The purpose of Transgender Awareness Month is to inspire greater awareness to the personal experiences and views of Latter-day Saints affected by gender dysphoria. Posts in this series are typically written or compiled primarily by members of North Star’s Transgender, Intersex, and Gender Identity community, as well as the Spouses community. All views expressed or errors made are the sole responsibility of site contributors and should not be interpreted as representing the views of North Star or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. See other posts addressing gender dysphoria and transgenderism.
Kristilynne “Kristi” DeFuchs is a transgender woman (MTF) who grew up in the shadow of New York City. She joined the Church at age 16 and has remained active ever since, serving a mission to Spain in the mid-1990s before marrying her wife, Kate, in the Washington, D.C. Temple. She currently works as a software developer in the Birmingham, Alabama area, where she and Kate reside with their three beautiful children.
My wife, Kate, knew before we were married that I had gender dysphoria. It wasn’t called that back then, of course; even if it had been, we’d probably never have heard of it. We thought I was just a cross-dresser and, assuming it was sinful, resolved to work together to help me overcome it. I actually succeeded, for a while—months or even years at a time without what we saw as another “slip-up”—but it wasn’t as if I could just turn it off. Gender incongruity isn’t something anyone would choose to have, and it certainly isn’t something I want. It’s just me—a challenge I have, in this life—and like any challenge, I can deal with it, but I still have to live with it, whether I like it or not.
At first, I wondered where it came from. I wasn’t abused as a child; I had no lack of positive male role models; I loved doing stuff with my father and grandfathers and even great-grandfather; I even loved doing stuff with my mother and grandmothers. I’m not a child of divorce, and actually don’t know of a single divorced ancestor. My parents are still living, as is my only sibling and every cousin of which I’m aware. There is nothing in my background that seems like it would result in mental anguish of any kind, much less gender dysphoria, yet it’s always been there, every second of my life, since at least as far back as age four.
Age four. December, 1979. That’s when I first realized I was transgender: only four little years old, and I already knew who I was. I had even less of a word for it then, but I still remember the moment, standing in my grandmother’s bathroom while Mommy and Grandma got me ready for the Christmas program at my preschool (we would be singing “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer”). I saw Grandma’s lipstick. I still remember the bright, red color; the scent; the overwhelming desire to be able to wear it, to be beautiful like Mommy and Grandma. But of course I couldn’t. I was a boy, or at least that’s what they told me. Boys don’t wear lipstick. Even at age four, I already knew that much.
So why did I want to, so badly?
(Not) Just One of the Girls
For the next few years, I did what I could to fit in with the boys—after all, everyone told me I was one—but I just couldn’t enjoy the same things that they did. I was different on so many levels, and I spent my young life seeking the company of other girls. I was generally rebuffed—you’re a boy, they told me—but it didn’t stop the wishing, the wanting, the longing to somehow become like them, to be the person I knew that I was. Was that too much to ask? Couldn’t I be someone who was accepted for who she was, someone who was respected for the perfectly normal interests she had? Why did I have to be a boy?
By the time I was 12, I had grown my hair longer and was taking every opportunity to wear girls’ clothes and makeup. Some was my mother’s, some was my sister’s, some I somehow managed to steal from a locker neighbor at school. I only dressed in private, for fear of what others might think, but I did it as often as possible. My ever-masculinizing body was a constant trigger, and I did my best to ignore that part of me. My parents did catch me a few times and were fairly unhappy about it, but it felt wonderful being myself, even if only for a few minutes per day. It wasn’t till my senior year of high school that I received my first validation: when I went to school en femme on Halloween, several people—mostly other girls—commented on how pretty I was. A few even said I made a much better girl than a boy. I halfheartedly laughed it off, but inside, I was thrilled. If not for the gospel and the Church, that probably would have been the moment when I started transitioning fully.
Of course, even if I hadn’t started transitioning in high school—goodness knows, that would have been social suicide—then certainly I would have done so, when I discovered that my chosen university had a thriving transgender subculture. It seemed every week there was a sign announcing some bar or event that was transgender-friendly, including the regular drag shows and contests. But of course, that was mostly flamboyance, men who took pride in the manhood beneath their ludicrously feminine exteriors, putting on a show for all who cared to watch. That wasn’t me, either. I was caught between two extremes: those who told me I was male and needed to present as such, and those who I felt made a mockery of my femininity with their over-the-top presentation thereof. I didn’t want fame or attention; I just wanted to be me, a young woman blossoming into adulthood, just like thousands of others on campus. Why could I not find my place?
