Saturday, October 10, 2015

Unfinished Business - The Transgender Situation

"I think we need to acknowledge that while we have been acquainted with...homosexuals for some time, being acquainted with the unique problems of a transgender situation is something we have not had so much experience with, and we have some unfinished business in teaching on that."

-Elder Dallin H. Oaks*

Just in case it's not clear, I am NOT transgender.  I'm generally attracted to men, but I know I am male.  My feelings match my body.  I think a lot of people (myself included) combine the two.  I used to think gay men were people who wanted to be women, or at least look, act and dress like women.  After beginning to understand my own set of circumstances, I learned that there are major differences between gender issues and homosexuality.  There are even major differences in how to reconcile these feelings with the doctrines of the gospel (I actually think it might be easier to reconcile gender issues than homosexuality...the hard part is probably being accepted by friends and family).  I've just finished reading about book about marriage and religious freedom, and why the family unit, consisting of a married mother and father, is fundamental to society.  I believe that to be true and I believe that is why we have had warnings from prophets and apostles about the redefinition of marriage.  However, the author lumped transgender issues in with the marriage debate.  Gender identity definitely has some complex implications when it comes to the institution of marriage, but it definitely needs to be set aside from the same-sex marriage case.  It's that different!  (As with the LBG/SSA terms...I will use transgender, gender identity incongruence and gender dysphoria somewhat interchangeably.)

Naturally, I don't have any firsthand experience with gender dysphoria.  I will leave that to the amazing Latter-day Saints in the following resources:

Journeys of Faith features stories from faithful Latter-day Saints who deal with gender identity issues.  Many of their spouses have contributed as well.  Some have transitioned in certain ways, but all of them are on a pioneer journey, earnestly seeking to keep their covenants and find their place in God's plan (aren't we all?).  They are major examples to me of faith in the eternal blessings of the gospel, that their current circumstances will be understood in time of the Lord.

Transgender 101 contains a boatload of information for Latter-day Saints on what gender dysphoria is, what the church teaches about it, the terminology that is used (and I'm still learning how to use it correctly), and what we can do, as a church, to be more inclusive of transgender people who wish to worship with us and partake of all the blessings that are currently available.  There is almost more information than can be handled in one sitting.

Nevertheless, I have been able to meet some of these people, hear their experiences and draw some parallels with my own journey with same-sex attraction.  More importantly, I have developed a great concern for the transgender community and the way many Latter-day Saints talk about them.  I'm trying to have patience with church members when it comes to same-sex attraction.  In fact, I actually get rather heated with the groups that criticize the Church, its leaders, or who hope for a change in church doctrine regarding marriage and the law of chastity.  I feel fairly confident that those doctrines and standards will not and cannot change.

In a different fashion, however, I breathe fire when I see members of my faith, or other Christian faiths, claim to have all the answers regarding transgender issues.  Some believe that dressing as the opposite sex is sinful and has eternal implications.  Some believe that allowing transgender persons to transition in any way will teach other people to be transgender, or that gender isn't important.  One widely shared article talked about how transgender individuals become sexually aroused with thinking about being the opposite sex.  That's been true in some peoples' stories, but as I understand it, it's such a small, minuscule, almost insignificant part of the transgender experience.  If I may be so bold, and I hope it's not too awkward...I experience arousal when I get excited about certain things not even related to sex.  In other words, I think it's safe to say that those feelings are simply part of being a human.

The truth?  There's a LOT we don't know and understand.  The church handbooks contain some instructions regarding transsexual surgery (this is better outlined in the Transgender 101 website).  We have the first paragraph of the Proclamation to the World, which says that "gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose."  I love the Proclamation to the World.  I believe it was truly inspired for our day.  In fact, that document played a pivotal role in my gaining a testimony of the law of chastity and the importance of the traditional family as the fundamental unit of society.  Yeah I'm not married, but I'm thankful I don't have to question the prophetic vision regarding the family.  Even if I remain single, this doctrine still applies to me and it blesses me.

Likewise, I'm sure many transgender Latter-day Saints have had their own sacred experiences with the Proclamation.  Most of us are cisgender, meaning we identify and are comfortable with our biological sex.  Most of us are able to take that first paragraph at face value, and we generally don't have to dig deeper.  We haven't had to pray and ask God what gender He really meant for us to be or what we were before this life.  Just because most of us are comfortable in our own bodies, it doesn't mean that we're more advanced or better than those who are transgender, nor does it mean that we know more about gender than they do.  With the little direction on how to actually deal with the practicalities regarding transgenderism, many of these children of God have had to rely on personal revelation as to how to navigate this complex reality in this life.  I think it's pretty safe to say that transgender Latter-day saints probably know MORE about gender and its many nuances than I do.  They KNOW gender is important.  That is why they are trying to seek balance and live out their gender to the best of their ability.

I do believe there are forces out there seeking to undermine the doctrines found in the Proclamation.  I feel like I'm part of a small subset of LGBTQ...whatevers...who do not identify with that agenda.  We support the doctrines of the gospel and are trying to dig up what is already there for us, in conjunction with a glorious eternal perspective.  I believe the Proclamation provides profound truths about this life and the next, but I also believe it outlines major discussion points for all of us.  Same-sex attraction and gender identity issues are things that we ALL have to deal with.  We ALL have to rely on the Atonement and on eternity when it comes to helping our gay and transgender brothers and sisters who desire to worship with us and do their best with what they've been given.

I strive to keep my covenants (for God and not for other people, other than to be an example), but I have to do things to balance by "homo" needs.  I wouldn't say I live a "straight" life.  I live a "gay" life within the bounds the Lord has set.  Even if I marry a woman, I wouldn't say I'm "straight," but it would still be a special and beautiful heterosexual relationship.  Likewise, transgender people have to do things to balance their gender identity with what we currently understand within the context of the gospel.  Many of them are temple worthy, but it breaks my heart that some of the gender binary aspects of the temple cause great anxiety for them.  I'd love to see someone cross dress and/or refer to them as their preferred gender identity if it will help them avoid potentially harmful or irreversible surgery.  Furthermore, if they do decide to go through with a full transition, I'd much rather love them and sit with them at church than see them leave, or worse...take their own lives.

OK...back to the basics.  I think it's very important for each of us to continue developing our personal relationships with the Savior.  The simple truths of the gospel should be our foundation.  One of the simplest truths is that we are all children of Heavenly Father.  That is the most important identity above anything else.  All people, even those experiencing gender identity issues, are capable of taking upon themselves the baptismal covenant and partaking of the blessings of membership in Christ's church.  Some other blessings, depending on individual situations, may have to wait until a future day, and it is up to us to help others to live the best life possible.

*Elders Oaks and Christofferson appear on Trib Talk to discuss religious freedom

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