I am Worried About Jessica. Full posting.

 

In June of this year, I was honored to be allowed to contribute a guest post for “By Common Consent,”  a site devoted to cultural and social and doctrinal issues in relation to all things related to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Now that several months have transpired, I want to preserve this post here on my own site.  I was also pleased to see so many discussion points raised by visitors to the guest post, which I think were done in a spirit of seeking understanding regarding my viewpoints.  Addressing some of those questions resulted in some rather extensive replies on my part, which I also want to preserve on my site.  Here is the link to the original guest post on BCC,

I Am Worried about Jessica.

followed by the post and subsequent comments and questions as of 8-22-2019.  I am grateful for the opportunity BCC gave me to participate and the engaging discussions that ensued.  Lona.

I Am Worried about Jessica.

Lona Gynt is a friend of BCC.  She is a Latter-day Saint and works as a physician in the Eastern United States and also shares poetry and other comment in her blog “Scattered thoughts made a little more random” at lonagynt.wordpress.com.  She is a transgender woman who writes under  a pseudonym for the time being.

I am worried about Jessica.

Jessica is not her real name, but this can get confusing since she does not consider her legal birth name to be her real name either.

I met Jessica through my friend Sophia.  Like me, Sophia is a transgender woman, but we do have some key differences. I am a lifelong Latter-day Saint.  I have not openly transitioned socially to a female role, even though I have been treated with female hormones for many years to medically transition my body to match my internal identity and to combat overpowering gender dysphoria.  Sophia lives in Europe, she is not Latter-day Saint, she has transitioned medically and socially to the female gender.  She is a compassionate and empathetic person, so I paid attention when she wrote me the following:

I’ve been chatting to someone who is interested in talking to you. She is 16 years old, born biologically male, and has been experiencing what sounds like very heavy gender dysphoria her entire life. She is Mormon, lives in Utah, and goes by the name “Jessica.”

She cries her eyes out in panic and distress every single day over her gender dysphoria, and wants to transition very badly. But she is afraid to tell her parents. She’s also afraid of what the church will think. She is devoted to her religion and wants to keep being Mormon, but she is confused and terrified over what will happen when people find out about her transness. She is also scared about whether Utah’s medical system will be kind to her in regard to the transness.

I am more than thirty years older than Jessica.  It would be difficult to compare her world with the one I inhabited when I was sixteen, but the shared chasm between our transgender and Mormon identities may make any generational divide between us seem small by comparison.  I know a little bit about what it is like to be young, transgender, and Mormon, and I know it is a very lonely and potentially dangerous place to be.  I said I would be willing to hear Jessica’s story and talk about possible support networks she could pursue in her local milieu (we live on opposite sides of the country).  I wanted her to feel safe in our correspondence, so I confirmed with her that I would never ask to meet her personally nor ask for any identifying information or pictures etc.

Meeting Jessica has caused me to reflect on what my life was like when I was her age.  I grew up in the Wasatch Front Mormon corridor with mountains of support and context about the meaning of what it meant to be Mormon.  I was raised by a loving and pretty happy family.  We had hard work, lots of fun, laughter, and Family Night.  My Dad would pour his heart out to us and my Mom was simply fantastic.  I got the whole deal and simply just ate it up: Primary, Mutual, Scouts, Seminary…, I loved it all.  I really did love the scriptures and my teachers and sought out my own “Sacred Grove Experiences” in the mountains and in my bedroom, and some of the most profound experiences occurred as I gave talks and testimony from the pulpit of our red-brick-two-story-white-steepled Wasatch Front meetinghouse.  At fourteen I remember being joyfully overwhelmed by the generosity of the doctrines of proxy temple work and the redemption of the dead and how God excludes none of his children from the reach of His love.

I hope I was not too insufferable, but by the time I was sixteen I seemed the stereotypical “Peter Priesthood,” and believed and felt the whole big Latter-day Sh-bang to be true.  It was wonderful, my only trouble is that I felt more like a Molly.  I had never quite felt right in my masculine skin.  I had experienced varying levels of clarity and vagueness from a very early age that I would fit in better with the girls and should have been one.  Although I had so many advantages in my life, I had absolutely no context or support at all for this persistent background feminine feeling.

As a three-year old I remember seeing a happy girl’s face like my mother’s looking back at me from the mirror[i].

At about six years old I asked my Mom what I thought was simple question:  if they call girls who like to wear jeans and play sports “tom-boys” do they call boys who want to wear dresses and play with girls’ toys “tom-girls?”   She usually had a cheerful and ready answer to my questions, but for this one I recall primarily a prolonged and heavy silence that preceded whatever she actually ended up saying.  It would not take too long to learn from the world around me that the usual monikers for this concept were “sissy” or “faggot”, and it was not seen as adorable to be one.

I forged on with my life and tribe, burying my identity as deeply as I could.  I had never heard the term “transgender” as a youth, but was about twelve when I first heard about people undergoing a “sex-change” when my older brother happened to off-handedly mention something about a famous tennis player who had worked with doctors to change from a man to a woman.  The news hit my body like a joyful lightning bolt to hear that such a thing was possible.  I asked in amazement if they could completely change, get pregnant and have babies and everything.  He gave a not-unkind scoff, and said, that no, they couldn’t do all of that.  I felt a little deflated, but the conversation would ever remain a stark and powerful memory.

I moved on.  I did well in school, started at BYU in the mid-1980’s, and went on a mission, and came back to BYU.  I was interested at the time in becoming a clinical psychologist and was majoring in psychology.  We spent about fifteen minutes on transgender issues in my Sophomore level Abnormal Psychology class in which the professor posited that it is difficult to go through life having to endure all of the roles and circumstances of a gender that does not align with one’s inner identity.  This was the first remotely empathetic thing I ever remember hearing about how I was feeling.  Typically, I can ask a lot of questions in a class, I can even be annoying, but I was terrified to ask anything on this topic.  I felt like someone might guess something if I did.

