Mormons have gotten lots of publicity lately for their efforts to deal with same-sex marriage and the place of homosexuals in church doctrine. And now yet one more issue pokes up its head: Transgendered church members.
Trans issues are the flavor of the moment in media coverage of pop culture and universities, so it’s not too surprising that The Salt Lake Tribune devoted quite a bit of space to this topic on Monday. The report starts thusly:
Sixteen-year-old Grayson Moore had no label, only metaphors, to describe the disconnect he felt between his body and soul.
It was like car sickness, he says, when your eyes and inner ears disagree about whether you are moving.
"It makes you sick," Moore says. "That's the same with gender."
When Moore's mother gave her then-daughter a vocabulary for the feelings -- "gender dysphoria" or transgender -- there followed an immediate sense of relief and recognition.
And, he says, God confirmed that he was not just a tomboy. He was in the wrong body.
Such moments come in the life of all transgender persons -- times when vague feelings of general discomfort with their identity crystallize into that realization.
Annabel Jensen was deciding whether to serve a Mormon mission. Sara Jade Woodhouse was married and had fathered a child.
In these three cases, their Mormonism -- with its emphasis on the physical link between bodies and spirits and its insistence that gender is "eternal" -- initially made it tougher to acknowledge what was happening inside of them.
Since switching genders (though none has had sex-reassignment surgery), all three say they have found psychological and theological peace, even divine approval, and a surprising welcome from their local LDS leaders and congregations.
Next comes a quote from LDS apostle Dallin H. Oaks that -- considering the massive theological problems the Mormons have with changing one’s gender -- is very conciliatory and open to change. A writer from Slate called his remarks “the most significant -- and underreported -- statement from that session.
The Tribune article states what church doctrine is at the moment and explains how the LDS church is very gendered. Women and men have separate roles, separate meetings and separate seating arrangements. If you’re baptized as one gender, currently it’s impossible to be assigned another.
Next comes stories of three Mormons who are switching from the gender they were born with. One is a 22-year-old college math major who has transitioned from Grace to Grayson. Both he and his mother say they prayed about it and felt God’s approval, so he began attending church as a male. He has the support of his bishop and attends all-male priesthood meetings but is still listed as a female on church rolls.
I have a small bone to pick with this part of the article, which quotes extensively from the mother, a molecular biologist, on the necessity of sex reassignment surgery and the need for the LDS church to accept transgendered people as full church members. The mom, who is hardly an objective bystander, is treated as an expert.
The next person cited is a male teenager who became a woman. Her family rejected her, but her local singles ward does not and she’s allowed in women-only meetings.
Then there is Sara Jade Woodhouse, who was married and the father of a child when he decided that he was a she. Woodhouse is not allowed into woman-only meetings in her ward but hopes some day to marry a man in the Salt Lake Temple. But first she’d have to be excommunicated (as a man), then readmitted and baptized as a woman.
The article doesn’t say what happened to the marriage and if you look at her blog, there’s obviously a back story there. I would have liked to have heard of the fallout from Woodhouse’s decision.
As the article casts transgenderism in a totally positive light, we’re not told what happens to the folks left behind.
I’m curious about the LDS view of gender as eternal in that how is that different from other religions? Maybe in its emphasis on marriage lasting past death? This obviously wasn’t an easy piece to do, as it’s tough to come up with people who will go on the record while at the same time giving the church some space in which to react. Dallin Oaks’ recent statements opened the door, so one cannot blame the Tribune for walking through it. As is so often the case in coverage of sexuality issues, the primary issue in the story is one of balance.
IMAGE: Photo from Transgender Mormons and Allies. Its use is not an endorsement of GetReligion.