This is the fifth 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 the process through which I ceased to view myself as damned for my desires to be female and my decision to tell my wife. Part IV can be found here.
Andromeda and I had made some uneasy amends after our falling-out over the bedrest incident, but nothing was actually solved. The pot had boiled over, but it was still simmering and our relationship was in no better of a place. To add to this, life had suddenly become much busier and complicated with two more infants and many other unexpected life complications (traveling for work, unexpected financial troubles, vehicle accidents, etc.).
I had started to think a little more openly and rationally about my beliefs and feelings of dissatisfaction with my gender as well. To start with, by living outside of Utah and Idaho I had met many non-members who had forced me to reconsider my previous world-view as Mormons being good and everyone else bad, dangerous, or at least untrustworthy. (Note: this is not a doctrine of Mormonism!) Many of these people had different standards than I. Some of them had different sexual orientations. I realized that when all was said and done, sexual preference wasn’t much different than any other preference, such as race or even hair color in terms of having any bearing on how good or trustworthy an individual was.
The church’s involvement in California’s Proposition 8 also helped me start thinking about things clearer as I realized that I felt some hesitation to jumping on board the ‘protect marriage’ train. This didn’t really have to do anything with gender dysphoria – I simply didn’t see any harm in letting two individuals of the same sex make similar commitments to opposite-sexed couples. I couldn’t really understand the reasons that the church used to justify their adamant and large participation in the campaign. I was also further unsettled by the letter from the First Presidency that was read in a sacrament meeting that urged members to support this proposition in any way possible.
In my post-baccalaureate schooling I had also had frequent talks about Mormonism with my colleagues at school. They all knew I was Mormon, (maybe children number four and five were the giveaway), and lots of them had sincere, tough questions for me that prompted deeper thinking and a more thorough personal understanding. I did my best to answer them.
It was in the thick of all this business that President Boyd K. Packer gave what turned out to be a controversial talk (Cleansing the Inner Vessel) in the 2010 Fall LDS general conference. As I listened, there were a number of unsettling moments in his talk, but what really set off my finely tuned and very sensitive ‘something is not quite right here’ alarm was this paragraph:
“Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember He is our Father.” *
When I first heard this, I, like probably everyone else, was thinking that the ‘some’ referred to by Pres. Packer were gays and lesbians. Since then the church has thankfully clarified its position regarding where the ‘sin’ is in being homosexual (in the action of having sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage, not feeling homosexual attraction), but at this time the distinction wasn’t clear yet. I had a hard time stomaching this because I personally knew some gays and lesbians and I honestly didn’t think that they could simply change what gender they were sexually attracted to on a whim. I believed that they probably had no more choice in what gender they were attracted to than I had in my attraction to women.
So even though his premises may have been a little off (and perhaps more than just a little), Pres. Packer raised an excellent question: why would a loving Heavenly Father send some of His children to earth with homosexual orientation? It was something I’d never really thought much about before, and I continued to investigate and ponder it after the conference.
Well, it couldn’t have been more than a week later that I had an important realization. You see, I’d never seen myself as homosexual, but when I reread this paragraph and thought about my secret hope and desire to be female, I realized that I sort of fit his description. For 30 years I’d been unsuccessfully trying to overcome tendencies that the church deemed ‘impure’ and ‘unnatural.’ Why would Heavenly Father have done this to me? Indeed.
I didn’t know what to think. For one, I couldn’t believe the condescending tone coming to me personally from someone who was supposedly representing Christ. Second, I’d been trying for a very long time to overcome tendencies that I knew the church didn’t approve of. I hadn’t succeeded or even gotten close, and not for lack of trying. I can say with a clear conscious that I had truly done my best to stop wanting to be female. I had put forth years of valiant effort. I had invoked the Lord’s help. I had failed, time and time again. I hadn’t given up, but I wasn’t succeeding and getting increasingly discouraged. What was I to do? What was I doing wrong if it was so easy and clear to Pres. Packer that such impure and unnatural tendencies could be overcome?
Utterly bewildered, I decided I had to look deeper and start at the beginning. I had to strip away all my preconceived notions, similarly to how I had done when I realized that gay people weren’t scary or terrible a few years previous to this. (Not that anyone had ever actually taught me that lesson in those exact words, but it was how I initially viewed them as a result of the culture in which I was raised. It took me years living outside of that culture to finally realize that sexual orientation had absolutely no bearing on righteousness, goodness, or worth.)
Then I had what was probably the most heretical realization of my existence – when I really looked at my desire to be female, and I mean really looked at it for what it was, outside of the context of my upbringing or any other supposed scornful and disdainful judgments and assumptions which had governed my life, I saw something unexpected. I didn’t see anything impure and unnatural. I didn’t see anything dirty, wrong, or evil. I simply wished I was female. I was uncomfortable with the gender of my body. It felt wrong. It didn’t seem to fit me. I didn’t want to usher in Satan’s rule on the world or bring down God’s kingdom or His church. I wasn’t out to destroy families or hurt others in any way. I didn’t want to drag eternal truth through the dirtiest of human perversions. I simply wanted to be female.
