence spoke to her directly, and would often comment on how much she appreciated that it said “gender” rather than “sex.” She felt like her gender had been the same her whole life and it made sense to her that it would always be that way. Interesting, eh?
In order to understand the intended meaning of “gender” in the Proclamation Against Certain Families, one really needs to look at the background of the statement. It seems commonly-understood that the proclamation was issued in reaction to the Supreme Court of Hawaii’s ruling, which opened the possibility of marriage equality in that state. The proclamation was quite clearly intended to state that homosexuality and/or marriage equality was against the will of deity, and thus should be banned under civil law. Given this background, it’s fair to append the phrase, “Homosexuality and/or marriage between two men or two women is wrong because…” to the proclamation’s claim that “[g]ender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” Therefore, the term “gender,” as used in the proclamation, must refer specifically to what reproductive body parts one possesses. Consistent with its implied definition of “gender,” the proclamation insists that one may only make use of those parts in connection with a person who possesses different reproductive body parts.
Latter-day Saints should pay special attention to the fact the proclamation’s dire predictions of unspecified “calamities” is specifically predicated upon “the disintegration of the family.” Mr. Monson, of course, has urged individual members of the LDS church (notably not himself) to contribute “all that they can” of their “time and means,” for the specific purpose of disintegrating families consisting of or headed by same-sex partners. It should be disturbing to any faithful LDS member who accepts the proclamation as inspired, that they are being specifically directed to bring about the “calamities” foretold by earlier prophets.
#1 & #2:
Curiously, the proclamation does not claim that we have been (or will be) the same “gender” throughout our premortal, mortal, and eternal existance. It merely says that “gender” is an “essential characteristic” of our identity in those stages. Of course, given the consistent use of the proclamation to attack marriage equality, one must assume that LDS leaders have inserted a universal consistency to “gender,” by way of interpretation.
Hmm, interesting bit about “nurturing” and “protecting.” In general, I would think that these ideas grow out of ancient humans… the women bore children and raised them at home, while the (stronger but more expendable) men would go hunt mammoths, and “protect” the village from invaders or wild animals.
It seems that these roles are outdated, but then again… humankind resembled that setup for thousands, maybe tens of thousands of years. If anything, that’s closer to “humankind” than what we live today, in our insular, air-conditioned existences. Right now we’ve still got the instincts and equipment from those days, and we’re trying to conform them to progressive, post-modern concepts of gender. Kind of a strange paradox.
If I had to choose one of the first three options in the poll at the expense of the other two, then I would agree with Nick Literski that the proclamation was given in response to gay marriage issues. That being said, I think the intent of the proclamation encompasses all three options. The challenge however, is that it is a bit difficult to impose Church policies on gender identity except in the cases where the display of contra views is overt, ie, cross dressing or speaking out, as opposed to men who behave slightly effeminate, or masculinity in some women. The Church still has a fairly consistent view on what it sees as ideal gender roles, including the nature of gender identity.
Some of us are under the impression that just because we don’t believe something that it’s not true.
1. If you were to take out all references to relgion, society has the rule in place of mn/women marriage in order to propagate society. No other combination is successful as this, man/man, women/woman, mother/son, father daughter. In general, it’s not legal for these people to marry because it does not satisfy the purpose of life. Countries/states have a genuine interest in keeping their states populated.
It should be disturbing to any faithful LDS member who accepts the proclamation as inspired, that they are being specifically directed to bring about the “calamities” foretold by earlier prophets.
The above statement doesn’t ring true at all.
2. I saw a guy on the bus that was dressed like a woman. Nick L. might be surprised by this by I just imagined that it must be hard to go through something like that. I didn’t want to shake my finger at him, I wanted to empathize with him. it must be tough going through something like that.
I think it’s pretty clear from context that the word gender in the PotF is a euphemism for biological sex.
This does bring up an interesting point. Biological sex is not as cut and dried as the PotF would like. A small fraction of babies are born intersexed, with ambiguous genitalia. The Church (and society more broadly) has had to deal with these cases. In the past doctors encouraged parents to surgically alter the infants to make them better fit one of the two binary genders. More recent thinking, strengthened by the voices of intersexed people themselves, recommends no sexual assignment surgery without the informed consent of the patient. Today, the trend is to leave cases of ambiguous biological sex alone until the person is of age to determine how and if medical intervention occurs. The surgical decision is then based on the person’s perceived gender (self-identity) after puberty, as this is not predictable at birth.