Another student asked the professor’s opinion on whether it was wise for transgender people to undergo sex change.  He said that he doubted the wisdom of filling one’s body with “artificial” hormones and that it might be better for people to try to learn coping strategies to help them fit in to their assigned societal roles.  We have since learned that severe gender dysphoria is very dangerous and correlates with one of the highest rates of both attempted and completed suicides seen in any group[ii].  Current evidence consistently shows that the best alleviation of gender dysphoria is achieved by transitioning to the internally identified gender with as much affirmation and support as possible from the person’s milieu[iii].  But this was 1985, the evidence was not yet so prominent and I really respected this professor, so even though I felt a pang of emptiness at his words, I still did not raise any additional questions.

Also, I am not sure that I wanted to hear any other type of answers at that time because I really did not want to be transgender, and considered any thoughts I had that I was feminine as a disgusting demonic influence.  I prayed more, studied, and worked, and ran-ran-ran from those thoughts, and it seemed I could somewhat keep them in check for rather long periods of time.

I am not saying it was all bad, in fact, most of life was great.  I met a wonderful woman, and we married and moved to another state for her job and I continued my studies.  Hard work paid off with admission to medical school and I experienced great joy with arrival of children and active enjoyment of church callings and family.  My church involvement was not just a rote societal exercise for me, I felt devoted to the restored gospel and felt close to the Savior in my efforts, but I still had no concept at all that my transgender feelings were anything other than sinful.

I have written elsewhere about some of the challenges and dangers of the ensuing years[iv].  My primary purpose now is to highlight that I had grown up with no context at all for what I was feeling.  What were the results of this lack of context thirty years down the road?   Do we now live in an era in which increased knowledge and context might offer Jessica a different path with less heartbreak for her and her loved ones than what I experienced and unleashed?  We might even venture to ask the question, “Where will it lead?”  Can we do more than just watch in suspense as events inch slowly closer to conclusion, grasping us in their patient jaws?

My experience might be an example of where such lack of context could lead.  Despite all my devoted and constant efforts, the dysphoria continued to intensify.  There were decades in which I felt largely dissociated from my outwardly very successful life.  There were several secret dangerously-near suicide attempts.  I finally sought professional help and was directed to a skilled therapist who patiently helped me in the process of affirming my worth.  Prayers started to be answered in ways I had not anticipated.  Eventually I was blessed with the realization that being a transgender woman is not sinful, that female hormone therapy would help to dispel some aspects of the crippling dysphoria, and that God and Christ understand and accept my circumstance and do not condemn me, and would even accept my efforts for life-saving transition from male to female even if it were accompanied by various levels of rejection from church, tribe, and family.

The most painful part of all of this relates to the effects of these circumstances on my family.  I have a wonderful wife and children who have now been drawn into the web of consequence stemming from my lifelong lack of context, denial, and intrinsic transphobia.  It is a grim calculus at times to have weighed whether it would be less harmful for my family for me to transition or simply just end my life.  Gratefully, I had been blessed in those close moments to land on the correct side of that question and have covenanted that I am going to live, even if that requires me to more fully transition socially.  The very first step we all took on the covenant path was to come here to mortality to live[v], and I am going to do everything required to keep that first covenant.

At this point I feel very strongly that I am going to need to more openly transition socially to female roles at some level in order to survive and live authentically.  The potential consequences of this choice may not always be as stark as life or death, but they are very daunting nonetheless.  More than three years of cross-sex hormonal treatments have really helped me to feel present and right in my own body, and have been a critical step in saving my life, but they have come with heart-rending changes in our marriage and further social transitioning may eventually cause my marriage to end.

As I proceed with socially transitioning, I am likely to be ostracized by my much of my church family and tribe, but of even greater concern for me is the possibility that my adolescent daughter’s mostly Latter-day Saint peer-group may freak out and make her pay a terrible price at a critical time in her life.

My red-state bible belt primary care medical practice would likely suffer to a significant degree, making it more difficult to meet my commitments to a wife who left a vibrant career to be home with the kids.  Changes in her technical field since she left work have made it nearly impossible for her to reenter her prior career, thus increasing her sense of vulnerability and dependence.

Now this next part is especially tricky… and some of those closest to me never quite believe me when I say this.  I do not regret the path my life has taken.  My younger self’s clueless lack of context has spun a web of confusion that has not only caught me, but my family, in its grasp, but these challenges have made us who we are, and I think that if we could change the direction of the arrow of time to alter our lives we would probably only make things worse (unless we were blessed with the fortitude of Albus Dumbledore).  I would not trade the love I have enjoyed with my wife and children for more context in my past, even if it meant that I could have lived life with less dysphoria and less danger.

But what if I had not been so clueless?  What if I had actually possessed some context or knowledge about what I was going through?  What if I had felt then as I do now, that being transgender is part of the biological spectrum of God’s creation and not just so much “gender confusion”?[vi]

What if my younger self had been given a sense, or even just an inkling, about the dangers of dysphoria and pain that it would eventually cause my wife and family?  Would it have been ethical or righteous to knowingly drag them all into this whole wonderful mess for the sake of staying on the prescribed covenant path?  Could I have entered marriage with the hope that it would cure me of being transgender?  There may be parallels to the dubious history of people entering marriage as a “cure” for same-sex attraction – an approach that seems to have produced more pain than efficacy.  Would it be right to knowingly pursue a similar path to deal with transgender identity?

Apart from the questions of my own past lack of context and knowledge, how would we propose going forward for those in the younger generation who face this challenge now that we live in an era with more data, more context, and with some slight degree of increased acceptance?  How might things be different for Jessica?  What additional counsel do we have to offer her than to show her the Proclamation and label her plight as “gender confusion?”  Do we tell her to pray more, study more, go to church more, serve more?  Sure!  We should all be doing those things more, regardless of whether we are cis or trans or somewhere in between.  But what do you do when these “Sunday School Answers” aren’t sufficient to save your life?  Are we going to tell her to just choose not to be transgender?  Do we have any other tools to offer her as a church and a people over and above those I had available when I was her age?

