Kyle is the oldest of five children. He grew up in an amazing family and he’s grateful for the strength his family gives him. Kyle is currently attending graduate school at Brigham Young University studying Classical Languages and Literature. He loves literature and loves sharing this love of literature with others. Music has always been a huge part of his life and he plays trumpet, piano, and organ. Kyle has been married for almost five years to Amy who is one of the most amazing women in the world. She helps him to be a better person every day. Kyle loves reading, watching chick flicks, shopping with his wife, and all things nerdy. You can read more of his story through his essay, “Jesus Wins: Finding Faith in Ambiguity.”
This guest post by Kyle includes the input of several other faithful members of the Church who experience gender dysphoria.
North Star is in the process of developing additional resources addressing gender identity that can be accessed at LDSGenderIdentity.org, including the Journeys of Faith Project, a growing repository of personal essays by Latter-day Saint individuals and families wrestling with issues related to gender identity who are striving to find congruence and peace within the context of faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Gender identity and the concept of gender dysphoria are extremely difficult issues. With Bruce Jenner’s recent announcement of being transgender, our media has once again been filled with stories discussing transgender issues. There has also been an increase in dialogue about gender dysphoria and transgenderism among Latter-day Saints, including recent articles in the Salt Lake Tribune, Slate, About LDS, Modern Mormon Men and, most recently, an article at Mormon Women Stand. With the sudden influx of dialogue concerning gender dysphoria I thought this public attention provided an excellent opportunity to add to the conversation and present the human reality of gender dysphoria among active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, while seeking to explain what few teachings we, as members of the Church, have concerning this complicated issue.
Too often I think we, as members of the Church, view gender dysphoria as something that just doesn’t happen to good faithful members, but gender dysphoria is a very real struggle that many active and believing members of the Church—members of the Church who sustain Church leaders as prophets, seers, and revelators, and who believe in the doctrines and principles outlined in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”—are dealing with right now. The “dysphoria” (or pain, distress, or feelings of “wrongness”) caused by feeling like their inner identity does not match their outward appearance is intensely real. We should remember that this issue is deeply challenging and can be incredibly painful. These individuals are actively struggling to reconcile their feelings of gender dysphoria with the gospel of Jesus Christ while following the revealed doctrines of the Church. For many of these individuals, years of their lives have been spent trying to figure out how to live righteously with gender dysphoria, while trying to allow this struggle to bring them closer to Christ.
I affirm the statement found in the Proclamation on the Family that, “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” I know that there are divinely appointed differences between men and women and each gender is given its own specific roles and duties. The Proclamation states that: “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.” Yet, I can also acknowledge that we live in a fallen world and that individual circumstances might necessitate some degree of flexibility in the family dynamic, allowing for individual circumstance. The Proclamation states, “Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation.” Gender dysphoria, in what can at times result in crippling dissonance for some, may well be one of these other circumstances.
Everything about gender dysphoria is difficult to understand, the experience falls so far outside the norm. Even the concept of gender is extremely complicated. Sociologists often define gender as the system of social practices that create and maintain the psychological, behavioral, or cultural characteristics associated with maleness and femaleness. This set of social practices tends to feel so fundamental that we rarely even consider it. Men and women are different and because of those differences they are expected to act or behave in different ways.
Yet, gender cannot be defined merely as a set of social practices; we are taught in the Proclamation on the Family that gender is an eternal aspect of our being. If gender can’t be defined through temporal gender roles, how should it be defined?
Gender cannot be defined merely by sex roles or secondary sex characteristics (at least in this life)—women who can’t have children, can’t breastfeed etc. still feel like women. Neither can gender easily be defined by sex. The experience of intersexuality or hermaphroditism points to the fact there is a unique difference between physical sex and internal gender. In cases where external sexuality is completely ambiguous the gender identity of the individual is used to determine in which physical sex they should live their lives. Since in intersex individuals their sex characteristics, genetics, and chromosomes are ambiguous the only way to identify their gender is to ask these individuals. Gender must then be separate from sex characteristics, genetics, and chromosomes. Gender is an eternal state of being, that defies easy definition.
