A reply to "Personal Crisis"

A reply to "Personal Crisis"

I saw the question about gender identity last night and wrote this as a reply. I made this a separate post because I feel that the issue comes up enough on this subreddit to justify it.

Fair warning it is really long. Like essay length long. I won't fault you if you don't read it all. I just couldn't stop once I got started.

Friend, welcome to your Abrahamic Test.

I would like to share my testimony with you. I don’t know you, I don’t know your specific struggles. I don’t know your unique experience. I’m not going to presume to know what is best for you, your family, or your life. That is a question for our Heavenly Parents and you to answer through sincere prayer and sincere listening through the Spirit.

After reading your post, I may be able to offer you some help through the lens my unique experience and understanding of the Gospel. Just like you, I struggle with gender identity questions. I made a post around two years ago that details the full story if you would like to read it. It was written a little more quickly and flippantly than what I would like to share today. Fair warning, it’s a long post and this one will be too.

I'll frame this from a faithful perspective. I’m going to try to explain why acting on transgender feelings is both a sin of commission and a sin of omission, how this experience may be an Abrahamic Test, how there is Hope for relief through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and what has personally helped me to deal with these feelings. I’m not going to beat around the bush or try to soften the blow with this post. For me, this topic is incredibly intense and personal, so I hope that you’ll forgive me for not mincing words. I feel a kinship to you even though we will likely never meet, and I care about you no matter the choice you ultimately make. You’re unlikely to get this perspective from anyone else on this subreddit.

Make no mistake, changing your gender is a sin. Even if the Church hasn't explicitly stated it in General Conference it still is recognized as a grave sin. Justifying it in your mind with internet posts, anecdotal stories, and vivid imaginations will lead you to a lot of pain. In this post I'll talk about some of the ways that I have come to understand "why" it is a sin.

A Sin of Commission: “Thou Shalt Not Covet”

“Thou shalt not covet…” (Exodus 20:17) is the last commandment in the Ten Commandments and it is the only one that doesn’t involve action. It is about our thoughts. We are told specifically not to covet anything that is our neighbors. I have come to understand that this includes not just the physical objects our neighbor owns, but also our neighbors’ experiences, lives, minds, and bodies. It is the rejection of what we have in favor of what we wish we had. The Bible commands against it because it breeds discontent and can kindle sin in our heart. We have to desire something before we act to acquire it.

The Danger of Thoughts

We often like to tell ourselves that having a thought or desire isn’t a sin, but the Scriptures tell us the opposite.

The Book of Mormon explicitly tells us in Alma 12:14 that our thoughts can condemn us:

For our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us; and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God; and we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us to hide us from his presence.

Jesus also tells us this truth in the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5:27-30

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

Jesus uses incredibly strong language to raise the standard beyond which the Israelites understood at that time. It is not enough to simply refrain from action, we need to watch our thoughts also. Jesus's language is so strong that he uses the metaphorical language of cutting off body parts that break the commandments rather than allowing them to cause you to sin. I think this would also apply to unrighteous desires or thoughts, including the desire to change genders.

I don’t think that these verses mean that every single idle thought that comes into our head condemns us, but we shouldn’t allow these thoughts to remain, take root, and breed resentment or action in our minds and hearts.

When you spend a ton of time thinking about the process of gender transitions, what you would be like as a girl, how much better life would be as a girl you are sinning by coveting that which you don’t have, and the Lord has warned us both in the New Testament and the Book of Mormon that our thoughts can condemn us. We must repent of these sins.

Sin of Omission: The Law of Sacrifice

In addition to the commandment to not covet, we are also sinning when we go down the path of transgenderism by giving up our responsibility to sacrifice everything to the Lord.

The Law of Sacrifice was given to Adam and Eve and has never been revoked. We must be willing to give up absolutely everything to the Lord. This includes our own selfish thoughts, actions, desires, and sins. Even if transgenderism were not a sin, (which it is) we would be sinning by refusing to give it up to the Lord. I know that it is deeply personal and painful, but the Lord requires everything from us.

Joseph Smith taught about what is required from us in order for us to receive salvation:

Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for, from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things. It was through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life; and it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God. (Lectures on Faith 6:5)

The Law of Sacrifice is a divine law that we are expected to obey. This includes sacrificing our selfish desires such as the desire to be a woman instead of a man.

I know that this sounds incredibly difficult. The Gospel path is not one that is easy. It is described as the strait and narrow path. The Savior even tells us that following the path will eventually lead to the pinnacle of commandments found in Matthew 5:48

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

We were never meant to accomplish this on our own. Trying to deal with gender identity problems on our own could never work. However, Jesus Christ can help us. That is the whole reason that we have a Savior.

