TW: Policy exclusion of transgender individuals
BRANDY: Several weeks before Christmas, I stood in my kitchen wrapping pralines. It’s tedious, monotonous, work, and the worst part of making the damn things. My mind was racing, stressing, about all the things I still had to do before bed, before tomorrow, before I left town for a few days, before Christmas. My husband walked into the kitchen and something in his expression made me ask what was going on. He said, “You have four sons.” And I felt the floor fall out from under my feet.
For nearly fifteen years I’ve been the mother of one daughter, my second child out of four, but in that moment I felt the truth of those words. I have four sons. So many different moments from the last several years flashed through my mind, rapid fire, from one scene to the next: the pixie haircut I really struggled to like and the following refusal to do anything at all with it; the begging to cut even more of it off while sitting in the hairdresser’s chair; the thrill she got from people thinking that she was a dude (which absolutely killed my momma heart); the fights about makeup; about earrings; the preference for boy’s baggy clothes…
Suddenly I saw them all through a different lens. I stood there, mechanically wrapping pralines. I couldn’t speak. I barely made it through the batch before the tears slipped out, and I made a hasty exit to my room.
In the midst of the breakdown, as my heart shattered over the loss of my only daughter and the future I had imagined with her, I heard firm, healing words, spoken straight from heaven to my soul, “I have prepared you for this. It’s going to be okay.”
Several weeks have past since my husband discovered the revelation on our child’s phone (they know we reserve the right to check their social media). In that time, we’ve been growing closer in love as a family. We’ve chosen each other over everyone and everything else. We’ve struggled with a new name and new pronouns and have exercised both offering and asking forgiveness. We’ve shopped for new clothes, where I was publicly hugged by a beaming teenage boy.
His dad and I have heard, “Y’all are just so awesome! You’re the best!” We went for a new haircut, where I broke down and ugly cried in a barbershop bathroom. Twice. I finally had to just sit where I couldn’t see what was happening. We’ve written a letter to our families and received both clear, unwavering support, and radio silence. We’ve talked and cried with dear friends and been met with love and support. And we’ve been encircled and buoyed up by so many of our ward family and gossiped about by others.
We’ve talked to our bishop and stake president. We’ve begun grappling with what our future in the Church looks like. We’ve had meetings where we were blindsided by questions of our son’s worthiness to take the sacrament just because he’s changed his hair, his clothes, and chosen a new name. We’ve heard that “a young person may take this to mean that we don’t support them” and then been told of fresh, “new” church policy, which left me feeling like said young person would be right.
I’ve held it together while listening to a local leader discuss lesser degrees of glory with us and of getting my child “back on God’s path.” As if he left. As if he wasn’t being pushed out in ways both obvious and subtle. I’ve had to look my son in his eyes and tell him that he would not be welcome in Young Men. Not for class on Sunday, even though the young men are being taught out of the same manual as the Young Women, not for weekday activities, and absolutely not for youth camps. This was expected, but still devastating. In his own, tear-filled words: “I knew that first rejection—that first sting—would come. But I didn’t think it would come from Church.”
What kills me here is that the people we interact with on a regular basis have been amazing. There has been a huge outpouring of love and support, but I’m still not okay. I’m so angry that the Young Men leaders, and the young men themselves, were never even given the chance to include my son. They were never given the chance to be accepting, and to learn some empathy, to dispel some hateful or fearful stereotypes.
Maybe they would have been crappy toward my son (they are a bunch of teenage boys after all), but maybe not. Maybe it would have been okay. Maybe it could have been a huge affirming, steadying experience for my child. But we’ll never know.
Our bishop wants to help, I know he does. I know his empathy and concern for my son are genuine—he has mourned with us when we were mourning—but policy is preventing him being as affirming as he wants to be. I’m angry that it’s forcing him to go against his initial impulse to include and affirm. There are huge opportunities for membership at large to gain a deeper level of Christlike love, opportunities that are being taken from them by policy that is not founded in the doctrine of Christ, policy that feeds discrimination and rejection, and justifies exclusion. And that is not okay.
My son is fifteen-years-old. And they’ve begun pushing him out. I refuse to pretend that isn’t what’s happening. I’ve been very clear that he is under no obligation to attend, but he is one of the most self-assured, courageous people I’ve ever met. “The young women,” he says casually, “are still my friends.”
So, he sits in Young Women wearing slacks and shirt and tie. And he changes the wording of the Young Women theme in his head. And he prays for strength and checks the lesson topic each week. And he knows that he can leave the room the moment it becomes too much to bear.
Because I know that someday it will. I know the day will come when his religious environment will become too toxic, and he will have leave for the sake of his own well-being. And all I can do is hope that day comes before the rejection at the hands of those who bear the name of Jesus destroys his relationship with Christ forever.
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2 Replies to “My Trans Teen and the Sting of Being Active LDS”
I didn’t quite love the ward I was last active in before we moved and I “faded away,” but the youth knew my son was gay long before adult leadership did, and it was no big deal to them. The November 2015 policy arrived, and my child realized for the first time that the church he’d loved and served faithfully did not want him as he is: generous, gregarious, and completely unsuited to a life without a partner.
I have another child who is neither entirely male, nor entirely female, and suffers some dysphoria. Again, the youth were not the reason my child left, but because the teachings in seminary and on Sunday were consistent: you are wrong about who you think you are. “Why would I stay to be taught things that are untrue?”
I had a long conversation with my spouse tonight about this post. I found myself ranting in frustration at what your son and what your family are going through. What your Bishop is doing is hateful and dangerous. It reminds me of the Milgram experiment, where an authority figure gave instructions to a research subject to administer a dangerous shock to an innocent person. It is INSANE to force a boy who WANTS to go to church to sit in Young Women’s, especially during a very vulnerable time of transition.
If your husband (or your son’s father) attends Priesthood, can he just bring your son with him? And if the Bishop says that you’re not allowed to stay in there, then just SIT THERE. Sit there and don’t say anything disruptive or be rude. Sit there and just EXIST in that space and claim the right to EXIST as a boy. If he wants you to leave, he can have the police escort you out. And let that be the image that shows up on Salt Lake Tribune: the police physically removing a transgender child who is doing NOTHING disruptive from an LDS Church.
I know that you and your family may not want publicity. I am just so ANGRY reading this post and I feel like something should be done to protect our most vulnerable kids. Please know that you and your son are not alone.
If anyone out there wants to support a “transgender teens sit in” where our young adults stay in the class that aligns with their gender identity, I will sit with them!