Contributed by Brandon.
In our new Speaking Out series, parents and family members open up about navigating life with our gender-nonconforming children. Our stories bring us together, and through them, we find community. The first post in the series is from Brandon, who shares Part One of his family’s journey. Look for Part Two in the following months.
As a faithful Mormon, when my two-year-old daughter told me “I wish Heavenly Father made me a boy,” it shook my faith at its fundamental roots. Such a tearful declaration of hope in something so contrary to the foundations of my belief was just so difficult to understand. What should I tell her? How do I begin to console my child with something that I don’t even understand? As my daughter grew, these kinds of comments continued and the desire I shared with my wife to help our child feel happy, comfortable, and confident began to overshadow our faith.
In Mormon scripture and doctrine, God created each of our spirits long before our world existed. It was his first action as our father. Our spirits have the same form as our bodies. Each of our spirits was created with a specific gender, male or female. So, in essence, our gender is eternal. Once we die, our body reunites with our spirit and we continue to live forever as a man or woman. These principles and teachings are crucial because they define gender as eternal, never ending and never beginning.
What was distressing about this situation as it progressed was our child’s sadness. I remember several Sundays when our now affirmed male child was 3, trying to convince him to wear a dress and let us fix his hair. “It is just for a few hours; then you can come home and change.” He would finally relent. My wife would curl the ends of his hair while he frowned. At church, he would tug nervously at his dress and his hair. Once home, he went straight into his bedroom and changed. He would cry over his hair because it wouldn’t go straight again, so he started wearing hats everywhere he went, all the time. He wanted his hair cut short like his brother’s, but we wouldn’t allow it, so he wore hats all the time.
Late at night and for hours into the early morning my wife and I would talk about the situation. Our date nights were filled with discussions about what we should do to help him. We tried to frame the “problem” in terms of our faith. We felt he was just confused. We knew he wasn’t happy with himself and that deeply troubled us more than anything else, so we decided to focus on helping him feel happy with himself regardless of his gender. We just kept telling him, “We love you for who you are. No matter what, we will always love you. Heavenly Father loves you and that is all that matters.”
As Chris grew older, what we thought was a phase didn’t pass, it just got stronger. He has a strong will and has always known that he’s a boy. Nothing we could say or do would change that. He began expressing himself in different ways where he had control. We slowly started letting our ideas for Chris’ life slip away. We started shopping for different clothes. We bought him different toys. His appearance began to change and that brought its own set of challenges. Our neighbors, fellow church members, and family began to notice the change. All the while, Chris was trying to make sense of how he felt and how to be himself. Chris searched for other names for himself because he was uncomfortable with his birth name. He tried out different names and we obliged just as we did with his siblings who wanted to be called Superman or Cinderella, but it wasn’t the same. He seemed to be searching for an alternate identity.
People started making comments about the changes, some of them quite hurtful and disappointing. At church one Sunday, a friend approached us in the chapel. He looked down at Chris, touched him on the head, and told us: “You have such a strange child.” I was shocked and didn’t know how to respond. People would ask him, “Are you a boy or a girl today?” That was one of the hardest ones to handle because Chris was right there, forced to deal with the questions. People at the store, at church, and at restaurants would ask: “Is that a boy or a girl?” Adults and children with no boundaries and no shame asked these questions. We could understand the curiosity of small children, but adults and older children who should know better? It was aggravating and shameful. Chris would notice these comments and usually just lower his head with a sad look on his face. He was hurt and embarrassed.
As these kinds of things happened and as we saw the pain, frustration, and sadness in our child’s life, we became increasingly worried about him. We worried about his mental state, self-confidence, and happiness. He continued to express sadness about himself and the state of things in his life. We reacted by trying to bolster his confidence and showering him with love. We scoured the internet for information. We prayed and fasted but all the while we struggled with our beliefs in Mormonism. I, personally, couldn’t resolve the innocent yearnings of my child with the writings in the scriptures and the comments of church leaders. I saw my child’s gender varying from what I previously believed was established by God, man, and woman. I felt I had to make a decision—did I believe God or my own child?
So, we slowly started pulling away from the church. We resigned from our callings in the church and began attending church with less and less regularity. It was just too painful and uncomfortable dealing with the distance that our circumstances had created between us and our faith in the church.
My family didn’t know how to handle the situation. I told my mother Chris wished he was a boy. She was surprised and shocked. More and more, my brothers and sisters saw him wearing masculine clothes and pretending he was a boy—always insisting on playing the boy/dad/brother. Mainly it was the elephant in the room, the subject everyone just avoided for the most part. I was scared to talk to them because I didn’t want to be criticized, judged, or rejected. Most of all, I didn’t want them to treat my child any differently.
All this boiled over one day as my wife and Chris were shopping together. Chris was in the cart and two prepubescent boys laughed, pointed at him, and said “Is that a boy or a girl?” It was loud and clear enough for everyone to hear. That day at work, I answered a frantic and angry phone call from the parking lot of the grocery store. “Get us out of here!” my wife screamed. “I’ve had it! Start applying for jobs out of state. Let’s move to a different state like we’ve always wanted.” We both cried. We both knew we had to do something drastic to help our child.
So, I started interviewing for jobs out of state. In a way, we both wanted to run away. We were tired of the uncomfortable conversations, the questions, and the offensive comments. Mostly we wanted a fresh start for Chris. We wanted to give Chris an opportunity to live his life in an area which we knew would be more accepting and where we thought we would find better support for Chris. We also saw this as an opportunity to sever ties with the church and attempt to find a new life. We were scared to death, but we knew we owed it to Chris and his future, so we packed up our lives and moved from Utah to Seattle.
Related: 2013 Conference to Feature Special Screening of The Believers
Built around the world’s first transgender gospel choir, The Believers portrays the choir’s dilemma – how to reconcile their gender identity with the widespread belief that changing one’s gender goes against the word of God. Read more »