I can hope she has parents who indeed grieve when they discover what their child is going through, but who don’t get angry and let the child know they are loved.  I can hope for visits to a team of professionals who can carefully help to identify what is happening and what it means to be transgender, offering context and professional insight into her challenges and choices.

I can picture Jessica meeting other transgender Latter-day Saints and discovering that she is not the only person who faces the challenge of being a transgender person who is also striving to be devoted to the gospel and LDS Church.  I can hope that she could receive comfort in personal prayers about her place in the world and cosmos even if that place is not easily understood by others.  I can hope that she could progress through her life feeling peace and affirmation about her individual worth and divine nature and be confident in her prospects of meeting the challenges life brings her, and I am convinced that the good news of Christ is large enough to afford her every opportunity in the eternities.

I could hope that she may one day find a uniquely loving person to build a life together based from the beginning on an honest recognition and appreciation for who she really is.

I hope that she could have joy.

She has contacted me only once, she has not shared any details about her life with me, other than asking if I would be interested in listening to her story.  Her letter was kind and intelligent and tender.  I think she must be incredible.  I think she could thrive.  She has not yet, however, shared her story with me and it has been several months since she has contacted either Sophia or myself.  The last news I have heard was from Sophia.  It says that Jessica told her that things have become very hard at home, that her parents have found her bag of clothes, and that she is in trouble…

I feel the wellsprings of hope are deep, but still…

I am worried about Jessica.

Notes

[i] [i] Here is a link to my Haibun poem about the mirror.  https://lonagynt.wordpress.com/2018/11/02/btt-44-changeling/

[ii] Here are just a couple links about the shocking rates suicidality among transgender people.  https://www.hrc.org/blog/new-study-reveals-shocking-rates-of-attempted-suicide-among-trans-adolescen

http://www.sebastianmitchellbarr.com/blog/2015/10/8/why-are-transgender-people-more-likely-to-attempt-suicide

[iii] Here is an excellent review of the efficacy of transitioning on alleviating dysphoria and the attendant dangers.  https://whatweknow.inequality.cornell.edu/topics/lgbt-equality/what-does-the-scholarly-research-say-about-the-well-being-of-transgender-people/

[iv] Here are two of the most relevant long-reads that can lead to the above-mentioned “elsewhere.”  https://lonagynt.wordpress.com/2017/06/26/btt10-miracles-of-astounding-normalcy/

https://lonagynt.wordpress.com/2017/11/20/btt-19-three-dreams-part-3-roots-and-blossom-petals/

And here are two considerably shorter poems on the same subject if you prefer verse to pedantics.  https://lonagynt.wordpress.com/2018/05/10/btt-32-hair-cut-non-transitioned/

https://lonagynt.wordpress.com/2019/01/03/btt-51-near-death-experience/

[v] see Job 38:7

[vi] I have to wonder at the term “gender confusion” If it is confusion, what is the source of the confusion… the devil, biology of a fallen world, a societal defect, or just a choice to be confused?  And if it is a choice, why on Earth would anybody choose it?  I wouldn’t – I spent most of my life ACTIVELY trying to choose not to be transgender, and I couldn’t.  A loved one has told me that Christ can change this.  I do feel that Christ has changed me in wonderful ways in my life, but he has never changed this in particular despite years of supplication.  The change I was finally blessed to receive was to actually embrace who I am. It was only then that I no longer felt confused.

Comments

  1. April L Davis says:

    I really think God loves his children and wants us to live those 2 main commandments – Love him and love our neighbor. I’m truly starting to wonder how much anything beyond that really matters to him – which has been further reinforced by studying the New Testament this year. I just hope that attitude of love and benevolence continues to permeate the culture of the church.

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I have had my eyes opened the last few years as my nephew has socially transitioned to male. He is very young (under 8), but it had been obvious for several years that he felt differently about who he is. My sister lives in Utah, I live in the east, and I’m often shocked at the way her Ward has treated my sister and her child. My sister is no longer active, but the primary is constantly encouraging her 10 year old daughter to come to Church and welcoming my nephew “if she would like to come”. I had been thinking about this a lot, because I feel strongly that their experience would be different in my own ward. It makes me so angry at those Saints that can’t just see a child to be loved.

    I actually gave a talk about it in my ward, and I was overwhelmed with the positive response from across the spectrum of age, class, and political leanings. I posted my talk here,if you’re interested: http://jillerbreport.blogspot.com/2019/04/i-know-that-he-loveth-his-children.html?m=1

    Thank you for making the world and the Church a safer place for my nephew and for all the Jessica’s that will come after.

  3. Jack Hughes says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Lona. In my area (not UT) a group of concerned Church members are launching a grassroots campaign to protest the local school district’s new sex education curriculum. Their primary complaint is that the new curriculum teaches about acceptance of gender fluidity and transitions, and they claim such teachings are an “attack on the family”. But I think a lot of these people would change their minds if they could actually meet just one openly trans person and see them as human.

  4. Lona, thank you for your concern. (Also your writing, of course.)

    I want to ask what you would say, what you are saying, about family formation? Putting aside LDS Church considerations (I’m long since exhausted by that conversation), I have a pretty good picture for straight people, and for gay people, about marriage and children and family. But I am puzzled by the picture one would paint–in 2019–for a Jessica. Is there any more one can say than “find a uniquely loving person to build a life together”? Successful patterns? Reasonable expectations? Something to look forward to?

  5. JiEE. I liked your talk, and your comment is tender for me. I hope things can be safer. Every blessing to your nephew, he is blessed to have you.

  6. I suspect that the gender confusion comes from the biology of a fallen world. Whether that means that female sprits designated for female bodies, and then something goes wrong and the body ends up developing male; or it means that a male spirit goes to a male body, but something is wrong with the body that makes the brain feel female; I don’t know.
    Lona, if you fully transition to female, as much as possible, do you think you would begin to be attracted to men? Or might you think of yourself more as a man, but you prefer seeing a woman looking back at you in the mirror?

