Question: Since there are people that are born intersex, experience gender dysphoria, or identify as transgender, does this invalidate the Latter-day Saint ("Mormon") doctrine of eternal male and/or female gender?

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Question: Since there are people that are born intersex, experience gender dysphoria, or identify as transgender, does this invalidate the Latter-day Saint doctrine of eternal gender?

The Criticism

Some secularist critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints point to the existence of intersex humans, people who experience gender dysphoria, or people who identify as transgender in order to invalidate the doctrine of eternal, binary gender.

Intersex people are defined as those that:

are born with any of several variations in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals that, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, "do not fit the typical definitions for male or female bodies."[1]

Transgender people are those that identify with, dress as, and/or have gender-reassignment surgeries performed on them to become, identify with, and or act as a different gender than the one they were proclaimed to be at birth.

Gender dysphoria is the dissonance caused by not identifying with the gender (male or female) that one is proclaimed to be a part of at birth.

It is claimed that this invalidates the doctrine of gender as outlined by "The Family: A Proclamation to the World":

All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.[2]

It should be noted here that "gender" is used synonymously with "biological sex".[3]

Our spirits are eternally gendered either male or female

One immediate point to make is that, according to the Family Proclamation above and the Doctrine and Covenants, our spirits are eternally gendered either male or female (D&C 49:15-17). A male or female spirit can still be housed in an intersex body. The existence of intersex individuals does not invalidate the possibility that we have male and female spirits only.

As it concerns transgender individuals, there are four logical possibilities:

  1. Their spirit has legitimately been housed in the wrong bodies by their choice.
  2. Their spirit has legitimately been housed in the wrong bodies by God's choice.
  3. Their spirit has legitimately been housed in the wrong body by the joint agreement of them and God.
  4. There is a deeper mental condition that doesn't allow their brains to accept that they actually belong to the right body.

We don't know which of these actually are happening. It's best to wait for science and revelation to converge. Eventually, we know they will. As President Russell M. Nelson has taught, "[t]here is no conflict between science and religion. Conflict only arises from an incomplete knowledge of either science or religion, or both[.]"[4]

Feelings are not Being

Some may be offended by the last possibility. It does remain a logical possibility.

Brigham Young University professor Ty Mansfield pointed out something important in regard to feelings not forming identity. He related it to sexuality but it can equally apply to gender dysphoria.

“Being gay” is not a scientific idea, but rather a cultural and philosophical one, addressing the subjective and largely existential phenomenon of identity. From a social constructionist/constructivist perspective, our sense of identity is something we negotiate with our environment. Environment can include biological environment, but our biology is still environment. From an LDS perspective, the essential spiritual person within us exists independent of our mortal biology, so our biology, our body is something that we relate to and negotiate our identity with, rather than something that inherently or essentially defines us. Also, while there has likely been homoerotic attraction, desire, behavior, and even relationships, among humans as long as there have been humans, the narratives through which sexuality is understood and incorporated into one’s sense of self and identity is subjective and culturally influenced. The “gay” person or personality didn’t exist prior to the mid-20th century.

In an LDS context, people often express concern about words that are used—whether they be “same-sex attraction,” which some feel denies the realities of the gay experience, or “gay,” “lesbian,” or “LGBT,” which some feels speaks more to specific lifestyle choices. What’s important to understand, however, is that identity isn’t just about the words we use but the paradigms and worldviews and perceptions of or beliefs about the “self” and “self-hood” through which we interpret and integrate our various experiences into a sense of personal identity, sexual or otherwise. And identity is highly fluid and subject to modification with change in personal values or socio-cultural context. The terms “gay,” “lesbian,” and “bisexual” aren’t uniformly understood or experienced in the same way by everyone who may use or adopt those terms, so it’s the way those terms or labels are incorporated into self-hood that accounts for identity. One person might identify as “gay” simply as shorthand for the mouthful “son or daughter of God who happens to experience romantic, sexual or other desire for persons of the same sex for causes unknown and for the short duration of mortality,” while another person experiences themselves as “gay” as a sort of eternal identity and state of being.

