This is the second of a sequence of posts in which I describe my personal experience with concerns and confusion over my gender. This was hard to write and even harder to put out in public. Please be kind. This part contains my high school and mission experiences. Part I can be found here.
My transition to high school was difficult, partly because my family had planned on moving that summer and had to postpone the move by four months. So I had left 9th grade telling all my friends that I wouldn’t be back next year only to be there for the first semester of my 10th grade year. This coupled with the hard transition from junior high to high school made for an awkward start to the school year. Once we finally moved things didn’t get much better as I moved to a smaller high school that included 9th grade, so friendships and cliques there had already been established over the last year and a half.
Making friends at my new school was very rough and took a long time. I was not at all outgoing so if I hadn’t been so successful academically and placed in positions of attention, I might not have ever been included in a group. But thanks to the size of the high school, I ended up being in all the same advanced academic and arts classes with the same people. I was also surrounded by the same people in my extra curricular endeavors and then as a senior I had the opportunity to be on the Seminary Council. Fortunately, by my senior year I had a good group of decent friends and we hung out together on a pretty regular basis. (On an interesting side-note, many of my friends from elementary school, junior high, and high school, have since turned out to be gay. I’m not sure if this is a factor of my own gender issues or simply that most of my friends were also of the more creative and artsy sort. A counselor once told me that people with ‘sexual issues’ tend to be drawn to one another, even unknowingly. I don’t know if that’s true.)
I reached the Mormon eligible dating age of 16 right as I moved to my new high school as a sophomore. While most of my peers looked forward to this increase in ability, for me being able to date was incredibly distressing. For one, I wanted to be the one pursued and asked out. But even beyond that, I was still very unsure about my who I was and how to relate to either gender at this point and didn’t know how to be honest with someone I was attracted to. I was too afraid to be myself. I also felt a lot of pressure from family and peers to date and the whole prospect of it all was too confusing, uncomfortable, and scary. So, aside from going to the main high school dances with girls I wasn’t attracted to, I didn’t date at all.
I wanted to date, though. There were girls I was attracted to that I wanted to have fun with and get to know better. I even kept a running list of their names on my graphing calculator (that’s what those awesome gadgets were for, right?). I wanted to be in a sincere, intimate relationship. I wanted a friend that would be there for me that I could trust. I was also concerned that with my lack of dating, people would start noticing that I was ‘different’. So to counter this I became very busy in school and other projects so I had a plausible alibi.
I graduated and had about nine months before I turned 19 and could go on a mission. I had never thought of not going on a mission as it had always been part of my life plan. I loved the Lord and thought that by being a good missionary I could finally rid myself of my evil desire to be female and master my desires and sexual drive. In my misguided attempts to deal with my confusion over my gender and orientation, I had fallen into a steady and harmful pattern of denial where I’d try to convince myself that I didn’t want to be female. I’d tell myself that I had gotten over it and it didn’t exist anymore. I am very good at managing my thoughts and directing my attention and I knew how to keep a ‘willful ignorance.’ But inevitably, after some time, I wouldn’t be able to keep the self-deception up anymore. I’d ‘fall’ and undo all the good denial I’d done by begging again to Heavenly Father to make me female. I’d then proceed to feel incredibly guilty and depressed about my failure to get rid of this part of me. I’d apologize to God and promise to myself that I’d put these desires behind me for good this time. It never worked. Needless to say, it was a very self-defeating and discouraging pattern.
Because I had enough time between graduation and turning 19, I decided to do a semester of college. I went to what was then Rick’s College (now BYU-Idaho) and had a wonderful experience. I roomed with a high school friend and thoroughly enjoyed the university atmosphere. I felt like I fit in better and started to finally realize that who I am (in terms of sense of humor and interests, not so much gender identity) was okay and I felt more comfortable being myself with others and being less concerned about what they thought about me. While I was away at school turmoil happened at home as my parents’ long-dissolving marriage finally fell apart. In the course of one weekend, my dad moved out and my stepdad moved in. This turn of events was not great at all, but as I was away at school I could easily distance myself from it. When the semester ended, I only had to bear it for a few months until I left for the MTC and then on to South America.
The MTC experience, being strictly gender-segregated, was much like gym and scouts and quite unsettling. But I threw myself into learning the language and although I never felt like I really fit or belonged, I made it through.
I had hope that as a hard-working and dedicated missionary I would finally be able to root out the ‘evil’ inside of me that kept rearing its ugly head. So I completely threw myself into the work. To my despair, nothing changed. I worked so hard to do everything right on my mission. I did a lot of good and worked in the best way I knew how. So as a missionary I felt like I succeeded, but I failed in not wanting to be female. Mission leadership positions came slowly for me – I became a senior companion later than my peers and was at most only ever a district leader in spite of my ability and work ethic. I attributed this to the fact that God knew of my secret desires and knew that I wasn’t worthy. I nearly confessed my desires to be female to my mission president one time but chickened out. I told myself what I had told myself countless times before – that it would be better to just take care of it myself and make it quickly right before God so there was no need to confess.
My mission experience was fantastic overall. I learned much about life and people and gained a perspective that I hadn’t had before. It was a ton of work, but I enjoyed the people I worked with and I enjoyed seeing and experiencing that part of the world and its inhabitants. I really valued learning a second language as well, and gained a huge amount of self-confidence during that time.
In many ways, I didn’t want my mission to end. Although I was exhausted, I felt like spending all my time in the service of the Lord I was doing the most I could to help purify myself of evil within. I felt like if I could just be a missionary forever, or maybe a sort of LDS monk, I could eventually get over my wicked desires to be female. I extended my mission by a month and requested to extend for longer, but was denied. The time came that I had to go home. The home I returned to was very different than the one I’d left.
In the next installment I’ll discuss my undergraduate years after my mission up to my marriage to Andromeda. Continue on to Part III here.