Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Trouble with Jack(ie):
A Thought Experiment

Note: When dealing with transgender issues and the Church, pronouns are a tricky business. Does one allow the self identification of the person in question to carry more weight than the Church's insistence on the eternal nature of gender regardless of an individual's psychology? Luckily, the BYU Writing Center provides an alternative! "Werf," a genderless pronoun the BYUWC coined in order to avoid the awkward "he or she" construction and it's cousins, seems to be tailor-made for such a situation, and thus will be in use below.

Jackie was presented to werf's proud parents wrapped in a pink blanket. Werf had two X chromosomes, and the usual complement of reproductive organs. As werf grew though, things got more complicated. Werf felt like werf was in the wrong body. Finally, in college, werf bit the bullet and identified as a male, named Jack. Werf underwent breast reduction surgery and took hormone treatments, trading in a brassiere for a husky baritone voice and patchy facial hair.

But the complications were not over for Jack. Werf fell in love with a gay man, and since it was legal in their state, married him. (Note: Jack had no surgical interventions "south of the border," so to speak. Werf still had a uterus, etc.)

Then Jack and werf's husband met the missionaries. They were converted. They wanted to join the Church. As per the most recent iteration of the CHI:
Baptism and confirmation of a person who has already undergone an elective transsexual operation require the approval of the First Presidency. ... However, such persons may not receive the priesthood or a temple recommend.
So if the call were yours to make, what would you do regarding Jack, werf's husband, and their future involvement in the church?

Consider the following:

•According to LDS teachings, Jack is a woman, married to a man. This is not a gay marriage.

•Does breast reduction really count as an "elective transsexual operation"? After all, plenty of LDS women have plastic surgery. If it does count, what is the minimum cup size you can choose and still be considered an Relief Society member?

•What concessions do Jack and werf's husband have to make to enjoy the full benefits of Church participation (barring the issue of Jack's being ordained)? Does Jack need to get implants? Is it enough if Jack dresses in drag (ie: women's clothing) for Church activities? What if werf wears a kilt? Do the hormone treatments have to stop, or is it sufficient to shave regularly (after all, everyone knows at least one RS member that sports a mustache!)? Does Jack need to consider werf's-self female? Since that would be entirely a matter of personal identity, and therefore internal, how could Church officers police that––regardless of the clothing werf wears, how can you tell the difference between Jack(ie)'s regarding werf's-self as a gay man or a straight female?

•For that matter, what about Jack's husband? Does he have to stop considering himself a gay male?

Rules: You don't get to say, "Just follow the Spirit." That's cheating, and for our purposes, like, totally lame. Besides, even LDS teachings suggest that's a cop out (D&C 9:8).


Latter-day Guy said...

From a reader who wishes to remain anonymous (or at least less nonymous):

I'm going to speak of Jackie as a her, because I don't believe that anyone in this life gets to decide that they are an exception to the gender rule. I am open to the idea that on the other side, it could be sorted out that Jackie is the husband and the gay man she married is the wife. I don't think, however, that as a matter of temporal administration such decisions are possible. But then, maybe that's why these things go to the Brethren. I'd probably run all of the below past the First Presidency as my thoughts and invite them to take the case if they disagreed.

If I were Jackie's priesthood leader, I would tell her that she needs to embrace the church doctrine concerning gender identity. I would point out that she is married to a man, anyway, so the doctrine should not cause any disruption to her relationship. Jack would need to become Jackie again in her own mind. She would have to accept the Brethren as the current prophets and apostles in order to be baptized anyway, which to my mind includes the recurrent teaching that gender is eternal and that we in effect accept the hand (or sex organ) that is dealt to us. Jackie and her husband would be free to adjust the primary responsibilities of each spouse to their proclivities (i.e., nurturing versus providing); thank God there's that much flexibility in the Proclamation. The hormone treatments, however, would have to stop because they are a sign of her rebellion against God and His will once she has been taught it.

As for her appearance... I would review Romans 14: 13-15, 21 and explain that it is her responsibility not to undermine the faith of others through her non-essential choices. (Side note: I am being pricked right now by the Spirit about drinking caffeine around those who believe it sinful, which I think explains my point.) I would then advise, not require, that she take on a more feminine appearance in order to avoid causing the weak to stumble. I would explain that this needed to be her own decision out of her charity for her fellow Saints and her desire not to put a stumblingblock in their way, and that she need not make this change until she felt she could do so without resentment (see Moroni 7).

If Jackie got angry or defensive about these teachings, I would not allow her to be baptized and I would explain that she did not exhibit the broken heart and contrite spirit required (D&C 20:37).

Then I would beg and plead with the First Presidency again to support or correct me.

Also, I have no idea what to do about hermaphroditism.

Latter-day Guy said...

An interesting response, less nonymous, on which much might be said.

For my money, the most intriguing line was this: "I am open to the idea that on the other side, it could be sorted out that Jackie is the husband and the gay man she married is the wife."

This sounds like you believe that homosexuality is primarily a matter of gender confusion. (Feel free to correct me if that's inaccurate.) And in LDS literature, until very recently, that has been a fairly common theme. One I happen to disagree with, but your comment makes me wonder if it might not be more widely accepted than I'd ever supposed.

As far as becoming "Jackie again in her own mind," I wonder how this can be discerned by anybody but Jack(ie). Do you just have to take werf at werf's word?

On a personal note, your caffeine guilt grieves me deeply, and you are in my prayers. They can take away my Dr Pepper when they pry the aluminum can from my cold, dead, yet still-quivering-with-stimulant fingers.

Also, I have no idea what to do about hermaphroditism either. But considering that 1/100 children born are sexually ambiguous to one degree or another, SOMEBODY had better figure out what to do about it!