Hope Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ

I know that your situation may seem impossible. I have been there. When the depression and the confusion reach their pinnacle it seems like nothing will ever get better. There is jealously and regret and pain. And I’m so sorry that you have to go through with it.

But, I am here to tell you that you can have hope and forgiveness and relief on the other side. Jesus Christ will not leave us comfortless or without hope.

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

I have this temptation too, but I have found an incredible amount of peace and happiness through struggling against my own fallen nature and seeking the Lord’s help.

Overcoming the Natural Man

There is a tendency in the transgender community to say that they were ‘born that way’ or ‘born in the wrong body’ or that they “are a (opposite gender).” The problem with that is everyone who ever lived is born in a certain way. We all have sins and tendencies that need to be over come through faith.

This is the message of Mosiah 3:19 (My personal favorite scripture)

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

And also Ether 12:27

And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

All of us have sin, but just like the Lord said to the woman taken in adultery, he doesn’t condemn us. But he also doesn’t condone us. He expects us to rise above our sins and become “new creatures” (2 Corinthians 5:17). And he has promised to help us.

One of my favorite statements on this was made by President George Q. Cannon who spoke on becoming perfect through acquiring of Spiritual Gifts.

If any of us are imperfect, it is our duty to pray for the gift that will make us perfect. Have I imperfections? I am full of them. What is my duty? To pray to God to give me the gifts that will correct these imperfections. If I am an angry man, it is my duty to pray for charity, which suffereth long and is kind. Am I an envious man? It is my duty to seek for charity, which envieth not. So with all the gifts of the gospel. They are intended for this purpose. No man ought to say, “Oh, I cannot help this; it is my nature.” He is not justified in it, for the reason that God has promised to give strength to correct these things, and to give gifts that will eradicate them. If a man lack wisdom, it is his duty to ask God for wisdom. The same with everything else. That is the design of God concerning His Church. He wants His Saints to be perfected in the truth. For this purpose He gives these gifts and bestows them upon those who seek after them, in order that they may be a perfect people upon the face of the earth, notwithstanding their many weaknesses, because God has promised to give the gifts that are necessary for their perfection. (Apr. 23, 1894 Millenial Star pp 258-61)

Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and his Gospel we can overcome all sin and temptation including the temptation to change our gender.

Gender Identity Disorder: An Abrahamic Test?

This part will be getting a bit more esoteric, but it has helped me. I have often wondered if my own struggles were not some kind of Abrahamic Test.

Feeling like you were supposed to be a different gender seems confusing and contradictory. It’s beyond difficult and causes tremendous pain. Why wouldn’t the Lord just make us a woman or change us or let us be content with our birth gender like everyone around us?

Joseph Smith spoke about these difficult trials. He referred to it as being “proved in all things”

After a person has faith in Christ, repents of his sins, and is baptized for the remission of his sins and receives the Holy Ghost, (by the laying on of hands), which is the first Comforter, then let him continue to humble himself before God, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and living by every word of God, and the Lord will soon say unto him, Son, thou shalt be exalted. When the Lord has thoroughly proved him, and finds that the man is determined to serve Him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and his election made sure, then it will be his privilege to receive the other Comforter, which the Lord hath promised the Saints...

Now what is this other Comforter? It is no more nor less than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself; and this is the sum and substance of the whole matter; that when any man obtains this last Comforter, he will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend him, or appear unto him from time to time, and even He will manifest the Father unto him, and they will take up their abode with him, and the visions of the heavens will be opened unto him, and the Lord will teach him face to face, and he may have a perfect knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God; and this is the state and place the ancient Saints arrived at when they had such glorious visions—Isaiah, Ezekiel, John upon the Isle of Patmos, St. Paul in the three heavens, and all the Saints who held communion with the general assembly and Church of the Firstborn. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith pp 150-151)

This is what we’re in for. The Lord wants to prove us in all things. All of us are struggling against our own nature, temptations, tendencies, and sins, you and I just happen to have to want to be the opposite gender instead of sacrificing our sons. This process won’t conclude during this life. It will likely take a lot of time after this life as well.

So how is knowing all this spiritual knowledge relevant to your struggle with these desires and thoughts?

Russel M. Nelson was once asked in a training session “How can we help those struggling with pornography?” He stated: “Teach them their identity and their purpose.” (Callister, Aug. 14, 2012 Our Identity and Our Purpose)

This statement doesn’t just apply to pornography but to all sin and temptation. The best way to overcome it is not to dwell on the sin or temptation but to remember who we are. We are children of the Elohim, our Heavenly Parents.

