DEBORAH: She’d invited me to meet her at a favorite restaurant, one of our usual dives, even though its undergoing renovation. Sometimes we talked about our kids and school, or our husbands and the quirks of marriage, and occasionally about our own ambitions. Always, somehow, our lives as Latter-day Saints colored our conversations. To be honest, being a Latter-day Saint has become increasingly challenging for us both, largely for the disharmony between what the Church offers straight and queer populations. Yet neither of us imagined we’d be having this conversation—the one in which she agonizes over the just-made revelation that her son is her daughter, that he says he always has been and that he’s so, so sorry, can she forgive him? Sometimes hearts break over queso.
Before I say anything else, I want to make it clear that her trans child is extremely fortunate to call her Mom. Her first concern is this child’s mental health and she has thrown herself into finding the best, most affirming mental health care available in our area.
As she revealed her story to me, she expressed that she really doesn’t know where this journey will take her family—and that she’s fighting the urge to pack up and move away from relatives whose religious devotion may harm her child—but the one direction that is crystal clear to her is that she cannot return to the LDS Church. “Even if everyone there says the right things once they know he’s transgender, I can’t take him back to the place where he’s heard so much trash about people like him. I can’t tell him Jesus loves him and made him but doesn’t approve of him.”** Her eyes look through me.
I have a warrior’s heart. What rises in me is a fierce desire to protect her and her family, to slash out all the ignorant ideas and rhetoric that too often fills our church building. I want to change hearts and minds so that kids like hers have a refuge in our Church, but the most I can realistically hope for is superficial improvement. This warrior has no power, no authority. But I have words: the reality is, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is incapable of ministering to trans people. It is so preoccupied with rules and obedience to itself that pastoral care is strapped on the sacrificial alter and burned to ash.
“The covenant path” is a catchy term that has usefulness. However, when it comes to our LGBTQ members, the covenant path imposes restrictions that expect rejection from the Savior. For the rest of us, the covenant path opens a gate to the divine in anticipation of God’s mercy. This disparity exists even though all of us, whether straight or queer, are sinners. In Mormonism—and in many other religions—such mercy is not presumed accessible by queer members, not unless they behave like their cishet peers. I can’t think of a single time Jesus said, “Come unto me as soon as you behave like the right kind of Jew.”
Lip service is not care. “We love you” is not care when it takes disciplinary action against children of God who fully transition, or when it refuses to accept legal name changes on its official records, or denies trans people access to the church classroom experiences they desire. Pastoral care doesn’t look like this.
Pastoral care is love that is not found on a path, or a road, or a ladder. It is an expansive and inclusive state of being. It doesn’t move forward or backward. It expands like an ever-widening circle. The love of Christ never stops learning, never stops imagining or creating. Most importantly, it cannot be limited, especially by the messiness of mortality.
The broader society may have made great strides in its treatment of homosexual people, but it remains cruel to transgender individuals. Church should be a sanctuary where people come for respite from the cruelties of the world, not a place that inflicts cruelties. I’m broken-hearted for my friend and her trans child because I’ve seen how the Church sometimes confuses good with evil, an understandable by-product of using checklist definitions for complex concepts. I love my Church, but I’ll never love it more than the people in it.
I recognize that the select group of men who sit behind the power desks in the Church Office Building are called as revelators, but I also recognize that I’m called to be the same, right here, in my own home and for my own life. One thing I’ve learned in my private exercise of faith is that revelation cannot happen where there is no imagination; God cannot confirm what we cannot imagine. For this reason, I will continue to imagine a better world, a better Church, and a better people because I can testify this is what He wants. My friend and her trans child need you to do this with me.
**The trans teen has declined my friend’s offer to change pronouns. As such, she awaits her daughter’s lead and continues to refer to her daughter with masculine pronouns.
Sisters Quorum exists to give voice to those who are not being heard and is seeking submissions. If you have a story to tell, SQ invites you to visit our submission page for guidelines.