Could the same principles we use to determine gender in an intersex individual apply in some ways to issues of gender dysphoria? The simple answer is that we don’t know. There are no Church teachings specifically discussing the difference between gender and sex. Since the Church does not provide a clear eternal answer, individuals dealing with gender dysphoria are left to rely on the atonement of Christ and live with a certain degree of ambiguity.
Current Church policy seems to recognize that dealing with gender dysphoria is an incredibly difficult and nuanced issue. It is my understanding that the Church Handbook of Instructions (CHI) contains very little information regarding gender dysphoria. My general understanding of the principles published in Handbook 1 is: that having an elective transsexual operation may be cause for disciplinary counsel, and that an individual who has had such an operation cannot exercise the priesthood or hold a temple recommend (Relevant sections in the CHI include 3.3.4, 5.2.10, 6.7.2, 6.12.10, 6.13.4, 16.3.3, 16.3.16, 16.7.4). This policy only defines what will need to occur if an elective transsexual operation is undertaken by a member. There is no official policy from the Church stating how to deal with gender dysphoria in any ways short of surgical transition. The reality of this lack of Church policy was recently stated by Elder Oaks in a recent interview with the Salt Lake Tribune:
I think we need to acknowledge that while we have been acquainted with lesbians and 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.
Those members struggling with gender dysphoria must patiently wait until the Lord sees fit to provide further revelation regarding how to live with gender dysphoria. This further revelation will be a cause for rejoicing, and those members with gender dysphoria will faithfully accept the counsel of the prophets. Until then, I know many individuals that are striving to deal with this issue in a faithful manner, and in each case it is up to the individual, in concert with local church leaders (who often consult area authorities), to seek revelation and specific guidelines on an individual basis. These revelations and guidelines can vary widely. Each member dealing with gender dysphoria must walk forward with faith, and strive to be obedient to their individual revelation from the Lord.
I’m writing about this issue because I personally experience gender dysphoria. These feelings started when I was a small child and I certainly didn’t choose to feel this way. In fact, I can’t blame anyone for my feelings of gender dysphoria; I merely need to accept that this is a challenge that my Heavenly Father has allowed me to have. I can’t begin to explain how much trauma this has caused in my life, how much shame I had for so long concerning these feelings, and how evil I felt for wishing I weren’t a boy. I can’t tell you the number of nights I spent pleading with the Lord to take these feelings away; how desperately I wanted to be normal. I can’t explain how guilty I felt when the feelings didn’t go away, and how close I have come to suicide because of my despair. But I can tell you how the power of the Atonement of Christ provided me the hope to continue onward, to keep living, and to keep striving to come nearer to my Savior. Gender dysphoria will always be hard—I doubt I will ever be given all the answers—but that doesn’t mean that I can’t exercise my agency, seek revelation from my Heavenly Father on how I should act, and find some way to balance both my gender dysphoria and my faith in Christ.
I am not alone in this experience, I know many faithful members of the church trying to figure out how to live with this difficult challenge. Often, we are quiet unassuming individuals who are deeply afraid of what might happen if everyone knew our secret. But why should I be ashamed? I didn’t choose this challenge. The only way that we as members of the Church can become familiar with the reality of this issue is if individuals are willing to share their stories. This is why I am excited about the Journeys of Faith Project. This project is a growing compilation of stories from members of the Church who deal with gender dysphoria who choose to live their lives with faith in Jesus Christ. I would encourage everyone to read through some of these stories.
I, along with many other individuals I know who struggle with this issue, encourage members of the Church to remember that this issue is more than just a tabloid headline, it is not a condition that only occurs outside the Church, nor is it a condition that can be prayed away. It is a lifelong struggle that should be treated compassionately with love and not judgment or condemnation. Alma reminds us that a chief covenant we make when we enter the waters of baptism is to “mourn with those that mourn…and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:9). Every member of the Church should strive to encourage members with gender dysphoria to come closer to Christ; they should strive to help these individuals approach and seek answers from priesthood and other church leaders; they should strive to be compassionate and supportive of families dealing with this issue; and finally, they should strive to assist these individuals as they seek revelation concerning how they should deal with their dysphoria. We each have our challenges, and Jesus Christ can help us overcome them all.