My desire to be female was not ‘unnatural.’ I certainly wasn’t making it up, and last I checked ‘natural’ means that it exists or is found in nature. I did not choose to want to be female. I’m not the kind of person who would set their heart on such a discouragingly impossible hope by choice. Wanting to be female and feeling female (whatever that means) was natural for me – it occurred and happened independent of my volition. The only thing that seemed unnatural was my body’s male gender.
Neither was my desire to be female ‘impure.’ In fact, upon closer inspection, my desire to be female didn’t even contradict my desire to be like Christ. It didn’t get in the way of my desire to be good. Rather, (and beware of potential blasphemy ahead), I was somewhat surprised to see that it actually amplified my desire to do good. When I truly looked at my yearning to be female for what it was, I saw nothing evil, selfish, or Satanic. Instead I saw purity, beauty, hope, and divinity.
So I’d established, to my surprise, that perhaps I’d been wrong about how I’ve viewed my secret hope to be female all along. I had no scripture or conference talk to back up what I’d concluded, but if this hope wasn’t as evil as I presumed, was I guilty of sin by its existence? In my previous pondering about Pres. Packer’s statement pertaining to homosexuals, I had come to the conclusion that if they truly came to earth with homosexual orientation, then there couldn’t possibly be any sin in having feelings (even ones supposedly as bad as homosexual ones) that weren’t chosen. Sin, if it existed in homosexuality at all, had to lie further on; guilt had to derive from a choice, not a situation.
What if the same was true for me? What if, just what if I wasn’t sinning by desiring to be female? It was like a light that I hadn’t even realized existed was turned on inside my previously dark and hopeless soul. I remember it so well, wondering for the first time in my 30 years if maybe it was okay that I longed to be female, that maybe I had never been headed to hell at all. I had built my whole understanding of myself and how God viewed me on the faulty assumption that what I felt was evil and disqualified me for heaven and His love and approval. Suddenly, the whole structure was crumbling. No, not just crumbling, but crashing down. Walls fell down to reveal magnificent vistas I had never even imagined before. Could this possibly be right, or was this Satan’s deceitfully sweet first step on the dark road to apostasy?
I was very hesitant as I mentally ran through the implications. And being a very thorough person, I took some time. I knew that gender identity is not the same as sexual orientation, so I was careful to not make logically faulty leaps. I searched the scriptures and modern revelation, reading it with new eyes, looking for anything that contradicted my conclusions. When I came across unsupported assumptions I had retained, I rapidly tore them down to see what implications lay hidden beyond. I started down the path of trying to make sense of it all based on what I have experienced, observed, and felt in my heart that I’m still on today.
But as I continued to look at my desires and my dreams in this clear light that I had never allowed, I saw beauty. I saw my hopes for heaven. I saw, and still see, divinity.
The more I looked, the more I realized that I wasn’t evil, or even just okay, but maybe even beautiful. Wanting to be female wasn’t just something that didn’t mar the rest of me, it made me even better. Allowing myself to acknowledge it and accept it gave me hope. Allowing myself to be hope and be happy about it gave me more desire to be like Christ.
It took quite some time to really work this all out, but in my attempts to be honest with myself and look at what I felt and desired in as unbiased of a manner as possible, I came to the firm conclusion that I was okay, that there was no sin involved in my wanting to be female, and that Heavenly Father still loved me. Not only that, but I felt that He didn’t love me in spite of my desires – I felt like He loved me for me, everything about me, including that. I had never felt as much peace or contentment ever in my life as I did when I finally looked at myself on the inside and allowed myself to see the hope, the brightness, and the beauty that was there. I was overjoyed.
I took my desire to be female for what it really was – a core part of me that could not be denied, shunned, or ignored. It truly was an identity, no less than my identity as a child of God. Looking back at my life, it made a lot of sense when I looked at myself as something different than the evil, perverted male I’d always seen. It felt right, it felt like me. I pulled away at all the guilt I’d told myself to feel and there wasn’t any left. I wanted to be female, and I was okay.
Now this isn’t to say that I was blameless by any means. I realized that the way I’d dealt with this through the years had been harmful to me and to others. In particular, I saw how my deliberate deceit and dishonesty to Andromeda was not good, regardless of my intentions. I saw how my misunderstanding of myself had gotten in the way of and caused problems in our relationship. Even though things had been terrible between us, I realized that I did love her and I wanted to share this with her, the best thing that may have ever happened to me. I wanted to be truthful and honest to her. I wanted to have the relationship with her I had always wanted. I wanted her to know me. I wanted to love her, and I hoped she’d love me.
But how would she take it? I wanted to tell my wife of seven and a half years that the husband she thought she knew yearned with all his heart to be a woman. I don’t know that I ever could have predicted what happened.
* When printed in the Ensign, this paragraph was changed to make it significantly less ‘harsh’ and now reads: “Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn temptations toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Remember, God is our Heavenly Father.” Now Pres. Packer has gotten a lot of flak for this talk and, frankly, much of it is probably deserved. But to be fair, I think what he really meant to say is that no matter who we are, regardless of our temptations, weaknesses, or life situations, we can always choose to do right, i.e. that our loving Father in Heaven did not put us here to fail in an impossible situation – sentiments I agree with.
In the next installment I discuss the events surrounding my disclosure to my wife the problems resulting from that. Continue on to Part VI here.