This post has been cross-posted from Some Stuff to Read.
Let me start out by stating something that you already know: I’m not your dad (I guess I should clarify that, unless you are George, Fred, or Will Hickman… I’m not your dad). You can draw some conclusions from the fact that I’m not your dad, such as 1.) If I wear socks with sandals, its because its in style and not because I’m a nerd who doesn’t know about fashion. 2.) All of my jokes are funny. 3.) I can’t tell you what to do. The third conclusion just listed will be especially important for you to remember as I am about to tell you what opinion you should have about someone in pop-culture. People don’t like being told what to do…so, I thought I would warn you that it was coming, that way you could choose to click away or move forward with caution.
As I’m not deluding myself into thinking that this blog is read by an extremely wide audience, the focus of my comments are directed toward people with a religious background who might find themselves experiencing strong feelings about the recent coming out of Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair. I’m also not deluding myself into thinking that I am always right (except for when it comes to Saved by the Bell or Lord of the Rings Trivia) and so I can accept and deal with the fact that there might be opinions different than mine…but let me tell you why mine is right. ;)
Let me get this out of the way: Gender identity issues and sexual orientation issues are NOT the same thing. Many people don’t make a distinction between these two things and I can assure you that they are very much different.
You might think that you know something about gender identity issues, but I’m pretty sure you don’t. That sounded rude…but its less rude if I’m lumping myself into the same category, right? Rude or not, I have had enough experience with issues related to human sexuality to know that MOST people do not have enough working knowledge about gender identity issues to be able to form a reasonable opinion about the subject…myself included. The issues are so varied and complex and so deeply rooted into a person’s sense of self, that it is almost impossible to understand on any level the experience unless you personally experience gender identity issues or are personally acquainted with someone experiencing it and have the opportunity to speak very openly and frankly about the subject. With so few transgendered individuals open about their experiences, especially in the religious community, it makes sense that there is so much unknown and misunderstood about the topic.
I have had the amazing and humbling opportunity through my involvement with North Star International over the last 6 months to be introduced and affiliated with several LDS Church members whose experiences with gender identity issues range from quietly and privately coping to very publicly sharing their experiences and I have gained such a greater and deeper understanding of such a complex and involved issue.
Even before we are born, as soon as our gender is identified, some semblance of a life plan is mapped out for us. Imagine, if you can, from the moment you have the ability to recollect memory you feel like you don’t fit, like you are out of place in your own body, like something at the very core of your being isn’t right. Imagine the confusion and frustration you might feel growing up with these feelings becoming more and more intense as gender roles continue to split further and further apart. The contradiction is much more than just a preference of preferring female clothing over male clothing or enjoying predominately male activities over female…it is a discomfort in your own body, in your identity as a man or a woman.
If you are LDS, none of the typical answers seem to work. With virtually no mention of the issue in scripture, and almost zero direction from modern prophets on the issue (really folks…there is very little), church members with gender identity issues are often left to seek out personal revelation on what to do with these feelings. I recently read an article in which someone (who clearly does not understand the topic very well) cited over and over again the Proclamation on the Family and the importance of gender and the roles played by each. The article insisted that gender dysphoria and transgenderedness was a product of a society that didn’t appreciate the importance of these roles. I would argue that few people truly appreciate the importance of gender roles more than a transgendered individual. They KNOW that the roles of a man or a woman are important, that isn’t the issue, they just truly do not feel like they belong in their biologically given one.
Lindsay and I had what we feel was a life changing experience at the recent North Star conference to sit in and observe a panel discussion with several transgendered LDS members and another panel of the families and spouses of transgendered individuals. It has been a long time since I have felt the spirit that strong, and the reality is, their experiences were very different from each other’s. Some individuals feel very strongly that their spirit is female, and they have been challenged in this life to be born as a man. Some people feel that this is an earthly experience that will not be with them for eternity. Some individuals dress as their identified gender to attend church meetings, others feel convicted to presenting as their biological gender. These experiences range in their presentation but it was clear that each of them strives to stay close to God, and none of them…I repeat…none of them came to any decisions about the direction that their lives should take lightly.
There has been a lot of conversation about these issues recently with the Vanity Fair story of the transition of Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn Jenner. And frankly, there have been a lot of really ignorant and stupid things said. Like when Mike Huckabee said,
“Now, I wish that someone told me that when I was in high school that I could have felt like a woman when it came time to take showers. I’m pretty sure that I would have found my feminine side and said, ‘Coach, I think I’d rather shower with the girls today,’”
Clearly, this is coming from a person that doesn’t understand the issue, who has never spoken to anyone who actually identifies as transgender and taken the time get really get it.
To make the assumption that Bruce Jenner just “didn’t like” being a man or that he “preferred femininity” is to discount the complexity of the issue of gender identity incongruence. I feel like anyone that assumes that someone who is transgender is just seeking attention really should seek out more information on the subject (I’ll provide a couple of links at the end of this). You may not feel like Caitlyn Jenner should be held up as a hero of any kind, but shouldn’t you, as a good person, try to understand why people feel like she is a hero and maybe have some empathy for that cause?
I understand a moral opposition based in religious beliefs to the decision to surgically transition from one gender to another, but I also understand that people who are screaming that opposition from their blogs and websites seem to be doing so with a tone of unkindness that makes me feel like their opinion is more about them than it is about the issue.
In the end, I guess I am not telling you exactly what opinion to have of Caitlyn Jenner (I’m not nearly assertive enough to do that kind of thing). I am however requesting/suggesting/encouraging you to learn more about the issue before you might jump on the bandwagon of making assumptions about the topic and creating opinions about such a complex issue.
I’ve said it before, and I will say it again. I want people to stand up for what they believe in. Everybody. That is what it means to have integrity. The world is a better place when people have integrity. But “stand up” nicely, and with kindness. You will feel better, and truthfully people will be more inclined to listen.
A couple resources with LDS Interest: