Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Still Pondering the Complexity of Transgender Issues

In a previous post from July 2009, I discussed some of the new things I was learning and pondering regarding transgender issues. I have learned much from a new friend, a transgender Christian, whose personal journey has opened my eyes to some of the complexities and challenges that can occur in mortality.

Since then, I've heard from a transgender Latter-day Saint who kindly gave me permission to share a little of her story, as follows:
I recently read your article on transgender issues. I am what many consider trans and I am also a faithful member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I am a Male to Female member.

No, I don't have an axe to grind. I thank you for your article! Well written and sensitive. I figured I might be able to shed more light on things.

The true transsexual is not a sexual deviant. I have kept my baptismal covenants and refuse to have sexual relations until I am married. And yes I can legally get married as a female. What happened to me was not a twist of fate...or an act of nature. It happened because my mother took a drug called DES. A drug marketed in the 60s to prevent miscarriage.

That drug was later classified as a mutagen...a teratogen. Translation? It screws with a developing baby to the extent it can alter gender attributes.

We do the best with what we are handed and we are at the whim of the evil designs of man. God did not make this happen to me...but as we both know this world is not a perfect world. If it were perfect...it would not be that good of a test.

Despite the hell I have endured I have chosen to keep the Lord and the church near me. What and who I am is not a contradiction in the terms of the church unless I make it so. For example flaunting it...making a big deal about it or acting immorally. That is why I am sending this to you privately because it is a private matter. My ward does not know about my past except for the RS president...Bishop and Stake pres.

Any way...there you go. If you have questions feel free to ask.

--Sarah
Thank you, Sarah, for an example of handling an incredibly complicated and unfair situation in life with courage and faith. I cannot comprehend what you've gone through and truly don't understand these issues, but increasingly recognize that there can be genuine exceptions to my conception of how things should be. Yes, I believe that gender is a divine attribute and existed before we were born. But it also seems that mortality makes it possible for all manner of challenges and exceptions to arise with these mortal shells we carry, just as can happen with other aspects of the human experience, so I suggest we need to be extremely cautious and reticent regarding our superficial assumptions about the transgendered. Your example of holding on to your religion and living the moral standards of the Church, even in a situation where most others are surely prone to misunderstand, may be among the truly choice stories of faith that future generations should know.

2012 Update: An insightful post on some of these complex issues is "Jim's View" on the LDS Gender Blog.

21 comments:

Deila said...

good insight about the many things that we are still learning about. I am thankful that the church is sensitive to these issues as well.

Anonymous said...

seriouly and LDS is the last place I thought I'd read about this...thanks for putting this up it is touching to say the least and challenging to pre-concieved notions as well.

Lori D said...

Bravo for continuing to maintain an open mind in an often closed topic to the church, whether Mormon or some other Christian denomination.

Tony said...

Thanks for the post!
Interesting, insightful, and good to know.

Anonymous said...

Jeff,

I have a question regarding your belief about gender being a divine attribute determined in the premortal state (in which I personally don't believe). I'm a little confused, and it would be great if you could clarify your position regarding Sarah. I'm not trying to set you up; I just don't want to read between any lines and add to what your saying.

Is your position that Sarah was a female in the premortal state that you believe in? If so, are you suggesting that something could have happened at birth as a result of the world not being perfect?

One last thing: however you respond, is your response based on personal feelings or by what you have been taught by Mormon leaders?

Thanks,Jeff.

Blessings...

velska said...

To "Anonymous above":

I can't speak for Jeff, but my response would be that we just don't know exactly how and why these things go the way they do. Some say that God never makes mistakes, some think our bodies may be functioning against our spirits.

The fact is, that a fetus in its first weeks is neither male or female, and the gender specific things develop later. The hormones of the mother play an interesting part in this, to the extent that it is difficult sometimes to say, which is which.

This despite the missing pieces in the Y chromosome. The mother's hormones and medications can affect what happens.

And my speculation is my own, not the Church leaders'. I have a mind and a personal relationship with the Lord. I need the keys of the Priesthood and Prophesy, but I don't need Church leaders to think for me. But on the issues that they speak out on, such as the proclamation to the world concerning the family, I will follow them.

ando49 said...

