On Gender Dysphoria and Membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
By Ken K. Gourdin
On July 19, 2017, I began a thread at Mormon Dialogue & Discussion regarding reportage in The Salt Lake Tribune about former chief architect of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and my former Stake President, David Hall, who now goes by Laurie Lee. In what I admit was largely a blatant effort to drive traffic to the thread, I titled it, “My (Ex) Stake President is a Woman”:
Gender dysphoria is a complicated issue, both inside of the Church of Jesus Christ and out. The Tribune’s coverage can be found at the following address:
The doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ is that “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” See The Family: A Proclamation to the World, issued jointly by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ on September 23, 1995 and available at the following address: https://www.lds.org/topics/family-proclamation?lang=eng&old=true .
According to Wikipedia, s.v. “gender dysphoria,” last accessed today:
“It is estimated that about 0.005% to 0.014% of people assigned male at birth and 0.002% to 0.003% of people assigned female at birth would be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, based on 2013 diagnostic criteria, though this is considered a modest underestimate. [End note omitted.]”
I certainly have no idea what it’s like to suffer from gender dysphoria, and I don’t want to be unsympathetic. One thing I do wonder, though, is to what extent should the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints be expected or required to modify, accommodate, or adapt its doctrine to the needs of a minority. In The Family: A Proclamation to the World the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ vis-a-vis gender is clear. The stance of the Church of Jesus Christ regarding those who undergo elective gender reassignment surgery also is clear.
Some believe resolution of these matters, akin to the revelation extending the Priesthood to all worthy males, simply is a matter of the Prophet receiving a revelation on the matter. The difference between matters involving gender and the lifting of the priesthood ban, however, is that there was always a contingent of Brethren in the Church of Jesus Christ who stated that the ban would be lifted at some point. Not so with the matter under discussion here.
Podcaster John Dehlin did an interview with Laurie Lee Hall which is referenced in the thread. The interview is titled “Standing in my truth, walking in my faith.” Notwithstanding her excommunication from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, apparently, she retains her belief in the foundational events and in at least some of the truth claims of the Church of Jesus Christ. It is true that, given the limits of human cognition, perception, reasoning, and so on, each of us is likely to experience “faith” and the “truth” of things which cannot be proven empirically differently—We do not see “faith” and “truth” as they are, but, rather, as we are. In that sense, what is “true” for me may not be “true” for you. I may have “my truth,” and Laurie Lee Hall may have “her truth.”
However, notwithstanding the caveat in the foregoing paragraph, the fact remains that the truth claims of the Church of Jesus Christ legitimately can be framed as binary propositions: Either Joseph Smith saw God, the Father, and Jesus Christ in the Sacred Grove in 1820, or he did not; either he later saw the Angel Moroni who informed him of the existence of the records from which the Book of Mormon was translated, or he did not; either he translated those records by the gift and power of God, or he did not; either Priesthood authority and prophetic authority were restored to the earth through him, or they were not; either Priesthood authority and prophetic authority have continued in an uninterrupted succession from Joseph Smith in 1830 to Russell M. Nelson in the present. So in that sense, what is “true” for me as a believing Latter-day Saint cannot be “false” for another believing Latter-day Saint. In that sense, I cannot have “my truth” while Laurie Lee Hall has “her truth.”
In response to my assertion in the thread’s title, my first interlocutor responded, “No, he’s not.” I replied:
I know where you’re coming from, and I don’t necessarily disagree, but do you have anything substantive to add to the discussion? As I said, I don’t want to be unsympathetic. I’ve sat at this man’s feet, have counseled with him, have received counsel from him. What of that? While I don’t have any gender dysphoria issues, I wonder, what would he have told me if I had confided misgivings regarding my seeming Eternal Bachelorhood?
My first interlocutor then responded, “The well need no physician, and I pray this sick soul gets the help he desperately needs. His going public in this manner broadcasts that he [probably] won’t, alas.”
We’re all sick of something, [screen name redacted]. Even if our lives are going absolutely swimmingly and we have no major problems to speak of (how would it be?), we’re apt to feel a certain amount of discontent based on the fact that, since we’re essentially spiritual beings sent here to have a mortal experience rather than being essentially mortal beings who have been sent here to have occasional spiritual experiences, we’re out of our element. Perhaps this brother has lost sight of that somewhat: His mortal body may be afflicted with a temporary. earthly case of gender dysphoria, but his spirit is perfect. It’s easy for me to say, but perhaps he could have waited for the resurrection to bring the two into harmony rather than opting for a short-sighted, “through-a-glass-darkly,” imperfect-and-potentially-harmful mortal solution.
