As LDS church members, we are very new to discussing the transgender experience. Regardless of one’s perspective on the issue, I think we can all agree that this is a mostly unexplored topic when it comes to the Mormon context. As I share my thoughts, please be patient with me. None of us knows the answers. But that fact shouldn’t stop us from speaking and sharing what we think.
I spend a lot of time pondering the topic of same gender attraction and gender dysphoria. As a therapist who works with people with these experiences, as well as their family members, I learn way more from my clients than I teach them. Sure, I have some therapeutic tools, and sometimes these tools are even helpful to my clients. But often there are no perfect answers. Instead, there is a lot of free, open, non-judgmental space to explore these issues in the therapy room.
I believe that some of these intense life experiences are not healed by a formula, and may or may not be destined to be healed at all in this life. Christ works with us individually. He leads us along our path of learning and growing, and it doesn’t matter how some other person came to peace or how they decided to live their life… we have to forge our own path when it comes to these incredibly deep and close-to-the-heart issues of gender and sexuality.
With that in mind, I’d like to share with you something I’ve learned from working with a very special client of mine. This man came to me to work on his depression. Through our time together, he shared that he had a history of same gender attraction. This never became a focus of therapy, however, because he had figured out what to do with it years before. In fact, he didn’t consider it to be a current concern of his.
Fascinated, I asked him about his journey of healing. Simply put, he told me that as he took the issue to the Lord, he was shown that his feelings of sexual attraction to men could be translated into feelings of charity toward that person. He took this answer from God very literally. If he saw a male that was sexually attractive, he would make a note of his sexual thoughts and feelings. He would then tell himself that he might be being lead to this person to show kindness or service. Translating the sexual feelings to feelings of charity, he would then act from that place. After years of such practice, He now believes his feelings of same gender attraction to be a huge blessing, because if he uses them the way God wants him to, he is lead (sometimes through an initial attraction) to men whom he can serve and show Christ-like love towards. He lives this out daily and through this Christ-centered love, he connects with many people and serves faithfully. This has brought him much fulfillment and healing.
Through some of my studies, I happened upon a teaching from Plato that described this very way of being that my client had described. Plato, in speaking of homosexual relationships, encouraged men to avoid “carnal expression” and instead, progress from the admiration of the virtues of one’s love interest to the eventual love of virtue in its abstract form.
To put that idea in my own words, Plato is proposing (and my client’s experience has suggested) that those “forbidden” sexual urges could actually ennoble us if we translated them into an appreciation for the beauty, goodness, and positive traits of those we admire. And that over time, we could then generalize this appreciation to gratitude for beauty and goodness itself.
This brings me to my thoughts on gender dysphoria. I’m very well acquainted with this issue, both from experiences in my personal life as well as my professional studies. I’m as well informed as anyone when it comes to what the medical profession as well as psychologists might have to say regarding those with this experience. But if we’d found the “answer,” we would know it by now. The answer has not been found when it comes to Mormons who have families, religious convictions, and sometimes temple covenants to consider. “Just go with it” is about as viable as dropping a bomb in the living room of your home. And I think most of you know what I mean when I say that.
As I have pondered my client’s experience of healing, as well as Plato’s advice to the homosexual, I think there is something there for the gender-dysphoric person.
It well may be that the all-consuming sense of being born in the wrong body can be partially ameliorated by translating some of these feelings into an deep appreciation, respect, and charitable desire to serve the other gender.
I believe that is something to think about.