The Proclamation to the World comes across more like a work of logic based on maintaining internal consistancy with LDS scripture, rather than a revelation, yet I've heard apostles of the Church use it as an example of modern revelation. In any case, the sexual expression in the pre-existance may be token only. Our bodies are run by hormones (thanks to evolution) and so whatever happens in the womb will dominate. In this area i defer to science for the answers, rather then "The Proclamation". Sarah's fetus was heading to be a male , but the hormonal wiring got re-arranged by the chemical enviroment in the womb. I believe my sexual expresion in this life is all about propagating the species, but for some it doesn't turn out that way. If I was a male in the pre-exitance, as I am here, and was put into a body such as Sarah was, then I would be behaviourly a female. I don't believe my pre-existant sex would endow me with anty sexual preference in this life; it's all in the chemistry. So Sarah could have been a male spirit, but compelled by her fetal enviroment to be a woman. Which begs the question, what role does the spirit have in shaping the physical form. It creates more questions than it answers.

Anonymous said...

Hi This is Sarah.

I have read some of the debate above about what my true spiritual gender is.

I can say this, I have had ecclesiastical verification that my spirit is female.

I won't go into detail but I will say this. Regardless if my spirit is male or female, how I conduct myself in any form in this life will be important ...more important than my gender expression. Simply put I am doing the best I can with what I was given.

-Sarah

Zoe Brain said...

I'm not a believer, and I'm not familiar with whether you should classify me as a Gentile, an Unbeliever, or even an Atheist.

I'm as spiritual as a brick too, so please see this purely as a medical and biological exposure of the facts, with no opinion whatsoever as to theological or spiritual implications.

First, DES. DoEthylStilbestrol.

1 in 5 46,XY (ie usually male) foetusses exposed to this chemical in the first trimester end up either trans women, physically intersexed, or both.

See Prenatal exposure to diethylstilbestrol(DES) in males and gender-related disorders:results from a 5-year study by Scott Kerlin

More than 150 network members (out of 500) with “confirmed” or “strongly suspected” prenatal DES exposure identified as either “transsexual, pre- or post-operative,” (90 members), “transgender” (48 members), “gender dysphoric” (17 members), or “intersex” (3 members).

In my succeeding comment, I'll give a link and the abstract of what I think is the best summary of the situation yet published.

Zoe Brain said...

Sexual Hormones and the Brain: An Essential Alliance for Sexual Identity and Sexual Orientation Garcia-Falgueras A, Swaab DF Endocr Dev. 2010;17:22-35

The fetal brain develops during the intrauterine period in the male direction through a direct action of testosterone on the developing nerve cells, or in the female direction through the absence of this hormone surge. In this way, our gender identity (the conviction of belonging to the male or female gender) and sexual orientation are programmed or organized into our brain structures when we are still in the womb. However, since sexual differentiation of the genitals takes place in the first two months of pregnancy and sexual differentiation of the brain starts in the second half of pregnancy, these two processes can be influenced independently, which may result in extreme cases in trans-sexuality. This also means that in the event of ambiguous sex at birth, the degree of masculinization of the genitals may not reflect the degree of masculinization of the brain. There is no indication that social environment after birth has an effect on gender identity or sexual orientation.

Zoe Brain said...

And lest you think that the subject of which sex someone "really" is is simple.... that "DNA/Chromosomes don't lie..."

A 46,XY mother who developed as a normal woman underwent spontaneous puberty, reached menarche, menstruated regularly, experienced two unassisted pregnancies, and gave birth to a 46,XY daughter with complete gonadal dysgenesis.
-- J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2008 Jan;93(1):182-9

Now after you've wrapped your head around that... let me introduce you to a concept called "dichogamous pseudohermaphroditism".

99% of the time in humans, these are protogynous (or "male") pseudohermaphrodites. Less than 100 cases of protandrous (or "female") pseudohermaphrodites are known.

See for example this page, by the Urological Sciences Foundation, on the Guevedoces of the Dominican Republic.