The Church has resisted this trend toward self-determination for intersex people. As far as I can tell from anecdotes, its attitude is still the traditional one where parents arbitrarily make the sexual assignment decision for the infant. (Medically unethical but less socially troublesome if you otherwise have a zero tolerance policy for gender bending.)
Another thing I find fascinating is that the Church seems to view female as the default sex. If a person’s anatomy is not unambiguously male, then the person is always deemed female by the Church. (And is ineligible for the Priesthood.) It doesn’t seem to matter that the person is also not unambiguously female– female is the default category. In other words, either you are a perfect male (with a close enough facsimile of the body parts that render you eligible for the priesthood) or you are female even if you don’t have anything close to standard female anatomy. The asymmetry of this view is revealing.
Intersex occurs at a rate of between 1 in 100 people to 1 in 500 people, depending on how you define “intersex.” It’s pretty common. I found this out when a doctor friend of mine told me, horrified, that she had just discovered that if a baby boy (about 10 years ago in SLC) was born with too small a, uh, wee wee, the doctor was wont to chop it off and call him a her. I do hope things have changed.
Scripturally and hearing from the prophets, it doesn’t seem to me that humans are that free to tinker with what they want and feel they are free from the consequences. Society nowadays seems to be more permissive when it comes to gender identity and sexual sin. I recall a story I heard at BYU on the dangers of playing with sin.
A young man was on a very high cold mountain. He came upon a dangerous snake. The snake was very cold and wanted to go down the mountain. The snake asked the young man to carry him inside his warm jacket and carry him down the mountain. The young main refused saying the snake would bite him. After much cajoling and pleading, the young man relented and carried the snake inside his jacket and took him down the mountain. The snake bit him. The young man angrily threw the snake down and asked the snake why he had bitten him when he had promised not to. The snake said “You knew what I was when you picked me up”.
I like your posts. You are very to the point and not overly scholarly like some other posters. You are very nice and try to comment on other peoples posts and you appear to be a overall nice person.
“Scripturally and hearing from the prophets, it doesn’t seem to me that humans are that free to tinker with what they want and feel they are free from the consequences.”
Where does this leave intersex people? Should the doctors then not “tinker” with ambiguous genitalia? What if they get it wrong? Can someone with ambiguous genitalia get married in the temple? Who decides what sex they are? Suppose the person has a vagina, but testes instead of ovaries and has masculine features. (I’m not making this up, it can happen.) Childbearing will be impossible because the person has no ovaries, so the purpose of eternal marriage is thwarted. What happens to this person?
Ed Kimball’s book “Lengthen Your Stride” has a synopsis of how the Church’s view on trans-gender operations has changed over the last 50 years. He implies that the reason they are forbidden is becasue preisthood and temple ordinances differ for males and females, but are also eternal.
A female (spirit) needs female ordinances for the eternities, and cannot if her body hasbeen modified to look like a man. Similarly, men need the preisthood, but if they look like a woman, they cannot receive and use the preisthood in this life.
Interestingly, current Church policy makes a very clear exception for gender assignment surguries due to birth defects. Like all birth defects, these will be rectified in the ressurection, as there are no “intersex” spirits. Clearly, inspiration and revelation are needed prior to corrective surgury of this kind.
If you were to take out all references to relgion, society has the rule in place of mn/women marriage in order to propagate society.
Which “society” are you referring to, Jon? Not all societies have limited marriage to the combination of “one man and wone woman,” or even “one man and multiple women.”
No other combination is successful as this, man/man, women/woman, mother/son, father daughter.
How are you defining “successful,” Jon? If you define “success” as unassisted breeding, then I suppose your statement is probably correct.
In general, it’s not legal for these people to marry because it does not satisfy the purpose of life.
Joseph Smith, who I understand your church still considers (nominally, at least) a prophet, stated the purpose of life rather succinctly: “Men are that they might have joy.” Are you so bold as to presume that just because marrying a person of the same sex would not bring you joy, it will not bring joy to a gay or lesbian person? If that’s your thinking, then you sound a lot like those you criticized, when you said, “Some of us are under the impression that just because we don’t believe something that it’s not true.”
Countries/states have a genuine interest in keeping their states populated.
Jon, exactly how does prohibiting same-sex couples from civil marriage increase (or even maintain) the population of a country or state? For that matter, how does civil marriage between a man and a woman, when they are infertile or choose not to have children, serve to increase or maintain population?
Clark – that is interesting. While I recognize that some cultures have accepted intersex people as a “third” gender, I’m not sure whether that means they really are a third gender, or whether the society’s acceptance of intersex bodies has simply freed them from the societal expectations and limitations applied to one gender or the other. I suspect in those societies, that special gender status allowed them to transcend, whereas in our society they face a hard life, especially if gender reassignment is done incorrectly.
