I grew up in a very small town, nestled in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. I was raised a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (more commonly referred to as the Mormons). In addition to being raised in a traditional Christian family, Mormonism was a way of life. I was happy as a member of the church... raised with a solid foundation of family values that included three hours of church on Sundays, Wednesday night Young Women's activities, Tithing, Callings, and the like. We had a strict health code that forbade drinking coffees and teas... caffeinated beverages were frowned upon and alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking were strictly prohibited. I wasn't allowed to attend school dances until I was fourteen years old. I wasn't allowed to date until I was sixteen. Abstinence until marriage was a beautiful part of the foundation of the family. My father served as a Bishop and as a Branch President, as well as multiple other leadership callings.
Young men in the church are strongly encouraged to serve a two year mission at the age of nineteen. This was a traditional expectation. All young men, considered worthy of the experience, were called to serve in areas around the world and within the continental United States... to teach and preach the gospel according to the training they received at the M.T.C. (Missionary Training Center) in Provo, Utah. At the M.T.C. young men were oriented for their mission. It was a grueling training period that could be surmised as "Spiritual Boot Camp". These young men spent endless hours studying the scriptures, learning how to teach established lesson material, and learning a foreign language (for those called to serve abroad). The training was intense and lasted a mere two to four months.
In the mission field, missionaries were prohibited from contact with the "outside world" with respect to watching television, listening to the radio, reading books not associated with the church, dating, calling home or friends, accessing the internet, watching movies, leaving their companion (all missionaries were assigned a companion), etc. For two years, these young men eat, sleep, and breathe the gospel as they proselyte to strangers and potential conversions. Both my older brothers served two-year missions... my eldest brother served in Bahia Blanca, Argentina and my other older brother in Milan, Italy.
I remember being in the Missionary Training Center with my oldest brother, Shaun. Mom and dad had purchased suits, ties, white shirts, socks, and other necessary items. We packed him up and drove to the M.T.C. where we entered a huge conference room full of young men with short haircuts; wearing crisp suits, ties, and freshly polished shoes. There were parents and siblings with tear-streaked faces. But what I remember the most is what I felt in my heart that day... the warmth and love that seemed to radiate from everyone in the room which was intensified by the presence of the precious spirit of God. After a brief religious service we said goodbye to my brother and watched him walk away, knowing we would not see him again for two years. My brother exited the conference room with great anticipation along with hundreds of other young men about to embark on the most remarkable spiritual journey of their lives. After a final embrace, all family members exited into the parking lot to begin a physical journey home. As a mother, I can only imagine what that experience must be like... the fear and anxiety that a parent must feel at that moment. Most importantly, I can imagine how proud my parents must have been of the son that had grown into a morally clean young man who loved God, lived gospel principles, and committed his time and hard earned money to serve Him for two years (Missions are not cheap and they are financed by the missionary and family).
The church was very regimented and structured. All lessons for each class were taught each Sunday according to lesson plans that were developed, then distributed, and implemented by the general authorities of the church each year. So, no matter where you attended church around the world, the lessons taught each week were the same.
Needless to say, there are a lot of spiritual guidelines and expectations that govern behaviors, actions, and attitudes of church members. Compliance to the standards of the church is strictly enforced by priesthood authorities. I love the L.D.S. church and I have a testimony and appreciation for so many of the things that I was taught as a practicing member of that gospel. My reluctance to face Cammie's condition was based in large part on the fear of being rejected by the one thing I loved more than anything (outside of my family)... my membership in the L.D.S. church. I had a testimony of the things that I had been taught and my life, up until that point, was structured on the foundation of those beliefs. I knew what the church's stance was with respect to Gays and Lesbians... I could only imagine the reaction I would receive when I approached my priesthood authorities about Cammie's gender identity.
I met with my Bishop on several occasions. I found that they were equally as frustrated, and for the first time in my life, I felt like a "hot potato". Nobody knew how to advise me in the situation, which invited discomfort and avoidance. In spite of it all, that experience became a profound blessing in my life. For the first time I stood completely alone at a major crossroad. I had to turn directly to God for the answers. In doing so I was forced to exercise faith, love, humility, and an unconditional willingness to follow His plan.
