Welcome to Tween Talk for Latter-day Saints! This week, episode 16 of Tween Talk is about gender and sexuality.
Tween Talk Episode #16
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Tween Talk 16 Transcript
Here are the different resources discussed in episode 16 of Tween Talk.
Have you ever wondered why there’s so much confusion in the world about gender?
Hey y’all, welcome back! I’m so glad to have you here.
Today we’re doing the last in our little miniseries of the Law of Chastity. And today we’re going to talk about something really important: gender identity and sexual attraction.
I know a lot of you are in public school. Or even if you’re homeschooled, you probably know public school kids.
There is a huge trend right now where tweens and teens are saying that they identify with a gender that is different than what they are born with.
That’s really hard, because a lot of them feel really deeply that they were born male but are really female (or visa-versa).
Some of you may even be feeling pressure from those friends, or even from teachers, that you should declare yourself something other than you are.
Or you may feel that way yourself.
It’s hard. It’s confusing.
The prophet and apostles have spoken about this, but it seems like you have to be one side or the other, and there’s no middle ground anywhere.
But I’m here to tell you that there IS.
There is hope.
There’s a way to find balance.
So let’s get to it! We’ll start with sexual identity.
Before we get into the doctrine, I want to be clear about something:
People who are talking about gender identity fall into one of two categories.
Either they genuinely are struggling with the gender they were born with, or they’re victim to the fads and culture of the present day.
Let’s talk about each of those categories.
Right now, it’s become super common for people to say they don’t identify with the gender or sex they were born with.
If they were born biologically male, they may now say they want to use they pronouns they/them, or even she/her. They don’t want to be put into a box.
Part of the issue comes from the fact that our culture has some gender norms. Girls are supposed to like dresses and want to do their hair and nails. Boys aren’t supposed to cry and are supposed to like being athletic.
If you’re a boy who wants to look dress nicely, you’re suddenly labeled girly.
Or if you’re a girl who enjoys playing football and doesn’t wear makeup, you’re called a “tomboy.”
So if a little boy wants to wear a princess dress, he’s often told that “dresses are for girls.” Over time, he begins to wonder if maybe he was supposed to be a girl since he likes “girl” things.
We also have a growing trend for youth to declare specific pronouns. You probably know a lot of people at school who prefer to go by he/him or she/her or they/them, often in contrast to what they were born as.
This trend actually does a big disservice to those who are truly struggling with gender identity.
There is an excellent resource on the Church’s website about “Transgender.” That’s where we’re going to get a lot of this information.
So let’s hit the doctrine. The Family Proclamation to the World, which was written in the 90s, long before this was a large societal issue.
The Proclamation clearly states, “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.”
So remember when we talked in the very first episode about living with Heavenly Father? We had a gender, even then.
It’s more than our bodies – it’s our spirits.
But because our bodies are mortal and imperfect, sometimes things happen.
My stomach doesn’t fully work because of my Crohn’s disease.
People struggle with mental health issues like depression or bipolar disorder (which we will go into detail in a future podcast).
Those are trials that we all go through in this life that aren’t a sin, and they aren’t the fault of anyone else.
It’s part of this mortal, imperfect life.
It’s about seeing if we will align our will with God’s, even when our bodies make it incredibly difficult to do so, and we may not see an answer.
If I’m having a day where my pain is high, that doesn’t give me free license to yell at my kids. Sure, it’s understandable that I’m short on patience because of pain, but the test is to see if my spirit is stronger than my body.
Additionally, Heavenly Father has inspired wise men and women over the years to create medications to help with things like my Crohn’s disease, or cancer, or mental illness.
I bring these things up not to lump feelings of gender identity confusion or homosexuality as physical or mental ailments.
But I AM lumping them in with the fact that we are all given extremely difficult trials that we need to overcome in this life, because God IS testing us.
Remember – He can only give His power to those who have shown that they will do HIS will, no matter the circumstances.
And that is NOT easy sometimes.
I was once given a priesthood blessing when I was very, very sick with my Crohn’s. I was hoping for a blessing of healing, but instead the Lord told me that “my health would be the great trial of my life.”
For some of you, the great trial of your life might be gender identity.
And there’s a lot of confusing information out there.
The world says to be true to how you feel.
And the doctrine – the fact that your gender is eternal – may feel like it’s telling you that you’re wrong.
But contrary to popular belief of both the world AND uninformed members of the Church, there IS room for you here.
And it’s NOT by repressing your feelings.
The doctrine and application are outlined pretty clearly in the Church’s handbook in section 38.6.23.
It first starts out saying, “Transgender individuals face complex challenges. Members and nonmembers who identify as transgender—and their family and friends—should be treated with sensitivity, kindness, compassion, and an abundance of Christlike love.”
