On Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) or, Does God Make Mistakes? (Part II)

This is the second part of a larger, multi-post entity in which I discuss SRS, God’s intentions, and some of my decisions concerning both.  For context and set-up, please read Part I first!

Scientifically it’s a difference of rarity and perception

If we step aside from morality and God for a moment, the biggest distinction between the birth defect I came into the world with and the ‘defect’ of my body’s gender is one of commonality: roughly 50% of humans are male* but only .14% of the population has the type of birth defect I had.

Have you seen the movie Penelope?  A girl is born into a family with a long-overdue curse that grants her a pig’s snout and ears.  She goes through a lot of trauma, not because pig snouts are inherently disgusting, but because she’s different from the norm.  How would the movie have turned out if pig snouts weren’t so unusual?  What if roughly half of the population had noses like pigs?  You’re right, there’d be no movie – she’s have lived her merry life and we’d all be watching movies about those rare people with a third eye or flower-scented flatulence or something.

Now I wasn’t born with a pig snout, but like Penelope’s nose, my birth defect did not affect my physical well-being.  It didn’t need to be repaired for me to survive and be healthy.  In less-affluent countries, those born with similar defects are routinely not operated on and there’s no harm that comes other than the ostracization that comes from being different.  I was operated on because the condition is rare enough to be deemed ‘abnormal,’ and by extension ‘disturbing’ and ‘offensive’ to others (and I don’t mean this in a rude way, I also find others that have defects similar to mine to be a somewhat disturbing sight).

Being born with the condition of ‘maleness’ happens to occur with much higher frequency.  So much more often, in fact, that maleness is viewed as a normal variant of humanity and is never operated on.  No mother, delivering doctor, or attendant nurse sees a baby born with male traits as defective at all.  This is totally fine, as there really is no reason to view maleness as in need of fixing unless the individual happens to feel it’s defective.**

If, however, only .14% of the population were born with male genitalia, then might it be treated much the same way as pig snouts?  This analogy breaks down a bit here, because maleness is an essential trait to the survival of our species.  Without it reproduction would be, well, less effective.  But I hope you see my point that prevalence doesn’t mean that something can’t still be defective or inappropriate.  (A ready example is lactose intolerance).

In fact, this is one of the huge misunderstandings with gender dysphoria, because maleness and femaleness are so common and widespread, no one ever imagines that they could be ‘defective’ besides the individuals that experience the dysphoria itself.

Now back to God

So, long story short, just because God sends you with something, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t defective or wrong.  One could even argue further that everything that we experience in mortality is part of God’s intentions for us.  We experience happiness as well as pain.  If God intended for us to experience pain, does that mean that He wants us to be in pain forever?  Hardly.  It’s part of the mortal condition, and despite being an overwhelming negative experience, it’s not entirely bereft of benefits.

I’ve established, then, that it’s at least plausible that the gender of one’s body could be defective.  Given the nature of anatomical gender and its two wide-spread patterns, it’s difficult (and maybe impossible) for outside observers to diagnose when gender is defective.  Especially when anatomical gender closely follows one of the two common patterns, the only reliable way I know of to diagnose a defective gender is from self-reports.

Now back to me

If gender is a potential birth defect, then, and SRS can help to alleviate the defect (remember, it’s not a cure, merely an aid like crutches are for polio-crippled legs), why haven’t I pursued it?

The idea of having a body that more closely resembles what I feel it should in terms of outward sexual characteristics is incredibly appealing.  My wish is to be female, however, not transsexual.  Like I discuss here, I don’t want to just be able to ‘pass’ as female.  Thus, I have currently elected to not do anything to surgically or hormonally alter my body for the following reasons:

  1. I believe that God would rather me not
  2. Andromeda doesn’t want me to
  3. I don’t want to hurt my kids
  4. The church has some pretty severe consequences set in place

To end this exposition, I want to just quickly explain my reasoning for this choice.  Before I do though, let me make it very clear that this decision to not pursue SRS is my own personal choice based primarily on my relationship with my Father in Heaven.  I’m not recommending in any manner that other people that experience gender dysphoria should do the same.  Nor am I passing any sort of judgment on people that pursue SRS or make a choice different from mine.  If there’s a single right way to deal with gender dysphoria, I certainly don’t presume to know it any more than I know that unique situations of those that have transitioned.