Another poster wrote, “If I recall, John[s] Hopkins stopped doing sex reassignment surgeries because the suicide rate for recovering patients was through the roof. It wasn’t helping them, and not targeting the real problem—that of mental illness[.]” (I prefer the less-pejorative, more precise, (and therefore, more helpful) term, behavioral disorder.) However, I responded:
True. I don’t understand why gender dysphoria is considered simply another equally-valid way of perceiving and of relating to the world, while, e.g., clinical depression or schizophrenia is not. I don’t think that anyone with an illness (whatever it is) is their illness, but if I think I’m One-Eyed, One-Horned, Flyin’ Purple People Eater Who’s Pigeon-Toed and Undergrowed, I don’t think the best solution to that challenge is to give me treatment which stunts my growth or hunches me over, makes me grow a horn, gouges out an eye, and makes me sprout wings.
Another poster suggested that God “created” or that God “allows” gender dysphoria. I responded:
God had nothing to do with the “creation” of gender dysphoria, any more than He had to do with the “creation” of Cerebral Palsy [which I have]. Each of these maladies/anomalies [is] simply [one] of life’s innumerable vicissitudes. They’re part of “opposition in all things” (2 Nephi 2:11) and of being proven “herewith, to see if [we] will do all things whatsoever the Lord [our] God shall command [us]” (Abraham 3:22-25).
This same poster then wrote:
[S]eems like they are danged in their birth body and then danged in their changed body … Granted too, in Canada[, if I remember correctly,] hardly anyone with this situation is granted a change, they have to go through therapy and all kinds of things and I think like less than 5 doctors even do the surgery and it’s expensive.
Why [are they danged if they do and danged if they don’t]? Apparently, you … alone among mortals … already are intimately acquainted with what it means, how it feels, and so on, to be resurrected. Do tell! You’ve been holding out on us! If, by “changed body,” you’re talking about reassignment surgery, then yes, I think that anyone should think twice, or thrice, or even more, about opting for such a drastic “solution.” You yourself admit that Canadian surgeons are more cautious … and, as a general rule, very probably are much wiser than their U.S. brethren and sisters of the white coat and scrub suit set.
The same poster added, “If I were like that I would have more than a few questions for God.”
And I’m sure that God will be ready, willing, and able to answer them eventually (Ay, there’s the rub! ) We mere mortals have such problems with that “eventually” part, and we’re all-too-willing, in our hubris, to conclude that the best way to respond to this temporary, mortal challenge … formidable though it is … is to second-guess God’s handiwork (even if it is imperfect in a mortal sense) and to conclude that we know so much better than He.
You know what? If someone said, “Hey, Ken! Congratulations! Neurosurgeons have perfected a procedure that will cure your Cerebral Palsy … not just alleviate the symptoms, not just improve your function, but out-and-out cure you” … I’d have to do some really serious thinking: It’s not as though such a thing would come without risk, and even if the risk were minimal and the reward would get me oh-so-much closer to that resurrected state, I’ve been living in this body for almost 50 years, and I’m not naive enough to believe that such a sudden change wouldn’t come without its own set of serious, perhaps-formidable challenges. (Think Flowers for Algernon [A novella by Daniel Keyes which was later adapted into a play and is about a cognitively-challenged man who undergoes an operation which turns him into a genius, only to find that even being free of his former cognitive constraints carries with it its own challenges and drawbacks, before the operation’s effect wears off and he reverts back to his former self]) …
This same interlocutor then said that he has always been taught that “we go through something to get something.”
So God is Santa Claus? We get “presents” if we’re “good” and “lumps of coal” if we’re “bad”? Nah! If someone is blessed for his or her obedience, more power to him or her, but the longer I live, the more I realize that the fewer such guarantees we have. The only real guarantee we have is a reward for our obedience hereafter. As for the “going-through-something-to-get-something” idea, I think that’s right, but I think, largely, what we “go through” is mortality, and what we get comes hereafter. See also here: https://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/on-gods-injustice/.
Another poster expressed empathy for my brother-cum-sister in Christ, David (aka Laurie Lee) Hall, stating that he feels love and empathy for her. I responded, “As should we all. (Our ability to do so is limited by mortal limits on perception, on cognition, on ability to empathize, and so on, but, to the extent we can, I certainly think we should.)”