  7. This is a good question Christian, thank you for it. I think the short answer would be analagous to “let love be love,” that we hear about. Among my friends in the transgender community, there is a spectrum of sexual orientations, just as there is in the cis-gendered world. Straight, Gay or lesbian, Bi-. A person’s Sexual Orientation (who you are attracted to) is distinct from gender identity (who you are). For a latter-day Saint family ethic, the hope would be just like in the cis- world, to hope to find a person you love and who loves you, and to marry, and be faithful and devoted to one another. There can be challenges, like in the Laura Jane Grace (a transgender female and great singer/songwriter) who sings about the quandary of having “limited range to haunt, but being grateful for the friends she’s got). I believe in Hope. I hope this is somewhat relevant to your question.

  8. Hello Jader. regarding your question on attraction, you might find some relevance from a general standpoint in my reply to Christian. I will demur on answering specifics for myself on that question. In regards to the mirror, that question pertains to identity, and may be parallel or in crosscurrents to attraction/orientation. For myself, I have always seen a girl in the mirror, she has just looked like a boy. That is why I like mirrors more now than I did when I was younger, since I am now more comfortable with who I am.

  9. christiankimball – there is a documented instance of a transgender woman getting First Presidency clearance to be married to a cisgender man in the Temple, in 1978.

    I hope Jessica has found some support somewhere.

  10. I hope so too Frank, with all my heart.

  11. Hi, thanks for your post. You’ve opened my eyes and my heart to greater understanding of this issue. I don’t have the answers, and I’m still trying to figure out the right questions to ask. I want to understand and be accepting, and your post helped with that.
    I wish I could go all the way and be completely accepting of differences in sexuality and gender issues, but I’ve got this knee jerk reaction of “it’s different, so it’s sin, and wrong,” that I can’t completely get rid of. I don’t know how to square the Law of Chastity, the Family Proclamation, etc, with the two great commandments.
    I know I’ve treated people badly, not been loving and accepting like I want to, and know I should, because I didn’t understand them. I want to be better, and hearing your story and struggles helps with that. Thank you again.
    I hope I’ve gotten my point across, I’m not trying to troll, or be argumentative, or be rude. This post has given me greater perspective, and I’ve been ruminating.

  12. Thank you Brian for your kind and thoughtful comment. The question of reconciliation of the imperatives of Love found in the two greats with the components of your “etc” is a difficult and tender undertaking. It is worthy of a more complete attempt than what I can give here and I have had a piece of prose that addresses this bouncing around in my head for some months. I hope to proffer that here someday if I can fit it in between clinic (always behind) and other demands of life. One aspect of this is not so much to find an exact reconciliation, because there is so much in the messy realities of mortality that defy reconciliation through our best and even authoritative efforts. I think this same tension has always been present in the gospel and I feel it acutely in the writings of Paul in 1st Corinthians chapter 13 where it has always interested me at the exhaustive list of good and wonderful things that shall “fail.” Prophecy, understanding, knowledge, martyrdom, good works… even faith are all bracketed with little quotation marks in my mind as Paul teaches us that these things are not enough, and shall fail, and can be nothing. The only characteristic that rounds out the type of completeness that can lead to exaltation is Charity – the pure love of Christ. Love is God’s most basic and most defining characteristic, and may be the most important principle we are send here to learn. I also find it elemental to remember what the source of reconciliation is… it is the grace and power of our Savior who through his suffering, knows what each of us is going through and experentially knows how to succor us (Alma chapter 7 and all that). This gives me patience and comfort, even if I feel marginalized by the doctrines, prophecies, culture, and may I say it, bias, of my church family and tribe. It is not the first time it has happened in our history, and Christ’s grace and patience have always been large enough to see us through and I believe that will be the case in regards to my particular circumstance as well.
    I have also been delighted and have ruminated this morning on your use of the word “square.” I am sometimes seized by a type of synesthesia in which a shape elicits a precepts, and your kind reply has triggered this in me, and if I am able to squeeze out the work between the impossible demands of life, I think I have a poem brewing called “Love is Not a Square.” Thank you for the prompt. I also hope to do the prose that has been percolating. [I do adhere to the Word of Wisdom as best I can, even though I have just used the word Brewing and Percolating back to back, 😉 ]
    In the meantime, I do have a poem already that dances around the edges of how impossible it may seem to tie together all the loose edges of our viewpoints, ideologies, relationships, etc, and how mortality truly is an impossible undertaking (ergo, Thank God for Christ!). It is called “Entanglement.” Here is the link
    https://lonagynt.wordpress.com/2019/01/20/btt-52-entanglement/

  13. I appreciate the kind and thoughtful comments for my post. It may be several days before I can come back to respond to subsequent comments because of my schedule, but I will hope to do so later if I can. I appreciate BCC staff and communtiy for letting me participate as a guest scribbler.

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    Thank you Lona for the fascinating post. It was very interesting to read your personal story as to how you experienced these things growing up.

    Personally, I read this line in the Family Proc: “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose” in a way that is supportive of transgender people (acknowledging that the scriveners of the document probably didn’t intend it that way, but still, that’s how it reads to me).

  15. Travis says:

    Lona, I’m wondering if you’d be willing to give your perspective on a question I’ve had about this issue. It seems to me that gender dysphoria looks like a mental health disorder. That’s not to denigrate the reality of the experience, but when a person identifies as “transabled” and wants to be rendered paralyzed, we call that a disorder. When a person holds a self-view which is less self-destructive but still not reflective of the physical reality (e.g., believing that one is an animal, or the reincarnation of Napoleon, etc.), we also view them as having a very real experience, but one which is caused by mental illness.

    By contrast, in the case of transgender individuals, the medical community asserts that the problem is the body, not the mind, and often recommends gender reassignment surgery. Is this because we don’t have a way to treat the psychological condition, so we do the next best thing to prevent continued dysphoria and possibly suicide? Or would the medical community not consider it a disorder even if they had a way to treat it? If there were a pill that could align one’s self-image with one’s chromosomes, setting family and religious/social considerations aside, would you choose to take it or to use surgery and hormone therapy to realign your body with your self-image?

    If any of this strikes you as offensive, it’s not meant to be. I don’t have a medical or psychology background, don’t know any transgender individuals personally, and am asking sincerely out of a desire to understand, and hopefully not offend in doing so.