If anyone is treating someone who is transgender otherwise, they ARE WRONG.
Now, the Church does have some applications. Those who start transitioning with surgeries can face Church membership restrictions with regards to the priesthood and temple.
However, anyone who feels transgender feelings and is not pursuing medical, surgical, or social efforts to change themselves to the opposite gender ARE worthy to receive Church callings AND temple recommends and ordinance.
And even further, some children, youth, and adults are prescribed hormone therapy by a licensed medical professional to help reduce suicidal thoughts or ease gender dysphoria.
In fact, I have a good friend who is doing that right now. His name is William. He’s a convert and was baptized into the Church when he was in high school. He attended BYU, served a mission, was married in the temple, and has two children.
And for the last several years, he has struggled with suicidal thoughts because of feelings that he should be a woman.
I reached out to him as I wrote this podcast, and I want to share his words with you here:
The one question I tend to hear the most is “How can you be trans and a Mormon/member of the Church?” My status causes both inside and out of the Church a lot of confusion. My practiced answer is usually “Being trans doesn’t invalidate the existence of God, and the existence of God doesn’t make me not trans, so I’m not sure where the problem is.” Sass aside, for most, being true to who I am as someone who is trans, while being true to my Heavenly Parents seems impossible. These two appear to be opposites, and to some incompatible.
Of course, its not easy. Being trans isn’t easy to begin with, and trying to balance these two often feels impossible. However, most people seem to misunderstand why I struggle. My problem isn’t that I want to be a woman, or I want to become a woman, or I identify as a woman. My problem is that I am one, but I am a lot of other things as well.
I’ve been told many times that the Family Proclamation, an amazing document that I love, should clear up my “gender confusion.” The Proclamation reveals many important truths, like the gender of our spirit in the Premortal life is the same sex that we are here. That helps me who I was before, but it doesn’t make any different than I am now. Our ethnicity, nationality, and may other things about us that are important on Earth aren’t going to really play a role in the eternities, but they are still important to who we are today. Regardless of how I was before Earth life or how I will be in the next life, being who I am today is still an essential part of who I am in this life, just as much as being a priesthood holder, or being a spouse and parent are.
Imagine someone who loses their sight after an accident or disease. After regaining the ability to see thanks to a new medical device or surgery, they are no longer blind but still have the years of experience and identity of being someone who is blind. That will continue to shape who they are and how they see the world for years to come.
Each of my identities shape my life, but my most important identity relates to my relationship with God. The Prophet Joseph Smith talked about how some gospel principles, like justice and mercy, seem to be opposites, but through the Lord, they are made compatible. This impossible combination shows us the truth of the gospel. My basket of seemingly opposing identities are united by me being a child of Heavenly Parents and a disciple of Jesus Christ. As I focus on living a Christ-like life and trying to build my faith in him, the Lord blesses me to be true to how he created me in this life while continuing to follow the commandments.
Each of us had a unique journey. I want to continue to serve in the Church so I follow the current guidelines they’ve given. I wear socially acceptable men’s clothing and hair styles, but ones that are androgynous and I like. I take hormones to reduce my dysphoria, something that has increased my mental health and general well being significantly. I love to bake, crochet, knit, sew, garden etc. Not because they are considered feminine activities, but because I really enjoy them and don’t pressure myself to like dude things I have no interest in. You might do things differently and that’s okay.
We should pray to ask for guidance, get guidance from parents, local church leaders, mental health professionals, and those who have done this all before. You can receive divine help in knowing the best ways to treat your dysphoria while being yourself and continuing to serve in the Church. I know it can seem impossible to understand yourself, love yourself fully, and follow the commandments and fit in the Church. Many family members or others at church won’t understand and may even not be aware of the most recent counsels of the prophets and will repeat old and bigoted beliefs. This can make trying to come closer to Christ, and feeling the Spirit so much harder. But know that your Heavenly Parents love you, and Christ loves you. Hold on to their love, and together each of us will continue to build a culture where anyone can feel welcome and loved at church.
Isn’t that just incredible? William is such a tremendous example to me of faith and a desire to do God’s will and keep true to his testimony, no matter what.
And homosexuality is the same way.
The doctrine for homosexuality is simply the Law of Chastity.
Sexual relations are meant to be between a man and woman who are married to each other.
But just like we talked about in the last several podcasts, attraction and feelings, and even physical reactions due to hormones, are NOT sins in themselves.
Elder M. Russell Ballard said in a CES devotional for young adults in 2014, “Let us be clear: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes that ‘the experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them. “
The Church has an entire website dedicated to this topic: www.mormonsandgays.com.
