Hi, my name is Kris. I’m a spouse, a parent, a student at BYU, and a Mormon. Oh, and I’m transgender. I’m pretty ordinary, but even ordinary people have a story to tell.
I love this church. I was born into it, but I’ve also gained my own testimony of many principles we are taught. Yet we are also commanded to study out things out in our minds and pray to learn if they are true. In our faith, we place a huge emphasis on personal revelation. Our church was quite literally founded on it.
I’ve said before that I don’t receive personal revelation in the way that we speak about most often in Church. For years I felt like maybe I was broken or my gender identity made me an abomination who couldn’t receive personal revelation. But occasionally, when I’m trying to make an important decision, I will be filled with a quiet calm and peacefulness. This happened when I was praying about whether or not I should marry Nate, and when I was trying to choose a major at BYU. And it has happened again as I consider top surgery. I know this peace isn’t from me—if it were just me I’d have far more nervousness than I do. What am I supposed to think? I’m confident that this must be personal revelation.
We believe that Satan cannot imitate feelings of peace or calm. So where, then, can this come from? You’ve told me before that no surgery can bring me happiness, yet few things have brought me more temporal happiness than my hysterectomy. My uteruslessness brings me joy if not on a daily basis then DEFINITELY on a monthly one!
You’ve also said that this cannot bring me closer to Christ. I’ve carefully considered that. But consider not only the dysphoria I live with, but also the debilitating depression. I’m not naive enough to believe that top surgery will cure either of these, but if I can do anything to alleviate either of them, I will do it. Frankly, if amputating a leg or my hands or my eyes could cure my depression I wouldn’t hesitate. I’ve begged God for years to take this away, to heal me of SOMETHING, but He hasn’t. Maybe this is His way of giving me a step to take to lessen this pain. Between fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, daily migraines, dysphoria, anxiety, and depression, this is something I can do to help a few of those things (as you remember, my neurologist told me that top surgery could help alleviate my migraines.) If I had fewer “earthly challenges,” maybe I wouldn’t need to do this. I’d LOVE fewer trials or less intense ones, at least. But these are lifelong issues. Because chronic illnesses cannot be cured, I’m stuck.
I don’t want anyone to think that this is a decision I’ve made lightly. I’ve researched this surgery for 5 years. I wish I could describe the relief and joy I felt when I learned top surgery was even possible. I had literally been praying to get breast cancer since I was 11, because that’s the only way I knew of getting breasts removed (by the way, top surgery takes my risk of breast cancer from 50% to 0%.) I have yet to find an account of someone who has had this surgery and regretted it. I’ve talked to both a psychiatrist and a therapist for 18 months. Both of them are LDS and I have letters from both of them recommending I proceed, and the support of my general practitioner, also LDS, who I have been seeing for 11 years. I have also interviewed 3 plastic surgeons, so I think it’s more than fair to say I’ve done my homework. I made a point of NOT talking to my transgender care doctor, because I felt she’d be too biased.
Here’s the main issue I think we have: I am not changing my gender by having top surgery. I will still exist as female and live a female life. I tried out testosterone and it wasn’t for me. Having no breasts isn’t a sex change; if it was, people who’ve had mastectomies for breast cancer and back pain would be considered male. People have breast reductions all the time and don’t face discipline. Frankly, my medical decisions are none of the church’s business. Nobody got involved for my hysterectomy; why is this any different? If you didn’t know I was trans, you would you have even gotten involved?
Bishop, I love you. I value our relationship so much. I listen to your counsel and consider it carefully. But I do not understand why church discipline is a consequence of this surgery. My breasts should not matter this much to the Church or to you. The Church is my spiritual home. I am trying so hard to hold on and remain faithful, but honestly it feels like I am in abusive relationship and I don’t know what to do. I am always waiting for the next painful policy to drop. I want to feast upon the words of Christ but I am never allowed to sit at the table. How much longer can I hold onto the rod when the Church is whipping at my fingers?
I know this is a lot to take in. I just wanted to email you so you can get a sense of where I’m at before we meet on Sunday. I hope you can continue to welcome me, regardless of what my chest looks like, to Christ’s table.