  16. Travis,
    thank you for the question. The types of questions you raise almost inevitably arise in discussions about transgender issues. They need to be approached cautiously because they are often brought up in the context of some group or individual that is starting from an anti-trans perspective. I make no such assumptions about you, and am not offended, but you always have to be careful when asking someone if they might be crazy, which is an undertone to the comparison with psychosis. These questions have been addressed perhaps more ably by others, but I am going to attempt to share my perspective with some degree of off the cuff coherence.
    In your first paragraph, you make a possible comparison between a person experiencing a phenomenology of being transgender with a number of delusion/psychotic conditions- ie: wanting to be paralyzed, thinking that a person is an animal, or believing that a person is Napolean. These are most typically quite responsive to a variety of anti-psychotic drugs that modify the dopamine (among other) parts of the brain. Transgender phenomenology is not modified by anti-psychotics. Second, Transgender people are not really psychotic. I have never believed or had the delusion that I am a cis-gender woman, I am aware that I don’t have a uterus etc. I know that my external body and socialization do not match my persistent and elemental sense that my mind is female, but believe me I get it and I know that it does not fit with how I was socialized and how I want to be. It can often feel painful when someone asks a transgender person what is to stop them from declaring they are a seahorse or a dog… we know the difference and the question can feel dehumanizing.
    Third, the dangers of dysphoria don’t really come from the inner identity, they come from the mismatch with the external body and the society. there is nothing about being transgender that intrinsically makes a person less smart or less capable or less able to function. The problems come primarily if people see no hope in aligning their body as closely as possible to the inner identity or if they are marginalized or persecuted (or murdered) by those that are closest to them. These points are touched on in the piece above by Mitchell-Barr that shows that the main factor for suicidality among transgender people has to do with the support or lack thereof of the people in their Milieu. Here is that link again:

    http://www.sebastianmitchellbarr.com/blog/2015/10/8/why-are-transgender-people-more-likely-to-attempt-suicide

    Next, the research is well established that the best way for transgender people to thrive is to assist them to transition as much as possible in as supportive a milieu as possible. I am aware of no clinical data that the best way to help a schizophrenic is to help her to transition into a seahorse or Naploean, so these are clearly… CLEARLY… different categories of mental processes. the EXCELLENT summary from Cornell University I mentioned above is a good entry to the wealth of data on what works in helping transgender people to thrive. Here is the link to that again:

    https://whatweknow.inequality.cornell.edu/topics/lgbt-equality/what-does-the-scholarly-research-say-about-the-well-being-of-transgender-people/

    Also, it is important to address what it might mean when we assert that there is one reality of the body in contradistinction to the reality of the mind. We are learning more all the time about the neurological structures and basis and genetic alleles that are correlated with having a transgender identity. Is the reality of my brain any less important to me than the reality of my external body just because it is an interior phenomenology that is not so easily perceived by others? Sex Chromosomes determine some aspects of sexual differentiation, but intrinsic gender identity appears to develop along a different track sometimes aligned with but partially independent of the sex chromosomes. Some of the most interesting recent findings have shown that the parts of the brains of young transgender people before being exposed to hormonal and other transitioning modalities are more similar to the cis-gender brains of their preferred gender than those of their natal gender based on genitalia at birth. ie: a transgender girl brain is more like the brain of a cis-gender girl that the brain of a cis gender boy.

    https://www.rt.com/news/427475-transgender-mri-scan-study/

    It is also very fascinating to me that we are coming closer understanding the complex genetic (yes that is also in chromosomes) correlates to the transgender circumstance.

    https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/104/2/390/5104458

    We could go on and on and on with looking at this, but one might posit, which of the part of the “reality of the body” is most intrinsic to who a person is.. the exterior or the interior. Which part of you is your most intrinisc part, it it not who you are, is it not your brain that is really who you are? And slipping back to the religious, Does God look on the exterior or on the “heart.” (What is inside)?

    Finally, would I choose to take a pill that would align my identity with my external body, social, religious mileiu that seems to be in contrast. This answer might be approached tangentially by asking the question of what would you do. If you (assuming a cis-gender male) were to awaken tomorrow to the nightmare of finding that your body and social role and religious expectations had been shifted to that of a female, but your mind still declared that you are male, and if the society kept telling you were crazy and if you took a pill you would be a happy girl, would you choose to take the pill or would you do everything you could to fix your body? When I finally found the honest answer to the inverse question in my case, I finally started to find the ways to live and function better.

    And since this is a religious blog site…what about the ressurection and the premortal life, what was and will be the situation there. That is above my pay grade… but I trust God, and that God knows who I am, and I feel it has more to do with who I am inside than anything external – including y’all.
    (Whew- long answer)… And Travis, I am not offended, especially since you stopped short of asking me if I might also think I was a seahorse (which has happened to me btw) 😉

  17. Jason K. says:

    Thank you profoundly for sharing your story and experience. I’m praying that you find a way forward—surviving not just in the sense of staying alive, but in the sense of finding increased ways to thrive. As for Jessica, all I’ve got is prayer. May she prosper.

  18. When it is read as gender being the internal identity, it is encouraging for transgender people. When read as being gender is what was assigned based of external characteristics observed at birth and subsequent attempted socialization, it is less so.

  19. Travis, thank you for your comment. My reply was quite lengthy so it is awaiting moderation, but I hope it will be useful.

  20. Prayer may be our greatest way to help her, and it is what ultimately has helped me to be safe. Thank you for remembering her in prayer.