One of the parts on here that I love says: “If you’re asking yourself whether you’re gay, you’ve probably experienced same-sex attraction and are wondering how to interpret these feelings. Sexual desires are complex and shaped by many factors. While a romantic, emotional, or sexual attraction can signal a sexual orientation, you should not automatically assume that it does. Sexual desire can be fluid and changeable. If you are questioning, you should not feel pressured or rushed to reach conclusions about your sexuality.”
I think this also applies to gender identity.
There is SO much pressure right now, probably from your peers, like friends at school, to CHOOSE what you are. They want you to say what pronouns you want to use and admit you’re attracted to one gender or the other or both or none.
It’s not cool anymore to be straight and be the gender you were born with.
And that’s all Satan.
And you know what? It’s actually kind of harmful to those who are TRULY struggling with this.
If you’re just feeling confused because of outside pressure, please stand strong. Stay true to your testimony.
Look to examples of those who have the same struggles as you and are firm in their testimonies.
There may be someone in your ward. If there isn’t someone you know, one wonderful example is Tom Christofferson, who is gay.
He is actually the brother of the apostle D. Todd Christofferson, and their family has always showed Tom love and support, even when he left the Church for decades.
I had the privilege of meeting Tom a few years ago, and I later read his book, “That We May Be One.” There’s a link for it up on the blog, www.savingtalents.com/podcast
But please know that you are not evil because of your desires.
You are not unwelcome at Church because of the attractions you feel.
I know it may feel hopeless, though.
If you think you’re supposed to be another gender, the idea that God will force you to eternally be in the “wrong” gender sounds awful.
Or if you are attracted to people of your same gender, the idea of an eternal marriage with the opposite sex may seem terrifying.
And that is where faith comes in.
I can promise you that if you stay faithful to your covenants you’ve made at baptism, to keep the commandments, including the Law of Chastity, God will not doom you to a life of eternal misery.
I DON’T know how it will all work out.
And I know that committing to living the Law of Chastity when you’re gay may mean a life of loneliness without an eternal partner.
But I think the alternative may be worse.
Remember when we talked about the Law of Chastity, and I told you that one reason for not exclusively dating younger is because unless you marry that person, you’ll have to break up with them?
The same holds true for relationships in this life that aren’t sealed in the temple.
So you may fall in love with someone of the same gender, marry them according to the law, and even have children with them – but then at death, you’ll be apart again.
And you’ve put your exaltation – your ability to live with God in the Celestial Kingdom – at risk, becuase you didn’t keep the commandments of God and didn’t repent or change.
You decided your desires and feelings were more important to be filled than the sacrifice to follow God’s will.
I know it’s a sacrifice.
I have several friends who are part of the “gay community.” I’ve seen the different paths they take. When they’re like my friend William, I cheer for joy.
But when they give in and violate the Law of Chastity, it only leads to heartache and sorrow.
Now, by “give in” and “violate the Law of Chastity” I want to be very, very, VERY clear.
This does NOT mean you repress those feelings.
It does NOT mean you try to deny they exist and try to pretend to be straight by dating the opposite gender.
It does NOT mean you should go get married in the temple, trying to hope to “pray away the gay” or that being married will cure you.
It does NOT mean that if you’re good and go on a mission and do all the right things, God will magically change your desires and attractions.
That path of repression only leads to heartache and failure.
Just like we would never tell a straight young man or young woman to never feel attraction at all, the same applies to homosexual feelings.
If you’re a young man, and you find yourself attracted to another young man, there is no sin in it.
Satan would try to get you to feel shame and self-loathing or disgust for yourself. Because those feelings block the Holy Ghost from helping you feel God’s love for you.
So find someone you can be honest with about this. Maybe your parents, or a Church teacher, or the bishop.
Let them help you get the resources you need.
And if you feel like you have no one, please reach out to me.
You can send me a message on my website, and I will be there for you to help you find resources you can trust to help find the balance between being honest and true to yourself AND keeping your covenants and staying true to your testimony.
It’s not easy.
But it’s worth it. It’s so worth it.
And when you feel lonely in this journey, please please remember that the Savior loves you. He suffered the emotional pain and anguish and confusion you’re going through! Just like we talked about in the second episode, there was a moment in the Garden of Gethsemane where He thought YOUR name and He felt YOUR life.
The Law of Chastity is probably one of the most difficult commandments, but it’s the one that will bring the most rewards in the end.
And as others work through their applications of it, we need to not judge them.
That’s what we’re going to talk in a few weeks – judging others.
But before that, I’ve actually had SEVERAL of you reach out to request a podcast about patriarchal blessings. So we’ll do that one next time!
I’ll see y’all then.