This week is International Transgender Awareness Week, and the trans community is on my mind and in my heart.
Transgender awareness is very much related to faith and religion and spirituality and also general ethical behavior. The older I get, the more I see how everything overlaps, and how everything I do is influenced by my faith. If my personal goal is to devote my life to serving God and honoring the Savior, then no effort devoted to learning to love people better is irrelevant or strictly political. Issues we may have once labeled mere politics have deeply personal impact.
My wise father often reminded me as a headstrong youth, “Don’t be so open-minded your brains fall out.” He wanted me to make careful choices that would lead to happiness, and it was a solid reminder.
But now I also see concerns about being too open-minded are more for times when health could be jeopardized or prison time is a likely outcome, like having a dangerously casual attitude about illegal drug use, or creative accounting. It’s not for when we are trying to decide who deserves respect and equitable treatment, because those questions have only one answer: everyone.
Back in church Primary, my favorite verse of the song “Follow the Prophet” was the one that goes, “Now we have a world where people are confused. If you don’t believe it, go and watch the news.”
I used to assume I was singing about Other People. They were the confused ones, not me. Now I see that labeling someone else as “confused,” particularly about gender identity, can be both rude and invalidating.
It’s an extra blessing in my life to know and love people who do not identify as the gender they were assigned at birth. Trans issues have become deeply personal to me. I have been able to learn firsthand that trans folks are fellow children of God, and not a threat to anyone. The political rallying to deny people access to bathrooms or prevent kids from participating in school-sponsored sports is misguided and does not protect anyone. When I learned even the NCAA has a clear policy that takes into consideration any perceived “advantages” of going through puberty with the testosterone of someone assigned male at birth, I was able to let go of any remaining defensiveness about what equity for transgender people might look like.
Maybe you’re not lucky enough to know trans folks and maybe this stuff is new to you. That can feel unsettling, but it doesn’t have to be reason for fear or hostility, especially not in Jesus’ name. If I have learned anything, it is that we do not have to understand everything about people in order to love them. There are no prerequisites to loving.
I was always taught gender is an eternal aspect of someone’s identity. I still believe that, but I have come to have a much more accurate view of sex and gender than I once did. I realized genitalia does not define someone’s gender identity, and good science shows biology is more complex than I previously understood.
Sometimes babies are born with their heart on the wrong side of their chest, for example, or any number of other biological mix-ups. The late LDS General Authority J. Reuben Clark called medical problems “pranks” of nature, but what if some of them are merely variations, not problems? Who’s to say some babies aren’t born with mis-matched bodies and spirits? And what if we rightly choose to care more about someone’s humanity more than their plumbing? Nothing about any complex circumstance negates the marvelousness of babies, not when they first arrive and not when they grow into adult people.
It’s well-documented that LGBTQ+ youth are at a much higher risk of depression, anxiety and suicide than their straight, cisgender counterparts. Knowing how precious every child of God is makes me want to do everything I can to make sure all youth are loved and accepted. It feels urgent, and I feel urgently called to love bigger and better.
I don’t know the answers to every complicated question life brings, but I do know that I should not waste my energy attempting to make Jesus’ love smaller by justifying a lack of compassion for anyone. My job is to trust that He has everything handled — because He does — and follow His example.
Let’s not be confused: We don’t have to tell people who they are to love them as they are.
Contact Sally at email@example.com.