The reason I give this background is to explain something that so many people—including most Latter-day Saints—just don’t understand: the reality of gender incongruity. Since I’ve come out as transgender to a few people (and as a transgender ally, to many), the most common response I’ve heard is one of revulsion, of claiming that such desires be sinful. Yet while the Church Handbook of Instructions does state that “elective transsexual surgery” is generally problematic, only a very small minority of transgenders ever pursue SRS. Aside from that tiny percentage, both the Handbook and the scriptures remain silent on transgenderism per se.
In the midst of this dearth of information, many Latter-day Saints have formed their own opinions based on statements such as “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose” (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” ¶2:2.)—an inspired statement to be sure, but one which takes no position on how to determine one’s gender. Does it necessarily correspond to one’s genitals? What if hormonal levels don’t line up? What if one’s brain is formed differently than most? What if prenatal hormones caused a genetic anomaly? What if there’s no physical indication at all, just an innate knowledge of a disconnect between spirit and body? There are so many questions that just can’t be answered with a blanket statement, and it often reminds me of young Joseph’s confusion:
“In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, … What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?” (JS—History 1:10)
In the end, it comes down to the same principle young Joseph learned, that of personal revelation. As amazing as it sounds, I can’t think of a greater blessing than to be reliant upon God, for the answer to such a significant question.
Occasionally, of course, the “tumult of opinions” gives way to a diamond in the rough. When I came out to my bishop, for example, he showed me the kind of love and support that I’d always hoped someone would, particularly as a priesthood leader. Rather than jump to conclusions, he asked for time to consider the matter prayerfully and, if it was okay with me, to discuss it with the stake president. I gave my permission, and the stake president followed their meeting by contacting the Area Seventy over our stake. All agreed that since there were no issues to cause concern (e.g. pornography, infidelity, etc.), my situation might be a bit uncommon, but was not sinful in any way. I was encouraged to do the things any Church member does (pray, fast, study the scriptures, etc.) and was explicitly and unquestioningly given approval to baptize my daughter, the next month. The one thing that didn’t happen is that I was never once made to feel bad about it. In fact, in that very first meeting with my bishop, when I first told him I was transgender, his immediate response was as wonderful as I could imagine: “Stand tall, and be proud of who you are.” I’ll never be able to thank him enough for that; it meant so much to me, and I really think that’s what Christ would say, as well.
One of the most beautiful things about being a Latter-day Saint is the opportunity we have to form a personal relationship with our Heavenly Father and Mother. As we go through the temple, we learn more about our eternal identity and nature, and it’s truly a beautiful thing. Men have the opportunity to become like Father, women to become like Mother, and each to become gods unto Them (see D&C 76:58; cf. D&C132:17-20, 37). But the problem comes in when one is led to wonder: which am I, and which Parent am I to become like? For most of us, this is immeasurably simple to understand: our spirits align with our bodies, so we never think to wonder. But for those of us who experience gender dysphoria, it’s a question that haunts us forever. Even having received personal revelation that my eternal gender is male, I still wonder how that relates to the inordinate femaleness of my mind and body.
A few weeks after coming out to my bishop, Kate asked me a question:
“We’re here to become more like God, right? To develop Christlike attributes?”
I wasn’t sure why she was asking me this, but of course my answer was yes.
She continued, “And He loves his daughters as well as His sons, right?”
Again, there was no need to wonder. “Well, yeah, of course He does.”
“Does He understand His daughters as well as His sons?”
I had to think about that one a moment, but I agreed that yes, He certainly does. We know that Christ understands each of us perfectly, so of course Heavenly Father must, too.
“So if Heavenly Father understands His daughters perfectly,” she continued, “He must be perfectly in tune with His femininity. Maybe you being transgender is just an outward manifestation of a divine attribute, an area in which you’re already more like God than most.”
The simplicity of this suggestion was matched only by its profundity. Joseph Smith famously taught that “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection” (D&C 130:18), so it would make sense that she’s completely correct—and what a blessing! After 20+ years as a Latter-day Saint, it was the first time someone had ever suggested that my gender dysphoria wasn’t a handicap, but actually a part of my eternal identity, a Godlike attribute beyond my ability to comprehend. It gave me just one more reason to love her, one more reason to want to be with her forever. Perhaps of even greater importance, it gives me one more reason to love myself, to recognize the innate divinity within me.
And isn’t that really what life is about?