The poster referred to in the foregoing paragraph continued, “I can’t even begin to understand the inner turmoil she has dealt with her entire life. It makes me very sad that she was silent her entire life because she knew she couldn’t share with loved ones, church leaders, or even therapists because of the judgment she would receive.”
Yes, to whatever extent judgment was passed upon her, that is unfortunate and regrettable, and certainly, anyone (outside of a Judge in Israel passing righteous judgment) passing such judgment is in need of repentance. Since she apparently found a therapist who endorsed gender reassignment surgery, she certainly wasn’t judged by that therapist, and if her wife was supportive even after hearing the fuller revelation of her true feelings and struggles, she certainly wasn’t judged by her wife.
This poster continued, “The church has definitely lived up to her worst fears of judgment and excommunication.” I responded, “I don’t know all of the circumstances surrounding her excommunication, and I find it difficult to believe that she would share the whole picture publicly if it did not cast her in the best light.”
This poster continued, “As [screen name redacted] said, it’s hard to see the value in excommunicating someone for something like this.”
The position of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints respecting excommunication is different than yours or [screen name redacted]’s. Again, if you know all of the circumstances surrounding her excommunication (and I can hardly believe she’s told the whole story if it doesn’t serve the “Look-what-the-Big-Bad-Mean-Church-Did-to-Me” narrative), you’re one up on the rest of us.
Continuing with a list of potential reasons why someone might opt for gender-reassignment surgery, this poster then wrote, “1. The individual gets reassignment surgery for kicks or to rebel.” I responded, “That doesn’t seem to match the narrative favored by the overwhelming majority of people who see gender-reassignment surgery as a viable solution to whatever problems undeniably exist.”
As the second item on his list of potential reasons why someone might opt for gender-reassignment surgery, this poster continued, “2. The individual experiences gender dysphoria as a mental illness.” I responded:
As I said earlier, while I don’t endorse equating individuals with any conditions they may have, It seems to me that, in the name of political correctness, the relevant professional communities have drawn a rather arbitrary line between what constitutes a behavioral health disorder and what does not. I can’t discern any intelligible, consistent principles which underlie the drawing of such lines. As I said earlier, simply because I perceive myself as the One-Eyed, One-Horned, Flying Purple People Eater, Pigeon-Toed and Undergrowed doesn’t mean that someone should gouge out an eye, implant a horn in my skull, perform podiatric surgery on me to make me pigeon toed, and remove a few vertebrae to make me even shorter.
As the third item on his list of potential reasons why someone might opt for gender reassignment surgery, this poster continued, “3. The individual experiences gender dysphoria because they correctly recognize that their biological gender doesn’t match their spiritual gender.” I responded:
I certainly don’t understand all of the reasons behind why such vicissitudes as gender dysphoria might exist in this fallen world. However, I think that only someone with a good deal of hubris would think himself qualified to make the sort of judgments one must make in order to agree to perform gender reassignment surgery on someone.
This poster then continued:
If the individual truly has a spirit and a body in which the gender doesn’t match, it seems heartless to excommunicate. What is the point of punishing further for something that has already caused significant struggle. The church should be there to lift and support, not wash its hands of a person it deems is unworthy or embarrassing.
You’re presuming you know the whole story behind why she was excommunicated. I highly doubt that’s the case. And again, your understanding of the purposes behind excommunication does not match the stated aims of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in imposing that sanction.
This poster then concluded, “These individuals deserve compassion and kindness, not harshness and judgment.” And I replied, “Agreed.”
Quoting news coverage of the case, another poster wrote, “Wait …’She remains in her 34 year committed marriage to her wife.’ Doesn’t that put her in a [same-sex marriage], which is considered apostasy and [therefore is deserving of] automatic excommunication? (as per the policy).” I responded, “Good point.”
Another poster wrote:
I wouldn’t assume we know the full story, particularly the views of those who excommunicated him. As someone else noted, he appear[s] to want to remain married to his wife which seems pretty problematic. Kind of like a person who was a member of the Allred polygamist group deciding to come back to the church but wanting to remain married to all his wives. It just doesn’t work that way.
I responded succinctly, “Yep.”
My second interlocutor in the thread (who is Canadian, hence, my “Canuck” reference, below), then posted, “I am trying like everyone else to make some sense of life and know what is true and what isn’t, I hope I never come across as combative to anybody!”
Thoroughly tongue-in-cheek, I responded, “You crazy, combative Canuck! Quit fomentin’ contention on my thread whydon’tcha?!”