Needless to say, I spent endless days fasting and praying about the complexity of how to handle the in-congruency between Cammie's physical body and her self-proclaimed gender identity. I plead with God to give me strength. I will never forget that intimate monologue, or the words that I spoke over and over each day in desperate search for guidance... "This is not my child Father, she is yours. I am merely her mortal custodian. I believe I have been called to love and guide her through mortality for a reason, but the circumstances in her life far exceed my experience. I am limited by a temporal, mortal understanding. I know this test is part of your eternal plan, but I must have your guidance. Please show me the way. Help me know how to help her. Father... help me to understand your will." I spent several days, pleading with God to open my heart and mind to the truth that would guide us beyond that crossroad.
After what felt like an eternity, the answer came through a crystal clear impression that testified to my heart, mind, and spirit... "Love this child... even as I have loved you." I remember feeling both thankful and frustrated by the answer I received. I remember thinking, "Seriously Father??? That's the best you can do? Could you be any more vague?" Then I realized that God never dictates our actions or decisions. By doing so, He would deny us the greatest gift of our mortal existence and the sole purpose of life... utilizing our free agency to grow spiritually through adversity.
I was left to examine my relationship with God in order to understand my relationship with my child and what and how to guide her footsteps. After spending a considerable amount of time in thought and prayer, I came to understand profound truths. I realized that He loved me unconditionally... that His Eternal love was not based on the color of my hair, my body shape or size, the color of my skin, the shape of my toes, length of my nose, or health. I realized that the body is just a vessel... the vessel that carries our spirit through mortality. It does NOT define our spirit, and it certainly does NOT define our relationship with God. At that point the spirit testified to my heart that - as difficult as it was - I had to look with my eyes, but earnestly "see with my heart". When I looked past the imperfections of her physical body, something miraculous took place in my heart. For the first time in my life, I began to understand who she was... I began to see, truly see, her divine spirit. It took time to overcome my selfish fears of judgement and social expectation, to wholeheartedly embrace the spiritual being that existed within the confines of a body that did not reflect Cammie's spiritual identity.
As expected, the authorities of the church could not accept the decisions that I had made. I made a very difficult choice to let go of the traditions and practices that served as the foundation of my life for so many years. I walked away as I embraced my child's spiritual identity. For the first time I found myself completely isolated from the only truths I had ever known. I stepped into the uncertainty of a new life with blind faith that God would provide the answers and guide each step of our journey. That choice caused me to lose the love and support of the majority of my family, and many of my friends, who condemned me for the decisions that I had made. The Lord had testified sacred truths to my heart that I could not deny regardless of social consequence. As difficult and lonely as it was, I could not forsake that truth. I continue to follow the guidance of my Heavenly Father, and in doing so, my life has been blessed.
I have thought of Christ's loneliness in Gethsemane. I have thought about what he experienced as he sacrificed his own life for our eternal salvation. I have thought about his unconditional love. I know that he will always be there... that he understands the isolation that I have felt. He knows what I experience each day. Christ testified of the things he knew to be true, regardless of the consequence... a consequence that cost him his life. If he could sacrifice his life out of love for me, I can follow his example and testify of the truth revealed through sacred, humble moments in prayer.
My heart still aches for my own personal loss... but I also rejoice in the peace in my heart and the blessings in my life. God is good, and he continues to hold my hand. I asked to have our names removed from the records of the church. The request was honored. I am nothing more than a "ghost" from the past on the records of the L.D.S church. There are times when my heart aches over that loss... loss of traditions... loss of community... loss of friendships... loss of family relationships... and the loss of the belief that one day I would be standing in the M.T.C. with each of my children, tears running down my cheeks, and watch them walk out the door in the M.T.C with the knowledge that they had committed two years of their life to serving others...
Matthew: 25:40 "Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."
God has taught me many truths throughout my life. I am thankful for the testimony that I have, for all that I have learned, for the values taught in my youth, the blessings of each new day, and the strength and courage to embrace the future with optimism. We are blessed with opportunities to serve others every day, and inasmuch serve the Lord. Serving the Lord is not merely a two year calling, it can be a lifelong blessing.