Yes, some people get an apparent "Natural Sex Change" from female looking at birth, to male-looking later due to either 5ARD or 17BHDD syndromes. The reverse does happen too, but is much, much rarer, and from different causes, usually not well understood.

Such a natural change can either cause, or cure, transsexuality, depending on the patient's neurology.

Zoe Brain said...

For an actual example where the natural change was not welcome, see this case in Australia:
RE: SALLY (SPECIAL MEDICAL PROCEDURE) [2010] FamCA 237

I'm one of the rare "female pseudohermaphrodites" by the way. In my case, the natural change was a release from the purgatory of "gender dysphoria" - transsexuality.

That it happened at age 47, rather than age 13, complicated my life enormously of course. It took some getting used to, as you can no doubt imagine.

Jennifer said...

It's great to see some understanding.

I myself suffer from partial androgen insensitivity which caused me to appear to be a woman trapped in a man's body.

I served a mission and got married, but had all sorts of trouble having kids.

I've been afraid to share this condition with the church, but recently I started talking to my bishop about it. We'll see where it goes :)

Jeff Lindsay: said...

Good luck, Jennifer. We're rooting for you! There are some rare exceptions to what we often take for granted that require us, church leaders included, to step back and rethink a few things for the good of exceptional individuals. God bless you! Let us know how things turn out and if we can be of any help....

Jeff Lindsay: said...

Thanks, Zoe Brain, for the information. Heavy stuff....

Jennifer said...

Thanks. I really appreciate it. Your post inspired me to go ahead and deal with this issue through the church instead of mistrusting them or assuming I was going to get a bigoted response.

As Sarah said, somebody born with this kind of condition who has a strong testimony of the gospel doesn't want to be immoral or different, we just want to be normal. I'm glad the church deals with these sorts of things privately on a case-by-case basis. That's really best for all involved.

I'll keep you updated, anonymously of course :)

Anonymous said...

I don't know how I missed this when it was posted but thanks to Jennifer for pointing it out to me. As far as the Proclamation goes I believe it 100% but it doesn't say that our body's gender always matches our spirit's gender. In most cases it does (count yourself fortunate if you are one of them) but there are some cases where, due to our fallen mortal state, our bodies may not perfectly align with our spirit's gender. As Sarah has stated somebody in this condition is not seeking to break the law of chastity, they simply want to feel comfortable in their own body. (Sarah, I would love to be able to get in touch with you, either personally or through the LDS Gender Group that is part of the North Star site: http://northstarlds.org/.)

I have finally talked with my own bishop about it and from our one brief visit so far I don't know exactly what he thinks but he did clearly state that me feeling female is not an issue of worthiness and that there is nothing bad about it that I have to repent of.

Thanks again, Jeff, for talking about this sensitive subject without pathologizing it. Your Christlike take on this will likely help other non-transgendered members understand the situation better and to look on it less judgmentally.

And thank you to Zoe Brain for the medical information she has left, some of which I have seen before, and some of which I haven't.

Nicole Jade

Jeff Lindsay: said...

This topic is of tremendous importance, and I'm grateful for those of you who have contacted me and shared your stories to help me understand a little better. It's wonderful to see that in spite of the misunderstandings of others, LDS people with unusual challenges regarding bodies and gender can manage to find their path forward inside the Church. May all those struggling with this find leaders who can listen and help. Your stories matter, and I thank you for the courage and faith you have shown.

Anonymous said...

I have written about your two posts at the new LDSGender site: http://ldsgender.wordpress.com/2011/10/19/mormanity-an-excellent-example-of-striving-to-understand/

giantCplus said...

The desire or impulse to be a girl is just as strong if not stronger than an addiction. The difference; I did not choose this like an addict chooses to partake in a substance. I am borne with this and it will never go away. No amount of abstaining will lessen the want, there is nothing I can take that will feed the desire, and there is nothing I can do to make it go away. It is like being stuck in withdrawal forever with this uncontrolled passion my whole life. The only way out is Gender reassignment surgery, or death.

Jennifer said...

Would it be possible to get in touch with Sarah? I am in a very similar position as her and wanted to see how she approached the issue with local leaders. I am going to need to do such soon and wanted to see how it went for her :)

jandersonep@gmail.com