An important philosophical thread in the overall experience of identity, is the experience of “selfhood”—what it means to have a self, and what it means to “be true to” that self. The question of what it means to be “true to ourselves” is a philosophical rather than a scientific one. In her book Multiplicity: The New Science of Personality, Identity, and the Self, award-winning science and medical writer Rita Carter explores the plurality of “selves” who live in each one of us and how each of those varied and sometimes conflicting senses of self inform various aspects of our identity(ies). This sense seems to be universal. In the movie The Incredibles, there’s a scene in which IncrediBoy says to Mr. Incredible, “You always, always say, ‘Be true to yourself,’ but you never say which part of yourself to be true to!”[5]

Thus, there is big difference between feelings and the meaning or labels that we assign to feelings. Thank goodness that feelings are not being. Couldn't we imagine a time where someone would want to change feelings that they didn't feel described their identity such as impulses for pornography, drugs, or violence? This does not mean that the author is comparing sexual orientation to bad impulses, this is simply to point out that feelings do not inherently control identity. We assign identity to feelings.

These points demonstrate that we all have to seek out something else to determine identity that is enduring, real, and meaningful. Some of us turn to God for that identity. Others may subconsciously or consciously create some form of a platonic entity to ground our morality and identity i.e. "Love binds the universe. Love is my religion". But the basic point still stands—our feelings may be used to form identity, but that identity--the identity based in our feelings that we are having now--isn't enduring; and we must turn to the unseen world to form abiding and real identity.

The Argument from Personal Revelation

There are often claims from members of the Church who identify as transgender and other members of the Church who support transgenderism that they have received personal revelation that they are meant to identify as the gender that they currently identify as and/or that gender is not meant to be binary.

There are often claims from members of the Church who identify as transgender and other members of the Church who support transgenderism that they have received personal revelation that the Church is wrong about this issue and that it will eventually accept transgenderism and so on in the future. Since this is an important theological topic that involves the entire human family and their eternal destiny, this type of revelation does not lie within the stewardship of those that identify as transgender or those that support same-sex marriage, but with the prophet of God (Doctrine and Covenants 28:2-4; 42:53-60; 112:20). We should wait for the Lord to reveal more officially as to what is occuring with transgender individuals. As it regards those that have felt like they've received revelation that gender isn't binary, the Savior told us that the one way we could protect ourselves against deception is to hold to his word (JS-Matthew 1:37) and he announces himself as the source of the revelation declaring that gender is binary (Doctrine and Covenants 49:28). Thus, it is likely that these individuals, if they have indeed felt revelation occur, have been deceived by false Spirits (Doctrine and Covenants 50:1-2) and their testimonies should be disregarded. If someone were to receive a revelation like this, it would be given to them for their own comfort and instruction. They would also be placed under strict commandment to not disseminate their revelation until it accords with the revelation of the prophets, God's authorized priesthood channels (Alma 12:9).

As a final word which we wish to emphasize:

FairMormon joins The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in unequivocally condemning the discrimination of any of God's children based upon gender (or gender identity), race, sexual identity and/or orientation, and/or religious affiliation..

Notes

  1. "Intersex," Wikipedia, accessed January 4, 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersex.
  2. "The Family: A Proclamation to the World," The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, accessed January 4, 2019, https://www.lds.org/topics/family-proclamation?lang=eng&old=true.
  3. "General Conference Leadership Meetings Begin," Church Newsroom, accessed October 7, 2019, https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/october-2019-general-conference-first-presidency-leadership-session. “'Finally, the long-standing doctrinal statements reaffirmed in The Family: A Proclamation to the World 23 years ago will not change. They may be clarified as directed by inspiration.' For example, 'the intended meaning of gender in the family proclamation and as used in Church statements and publications since that time is biological sex at birth.'”
  4. "Elder Nelson: 'There Is No Conflict Between Science and Religion'," LDS Living, April 17, 2015, https://www.ldsliving.com/Elder-Nelson-There-Is-No-Conflict-Between-Science-and-Religion-/s/78668.
  5. Ty Mansfield, "'Mormons can be gay, they just can’t do gay': Deconstructing Sexuality and Identity from an LDS Perspective," (presentation, FairMormon Conference, Provo, UT, 2014).