  21. Jackie says:

    My question is similar to that of Travis. How can we ascertain when gender dysphoria is part of a larger mental illness and how can we advocate life altering hormone treatments and surgery for those whose real issue might be a severe mental illness?
    I do not ask this to be dismissive or rude. I do not ask it without some experience as I was married to a man who had Borderline Personality Disorder. With Borderline, one’s sense of self fluctuates widely. For my husband, he literally became a different person every time we moved for his work. His vocabulary, accent, and opinions were whatever the most important person in the room wanted them to be.
    For some, such as the actress Lindsay Lohan, this includes their gender identity and/or sexual orientation. Indeed, there is grave concern among the parents of such children that in our rush to be supportive of transgender people, we will pass laws or policies that will completely change the bodies of young people who are later diagnosed as bipolar or Borderline, people who need to be treated in the mental health care system. The decision to amputate a body part or undergo hormone shots is irreversible. I believe we should never start such treatment until someone is an adult.
    As someone who has done a great deal of research into Borderline, may I also remind people of the studies that show that half of people suffering Borderline, who also have substance abuse problems, identify as LGBTQ. This is far higher than the percentage that should exist for mental illness in this group and confirms that some other factors are at play. Since people with Borderline are frequently physically abusive to their partners, and always mentally abusive, this leaves the LGBTQ community greatly at risk from people suffering from this mental illness. Also from bipolar. Perhaps our conversations about these matters need to be better informed by current research and approached with humility as to what we do not know.

  22. Kevin Barney says:

    Right Lona. To me your first way of reading it is the more natural one, and that is the way I read it. But I of course suspect that was just poor drafting, and whoever wrote it wasn’t really thinking in those terms. But, as the kids say, “No backsies!”

  23. You are an incredible person, Lona, for the love you pour forth into your Savior, your family, yourself, and of course for Jessica and all the Jessicas who might be in a dark place, reading your story. And if not reading your story, somewhere deeply feeling your presence and your prayers for them.

    Perhaps God has plan for you to be that support person – as you’ve always had an interest in psychology – to transition from physician to serve and counsel others, particularly youth with gender dysphoria within the Church. It may seem like a particular niche, but one you clearly have a heart for and one we as God’s children need to provide more love for.

    You are in my prayers, friend, as will be Jessica.

  24. You are an incredible person, Lona, for the love you pour forth into your Savior, your family, yourself, and of course for Jessica and all the Jessicas who might be in a dark place, reading your story. And if not reading your story, somewhere deeply feeling your presence and your prayers for them.

    Perhaps God has plan for you to be that support person – as you’ve always had an interest in psychology – to transition from physician to serve and counsel others, particularly youth with gender dysphoria within the Church. It may seem like a particular niche, but one you clearly have a heart for and one we as God’s children need to provide more love for.

    You are in my prayers, friend, as will be Jessica.

    – Amaya

    (Sorry if this comment comes up more than once; I’ve had a difficult time trying to post it.)

  25. Thank you Amaya. It is nice to hear it twice, a nice alliteration if you will. 🙂 Thank you for the prayers, I think they carry power.

  26. Travis says:

    Lona, thank you for having the patience with me to provide your answer. I read the links you provided (which is why it took me a while to write this reply)(even though I skimmed some of the scientific jargon about study criteria and such) and have a few thoughts:

    – I will be more careful about saying anything that makes it sound like I’m equating transgender people with people suffering from psychosis. My point was that transgenderism seems to have some characteristics of mental disorders: I did not mean to equate it with psychosis in severity. It’s a good point that transgenderism does not involve delusion about reality.

    – That said, I think our problematic stigmatization of mental illness also creates issues here. Suggesting transgenderism may be a mental illness offends transgender people, because they (like most people) equate mental illness with being “crazy” (and have often been accused of being crazy). Of course, depression, anxiety, dyslexia, and a host of other common and less serious conditions are all mental illnesses, and we don’t tend to think of them as making people “crazy.”

    – I am less sure what criteria categorizes “transabled” people (that is, body integrity dysphoria: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_integrity_dysphoria) as mentally ill, but not transgender people as such. I think labeling conditions as “disorders” or “illnesses” is an example of the human tendency to try to fit things into rigid categories even though reality isn’t so neat. This may have more to do with our notions of what is normal and healthy, which notions are partially a reflection of reality, and partially a superimposition on reality. Maybe asking whether transgenderism is a mental illness is asking the wrong question, because the answer depends on what arbitrary definition of “mental illness” we make up. (It reminds me of debates over whether the Church is Christian or a “cult,” both of which are also stupid arguments that simply boil down to who’s defining those terms.)

    – If we move past the question of whether transgenderism is a mental illness, then the focus should simply be on how best to help people in that condition, with the immediate concern of course being suicide prevention. The research you linked to clearly shows that transitioning to the gender identity has the best results of current options, at least for adults (I share Jackie’s concerns about transitioning transgender adolescents; one of the articles said the recommended course was to hormonally delay puberty to give them more time before making an irreversible decision). But I think we also need to acknowledge that this could change as our treatment options and medical understanding improve. There may come a time when an effective treatment exists for aligning the mind with the body rather than vice versa, and we should agree we would recommend it, if it reduced suicide and other adverse effects better than the current, opposite approach.

    – Then there’s the complicated issue of whether the disconnect is between mind and body or between mind and the gender norms of the society. I have trouble imagining a society in which the majority of the population is comfortable in their binary, birth-sex-aligned gender roles without socializing any gender values which would create conflicts for transgender people. Maybe it’s possible and it’s just difficult for me to imagine because of how I’m socialized.

    – As to how this fits with our theology, and whether the eternal gender of the soul matches that of the body’s chromosomes or the experienced gender of the mind, I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone really knows. I’m open to either possibility.

    – I’m not sure whether I’d take the pill.

  27. Whoa. My husband and I prayed for you last night as you were writing this. I asked him to read this piece and it awoke compassion in him. Also synchronous, I happened to be reading a New Yorker from last year and the main feature was an article by Rebecca Mead about gender dysphoria and facial reconfiguration surgery, specifically. (Too specifically, actually. I was as squeamish as a caught fish reading in detail the hour-by-hour synopsis of the surgery, but continued nonetheless.) Perhaps the article would be of interest?

    Also, when I said “Church” above, I don’t mean LDS particularly, but there are people likely struggling in all of the Body of Christ. I think of how you questioned whether the dysphoria is confusion implanted by Satan, and also whether it is a cross to bear, connecting you to God. Despite the source, you have come to see that you are worthy of Christ’s love, when perhaps all things “in this mortality” fall away. That is an invaluable revelation that other transgender people — all people, really — need to accept.