He posted several links to addresses by leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I continued:
I haven’t had a chance to look at any of your links. I would be loathe to take issue with most anything any of the Brethren say. Do we face tailored challenges in this life? Yes. Do we face hap crappening? Man’s inhumanity to man? Law of the harvest [“As ye sow, so shall ye reap”]? Yep. But I think we need to be careful appealing to mortal wisdom and perspectives (or, for that matter, we need to be careful attempting to divine the inscrutable mind of God) in an attempt to put any particular challenge into any particular category: I doubt we’ll have those answers before we go the the [interview] with Heavenly Father on the other side.
My Canuck interlocutor then asked, “Would [excommunicating] them [those who deal with gender dysphoria from the Church of Jesus Christ] solve the problem or make them feel even worse?”
Depends entirely on how they respond to it. Excommunication actually is an act of mercy in that it relieves someone of the obligation to keep covenants they can no longer keep. Do leaders sometimes take the wrong approach with respect to excommunication? Perhaps, but, while I have never been directly involved in the process, the leaders I have known who have been directly involved in it (and I have had family members who have been excommunicated) have approached it in a spirit of great love, care, and concern for the (former) member.
I then added:
I should also add (while this is implicit in my previous reply, I wish to make it explicit) that whether excommunication is the final step out of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or the first step back into the Church of Jesus Christ depends entirely upon the person being excommunicated.
Then, I added further:
At the risk of being redundant, I will reiterate that, yes, I have no idea what it’s like to be challenged by gender dysphoria, and no, I don’t want to be unsympathetic to anyone’s plight. And yes, the timing at which one comes to a full realization of the implications one’s gender dysphoria varies. That all having been said, though, one’s quest to find one’s “authentic self” takes a back seat to the needs of one’s spouse when s/he gets married, and it especially takes a back seat to the needs of one’s children when they come on the scene.
My Canadian/Canuck interlocutor then asked whether I felt that Laurie Lee Hall is subordinating the needs of her spouse and children to her own needs, and I responded:
Her actions are not mine to judge, but, yes, anyone who takes actions after getting married and having children (and especially after adopting one, which is a purely planned, voluntary act) which turn the traditional family structure on its head is doing exactly that. I believe The Family: A Proclamation to the World, which states that children are entitled to be reared by a mother and a father (as those terms are ordinarily defined) within the bonds of man-woman marriage.
My first interlocutor on the thread then commented, “It comes down to a choice: do I wish to be heroic in my denial of self, or do I wish to be called heroic by the world in [embracing] my basest self.”
I’m not sure I agree with precisely how you’re worded your second clause, because I see the issue as too complex, there are too many psychological and other variables, simply to conclude that anyone who takes the course that “Laurie Lee” has is doing so purely out of base, lascivious motives. But yes, the nanosecond I commit to someone else by being sealed to her and by conceiving a child with her, my feelings, needs, inclinations and so on cease [and, I might add, they cease forever after] to be of paramount importance.
Another poster wrote:
How does the church manage things like marriage, priesthood, temple work, etc. I think the ultimate solution is to just stop managing it all together. Let people be sealed to whoever they want to be sealed to. Let people identify as whatever gender they want to identify as. Give the priesthood to both genders. Update the tradition about chastity to mean monogamous relationships, not specific to gender or sexual preference. I think this is the path of fairness and the path that we’re being called by divine inspiration to go towards.
With due respect, I disagree. (Sealing practices in the time of Joseph Smith are another subject for another day.) I think that your proposed “solution” would be to deny various things that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has taught are fundamental to what it means to hold the Priesthood, to be sealed to someone, to form families, to be a husband and father, to be a wife and mother, and so on.
To another poster who implied that anyone who declined to listen to a “Mormon Stories” podcast interview by John Dehlin of Laurie Lee Hall declined to do so because we’re simply closed-minded, saying it would be nice if we were more open-minded, I replied, “It would be nice if you also would quit making accusations that those of us who don’t consider John Dehlin to be a prophet, seer, and revelator are simply closed-minded, as well.”
When another poster asked, “Just a thought, but when being called as a stake president, couldn’t one who for life has doubted his sexual identity gracefully decline?”