We have a divine parentage and the potential for divinity within ourselves. If we are faithful we are made “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) “joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). Paul calls it the “prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).

Today we call it exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom of God. That is the end goal of the strait and narrow path and the doctrine of Jesus Christ.

How I Have Dealt with These Feelings

Having set the stage and the goal. I would like to talk about some of the things that helped me as I was dealing and continue to occasionally deal with regarding gender identity feelings. This section may be helpful or not. Everyone is different and what helps me may be different to what helps you.

Number 1, Labels are Powerful

One of the biggest mistakes that you can make is to begin using “I am” language regarding your gender identity. The second you say that “I am transgender” you have given up any choice in the matter. You are telling your subconscious to just accept these tendencies. By keeping it in the realm of wants and choice by saying things like "a part of me wishes that I were a woman" or "I feel a desire to be the opposite gender sometimes" you keep it from becoming your identity. Your first and most important identity it that you are a Child of God. No identity should ever become more important this one.

As I have dealt with this issue I have never said that I am transgender or I am a girl on the inside. I always say something like "I struggle with questions of gender identity" or "a part of me wishes that I was a girl." I always keep it within the realm of choice rather than identity.

Words are like commands to your subconscious, and if you say them enough it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s part of the reason you should never say that you are addicted to common things. When you have an addiction suddenly your power to choose, your agency, is reduced. Everything is justifiable because “I have an addiction.” Some addictions are real, but we shouldn’t assign every compulsion to the level of addiction.

Second, Don't Try to Resist It Directly

When you start a fight against a part of your own mind, you’ll always lose. You may start strong and be able to continue strong for a few days, weeks, months but eventually you’ll relapse into despair.

The thing that ultimately helped me escape from this cycle and trap and begin to make real change was to stop resisting the feelings of being a girl. I acknowledged them, but I didn’t linger on them. I made a covenant with the Lord that if he would give me spiritual knowledge, I would give up the desire and obsession to be a girl. Every time those feelings would come up, I would say, “Yes, a part of me wants to be a girl” but “I want knowledge more.” Over time, it became easier and easier to think about what I wanted more instead of dwelling on what I couldn't have. I wasn’t directly focusing on resisting the temptation and thoughts. I was focusing on what I wanted more. It became a reflex and a defense against sinking into those previous mental patterns of jealously and despair.

Third, Don’t Try to Excuse Yourself

O my son, I desire that ye should deny the justice of God no more. Do not endeavor to excuse yourself in the least point because of your sins, by denying the justice of God; but do you let the justice of God, and his mercy, and his long-suffering have full sway in your heart; and let it bring you down to the dust in humility.(Alma 42:30)

I know that there is a severe desire to justify your desires or feelings by trying to reason through every possible scenario of how to accomplish your desires. You’re already doing it in your post by saying that even though sexual reassignment surgery is forbidden maybe something like hormone replacement therapy is okay.

Don’t do it. Satan is very real, and very much would love to take you as far down that path as you’re willing to go. The thing about Satan is that he doesn’t much care how far you follow him, just that you follow him a little.

He will whisper in your ear when you are feeling down. When life gets hard and you just want to escape he will be right there telling you that all your worldly feelings and carnal desires are valid and should be fulfilled. He will tell you that your desires are good. Why would anyone try to deny what you feel inside? All wants are justifiable, every inclination can be satiated, nothing good should ever be difficult.

2 Nephi 28:20-22:

For behold, at that day shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good. And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell. And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance.

There are going to be things that you can never do because of this tendency. Just like the Anti-Nephi Lehies buried their weapons of war and left them buried even when Nephites were taking up weapons to defend their nation, you’re going to have to make the commitment to not look at or associate with things that trigger these feelings.

For me, I’ve found that I can never let myself do things that are overtly feminine. I used to experiment with shaving my legs, look up things about gender transition on the internet, and watch videos about transgender people on YouTube. It was an obsession, and at the time it felt like to only way to deal with these feelings. However, it always caused way more despair than relief because it would never be enough.

I made the commitment, and I can tell you that even though there is the occasional pang of regret, I am infinitely happier than I was before.

It’s similar to people struggling with alcoholism or other vices, you need to avoid those places, people, thoughts, internet websites that cause those feelings to emerge. It’s difficult to do, but what the Lord asks us to do is difficult.

Finally, gender transitions are a false song.

Gender transitions aren’t nearly as successful as people would have you believe. The suicide rate for transgender people is around 40%. A 2011 Swedish study found that the suicide rate remains high for people who transition. In many cases, the underlying depression and mental health challenges are still there.