  28. Amaya, Hearing tender mercies like that is profound for. Sent me on my morning walk whistling. God knows

  29. Thank you Travis, your reply is thoughtful, kind, and honest- I truly feel that and am grateful. First, let me apologize for using the term “crazy.” Mental illness is so difficult it does not need to be stigmatized further. I don’t like the term and used it emotionally reflecting a negative emotion on my part about how I may sometimes be perceived.

    Exploring whether being transgender has some features of mental illness does raise the more fundamental question of what is a mental illness, or even just an illness since in my clinician mind I find the distinction increasingly irrelevant. The key point here I think is that given settings where transition can occur with abundant support and compassion and protection and kindness, most of the painful difficulties of being transgender dissipate. You mentioned that the definition of mental illness is somewhat arbitrary, However some pretty smart people have worked very hard to make it less than arbitrary. Looking at my community, I would compare the Global Assessment of function (GAF) scale of people who have transitioned within a supportive milieu to the cis cohorts. We do well, where we have trouble is where we lose jobs, get harassed, lose family, get assaulted, get ostracized by society for no other reason than our identity, this the clarion… “Fix Society.”

    As for me, most of sessions with my counselor focus at this point on trying to help me adjust to the tensions and the stresses that society imposed on my reality. She uses therefore “adjustment disorder” as a diagnosis to categorize and bill for her services.

    One may ask if not functioning in society is not in and of itself a type of mental illness… leading to an outlook that has allowed numerous authoritarian societies to reign in outliers and dissidents without necessarily arresting them outright. I don’t take for granted that this couldn’t happen to me. There are some cultures much more tolerant of gender variations than ours, the Fa’ faine of Samoa being a notable example.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fa%27afafine

    The body dysmorphia is an interesting comparison, It is a new diagnostic category relatively and we don’t know enough about it. I think it may be important to reflect how the correlate treatments might effect GAF- when a transgender person transitions with supportive milieu, the GAF increases. I would think that amputating a leg, for example, might impose certain limitations on GAF. I think this is an important distinction.

    I like your focus on outcomes, if more people knew or did not ignore the rich data on outcomes of transitioning, then there would be less bias against gender variant individuals.

    I believe the approach with children should be careful and compassionate, puberty blockers Are a reasonable temporizing measure. The idea that professionals are seeking to rush in to change kids precipitously is a rhetorical flourish and is not what happens. First of all, every gender questioning child or adolescent does not end up transitioning, second the rate of transitioning regret among those who do is very low up and into and throughput adulthood (see the Cornell compendium referenced earlier). Do I wish I might have had puberty blockers? Well I do wish I had a smaller rib cage and a voice that didn’t sound like a bag of hammers, oh well. 🙂

    And finally, as for theology/cosmology, I trust God.

    And your final line… it gave me a little lump in my throat, causing my already prominent larynx to feel a tad choked up. I felt humility and compassion in that line. Thank you.

  30. Lona, I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts here, and especially through your detailed responses to the equally thoughtful questions asked by Travis and Jackie. Reading through this thread has been a real education for me. I especially appreciate the way the discussion brought up the necessarily (though obviously not entirely) subjective character of “mental illness”–your speculation that such definitions presume a prior definition of “functioning,” and thus about the norms of the relevant society by which people function, is, I think, an excellent one. My own inclinations are rather philosophical, and so as I have attempted to become more acquainted with and empathetic about the issues revolving around transgenderism, I’ve found myself wondering more and more about the, again, arguably (though also not entirely) subjective character of female and male itself. The majority of the ordinary lived transgender discourse I am familiar with takes male or femaleness as something essential, thus positing dysphoria as a condition which threatens the core identity of a person, and which Christian compassion demands rectifying as much as possible through achieving mind-body alignment. Whereas the majority of the critical transgender discourse I am familiar with seems to eschew any kind of female-male essentialism, thus positing transgenderism as an expression of desire or will which democratic respect owes acknowledgment to, not anything necessarily grounded in a biological mandate (which if accepted would, of course, invariably lead to the pill question you rightly posed to Jackie). The current science, as many of your links helpfully provide, seems to me (assuming I am understanding it correctly, and I may not be) to somewhere in between the gender-essentialist and the gender-construct position. But that may be just as well; I think both you and Travis touch upon the complicated reality that science may not, in the end, be of much help here, since the question of what it is about femaleness and what it is about maleness that is a property of mind, a property of body, or a property of “the gender norms of the society” may just be too much for any one phenomenology of being to ever make perfect rational sense of. The question of how one knows oneself to be suffering from gender dysphoria, and how (or if) one can (or should) dis-entangle such knowledge from sexual desire, and above all that how or if one can address such knowledge and/or desire separate from the social norms which structure our own senses of self-knowledge and self-longing…well, this is just a massive puzzle, or so it seems to me.

    As I continue to puzzle, my gratitude for brave individuals like yourself, Lona, for being willing to share your story, and fight for that which, in the midst of all the contradictions and difficulties this fallen world presents us with, God gives you to know to be right. Thank you.

  31. A few thoughts Russell (and thank you for your kind thoughtfulness).
    I am a mixture of my biology and my socialization/experiences and my choices. My religion teaches me that I am an eternal Spirit as well, how that expresses itself in this soup of mortal life is anyone’s guess, but I suspect it is malleable and forged by our choices, whether this ability to choose is merely an illusion, an actual emergent phenomenon (or epiphenomenon) or the critical point of our existence is a matter of robust debate. It is the choices that make us human, I chose for decades to suppress and deny an essential truth about myself, maybe out of a combination of training, desperation and love, I persisted until it nearly killed me. Gender may be said to exist on a spectrum, but my experiences seems to indicate that when you choke it, it often chokes you back, which makes me tilt toward a gender essential outlook, irregardless of where the lived experience falls for that person. I think the critical question regarding our choices is whether we are predators to survive within tribes, or do we strive to be bound in love. Your review on the Auburn professor’s book on democracy for profit seems relevant. Church is supposed to bind us all together in Christ, but it often devolves into preserving power structures and marginalizing those who don’t fit. When we don’t have vision to stop that, people perish. But humanity has always been awful at that, ergo… thank God for the hope contained in grace.
    As a side note on the question of disentangling gender identity from sexuality, the two are often conflated. I feel I have little control over my sexual desire, but can make choices on controlling/directing my sexual expression based on love, ethics, belief, and religion.
    My gender has more to do just basically with who I am intrinsically. I believe the same template operates along the entire gender spectrum from trans to cis.
    Every single one of us is a fascinating puzzle.