Phil #11 – aw shucks! Thanks!
Overall, as I look at the stats – gender is viewed by the majority as referring to one’s sex (perhaps using the word gender to keep from telling people Mormons believe in sex being eternal – tee hee). But among those who believe it refers to gender roles/responsibilities (which are in fact alluded to later in the PoF, the majority see this part of the PoF as uninspired (philosophies of men?) rather than innate and eternal. I wonder if this is a bloggernacle phenomenon or if it’s how a substantial number of members feel.
Excellent post, lots to think about. I would just say to those who feel that marriage is for the purpose of having cildren, gay couples have children all the time. (Surrogacy, artificial insemination, etc. etc. etc.) My lesbian cousin and her partner have been together for over 30 years. My cousin was inseminated from a sperm bank and gave birth to a beautiful girl. That girl grew up to be heterosexual and now is married and a mother herself. How is my cousin’s contribution to humanity any less than that of her daughter?
I can see how gender can refer to biological sex in PonF, but I feel that the church is saying that gender and gender roles are eternal. Which I definitely don’t agree with. It’s their ideal to keep women in the home and men at the head of that home and to make others who don’t fit that ideal to feel guilty for not either wanting it or doing it.
I’ve heard older statements from GAs that since HF is the head of the household in heaven that is why we don’t worship HM or know much about her and that the patriarchal order is eternal as well…So I’m honestly hoping that these roles aren’t continued into the next life. I’m not much of a nurturer in this life nor does the prospect of bearing spirit children for eternity sound that appealing…
So basically, I’m hoping that this is due to the fall and that things will be on equal footing in the next!
re 13: Clark, I see what you are saying, but this is why there should be a distinction of gender vs. sex.
A female (spirit) needs female ordinances for the eternities, and cannot if her body hasbeen modified to look like a man. Similarly, men need the preisthood, but if they look like a woman, they cannot receive and use the preisthood in this life.
It seems to be the case that this is why the GAs should permit sex reassignment surgeries. Men need the priesthood, but if they look like a woman, they cannot receive and use the priesthood in this life. So, a transgender person, to try to put it in LDS terms, is someone who is of one eternal gender, but whose body does not match. Why should they not be allowed to get sex reassignment surgery?
The question is: is it your body that is right or your mind/gender/soul? Many people say look at the body. But I would argue again from the LDS context. Our souls are eternal. Our bodies are things we get while on the earth. Our gender is eternal. Our bodies are created through a fallen world. So, wouldn’t it make sense to trust the mind/soul/gender of a person, rather than the body, because the mind is eternal, an intelligence from the beginning, and the body is fallen?
In this light, not only should sex reassignment surgery be permitted, but it should be praised, for trying to “repent” and “change” a fallen, natural body and harmonize with the eternal gender and soul.
I see your last part about sex reassignment surgeries being allowed for “birth defects.” But couldn’t this apply to all those who are transgender people? These are people whose genders are clear, but their bodies (those they look whole) are defective. And they just want to change the defect.
Nice post, Hawkgrrrl. Bodies and spirits are pretty firmly linked in LDS doctrine. Our depiction of spirits sure looks an awful lot like bodies. So if everyone admits there are intersex bodies, that suggests there are intersex spirits. If, relying on LDS doctrine, one affirms that there are no intersex spirits … well perhaps what happens is angelic physicians perform spiritual surgery to render them either fully M or fully F prior to placement here on Earth. Just think how complicated things could get if such repairs weren’t undertaken: intersex spirits in M or F bodies; M or F spirits in intersex bodies. Really, you would think that if angelic ethics prevents spiritual surgery (a hopeful thought), angel placement workers would at least make sure that intersex spirits get together with intersex bodies.
DMI Dave – wow, spiritual surgery. Never thought about that. I would like spiritual rhinoplasty if necessary, but I always thought that my spiritual nose was probably cute and perky as opposed to this Streisand wannabe deal I ended up with. And certainly our spiritual bodies do not have flab or cellulite or wrinkles. Right?
Do spirit children leave us with stretch marks?
The church ordains deceased men to the priesthood by proxy. It does not ordain deceased women to the priesthood by proxy. That’s a pretty good indicator that the church currently holds that some form of its current gender roles are eternal.