As I understand David/Laurie Lee Hall’s position (I’ll hasten to add that I think the sort of faithfulness to which she claims to aspire is difficult, given her current position and Church Doctrine, respectively) but s/he still has a testimony of the foundational events and truth claims of the Church of Jesus Christ. Yes, I have a fervent disagreement with her about the implications of her chosen course in light of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, but it isn’t for me to doubt her testimony. And sometimes it’s hard for us mortals to see the end from the beginning. I doubt he would have accepted a calling as a bishop or as a stake president if he had known he would be where he is today.
On the other hand, perhaps he saw one or both of those callings as a sign of God’s continuing favor, his struggles notwithstanding. I’ve had callings like that, one in particular that I can think of. Once, I was called as a counselor in an Elders Quorum Presidency. (Stop laughing! It’s true! I was!) OK. Go ahead. Keep laughing. You’re right. It is pretty funny. The truth is, I wasn’t a very good counselor to my Elders Quorum President. Honestly, I think one of the very few reasons I got the calling was so that the Lord, through the High Councilor who acted as voice when I was set apart, could tell that He was “pleased with the course of my life.” I needed, quite desperately, to hear that at the time. And I’ve kept a card from a brother whose PPI [Personal Priesthood Interview] I attended who wrote to tell me that he had a similar experience and felt the Lord’s love for him when I prayed for him at the end of the PPI. (I’ve got this strange wet stuff in my eyes now, recalling those experiences; Soy todohombre! Nunca lloro!)
It’s not uncommon for someone who favors changes in the doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints vis-a-vis its treatment of homosexuals, of transsexuals, and of others who experience uncommon challenges in the Church to invoke the example of the Church lifting the ban formerly largely imposed on ordination of blacks of African descent to its lay Priesthood. To those who believe this is a valid comparison, I responded:
No one has demonstrated the relevance of Elder [Bruce R.] McConkie’s “Forget-everything-that-I-have-said” [regarding the Priesthood ban] comment [following receipt of the revelation lifting the Ban] to the discussion of the treatment of transsexuals in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s an apples-and-oranges comparison, if not an apples-and-Buicks comparison, because there was always at least a contingent of Brethren (and Scott has said that, in reality, there was something approaching unanimity among the Brethren) that the former race-based ban on Priesthood someday would be lifted. Not so with the Church’s refusal to recognize relationships other than man-woman married couples as forming a potential eternal family unit. A change in who gets the Priesthood is not fundamental to its exercise in the same way that recognizing unions other than man-woman unions would fundamentally alter the doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ on marriage, on family, and, perhaps, on related topics and issues.
In a largely-futile attempt to return the thread to its original topic of discussion after various derailments, I posted:
What of [another poster’s] previous assertion that even Canadian surgeons (and Canada hardly has a reputation as a bastion of medical conservatism: Perhaps I can find a Canadian surgeon who will fulfill my dream of becoming The One-Eyed, One-Horned, Flyin’ Purple People Eater, Pigeon-Toed and Undergrowed?) are reluctant to perform gender reassignment surgery?
Is the only relevant question whether an operation will ease psychological pain, no matter what consequences it might have otherwise?
Any doctors in the house? If so, Is the position implicit in my “other consequences” question consistent with the Hippocratic Oath (“First, do no harm”)?
How far do we take the alter-the-body-to-protect-the-psyche position?
What if, rather than hating any gender-related appendages I might have (Don’t play innocent and dumb: I think you know what I mean), my psyche, instead, tells me that my idealized body image is one which lacks a left leg? (“Ah, go ahead! Hack the damn thing off! That’ll address his psychological problems effectively!”) [I’m not trying to make light of gender dysphoria here: I’m just wondering, how far does the alter-the-body-to-protect-the-psyche position go?]
Does perhaps, have any relevance to the discussion? [And I posted a link containing background information on the unusual case of Dr. Chloe Jennings-White, who purportedly suffers from the proposed Body Integrity Identity Disorder, in which sufferers’ purported idealized body image includes an appendage (a limb, for example) which they feel is foreign to them and should not be a part of their body. See here: http://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=56614675&itype=CMSID.
Alas, none of these questions did anything to facilitate the discussion in any meaningful way.
Later, one poster posited that Bishop-cum-President-cum-Laurie-Lee-Hall’s calls to those respective positions were opportunities for him to “come clean” about his struggles (my phrase), while another stated that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is concerned with conduct, not with inclinations, implying that there is no difference between someone with homosexual inclinations who has not acted on them and someone with transsexual inclinations who has not acted on them.
I agree … with both of you.
