READER POST: I’m encountering quite a bit of social media discussion right now about the labels people wear after Russell M. Nelson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, shared his thoughts about them on social media last Wednesday. As the mother of a teenage trans son, I’ve been processing my thoughts and feelings ever since. Before I share them, here’s what Pres. Nelson wrote:
Labels can be fun and indicate your support for any number of positive things. But if any label replaces your most important identifiers, the results can be spiritually suffocating. I believe that if the Lord were speaking to you directly, the first thing He would make sure you understand is your true identity. My dear friends, you are literally spirit children of God.
No identifier should displace, replace, or take priority over these three enduring designations: Child of God, Child of the covenant, Disciple of Jesus Christ.
Any identifier that is not compatible with those three basic designations will ultimately let you down. Make no mistake about it: Your potential is divine. With your diligent seeking, God will give you glimpses of who you may become. ~ Russell M. Nelson
I’d like to ask the LDS folks who are reading this to pause and consider how Pres. Nelson’s words land among those who are part of marginalized groups within the Church or among those of us who love and care for them. I think it’s important to give people the benefit of the doubt so I’m not trying to ascribe evil intentions to Pres. Nelson nor seeking to criticize him or anyone else who would write something similar.
Of equal importance, however, is accepting, and acknowledging, that intentions become irrelevant on impact. You don’t get to decide how other people feel about your words. In a serious moment, comedian Louis C.K. has said, “When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.”
Please don’t diminish the hurt felt by communities that you may not fully understand just because you don’t understand. You don’t have to “get it” to validate, or to hold space for, those who are hurting. Although every person and family is unique, some very fundamental things in the lives of LGBTQ members and their families have likely been broken and are repeatedly being prodded and rebroken–things like our trust in leaders and our church community, our sense of belonging, our belief in a one-size theology, and so much more. Those who are willing to witness and acknowledge these kinds of “divine hurts” without trivializing or preaching are seriously angels on Earth, and those through whom we, on the fringes, feel Christlike love.
Those labels mentioned by Pres. Nelson–child of God, child of the covenant, and disciple of Jesus Christ–are great. For a lot of you, they are comfortable, your lives fit very easily into the parameters of each identity, like shoes inside a perfectly sized box. That doesn’t make your life better or worse, easier or harder, more fulfilling or less than someone else for whom the labels don’t fit, or don’t fit in the same way they fit you. For a lot of people like my son and our family, those labels chafe against other labels that are held just as sacred, and our once neat and orderly boxes appear to have been tossed down a few flights of stairs.
Nowadays, my label as a mother of an LGBTQ child often precedes my label as a born and raised Latter-Day Saint. For the preservation of my own mental health, and the maintenance of carefully set boundaries regarding my child(ren) and the Church, that hierarchy is necessary. Relationships go both ways. Church policy and attitudes have had a direct impact on the order of that hierarchy. Just to be clear, I am no less a child of God because of the hierarchy of my identities. If Jesus were speaking to me directly, he wouldn’t shame me for wearing the wrong label. The first thing he’d do would be to tell me that he loves me. Period. Full stop.
Diminishing the labels that other people have taken on themselves, or that have been foisted on them by the very same society that privileges the labels cis gender, straight, white, male, and Christian is what’s really divisive about labels. Labels only get divisive if we let them. They’re meant to be informational. It’s prejudice that makes them divisive.
Problematizing people’s self-adopted labels automatically “others” them. You cannot exercise Christlike love for someone if you’ve decided they are a problem, that you need to “fix” their label, or ignore it, so that it matches your own. For some in the LDS LGBTQ community, Pres. Nelson’s statement feels very accusatory. It reads a bit like, “Your label is what’s causing the problem here. It’s got nothing to do with me, I’m fine. Can’t you just worry more about being a child of God and less about being queer? Your queerness is really uncomfortable for me.”
His statement is invalidating and dehumanizing. It discards any responsibility the Church has for adding to the discomfort that naturally comes from cognitive dissonance, it once again places blame somewhere else. Gender and sexuality are both a well proven spectrum, regardless of how each inconveniences Church leaders, who set policies and create cultural attitudes, or raises discomfort among devout members.
Both gender and sexuality are part of every child of God’s divine whole. My son is no less a child of God, a child of the covenant, or a disciple of Christ, because of his trans label than any other person. His being trans is far from the most interesting or divine part of who he is, but it is the part that society at large seems to have an almost perverse obsession with. He is not the one placing emphasis on that label over all others.
So, each Sunday, as you LDS folks sit in your chapels and classrooms, I’m just asking you to hold space for those who feel hurt by this very Instagram-able statement. You don’t have to understand the intricacies of the LGBTQ identities to validate them, to assure these marginalized communities that they are as important to God as you are, to reflect God’s love for them with your behavior.
And again, it is not the responsibility of those in ANY minority community to manage your discomfort, or to bear the burden of your education on how to have empathy.
The way you feel about someone else’s labels is 100% your responsibility.
Aubrey and her husband are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They reside in Texas with their four sons and Tuna and Pickles, the family’s two cats. Her hobbies are reading and sleeping. To read Aubrey’s other posts, type her name into the Search bar on the SQ Home page.
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