CW: The following article contains descriptions of transphobia, sexism, and sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised.
“Gender* is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose…We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.”The Family: A Proclemation to the World
*”The intended meaning of gender in ‘The Family: A Proclamation to the World’ is biological sex at birth.” – churchofjesuschrist.org
I sat in a dark classroom inside a church, my nine-year-old body fitting perfectly between the chalkboard and wall. I cried quietly as a Boys Scouts ceremony happened in the next room. My brothers received awards for activities I wasn’t allowed to do, receiving merit badges for shooting, hiking, and woodworking.
I couldn’t articulate my deep sense of injustice then or the looming gender dysphoria as I was painfully shown my place as a woman.
Everyone knew I was different. I was an ugly duckling, making waves in the regular ducks’ pond.
I was taken to a pitch-black room at my first “young women’s” activity (a youth group for girls 12-17). A leader placed a gold bow on my back and sent me inside. I stumbled through the room with obstacles placed around me and someone shuffling in the dark.
I tripped over a chair and caught myself on the hard gym floor. The person shuffling about snatched the bow off my back at that moment. I persevered to the end of the maze, where a picture of white Jesus was illuminated.
I was admonished for losing my virtue. The leaders told us that we would have our virtue taken from us if we weren’t careful and that navigating the world would be like navigating that dark room. Only through Jesus would we be forgiven.
The boys played basketball in the other half of the gym while we received this lecture.
That night, I wrote in my diary that I would swear to protect my virtue at all costs. I anxiously scribbled away, feeling the world’s weight on my shoulders. I was responsible for keeping every bad thing from happening to me, or at least that was the message I got.
Sexism and Dysphoria
“Why are women not allowed to have the priesthood?” I asked once again. Adults never seemed to answer my questions straightforwardly, and I was determined to get an answer.
“Because women have an advantage over men. They can have kids! God had to give the priesthood to men to make it more even.”
“Women do have the priesthood! Women are lucky they can receive the gifts of the priesthood without having the responsibilities of holding the priesthood.”
“Wives exert priesthood power through their husbands. They don’t need the priesthood to receive the blessings.”
“The prophet speaks for God, and he has revealed that men have the divine right to the priesthood. We don’t know whether that will change in the future.”
I didn’t understand their answers. Women universally couldn’t have children or were married. I was more than willing to take on extra responsibilities if it meant I could hold an esteemed position of spiritual power. Believing something because someone said it was true didn’t make sense to my autistic brain either.
I still don’t understand their answers, and at some point stopped trying to understand.
Every time I asked, I was reminded that God had made a mistake. I wasn’t meant to serve underneath a man. I deserved the same rights as my brothers. And I didn’t have any path to correct that mistake. If God was so perfect, why did he place me in harm’s way?
That’s what I asked myself when my “virtue” was stolen in real life. I learned it was my fault, that I hadn’t done enough to protect it. I had fallen like in that dark room.
Because I had been born a girl, my assault was seen as a personal transgression. I was rejected by my peers and left to process the feeling of discordance with my own body.
Finding My Body in a Starbucks
Years later, I sat in a mall Starbucks in North Carolina. I anxiously filled out pages in My Gender Workbook.
I meditated on my life and understanding of myself. I was prompted to think about “what makes a woman a woman?” My experiences flooded, reminding me of every stereotype and attitude I had internalized. I quickly shot them down with the thought, “But is every woman like that?”
I couldn’t ontologically address what the essence of womanhood was. And at that moment, the binary bullsh*t became clear. There was no single essence of womanhood. I was lied to my whole life. And if there wasn’t a singular definition of woman or man, which did I want to be? The answer was clear. I was born in the wrong body.
“Lieu!” the barista called out, my new masculine name on the cup. I grabbed my cup, grinning. Years of gender suppression had been lifted all at once. I was a free man.
Trading One Injustice for Another
Last month, Utah became the 12th state to forbid trans kids in sports, overturning a veto from the governor. Out of 75,000 kids in Utah high school sports, only four are trans, and only one was in girl’s sports. The bill literally targets four individuals. There is no excuse for this.
BYU is currently under investigation for its treatment of LGBTQ+ students, which alleged discrimination goes beyond their exemptions as a private religious institution under Title IX. Half of the LGBTQ+ students surveyed said they didn’t feel safe at BYU.
82% of trans youth in Utah have experienced some form of mistreatment. 56% of trans people that interacted with police said they experienced some injustice, 34% had been mistreated by a healthcare professional, 43% have experienced homelessness, and 1 in 5 had a professional try to stop them from being trans (U.S. Transgender Survey Utah Report, 2015).
Being trans in Utah is not just inconvenient, it’s life-threatening. There is discrimination on every systemic level, and there are many contributing factors; political, cultural, structural, and interpersonal.
There has to be a fundamental shift in how we view gender minorities in Utah to solve this problem.
We’ve already gathered data. We need to increase education for professionals so there are more trans-friendly practitioners. We need to improve education in the general community about what being trans is and separate it from politics. We need to teach children about their trans peers, teach adults about transition’s realities and understand transitioning is not a choice but a medical necessity.
I’m a program director at a small non-profit called Genderbands that focuses on helping fund transition. When 29% of trans people and roughly 40% of BIPOC trans people live in poverty, one of the most significant barriers to transition is financial.
You can help by supporting trans-led organizations like this and writing or calling legislators. Attend protests. Let them know that transphobia is unacceptable.
The steps to fix the problem are not small. It requires a community to move forward with this level of action. We need allies rallying behind the cause through volunteering and being public about their support. We need funding for local trans organizations and greater access to low-income care. We need education on a broad scale in schools and health offices. There is a lot of work for trans people in Utah (and everywhere) to be accepted.
Validating the Hurt
One of the most shocking parts of my transition is what it’s like to live in the world as a white man. I can confidently say my life has gotten much easier because of how others see me. Before transitioning, I understood that my struggles were largely due to my gender but being validated in such a concrete way broadened my understanding of gender and intersectional privilege.
Some of the ways I experience privilege now are that I’m no longer harassed when I’m going about my daily life. I’m taken more seriously, my ideas are seen as more credible. I’m not critiqued for being “outspoken” and I don’t have to be as hypervigilant about my surroundings.
My experience seeing my PTSD improve after transition both supports the medical necessity for transition and the idea that treating symptoms of trauma like they are isolated from systemic oppression doesn’t work. My hypervigilance improved because of removing the system of oppression that required me to be hypervigilant, not because of any groundbreaking therapeutic technique.
I have the unique experience of living as both a man and a woman and can validate that women are not crazy in their experience of oppression. Living as a man in Utah has been a much more positive experience, as long as I’ve passed.
It’s about time that we stop gaslighting minorities living in Utah and take steps to understand and uplift minority experiences.