My name is Kris. I’m 32 years old and I am an asexual transman. I have never been physically sick because of anxiety before, but the reversal of November 2015’s Policy of Exclusion in the LDS Church left me ill for three days. I dreaded April General Conference. I felt like I had spiritual (and physical!) whiplash.
The Policy of Exclusion, or PoX, stated that those in same-gender relationships were committing apostasy and must be excommunicated. If they had children, those children were not allowed to be baptized in the LDS church until they had turned 18, disavowed their parent’s “lifestyle,” and received approval from the First Presidency.
My story with the PoX is not nearly as painful as others. For me personally, I had just come out a month prior to the PoX’s release. I was so excited to come out because I finally knew the word for my gender identity and I didn’t have to feel like a freak or alone anymore.
But November 2015 saw me lying in my bathtub almost every day trying to work up the courage to end it all. The only reason I am still here is I knew that my 7-year-old son would be the one to find me. I couldn’t do that to him. That knowledge is the only reason I am still alive. No antidepressant in the world did its job, no therapist could help me, no amount of scripture studying or prayer fixed what felt like the most despicable betrayal from the Church I loved. My faith, my spiritual home, was telling me that it thought I was unnatural and disgusting and wrong. I had thought it was amazing to be able to be out and open about who I am and who God created me to be.
And then my Heavenly Parents gave this revelation to my church. What does that say about them? I was pretty sure I read, “suffer the children to come unto me,” from Christ, and I don’t recall Him adding, “unless the kid has queer parents.” The first Article of Faith states, “we believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.” I thought this meant that kids couldn’t be punished for their parents’ mistakes, but the Church’s actions with the PoX showed me otherwise.
I know the answers we hear all around us. “This church is imperfect because it is lead by imperfect men.” Tell that to the kids who killed themselves in the months following this revelation. Tell that to the adults who hurt or killed themselves, to the marriages that failed, to the children who were unable to grow up in a Church that their parents loved and wanted them to be a part of. And, “it’s God’s timing.” Well then frankly? God’s timing SUCKS.
My son Toby turned 8 three months post-PoX. I didn’t tell him about the policy because I didn’t want to color his feelings about baptism one way or the other. I wanted it to be his choice, as much as it ever is when you’re 8 years old and have grown up LDS. Because I was not transitioning on hormones, because I still appear more female than male, Toby was able to be baptized. I have felt guilty for FOUR. YEARS. because Toby was allowed to be baptized while children of parents in a same-sex marriage could not be. I was able to “sneak one by” because I appear cis/straight. But because this church meant so much to my husband and my son, I have kept as quiet as I could while being as honest as I could.
I don’t know what to do now. I am trying to be happy, and honestly, I am in some regard. I’m relieved for my gay, lesbian and bi siblings. Finally, a festering wound has been healed. But it will always have a scar–a gaping hole where we lost so many precious lights and lives. Because of a “revelation from God.”
I’m feeling a lot of things, and I believe all feelings regarding the PoX and its reversal are valid. These feelings can be very painful. Don’t make light of this and don’t pretend that things are okay now. We have a LONG way to go before things are okay. I’m still hurt and frustrated because once again, transgender, nonbinary and intersex people are left out of the Church completely. There are no guidelines for us and it seems that our spiritual home has disowned us because of who God made us to be. That doesn’t seem like the loving Heavenly Father I’ve heard about in Sunday School.
Churches should not hurt people. Not like this. This is wrong. I’m hurting and I’m mourning. And I’m very, very, very tired of hoping for change and getting tossed scraps for hanging on. In conference last weekend, someone spoke about avoiding the “cynical fringe” of the Church. I shook my head when I heard this. I have found Christ on that cynical fringe. I have seen more kindness, felt more love, learned more about the nature of God than I ever did when I was in the dead-center of the Church. God bless the cynical fringe.
As Latter-day Saints, one of the holiest things we can do is “mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort.” I am mourning. Mourn with me. Stand with me. And then help me strive to make a place for everyone to belong in this Church. We have a long way to go. Let’s get to work.
I sent a letter to President Dieter F. Uchtdorf earlier this week. I meant to tell him that a response isn’t necessary, but I think I forgot to write that. Oops.