I agree with what [another poster] says (at least by implication) that there’s nothing about feelings or about inclinations that should render someone unworthy. I stand by my previous assertion that perhaps then-Bishop Hall and later-President Hall may have seen the fact that each calling was extended to him as a sign of God’s continuing favor despite his struggles. I doubt, absent overt sin that could have an impact on one’s ability to keep his covenants, on one’s standing in the Church of Jesus Christ, or on the good name of the Church, that one has an obligation to confess such inclinations. On the other hand, perhaps the issuance of the calling was an opportunity for him to “come clean” about those struggles, but, again, we’re not talking about sin here: “Coming clean” under such circumstances would probably require a level and a kind of courage which few of us possess.
“There, but for the grace of God, go I,” and “Say not, ‘Dear Lord, I thank thee that I am not as other men are,’ but, rather, say, ‘Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!'” and all that.
Later, I posted:
Yes, I’m sure I have no idea how difficult it is for family and close friends to hear “I’m gay,” or to hear from a man, “I feel like a woman,” or vice-versa. The latter happened to one of my cousins. On the other hand, I have no idea how difficult it would be to be faced with the prospect of making such a confession. As I mentioned earlier, perhaps the better course for Bishop/President Hall would have been to confide in his leaders when he received the call as a Bishop or as a Stake President. But, on the other hand, perhaps that requires a level and a kind of courage which few of us possess. Perhaps we underestimate the enormity of the task when we glibly, confidently, and conveniently assume that we could do something when we’ll never be faced with the prospect of doing it, and, therefore, that’s what someone else who was faced with that prospect should have done.
Later, one of the two interlocutors I mentioned in the final quoted paragraph in the exchange previous to this one (“I agree … with both of you”), remarked, “There are many circumstances when telling the truth can be enormously embarrassing, inconvenient, and distressing.”
I don’t condone one placing oneself in a class by oneself, and even if one is absolutely right that one has been dealt a lot that is virtually uniquely difficult, the next question is always, Ergo, what? I agree with your implication that the trouble with pity parties is that the guest list rarely (if ever) is more than one name long. And I certainly would never condone dishonesty.
However, all of that having been said, everything that is embarrassing is not equally embarrassing, everything that is inconvenient is not equally inconvenient, and everything that is distressing is not equally distressing. Even a sincere acknowledgment that something is painful, that it’s embarrassing, that it’s inconvenient, and that it’s distressing is not the same thing as crawling into someone’s skin and making the decisions he makes at the time he makes them with the (probably limited) information and perspective he has at that time.
He continued, “Honesty is the first step in recovery.” And I replied, “I agree.”
He continued, “Some of us have been there.” I replied, “Estimates are that gender dysphoria affects between 0.05% (born male) and 0.014% (born female) of the population.”
He continued, “When given a calling such as he was, [honestly declining] should be the right course even if full disclosure [of one’s circumstances or of the reason for declining] is not made.”
Even if the judgment you pass is 100% righteous, it is also passed with the benefit of hindsight. It’s easy to look back with that benefit and to say what someone else should have done: Discerning correct courses at the moment of decision, with the (likely limited) information and perspective one has at the time, is not so easy. And under the standard you have set, I probably should have declined every single calling I’ve ever received in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
He asked, “But to withhold this crucial information from a potential marriage partner? Is that honest, kind, compassionate, fair?”
No, it’s not, and I’m not condoning what he did, condoning the decisions he made, or trying to minimize the fallout of those decisions to other people, but again, with due respect (and I think you know that I hold you in absolutely the highest regard), because of all of the information and the perspective that is available to you (thanks to the incredible benefit of hindsight), you’re looking at another person’s situation and saying he should have made different decisions as though all of the information that is available to you now was available to him at the time he made the decisions he made, when that’s not the case.
I don’t know how that could be done glibly. To impose this kind of existential pain on family members by “coming out” when the deception can no longer be hidden or becomes unbearable seems selfish. Perhaps experiences like this will result in fewer people feeling they must lead a life of deception.
Again, I’m not condoning what he did, but it’s easy to look back at another person’s situation assuming that all of the information available to us now was available to him at the time he made those decisions, when that’s not the case. Even the most sincere, well-intentioned hindsight bias is still hindsight bias.
So if a man marries, has children, is called to be a bishop and a stake president, knowing in his heart that he truly and completely believes he is a man only by mistake and instead should and wants to be a woman, knowing the requirements and expectations, creates the family, and accepts the callings, then there was deception. When it is finally revealed, all hell breaks loose. Can you explain why it would not be?