Lisa said...

This is a tough one! Essentially it comes down to what Jack is WILLING to do. There are things in the church that cannot and will not change. And in this case, I think anonymous has it right in most cases. Jack would probably have to become a girl again in order to hold callings. Unless she was lucky enough to get a bishop and church leaders who are less concerned about temporal things and more concerned about what Jack has to contribute as a spritual human being.

However, if it were up to me, I'd tell Jack to do what werf felt was right. I think that's something that should be left between him and God. Too many times in my church life, I've seen the natural man (okay, bishops)use their "mantle" to dole out advice, punishment, etc... when really, it has nothing to do with him, and everything to do with Him. Can you maybe tell I have a problem with male authority in the church? :-)

Also, I think Anonymous meant well with the appearance thing, but that is something I have a GIANT problem with. When we get past a certain age, I believe that we all have the ability to control our thoughts. I shouldn't have to dress a certian way in order to please or appease anyone. (I recently had a relief society leader tell a large group of women not to wear t-shirts, brand names, or shoes that are made of rubber.)We're all adults and should know how to act like them at least in church settings.

My heart aches for Jack and I wish that it could be easy for werf. The God I know, would want werf to join the church regardless of cup size.

Latter-day Guy said...

Clarification from less nonymous (who is, by the way, a class-act fellow):

I just want to clarify that I see no definite, bound-in-doctrine reason for rejecting the gender confusion idea as the source of homosexuality. I was in fact trying to telegraph that I did not embrace the idea, despite the possibility presenting itself to me.

Now that you've called my more focused attention to it (it was more of an aside in the original comment), it doesn't make sense that things would be shaken up on the other side of the veil. Gender is gender in the eternities, right? I think you may have shored up my stance against the gender confusion idea just by making me think about it. This is why I follow your blog (that, and how hard I laugh at images like your Dr. Pepper being pried from your hands... which reminds me, I don't feel guilty about drinking caffeine, per se, but about drinking it in front of people for whom that causes offense, if that helps).

My wife (now I'm even bit more nonymous) also said something that intrigued me and further persuaded me against the gender-confusion-causes-homosexuality idea. To summarize it bluntly, she basically said she imagines that masculine women and feminine men probably make excellent couples in some cases. I think that might be true, in some respects, and that some of these line-blurrers might be encouraged into homosexual lifestyles and activities because a) society has cast them in these roles based on their certain atypical characteristics; b) society encourages particularly men to look for a certain kind of woman and pretty harshly castigates deviation from that script; c) it is probably hard to find just the right member of the opposite sex to whom he or she could be attracted; and d) society is so hypersexualized that all choices are related back to sexual desire (jobs are sexy, cars are sexy, etc.), so of course your choice of movies/music/books/avocation must say something about your sexual identity! I don't mean to make it sound as if society itself is solely to blame (or that there even need be blame assigned to anyone) for all homosexual feeling or activity. Those are just the points that come immediately to mind concerning how external factors could change internal beliefs in the absence of solid moral instruction and extensive personal spiritual experience.

As for taking Jackie at her word, I think the church generally operates that way and I have no problem with it. If Moroni will release Lamanite prisoners who promise not to fight the Nephites anymore out of trust in their word, I think we can let individual assertions of spiritual standing go uninvestigated (unless, of course, the priesthood leader gets backhanded by the Holy Ghost, which I'm sure happens on occasion).

Latter-day Guy said...

"The God I know, would want werf to join the church regardless of cup size."

In a nutshell, Lisa, this is the kind of thing that makes you so awesome. :-)

bizzzler said...

Anonymous here, acting without using the Latter-Day Guy as my advocate with the internet. Should've realized I could just use my other Google account to comment in order to escape the googlings of prospective employers.

I want to clarify my point about the appearance issue, because I agree with Lisa that the standards suggested by the probably-well-meaning sister are absurd. I disagree, however, with the idea that we're all adults here. Kids are everywhere at church, and if they see what appears to be two married, homosexual men actively participating in church, it's going to be awfully hard for the parents to teach those children that God cannot look on homosexual behavior with the least degree of allowance. (I'm already worried my kids won't grasp, as so many youth seem not to, the difference between behavior and inclination.)

My suggested advice to Jackie would be in the vein of, "There are many young, impressionable, unsophisticated minds that will not understand your situation. They and their parents may face serious obstacles in their progression because of your choice to take on a masculine appearance. I believe that charity requires Saints to avoid, if at all possible, putting such stumblingblocks in others' paths, but I will not require that as your priesthood leader. Rather, I will invite you to make it a matter of prayer. Please do not make the change until you feel you can do so without resentment so that it is done out of charity." I should also clarify that I'm not suggesting that she refill her cups, by any means (man, I wish I had Lisa's ability to turn a phrase). If a bow can tell kids that it's Pacwoman, not Pacman, something similarly subtle ought to work for Jackie.

I hope that makes my original point more clear. I believe we're all accountable, to some extent, for whether we help or hinder others with our choices. (I think Paul's counsel to avoid the appearance of evil and Alma's chastisement of Corianton for how his actions affected Alma's missionary work only make sense if we accept this principle.) The Lord adapted the WoW to the weakest of the Saints, and I believe we ought to do the same with our behavior. However, while I would feel comfortable sharing that principle as a suggestion, I would not make acceptance of it a requirement for baptism. The Lord didn't, after all.

I would temper the principle with reasonableness, by the way. It may be wiser, in some cases, to pull an idiosyncratic-and-outspoken Saint aside to explain other views/situations than to allow that person to bully everyone else. I may be that Saint someday (now?), and if one some dark day I'm an intolerantly pontificating windbag, I hope somebody straightens me out.