Furthermore, I don’t believe that pursuing SRS implies that one doesn’t believe in God or His perfect intentions for us.  Like I said earlier, we correct His ‘intentions’ all the time and there seems to be no sin associated with much of it.  These beliefs are not mutually exclusive.

So please take my personal explanations as no more than that – my paths of reasoning that have brought me to my personal conclusions.  Please don’t take any of what follows as arguments as to what you who experiences gender dysphoria or your gender dysphoric loved one should do in your own personal situations.

Andromeda & God

Reasons one and two are somewhat intertwined so I’ll discuss them together.  As you can read in my personal story, part VI (once I finish writing it), I reached a crisis in my life about a year and a half ago.  I had reached a point in my marriage where I was presented with the option to do what I felt was best for myself (not necessarily SRS, but increased identity expression at least in private) at the very real risk of losing my family, or give up some of my personal hopes to keep my loved ones together.  To make matters worse, relations between Andromeda and I weren’t ideal and family relations at that time were more negative than positive.

I realized the gravity of what I was facing.  I knew my wife didn’t want me to express myself or want to even be in this situation to begin with.  I knew that whatever I chose at that moment would dramatically affect the rest of my life.  I knelt down to pray to ask for guidance.  I had a clear impression, as clear as any impression I’ve ever had, that the best option was to be selfless and Christlike.  It was not an answer saying SRS is evil.  It did not say that expressing my identified gender is wrong.  I was reminded of Christ and what choice he would have made when presented with the option to give of Himself or not.

I already knew that I could never be female in this life the way I had hoped.  But at this moment, for the sake of my wife, my family, and out of my efforts to give of myself in the manner Christ did, I gave up myself, I let go of hope.

It was scary.  To my surprise, even though I let go of my hopes for my eternal happiness, they didn’t abandon me.  That’s a story for another day, though.

Making this decision didn’t turn out the way Andromeda expected it to, either.  Since then we’ve both grown a lot and I’m no longer faced with the severe consequences of losing my loved ones.  Regardless, though, I still feel in my heart that it’s best for me to be willing to give up what I can for their benefit.  I don’t know of a better way to follow the example of my Savior, who used His mortal experience to benefit others, even at great pain to Himself.

SRS & my children

I don’t know how SRS would affect my children.  It might cause them distress.  It might help them understand more about life than their peers.  I simply don’t know.  Regardless, I love them dearly and want to minimize any negative impact my choices have on their lives.

Someday I imagine I’ll have to tell them or they’ll find out somehow.  I’m not looking forward to that day.  I’m afraid to disappoint them.  I’m afraid they won’t understand.  I’m afraid to hurt them.  I don’t want to lose their love.  I’ll probably delve into this more in a future post.  Fortunately, reasons one and two provided sufficient grounds for a decision to not pursue SRS  that I’ve not had to address this difficult matter yet.

SRS & the church

Unsurprisingly, there is nothing to be found on the church website relating to SRS.  That isn’t to say that the church doesn’t have an official stance, however.  In the Church Handbook of Instructions Volume 1 (not made available to members) there are some very clear restraints for individuals who have received “an elective transsexual operation.”  This term isn’t ever defined, so it seems a little vague on whether any hormones or hormone blockers would fall under their classification.

In short, a non-member who has received an elective transsexual operation must get mission president and first presidency approval prior to baptism, and may not receive a temple recommend or the priesthood.  An individual that is considering such an operation may not be baptized.  A member who receives such an operation may be subject to formal church discipline (disfellowshipment or excommunication), and may not receive a temple recommend.