I’m not trying to minimize what he did or discounting in any way the serious fallout to which those around him have been subjected by what he did, but “knowing” … particularly with something as complicated as gender dysphoria … is not always an instantaneous, bolt-of-lightning, then-I-didn’t-know-but-now-I-do-and-always-will-forever-and-ever-amen-worlds-without-end kind of thing.
Knowing what s/he knows now, would then-Bishop-Hall and then-President-Hall have made the same decisions he did? Perhaps not, but no one ever knows then what he knows now. Hindsight bias is a tricky thing, and it’s hard to avoid falling prey to it.
Another poster asked, “Did you ever sense anything being off a little bit with your ex stake president? Or something feminine?”
I’m absolutely sure you didn’t intend actually to pull the pin on that grenade before lobbing it in my direction (and that you even realize that’s what you’ve done) but, in this thread, that’s the rough equivalent of a “Have-you-stopped-beating-your-wife?” question. Even the most masculine man still has feminine traits and even the most feminine woman still has masculine traits, even if such traits are manifest only infrequently and/or only briefly. The complicated issues surrounding gender dysphoria, ambiguous body parts, and similar issues aside, the feminine traits in a man don’t necessarily make him any less of a man and the masculine traits in a woman don’t necessarily make her any less of a woman.
I never felt there was anything unusual about President Hall in the limited dealings I had with him, but if I were to say, “Yeah, there was always something that seemed just a little bit … off … about him to me,” I would be falling prey to at least two phenomena that are very common in the human condition: (1) Hindsight bias, and (2) Gender and other stereotypes. There’s a radical notion in Christianity that because Christ is a man, He cannot save, cannot succor, and cannot identify with women: I don’t agree. I once had some things to say about Deity vis-a-vis masculinity and femininity. See here:
Another poster commented, “Her story is indeed an amazing story. …”
No doubt. However, as amazing as her story is, more amazing by orders of magnitude will be the stories we’ll never hear because those at the center of those stories will never tell them … at least, they’ll never tell them in this life: Stories of those who confide private struggles to reconcile their sexuality with an accompanying abiding desire that is as strong or stronger to remain faithful to the tenets of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, cueste lo que cueste, to Judges in Israel, and Judges in Israel who provide succor and sustenance, who themselves “lift up the hands which hang down” and “strengthen the feeble knees” and who counsel those closest to those experiencing such struggles to do likewise.
Those stories will be the truly amazing ones, and the rewards for that kind of faithfulness (as important as remaining true to oneself might be, often, it’s much more difficult to remain true to causes that are much greater than oneself, especially when all the world screams that such faithfulness is irrelevant or insignificant) will be the truly amazing rewards.
When another poster criticized the intolerant reactions of members of a family she knows when another family member “came out” to them, writing “I wish sometimes people in the church would have faith crises once in a while, just to get a grip.”
Are thepeople of whom you spoke in the rest of your post too judgmental? Perhaps. Could they use a change in perspective? Maybe. But you are seriously misguided if you think that a faith crisis would be the best way to accomplish that. (And while I don’t wish to be unduly judgmental of anyone who is having or who has had a faith crisis, some of us think that faith crises involve losing one’s grip in some very important ways on some very important things.)
She responded, “I disagree, because had I not gone through mine, I painfully will admit to being more judgemental and possibly losing a good relationship with my adult children that are no longer active.”
I certainly wish you well, and harbor no ill will toward you. I’m glad you’ve all found a comfortable place when it comes to dealing with such complex issues. However, a faith crisis is not a sin qua non to becoming more accepting, and a sample size of one hardly provides sufficient grounds to make the sweeping statement to which I responded.
Another poster asked, “If I am reading what has been reported, she made the decision and changes after being released [as a] stake president. Do I have that correct?”
If John Dehlin has reported her history and the chronology of events correctly, no.
“While she remembers identifying internally as a woman from a very young age, she began to experience intense pressure to transition to female while serving as an LDS Stake President. This ultimately led to her being released as stake president after 8 years of service.”
Source: http://www.mormonstories.org/laurie-lee-hall/, last accessed July 23, 2017.
Later, I posted:
I am loathe to pass too harsh of a judgment on Laurie Lee Hall because gender dysphoria afflicts a tiny fraction of one percent of each gender, respectively. In some respects, perhaps it is a uniquely hard, uniquely steep, uniquely thorn-strewn path vis-a-vis remaining faithful in (and remaining faithful to) the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, there are those with same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (few in number though they may be) whose stories, as I have said before, are known only to family, to closest friends, and to file leaders. These people are determined, cueste lo que cueste, to remain faithful and to “wait upon the Lord” (until the resurrection, if necessary) for the resolution of these “thorns in the flesh.”