Dear President Uchtdorf,
I wanted to send you this picture taken at the St. Martin’s Parade on 29 November. This is my son, Tobias. Toby has really enjoyed meeting Sister Uchtdorf and you at the parade for the last 5 years. He’d love to talk your ear off in German any time! (Toby is in a German immersion program at his school and is nearing fluency.)
President Uchtdorf, thank you so much for your kindness and compassion, especially towards LGBTQ+ Saints. I am transgender, and while I have chosen not to pursue hormonal/social transition, I know many Saints who have (after careful prayer and consideration.) They are healthier for doing so, both mentally and physically. I often wonder if I have a place in the Church. I would like to remain a member, but it’s not easy when I feel like I’m not welcome or when I feel like the Church might be happier without me or those like me. I also see the difficulty our intersex siblings face in the Church (those born with ambiguous genitalia or chromosomes.) Theirs is a particularly difficult journey, considering that they fall in a painfully gray area of the gospel.
I want to stay LDS because I want to be the person I needed when I was younger. I desperately needed an LGBTQ+ person to look up to. I’m trying to remain part of a church that doesn’t seem to know what to do with me. It seems that I am on the fringes of the Church, and while it can be a lonely place to exist, I am finding there are more of us on the edges than I once thought. We love the Church; it is our spiritual home, and we are doing our best to keep our hearts close to it.
Thank you for doing your best to make your spiritual siblings welcome. And again, thank you for being so kind and patient when we run into you at Christkindlmarkt. It makes Toby’s whole face light up with excitement, and as his parent, that means the world to me.
Bluffdale Independence Stake
Last night as I was procrastinating writing my talk, I said on Twitter “if you like this tweet, I will post a picture of a possum that reminds me of you.” I didn’t expect much, just a little diversion. ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY LIKES LATER… I’m pretty sure I have now seen every possum picture that has ever graced the Internet but I regret nothing.
Good morning ward family. My name is Kris Irvin and I’ve lived in this neighborhood for 5 years. My husband Nate and I have been married for 12 years and we have a son, Toby, who most of you probably know (either by reputation or just because he’s VERY LOUD.) Toby told me I’m not allowed to embarrass him while I’m speaking today, but I promised him nothing. Besides, today is his 11th birthday! So happy birthday, Toby.
In 2007, 6 months after Nate and I were married, we moved to Arkansas so Nate could work as a software developer for Walmart. I got pregnant shortly after we arrived there and my body was not happy about it. We tried to make it to church relatively often, but probably only made it to one hour of church every other month. I was very, very sick, and I felt very, very alone. I was often too sick to leave my house on my own, so I stayed home all day till Nate got home from work. Some days I felt well enough by then that we could go on a super exciting grocery shopping trip. Most days, though, I felt too weak and sick and didn’t trust myself to be able to drive around in our new state on my own. I was very lonely and very sad. Nate was very lonely and very sad because he was working 80 hours a week to try to save up some money for after Toby was born.
In January of 2008, I got a call from a new relief society president in our ward. Her name was Jean Fields. She asked if she could come meet me, and I told her “of course, but my house looks like a disaster because cleaning makes me really sick.” (I really wish I’d appreciated that excuse more at the time.) Sister Fields was a grandma, so she was experienced with messes, and besides that, she didn’t even care. She wasn’t there to judge me for not being able to clean my house for 6 months. She came over to talk to me, to get to learn about me. She only planned on staying for an hour, but we ended up sitting there and talking about everything and nothing for 3.5 hours. We exchanged favorite books and she promised me that she would put together a group of women who wouldn’t mind coming over and to help to get my house straightened up, because by this point (January 22) we were aware that Toby was going to be born early. We just weren’t sure how early. Toby was due on March 10, 2008.
On Sunday January 27, I woke up with an excruciating migraine. It was so bad, it tore a part of the vein in my left retina, which left me blind in one eye. We immediately went to the ER, where they hooked me up to lots of monitors and saw that my blood pressure was 220/140. Alarms started going off. The nurse yelled “DON’T PANIC” and ran out of the room. Nate started to hyperventilate. I started to giggle, because stuff like this always happens to me and it’s funny.