Life is not so clearly black and white, nor divided male and female. 1/87 children are born with a bioneurological / Chromsomal anomaly, with 1/2000 born being ambiguous where the doctor cannot determine sex or gender. As a Transsexual I can say that I am, in my soul, what I am, and that my body was not always conforming to the person that God had made. I know this, that God will Transform me into the creature that is pleasing to His purposes as well as what will please me. That may, in fact by Scriptural references, be something other than this worldly set of definitions.
“Life is not so clearly black and white”
That sure is the truth. I would love to know more about your journey in life and how you are working through your struggles.
If we consider the Proclamation in the context of the church’s efforts to defeat same-sex marriage in Hawaii, then we must conclude that its primary purpose was to proclaim the church’s official and doctrinal position regarding homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Even the concluding paragraph is a reworking of an earlier correspondence specifically written for the Hawaii campaign. The Proclamation addresses same-sex marriage by defining marriage as being between “a man and a woman” and repeats the male/female duality repeatedly throughout in nearly every paragraph, yet says nothing overtly regarding homosexuality.
Just as general authorities choose to use euphemistic language in the place of the word sex when speaking to a general audience and in church publications (example, the phrase “sacred powers of procreation” in the Proclamation as a euphemism for sexual relations), they also tend to avoid uttering the word “homosexual.” Hence, the need to speak indirectly about it or to use the entirely inappropriate term “gender confusion.”
In that context, the reason for the phrase “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose” is to doctrinally address the matter of what some of the brethren referred to as “gender confusion” (i.e. homosexuality). Given that in 1995 the general attitude among church leaders was that homosexuality related to conduct and was not an intrinsic characteristic of a person, we should therefore conclude that the “confusion” then, was not a confusion about one’s biological sex, but about what is appropriate “conduct.” If this is a correct analysis, it speaks toward gender roles and the choice to fulfill one’s divine procreative responsibilities, rather than merely referring to biological sex.
But there was another context for the Proclamation.
Two years before the issuance of the Proclamation and Elder Oaks’ important statement about homosexuality in the Ensign (“Same-Gender Attraction,” Oct, 1995), Oaks delivered his pivotal October General Conference address, “The Great Plan of Happiness.” There, he built upon the Mormon concept of pre-mortal, mortal and eternal life, and exaltation as families. This paradigm was long referred to in the church as the “Plan of Salvation” but focused less on the work of Christ and more on concepts of pre-mortal existence, receiving earthly bodies and Celestial organization. Whereas Oaks did attempt to integrate the work of Christ into the uniquely Mormon paradigm for mankind, the thrust of the address focused on marriage and procreation and less on the redemptive work of Christ.
It is worth noting that the preferred phrase for current Mormonism seems to be no longer the “Plan of Salvation” but instead, the “Plan of Happiness.” In my opinion, this is a deliberate rhetorical usage by church leaders to drive home the concept that Family = Happiness.
It was in this same address that Oaks first introduced the principle of eternal/essential gender. Here is the paragraph:
That the “maleness and femaleness” of gender is more than simply a biological difference between the sexes is clear from rest of Oaks’ address. This paragraph, for example:
If we take Oaks as the reported chief architect of the Proclamation, and consider the striking similarity with his 1993 “Great Plan of Happiness” address, I think we must conclude that the Proclamation refers primarily to gender roles, rather than biological sex as being essential and eternal. And those roles have everything to do with procreation and family.
A small fraction of babies are born intersexed, with ambiguous genitalia — about one out of every twenty to forty thousand. Out of ten million babies that is a lot, somewhere between between 3-5 per hundred thousand, 30-50 per million, 300-500 per ten million. The classic treatment (make them all female) is based on a fraudulent study, the details of which are interesting, though it seems as if gender identity is stronger than biology or nurture.
If a person’s anatomy is not unambiguously male, then the person is always deemed female by the Church. (And is ineligible for the Priesthood.) was not my brother’s experience when he was doing studies for the BYU psych department before he left for grad school at Temple. Just FYI.
That may, in fact by Scriptural references, be something other than this worldly set of definitions. You are just taking John seriously when he states “Brethren it does not yet appear what we shall be.”
Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose though just what sex is would make a good discussion, as it is a method for variance, somewhat like spin or charge in particles. I’m still working on an over all theory, especially since what Paul says in the Bible is very clear, but it is all in the context of Greek and Roman practices by heterosexuals who were using same sex (as well as infertile older and partially clipped eunuch) partners as a method of birth control.
Anyway, interesting comments. Especially And those roles have everything to do with procreation and family which implies that the important part of gender, vis a vis many things, is procreation within a family unit, which creates some flexibility.