  32. I should clarify, I did not wish to suggest a dichotomy that says gender identity is elemental and sexual identity is not. I believe sexual identity/attraction is a different category than gender identity, but still a rich and central aspect of who a person is. By sexual expression, I would mean that people of any orientation can make choices on sexual actions. I am grateful for the developments that have occurred that allow LGB individuals to have the full range of choices for such expression including within the framework of faithful committed loving marriages and family, I personally think that is best. I long for the day when that may be available within the context of the ongoing LDS restoration movement/church.

  33. It has been meaningful and joyous for me to participate in this guest post at BCC. I am signing off of the thread now. I can be contacted on my site referenced above. I am grateful for all of the comments and especially the prayers for my friend.

  34. How can anyone have any degree of confidence in saying that the spirit entered the wrong gendered body? It’s nonsense. It’s entirely realistic and a fact, that bodies don’t develop properly in all manner of ways in this world we live in.

    But to claim that a properly functioning body is the “wrong” one is just bizarre ideology infecting religion. The fact that it can be said straight faced by people who claim to “believe in science” is all the more strange.

    This does not mean that the concern and pain and confusion and anguish that’s felt here is not real. But concern, pain, confusion, and anguish does not create a foregone conclusion towards an ideology that is both bad science and contradictory Latter-day Saint belief.

    20 years from now it will be something else. It always is. I’m truly sorry for the people who have to endure this confusion resulting from a societal rejection of the prophets over generations.

  35. filo , I would change your first sentence: How can anyone have any degree of confidence in saying that the spirit [didn’t] enter the wrong gendered body?

    It may not be the scientific explanation, but theologically it seems to line up with the my understanding of spirits in a fallen world. A world where bodies are messed up inside and out in all kinds of ways. God literally lets 2 people be born with bodies joined together, but we can’t imagine a body that doesn’t match a spirits eternal identity? I find that harder to believe.

  36. Filo, thank you for your comment. In terms of what Spirit entered what body, I don’t know much about the details of my spiritual gender identity before and after this life, but I trust God on this question more than I trust people who say they know, and I feel God has blessed me with some profound personal comfort. In regards to the somewhat parallel, but possibly not congruent question as to whether our understanding of the transgender phenomenon is based on “bad science,” or not, the following statement signed by over 2000 scientists, including Nobel Laureates, who can fairly be characterized as people who believe science.

    https://not-binary.org/statement/

    In regards to the cycle of some thing or the other testing people’s faith – “20 years from now it will be something else. It always is” as you say – I think you may have a point. In the past the leadership of the church has been criticized for the Adam-God theory, and the idea that blacks had inherited the curse of Cain – both of which have (thank God) been rejected by current church leaders. A person can realize and actually take comfort in the idea that prophets are not always right without actually rejecting the prophets.

  37. Jackie, It is called Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria. It is a symptom of Borderline Personality Disorder. Those advocating allowing minors to alter their sex via surgery or hormones needs to be aware of it.

  38. Jackie. Regarding your comment: “may I also remind people of the studies that show that half of people suffering Borderline, who also have substance abuse problems, identify as LGBTQ. This is far higher than the percentage that should exist for mental illness in this group and confirms that some other factors are at play. ”
    Your comment intriqued me, although I do think I did not quite understand its relevance to the OP exactly. I did find the study that you may be referencing here:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3156616/

    It did show that in a chemical treatment setting, more than half of the LGBT clients in this study had Borderline Personality disorder. This cannot be generalized, howver, to the entire LGBT population. the utility of this study seems to have primarily clinical implications that those treating LGBT persons for chemical dependence need to be alert for Borderline PD.

    Another review of four studies showed that 30% of people with Borderline Personality Disorder are LGB (no discussion of Trans or Queer in this study). But I have been looking when I can these several weeks and have not found the extent to which BPD occurs in the LGB population in general, which is the entirely different question you are implying in your comment.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3203737/

    Borderline PD occurs I believe in about 1.6% of the population. The questionable relevance to the OP might be illustrated by picturing the number of drops of sea water I might swallow while swimming in the ocean. A huge percentage of the drops of sea water I swallow in that come from the ocean, but that does not mean that a large percentage of drops of sea water that exist in the ocean have been swallowed by me. I do know tht Borderline PD is a difficult circumstance of individuals and families and I am sorry that it has impacted you as you describe.

    It is a difficult circumstance to be dealing with for families and individuals.

  39.  Lona Gynt

    Wanda:  I appreciate you reading the OP and the comment.  I must say that I believe ROGD is not supported as a valid scientifically validated category.  While I think to a great extent socialization can effect the expression of how a transgender person interacts and moves through the world, I do not think it is the primary driver of the phenomenology of actually being transgender.  I myself an an example of how strong socialization imperatives caused me to suppress my comprehension and expression of my identity over decades, ultimately to my detriment overall (See the OP link above).

    I have included several links that discuss the serious methodological and selection bias problems with Littman’s “study” that sought to establish ROGD as an actual entity.  It is interesting to note that with the vigorous feedback provided by concerned reviewers, Littman has since modified the scope of her study as being “exploratory” from the original rather definitive tone.  Here are the links:

    ·

    ·

    There Is No Evidence That Rapid-Onset Gender Dysphoria Exists

    ·

    https://www.gdaworkinggroup.com/rogd-articles-and-critique

    ·

    Thank you,  Lona.

8 thoughts on “I am Worried About Jessica. Full posting.

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