But I was worried, because we were in Arkansas. Nate’s family lives in North Carolina, and my family was still here in Utah. The nurse came back and got me checked into the hospital and Nate called our home teacher and asked if he could stop by our house and bring me my stuffed dog and a change of clothes for Nate. I called my Relief Society president and let her know what was going on. Jean was able to let the woman giving the opening prayer in sacrament that morning know that I was in the hospital and Sister Day prayed so that the ward knew that our baby was coming TODAY. She prayed that he and I would both be protected.
After Toby’s birth, he was taken to an NICU a half hour away, so I didn’t get to see him until he was 3 days old. We named him Tobias, which means “God is Good,” and we gave him two middle names. Hinckley, because he was born the night President Hinckley died, and Van, which is a family name. As Toby’s parent, I’ve seen so many ways that people show compassion to him and to our family. And I am proud of the compassion and love that Toby feels towards his friends and family members. He is a brave kid with a wise heart, and I have always felt very grateful (and very overwhelmed) that he’s ours.
Recently, I was concerned about one of the upcoming topics we may be discussing in Relief Society this year. I texted Sister Atherton and asked her if she knew when we would be discussing this topic, because I couldn’t decide if I wanted to conveniently be sick that day or not. Sister Atherton responded and said that we might not even use that lesson this year, and if we do, then she would be sure to let the person teaching that day know that it was a sensitive topic. I can’t tell you how much that short text exchange meant to me. It was a beautiful, loving, Christlike gesture from a beautiful, loving, Christlike woman.
I posted this experience on social media and received two very different general responses. Half of my “followers” were happy. They appreciated what Sister Atherton was trying to do for me. Another faction of church members was irritated. Their general response was to mock me for having sensitive issues with the church at all. When I responded by asking them the question “how do you think would Christ respond to me in this instance?” none of them had a very good answer. (Which is telling in and of itself.) Some of these people even told me I needed to inform my bishop that I don’t sustain the leaders of the Church, which is just ridiculous. I absolutely sustain my leaders in the church, from Bishop King on up through President Hawkins on up through to President Nelson. I may not always agree with them, but luckily I don’t have to agree to still appreciate the gospel principles they teach me.
I suspect that Christ, were He the Relief Society president, would have responded to me in much the same way that Sister Atherton did. When I think of Christ, I tend to think more about His sense of compassion and love toward the poor and downtrodden rather than His anger at the money-changers in the temple. Of course there is a time and a place for both responses, but we have far more examples of compassion in the scriptures than we do of righteous indignation.
I’m a huge English nerd, so I can’t resist throwing definitions in here. I asked Nate what compassion means to him and he said “being kind to other people.” Well I am here to tell you that that definition is WRONG. Or at least it’s incomplete. Compassion means literally “to suffer with.” It also means to show pity, sympathy, and mercy for one another. Now there’s a difference between compassion, sympathy and empathy. As a reminder, sympathy means you can understand what the person is feeling. Empathy means that you feel what a person is feeling. Empathy goes a little bit farther than sympathy, although both are often used interchangeably with compassion. But compassion itself is the willingness to relieve the suffering of another. Sympathy and empathy involve listening and feeling, while compassion involves acting on those feelings. President Monson said “The Savior has always shown unlimited capacity for compassion. … Let us open the door of our hearts, that He—the living example of true compassion—may enter.”
How do we develop compassion? It takes practice. We can start by being a good listener and imagining how we would feel if we had the same experiences that someone else may be going through. Compassion is simply seeing someone’s need and wanting to help. Acting on that feeling leads us to do what we can for that person. This is part of our covenant to “bear one another’s burdens” and is at the heart of ministering. Jeffrey R. Holland taught in the April 2018 general conference: “We have a heaven-sent opportunity as an entire Church … ‘to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light’ and to ‘comfort those that stand in need of comfort’, to minister to the widows and the fatherless, the married and the single, the strong and the distraught, the downtrodden and the robust, the happy and the sad—in short, all of us, every one of us, because we all need to feel the warm hand of friendship and hear the firm declaration of faith.”
