A few days ago, as I opened up my Netflix app to watch a favorite spy show, my attention was drawn to the featured ad. The still shot sported a favorite aging male actor of mine…. Only he was dressed very conspicuously as a woman, complete with lipstick and painted nails (see the accompanying image in this article). This ad was inviting viewers to watch Amazon’s first featured film: “Transparent.” The play on words was well done, I had to admit. I paused and pondered on what I saw.
I sat there thinking about how the last couple of decades I have watched homosexuality shift from being rarely included as part of our mass media to what it has become now: an expected part of any given show. In fact, the show I was just dialing up featured a lesbian as one of the main characters who had just had a good kissing session with a woman in the last episode…. And I didn’t bat an eye. I watched the show with my 9-year-old daughter. I’m used to it.
But this felt different. It was new. I mean, male actors have cross-dressed in plenty of shows in the past, such as the 1982 movie “Tootsie.” But in this plot the male cross dresses in order to advance his career, and not because he believes himself to be a woman. Males have played female actors on stage in many cultures for hundreds if not thousands of years (early Shakespeare productions, anyone?), but again, this was because the stage was for men only. Males dressed up as females on stage filled both practical and entertainment purposes but were clearly not making a social statement that men should be able to dress as woman in real life.
I’m kind of excited about seeing someone transgendered featured as the main character in a television series. I’m excited because I hope it will produce more dialogue for all of us. The USA is, culturally speaking, unfriendly to sexual and gender variance. In fact, it’s only been in the last few decades that cross-dressing is no longer considered illegal. And as far as us Mormons go, we just never talk about gender problems — at all.
I guess it sounds like I’m pretty liberal when it comes to sex and gender. Actually, I’m not all that liberal. I believe in the “Proclamation on the Family.” I believe that God sanctions marriage between one man and one woman, and that gender is not changeable. I’m heterosexual and all “vanilla” in my preferences, I’m a genetic woman who loves being female. But as a US society, and more specifically, as a Mormon culture, we have not figured out how to talk about transgenderism. We’re getting somewhat better when it comes to dialogue and compassion on issues of homosexuality, but transgender issues have been a place of complete silence.
This lack of dialogue is so difficult for our brothers and sisters who are suffering in silence! And it shouldn’t be this way. I think that often LDS people with transgender inclinations don’t get answers from the church…. And having nowhere else to turn, they turn to the world for answers. This should not be the case.
And yet my faith does not compel me to condemn or criticize what the church has or has not done on this point. I believe that it is incumbent on us, as faithful members, to take the light and knowledge we do have, and create dialogue among ourselves to look for solutions that are compatible with church doctrine. Indeed, we should work it out in our own hearts and minds, looking to personal revelation and drawing from church revelation. Then we need to talk among ourselves and continue looking for solutions.
I’ve noticed that God lets us struggle for answers a lot before he steps in. This pattern stretches across the entire history of the earth. It is a good thing. We learn in our struggles. And He always steps in when it is necessary. But if we don’t see Him stepping in yet…well, then we are to keep working it out between each other the best we can until we receive more light and knowledge.
I am a therapist who works with LDS transgender individuals and their families. I can tell you that we need each other. We need to break the silence in the LDS culture. The world has broken the silence, and we need to do the same. Our answers will be not “of the world.” So what will they be?