These are some pretty harsh bylaws.  In fact, it’s about as harsh as it gets, as these individuals that have received elective transsexual operations are routinely grouped with those who have committed murder, child abuse, apostates, etc.  Furthermore, never being eligible for a temple recommend is quite serious as it keeps a person from receiving necessary ordinances to salvation, including being sealed to one’s spouse.

I did not realize before I knew of this that my desire of having my body align with my gender identity was akin to premeditating a murder.  I’ll probably delve into this unusually serious treatment of ‘elective transsexual operations’ deeper in another post as well, but frankly I have a hunch that these severe penalties are not the result of eternal truth being revealed, but rather the fact that transsexuals are confusing and scary to those who aren’t already somewhat acquainted with gender dysphoria.  I suspect that there’s been actually little to no revelation on the subject, so the authorities have elected to adopt a ‘better safe than sorry’ approach.***

Regardless, this also was not really a huge factor in my decision, as I have no confirmation that these consequences are actually God’s will.  That’s not to say they aren’t, I simply don’t know and have some major unresolved doubts.

Wrap it up already!

So, that’s my not-so-brief explanation on the situation and my choice regarding SRS.  Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying that pursuing some form of SRS is bad for anyone.  Heck, I don’t think it would even be bad for me.  In fact, I strongly believe that it would be a much healthier way to deal with the gender dysphoria I experience than other ways I’ve dealt with it in the past.  I simply feel that in my situation, it’s not the best option for me based on my desire to do what’s right, follow Christ, my consideration of my wife’s concerns, and my children.

And I’m out to do my very best.

So for now, that’s where I am on the matter.  I very much wish that the gender of my body were different.  I understand it’s part of my Heavenly Father’s plan for my mortal experience.  I also understand that that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be enjoyable.  It also doesn’t necessarily mean that the gender of my body is any different than my congenital birth defect – a temporary defect that will be perfected at some point and not something I’ll have to deal with through the eternities.

It’s tough to see all around me what I lack, and how close SRS could get me to what I desire.  It’s not an easy choice to refuse the band-aid when I truly am bleeding.  But although it’s painful, my bleeding isn’t killing me (at least not yet), and I hope that it’s somehow doing me (or at least my loved ones) some good as I patiently wait for the cure.

—————————————————————————————————————-

* Okay I confess, I made this statistic up, I have no source for this data!  My whole argument is now invalid.  Darn it!

** Upon thinking of this it seems like there are different criteria possible to label something defective, all revolving around perspective and incident rates.  For example, traits that make survival difficult or impossible (i.e. being born without a heart or cancerous cells) would be considered by most to be defective.  Similarly, traits or measures that are a certain distance from the norm (i.e. less than 5% of the population have pig snouts as well as outliers in height or size) would be viewed by many as defective.  Some traits are not very observable to others that may also fall under this category.  This includes things which may be difficult or impossible to measure or observer and rely on patient descriptions or self-reports (depression, gender dysphoria).  I think some research is being done to find better ways to clinically measure such conditions, such as brain scans, etc., but from my experience much still hinges on patient descriptions of symptoms.

*** These severe penalties do highlight the critical problem of determining spiritual gender, however, as if it were able to be discerned, then there would presumably be no question which dressing room a transsexual person should enter in the temple.  One would think that someone who has undergone an elective transsexual procedure and that has ‘repented’ of their ‘misdeeds’ would presumably be able to worship there.  If I knew that I didn’t know how to tell spiritual gender and I had to sort people according to it, I’d probably rather simply exclude all those that crossed the boundaries or the fringe cases as well rather than confess that I had no sorting algorithm for them.  (Note, I don’t have any evidence or know that this has happened.  I’m just confused as to why transsexual operations are next to murder when there’s no revelation to confirm such eternal severity.)

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