I hesitate to even cite studies because the social science world is not nearly as rigorous as it should be and has become incredibly political. The LGBT community fights against any studies that suggest transgender people are experiencing a mental disorder. Which is a real shame because people are really suffering and if science isn’t trying to find a way to cure the mental and medical issues that surround gender dysphoria what are we even doing.

Don’t listen to the world. We are commanded to flee from Babylon. The world is getting darker and more wicked and the only way to overcome the world is to draw closer to Jesus Christ in our actions, thoughts, friends, media, and beliefs.

Final Thoughts

Having worked through these issues for myself, I will say that I don’t know the ultimate fate of those who experience gender dysphoria. Dwelling on it won’t help. It will only breed resentment and misery. I have spent literally hundreds of hours praying about that question. But it was the wrong question. I should have been asking what the Lord would have me do.

As some final scriptures, I will leave Alma 7:22-25 and 1 Nephi 3:7

And now my beloved brethren, I have said these things unto you that I might awaken you to a sense of your duty to God, that ye may walk blameless before him, that ye may walk after the holy order of God, after which ye have been received. And now I would that ye should be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive. And see that ye have faith, hope, and charity, and then ye will always abound in good works. And may the Lord bless you, and keep your garments spotless, that ye may at last be brought to sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the holy prophets who have been ever since the world began, having your garments spotless even as their garments are spotless, in the kingdom of heaven to go no more out.

Nephi:

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.

Trust God, be willing to listen to him, and things will work out. That is the true essence of the classic definition of faith. “The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

I have found peace and happiness through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There are still times when it is hard. I make mistakes, and there have been times since then when I slip up and fall back into old habits. When things get really difficult with life, these patterns can become easy to fall back on. But compared to where it was when I was younger, it is like the difference between being in the pitch darkness of night and being in the sun when there is the occasional rainy day.

I testify that if you trust in the Lord and decide to sacrifice all things for him, he will bless you. He will help you in all things and he won’t leave you comfortless. You’ll experience miracles and blessings that you wouldn’t believe. I have walked the path that you’re on, and I know that the Lord will bless you.

Thank you. This is excellent. I don’t struggle with this problem, and don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m glad people like you have because you have been strengthened and can now help and empathize with others in a way that most of us cannot. You are great and I hope your post is a blessing to at least one other person because I, for one, benefited from your story and testimony.

I'm glad you have found a way of thinking about gender dysphoria that works for you!

Maybe this goes without saying, but I would caution others strongly before taking your advice as prescriptive for them.

Even if transgenderism were not a sin, (which it is)

Citation needed. You've exceeded LDS doctrine and even current handbook policy on this point. There is no official, one-size-fits-all church guidance for trans people considering transitioning in ways that don't involve surgery.

Without your implied foundation (any accommodation of my gender dysphoria is sinful), the scriptural arguments here aren't particularly convincing. Take covetousness: some desires to change oneself are covetousness ("I wish I had a flashy sports car like my wealthy neighbor"); some are not ("If I exercised three times a week, I bet I would feel better").

Or the law of sacrifice. Some personal sacrifices are consecration ("The kids want to go for a walk, but it's Sunday and we have some home/visiting teaching visits to do"); some are empty self-flagellation ("The kids want to go for a walk, but on Sunday we don't do things that are fun").

If you don't already have a deep personal conviction that any outward accommodation of gender dysphoria is wrong for you, it's not clear to me that these principles speak to trans people at all.

EDIT: Instead of only dwelling on the stuff I disagree with, it would have been more charitable of me to sustain the things here that are true. In particular, this is great:

I have spent literally hundreds of hours praying about that question. But it was the wrong question. I should have been asking what the Lord would have me do.

Great advice, a lot of this can be applied to any severe trial we experience in life, especially this part:

I have spent literally hundreds of hours praying about that question. But it was the wrong question. I should have been asking what the Lord would have me do.

Thankyou for sharing this. This is awesome.

The study you cite outright states the following: “For the purpose of evaluating whether sex reassignment is an effective treatment for gender dysphoria, it is reasonable to compare reported gender dysphoria pre and post treatment. Such studies have been conducted either prospectively or retrospectively, and suggest that sex reassignment of transsexual persons improves quality of life and gender dysphoria.”

This was beautiful. Thank you sharing what must have been a difficult struggle.

Thanks for sharing this. The concept of the Abrahamic test is pretty deep. Seemingly contradictory commandments that require total dedication to God and total reliance on Him, even when his instructions seem unclear or even damaging.

These are deeply personal struggles and so it needs to be said that each individual must choose for himself or herself, and everyone else should offer love and support no matter what an individual chooses (or has chosen). Doing anything else equates to stepping into the role God reserves for Himself and His appointed judges.