When life seems tough, home can be a place where we find love, compassion, and warmth. Within our family, we feel reassured that someone understands and cares about how we feel. And the compassion we witness and experience at home inspires us to be more compassionate to others. Compassion can help us develop love for our friends, neighbors, family, and spiritual siblings. Depending on context/definition, compassionate love is mentioned around 3-400 times in the King James’ version of the Bible (there are at least 6 ways to say “love” in Greek, so it gets tricky to pin down every occurrence.) Its prevalence in the text makes sense, though, because in its essence, the gospel is all about love. Loving our neighbors, loving our families, loving Christ and showing our love for Him by serving Him. True love requires action. We can speak of love all day long—we can write notes or poems that proclaim it, sing songs that praise it, and preach sermons that encourage it—but until we manifest that love in action, our words are nothing but “sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”
So to develop compassion, first, we listen to each other. Then we act according to the promptings of the Spirit. A story is told by President Uchtdorf that during the bombing of a city in World War II, a large statue of Jesus Christ was severely damaged. When the townspeople found the statue among the rubble, they mourned because it had been a beloved symbol of their faith and of God’s presence in their lives. Experts were able to repair most of the statue, but its hands had been damaged so severely that they could not be restored. Some suggested that they hire a sculptor to make new hands, but others wanted to leave it as it was—a permanent reminder of the tragedy of war. Ultimately, the statue remained without hands. However, the people of the city added on the base of the statue of Jesus Christ a sign with these words: “He has no hands but yours.”
We are Christ’s hands on this earth. And if we are listening to Him and following Him, He will whisper to us when He needs us to be compassionate towards our fellow spiritual siblings. There is a profound lesson in this story. When I think of the Savior, I often picture Him with hands outstretched, reaching out to comfort, heal, bless, and love. And He always talked with, never down to, people. He loved the humble and the meek and walked among them, ministering to them and offering hope and salvation. That is what He did during His mortal life; it is what He would be doing if He were living among us today; and it is what we should be doing as His disciples and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
One of my favorite scriptures in the Book of Mormon is Alma 5:26. It’s technically a scripture about repentance and a change of heart, but I really love the imagery in this verse. “And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” Christ did not just speak about love; He showed it each day of His life. He did not remove Himself from the crowd. Being amidst the people, Jesus reached out to the one. He rescued the lost. He didn’t just teach a class about reaching out in love and then delegate the actual work to others. He not only taught but also showed us how to “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.”
Christ knows how to minister to others perfectly. When the Savior stretches out His hands, those He touches are uplifted and become greater, stronger, and better people as a result. If we are His hands while on earth, should we not do the same?
What is the song of redeeming love? Well, Jeffrey R. Holland said this: “Brothers and sisters, we live in a mortal world with many songs we cannot or do not yet sing. But I plead with each one of us to stay permanently and faithfully in the choir, where we will be able to savor forever that most precious anthem of all—“the song of redeeming love.” Fortunately, the seats for this particular number are limitless. There is room for those who speak different languages, celebrate diverse cultures, and live in a host of locations. There is room for the single, for the married, for large families, and for the childless. There is room for those who once had questions regarding their faith and room for those who still do. There is room for those with differing sexual attractions” (and might I add, gender identities.) “In short, there is a place for everyone who loves God and honors His commandments as the inviolable measuring rod for personal behavior, for if love of God is the melody of our shared song, surely our common quest to obey Him is the indispensable harmony in it. “
I never expected a response to my letter to President Oaks. I know he is a busy man and I am just one person. But yesterday I received a letter from the office of the First Presidency. It took me a while to work up the courage to open it. Because as long as I didn’t open it, I didn’t have to see an apostle yelling at me. I didn’t have to read that I’m deluded and mentally ill and wrong and a General in Satan’s Air Force. If I didn’t look at it, I didn’t have to see words that might haunt me for the rest of my life.
But I had to know what he said. So I opened it. This was his response.
“Dear Sister Irvin,
Thank you for your letter of October 30th, which is both heart-rending and helpful. It, of course, repeats much that I read in the long article, “Transgender dilemma” in the Salt Lake Tribune on Aug. 19, 2018.
I assure you that I do not “strongly dislike or even hate transgender people.” Please see the enclosed copy of my talk at BYU-Idaho. Please also understand that the leaders of the Church continue to rely on and earnestly seek guidance from the Lord on the issues that afflict our members. Your concerns are among them.