Today, I found something interesting that I felt compelled to share. A retired surgeon, and L.D.S. High Priest, posted a comment on the blog of an L.D.S. man who had written a post that addresses the complexity of reconciling the position of the church with the experience of those who struggle to be seen for who they are, and not what they appear to be. This is what he wrote...
Post URL: http://mormanity.blogspot.com/2009/07/pondering-complexities-of-transgender.html
I am an active LDS High Priest and retired/disabled general surgeon. I have come to believe that transsexuals are part of a spectrum of disorders that resemble intersex abnormalities.
In doctors presented with a child with ambiguous genitalia recommended exploratory surgery to determine whether the child had ovaries or testis and to examine their internal genital anatomy. A decision was made regarding whether this infant's anatomy was mostly male or mostly female. A gender was assigned and surgery was performed to enhance the external appearance of one sex or the other.
That method of handling intersex person with ambiguous genitalia was eventually abandoned. Instead, infants with ambiguous genitalia and/or sex chromosome abnormalities were allowed to mature until they began to identify themselves as either male or female.
The sexual self-identity of a child is usually expressed clearly somewhere between the ages of 4-6. Now only when a CHILD is clear on what sex he or she THINKS he or she is, is surgery or hormonal therapy allowed to enhance that child's self perception of his or her sex. This policy has been regarded as so critical to desirable medical and surgical outcomes for persons with ambiguous genitalia that the UN has issued a policy statement on the matter.
In person with ambiguous genitalia or intersex conditions, THE CHILD determines his or her sex, not doctors and not parents and not bishops or other church leaders.
I believe the same policy should apply to trans-children who tell their parents, many around age 4, that they are a male or a female despite having genitalia that would suggest otherwise. This condition has been associated in the medical literature with trauma to the mother-child bond at an early age in some cases but also with intra-uterine exposure to what are called hormone disruptor's.
Hormone disruptor's are generally substances that have an estrogenic or anti-androgen effect on fetuses and include environmental estrogen from women on birth control pills or cattle placed on estrogen to fatten them for market, DES (diethylstilbesterol) banned in the 1960s, lead--leaded gasoline was banned in the 1970s--DDT, also banned in the 1970s, and other insecticides, and PCBs, a common environmental contaminant around plastic manufacturing plants. Genetic mutations and exposure to mutagens like radiation and a host of drugs now banned for use during pregnancy may also play a role.
In the case of DES, 1/4 of males exposed to this compound, which was placed in prenatal vitamins that were available without a prescription from the late 40's until it was banned, were transsexual, transvestite, or gay.
Animal studies confirm these findings both in the laboratory and in environmental studies. Unfortunately, the general public seems to more concerned about transsexual fish, amphibians, and birds than they are about transsexual humans.
Coming to earth from the spirit world during the last days when pollutions would abound, as Moroni prophesied, must have been a daunting decision for those would face the consequences of coming to a polluted mortal world in which the brain could have a gender that was different from the physical body.
It makes perfect sense to me that a premortal female spirit might be placed in a male-appearing body that had a female brain sex. The mind-spirit connection, again, I believe would trump any incongruity of the mind-body or the spirit-body connection.
I believe the public in general and the church in particular need to become aware of these findings and consider not only toleration but facilitation and assistance in helping these individuals achieve congruity and happiness in their lives, preferably at an early age rather than as an adult trying to cope with a sexual identity that has been thrust on him or her through social intimidation or physical and mental abuse.
James L. Hopkins, MD
I thank God for those with the humility to know that they do not know the will of God in all things. I thank God for those who do not understand but recognize and accept the difficulty of this experience and exemplify Christ-like attributes through unconditional love for others. I thank God for those who refrain from judgement. I thank God for those who have taken the time to learn and grow with us. Most importantly... I thank God for all of those who have loved us, supported us, lifted us up when we were down, and "lightened our load"... I thank God for our friends and sincerely pray that He will bless the lives of those who lack understanding. After all, there was a time in my own life when I did not understand the complexity of our circumstance. I thank God every day that he opened my heart, enlightened my spirit, and "introduced me" to the divine nature of my child.