As sympathetic as I am toward Laurie Lee Hall, in some respects, she has externalized her own pain and has foisted that burden, to a certain extent, on her other family members (and perhaps on friends and associates) who did not ask for it, were not expecting it, and may not be prepared adequately to bear it. As sympathetic as I am to her, even though, often, we cannot choose our burdens and our circumstances, how we choose to respond to those burdens and to those circumstances is a choice: However dire the circumstance, one still can choose to continue to act in faith rather than allowing oneself to be acted upon by the circumstance. As is, I believe, illustrated by the reluctance of many surgeons to perform such procedures, “transitioning,” gender reassignment surgery, and other such purported remedies are not panaceas. Often, they come with their own set of problems, and those who opt for them may find (much to their dismay) that they have simply exchanged one set of problems for another.
As sympathetic as I am to Laurie Lee Hall, as much as is possible for someone in my position to do so, I also share [another poster’s] concern for the completely innocent victims of her choices. Perhaps he is right that I do not fully appreciate the burden those innocent victims now bear. As such, whatever our disagreement (what do I know about how such things affect entire families, anyway? I’m still … and am likely to remain … my only child!) I can see where he’s coming from.
Bottom line? Just as I am reluctant to judge Laurie Lee Hall too harshly, I’m also reluctant to judge [another poster, who was unstinting in his criticism of Laurie Lee Hall] too harshly.
In response, another poster wrote, “It appears she fought with it [gender dysphoria] for most of her life prior to deciding to live in a way she considers to true to herself.”
True to self, self-this, self-that, self-everything … Self is primary, preeminent, and paramount. The Savior disagrees[. I then quoted Matthew 16:24-25 from the Holy Bible]:
24 Then said Jesus unto His disciples, if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.
He continued, “When my brother came out as Gay I initially felt like he had foisted some burden onto me. It wasn’t until many years later I realized that it had nothing to do with me and everything to do with him.”
I’m glad that you support your brother and that you have a good relationship. I believe that’s possible for observant, devout Latter-day Saints who have gay and lesbian family members as well. In some ways, however, that’s an apples-and-oranges, if not an apples-to-Buicks comparison, to the matter under discussion here.
He continued, “I can’t imagine the mental toll it must take to continually try and be something you aren’t. I’m glad my brother came out if for no other reason than his own mental health. I feel the same way about Laurie Lee.”
Again, I’m not unsympathetic toward Laurie Lee, and there’s no way I could understand what she’s been through. But here’s the thing: Once a man (biologically speaking, laying aside, for the moment, the issue of gender dysphoria) gets married, he is a husband, whether he wants to be or not; once a man has (and adopts) children, he is a father, whether he wants to be or not.
Another poster wrote, “We marry potential, God calls people not for what they have done but for what they can do. Should Christ have called Judas, John C. Bennett or William Law? he knew their weaknesses but called them anyway[ ].”
Yes and no. Yes, God will give us room to fail at something He might hope that we will do. To do otherwise would be to take away our agency. (God could do everything He asks us to do in His Kingdom better than we can do it, but where’s the growth in that?) On the other hand, as my first mission president used to say, while God loves everyone, He trusts comparatively few. There are (often miraculous) exceptions, of course. My father was such an exception: He was plucked from inactivity and Word-of-Wisdom issues to be a ward financial clerk, and has been faithful (including quitting smoking “cold turkey”) ever since. However, if I have not proven myself to be reliable and dependable by establishing a such a track record in my previous service in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, what is the likelihood that I will be called to a position in which such reliability and dependability are close to being a sin qua non? Not very high, I would have to say.
Another poster asked (in part), “… Heck, we had an entire thread about a 12 year old that told everyone that she was gay and what her hopes were for her life. Do you remember some of the responses we got from some TBM’s [True-Believing (or True-Blue) Mormons]?…”
I don’t know that the problem was with the simple fact that the disclosure was made as much as it was with how and when. People are entitled to their opinions, and they are entitled to disagree with the stances of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on things. That does not, however, mean that the Church of Jesus Christ is obligated to give one who disagrees a forum for the expression of her disagreement. Fast and Testimony Meeting is neither the place nor the time for such disclosure, and it’s certainly not a forum for anyone to express her disagreement with Church doctrine.