You and your husband and son have my prayers and best wishes, always.
Sincerely your brother,
Dallin H. Oaks”
I truly do appreciate that President Oaks took the time to respond to me personally. That’s kind of a big deal and I recognize that. But I’m having a hard time with this letter for a few reasons.
I asked, in my letter, if I have a place in the Church. I didn’t get a response to that. I was hoping for some confirmation that I do have a place. As I’ve said to some friends, it feels like the members tell me I am welcome and I have a place in the Church, but the leadership is telling me otherwise. I’m lost and confused and hurting.
President Oaks’ just sounded … really irritated. I understand time constraints, but he was brusque and his assurance that he doesn’t hate trans people seems hollow. There’s nothing to back that assurance up. There’s no help regarding intersex members. There are no answers here.
He says my letter was helpful. I would like to know how. Because from the content of his response, it doesn’t seem like it helped in the slightest.
(I am super heckin’ thankful that he didn’t say “leave your breasts on your chest.” Whew.)
I want to believe. I want to belong. I want a place in my religion. But I am so tired of having to fight for it all the time. I’m hurt and broken and exhausted. I’ll get my fire back at some point, but for now I’m just… empty.
Dear President Oaks,
My name is Kris and I am a 32 year old lifelong member of the Church. I live in the Salt Lake valley along with my husband of 12 years and our 10 year old son. I am studying English Literature at BYU and hope to graduate in a year or so. I am also transgender.
I’ve known I was trans for as long as I can remember. It was my deepest, darkest secret for most of my life. I felt so ashamed and irreparably broken. I felt that there was no way God could love me. I didn’t even know that there was a word for people like me until I was 28 years old. When I found out that there are other trans people in the world, I felt such relief. I no longer felt alone and gross and awful. I tried for 25 years to cure myself of being trans, but the only thing that has alleviated some of the depression and pain I’ve felt has been to be open about being transgender.
I would like to remain a member of the Church. It is my spiritual home. But talks like the one you gave in our recent Conference only serve to alienate me and those like me from our spiritual haven. Elder Ballard once said that there is room for LGBTQ+ people in the Church. But your talk makes me wonder if that’s really true. Is there room for me? Or should I just give up and move on with my life?
Your talk completely erased intersex people—those who are born with ambiguous genitalia—from the picture. Statistics show that at least 2% of the world’s population is intersex. Do intersex people have a place in the Church? If not, why? And if intersex people DO have a place in the Church, what about those whose chromosomes don’t match their gender, like someone who has XXY chromosomes?
You once said that more study was needed in regards to transgender members. I would be happy to put you in touch with other trans Church members or send you resources that could help you with your research, both from a religious and from a scientific perspective. I know many, including myself, who have chosen NOT to transition genders. We struggle with depression, anxiety, and gender dysphoria. I also know many trans people who have transitioned and are much healthier and happier for doing so, regardless of losing their membership in the Church. In my personal case, I have chosen not to transition because my husband is against it. That was an excruciatingly hard decision to make. Despite not transitioning, I would still like to have a double mastectomy. I feel that I can handle being trans if I don’t have to deal with breasts. Not only do they cause mental pain, but they also cause physical pain. I have had competent medical professionals recommend a breast reduction or mastectomy, yet because I am transgender, my bishop says that such a surgery will be cause for church discipline. I don’t understand: at what point does my breast size nullify my membership in the Church?
These things I do know: that my bishop is fantastic and has been a wonderful support to my family as we’ve navigated the last few years. I also know that no matter what happens, my belief in God can’t be taken away from me, even if my membership in the Church is. I know that I want to raise my son in the Church, even if I strongly disagree with the Policy of Exclusion, which makes LGBTQ+ people feel worth less than their cisgender, heterosexual counterparts (and it doesn’t feel like Christ would approve of anything that excludes children from the gospel.)
President Oaks, it seems like you strongly dislike or even hate transgender people. I’m truly sorry if that is the case. I have met some of the most spiritual people I know on the fringes of the Church. It hurts to see them wounded by sentiments like your Conference talk. Regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, we are ALL children of God.
Thank you for your time.