Ms. Jones Comes Out

I was recently humbled and honoured when a friend came out to myself and Mr. Molly as trans. I asked our friend, who is male-to-female trans, if they would not mind sharing their transformation with my readers here. Luckily for all of you, she was comfortable sharing her journey. As a starter, I’ve asked “Ms. Jones” to answer the basic questions provided in the PFLAG questionnaire as an informative exercise for myself. A note on comments: since Ms. Jones is just dealing with the first baby steps of coming out, absolutely no negative commentary will be tolerated. If transgender issues are not your cup of tea, please take your comments elsewhere. If you have constructive, thoughtful ideas, please do post them below.

Molly:

When did you start thinking about your gender identity?

Ms. Jones:

The conscious questioning began roughly four and a half years ago. I’ll readily admit this shocked me writing it down, I wanted to estimate just two or maybe three years but then I went back to check some dates and discovered it’s really been that long. Honestly, the longer I’ve questioned the further back I can take the subconscious questioning — the disparate feelings and thoughts that never quite tied together in my head, the feelings of not quite fitting in or being “right” somehow. I can trace some of these right back to my earliest memories, but until my recent past none of it made any sense beyond out of place thoughts or feelings that I just shelved away.

Molly:

What caused you to start thinking about your gender identity?

Ms. Jones:

It’s a two-fold and, in my opinion, strongly ironic answer. The first and main part was freedom to finally be myself. I’d found myself living to the expectations of others for so long that the opportunity to really be introspective and discover who I am never really came to me — in fact it was probably a question I didn’t even consider I needed to answer. I went from fulfilling parental expectations, to meeting the expectations of my romantic partner and trying to live up to the image of an older sibling I looked up to. I progressed through higher education and then fell almost directly to fulfilling my side of a relationship, engagement, then marriage without ever stopping to question if I was really being true to myself. Looking back the hardest part of all of this is that none of the emotions or feelings were faked, but at the same time there was always something hollow within me, a sense of not quite being complete, and a lingering fear of not fulfilling the role society expected of me quite competently enough.

The second part, that fulfils the irony mentioned earlier is that it was from in a subsequent relationship that I was prompted to explore this side of myself. So after espousing the freedom to find myself without the shackles of some parental, societal or relationship based construct — that’s actually what led me here. Go figure. If anything, she was too supportive and our relationship sadly fizzled, due at least in part to my own fears and insecurities — I think she understood me more than I understood myself back then and was years ahead of me in her thinking. When you’ve barely broached the subject of transgenderism and your partner is telling you you are it can be a little scary. I guess it’s just a shame we didn’t meet years later!

Molly:

Where did you learn about the transgender community?

Ms. Jones:

I didn’t know there was one until very recently. I think my first “contact” with even knowing transgendered people could exist didn’t happen until I was in higher education and that turned into a fascination that I kept secret, basically until now! I never really linked the fascination to the fact that it felt right for me, it was just something that continued to dwell in the periphery of my consciousness, never quite rearing its head but never fully going away.

Molly: Do you know any transgender people?

Ms. Jones:

Right now just a handful. I’ve had wonderful experiences with the very welcoming local PFLAG community that have enabled me to connect with a few transgender people, and learn of a few more who I should talk to. My therapist has also helped lining up people for me to talk to in this regard. At this point it’s still all baby steps for me. It wasn’t until late 2012 that I really came to terms with myself, accepted and overcame the fears I had and acknowledged that this is my life and this is where it’s going.

Molly:

Do you have support from the transgender community?

Ms. Jones:

I have made an amazing friend who has been incredibly supportive so far, there to point me in the right direction to learn more and also to be someone to listen when I’ve had to vent. I have explored the periphery of a few online communities, but I’m pretty shy in myself at the best of times so putting myself forward is tough. I’m definitely making progress and getting there one step at a time though!

Molly:

Do you have friends you can talk to about gender identity issues?

Ms. Jones:

I do now!

Molly:

What name/pronouns would you like me to use when addressing you?

Ms. Jones:

I’ll answer the name part offline since that would like, totally, ruin the veil of anonymity we’ve created here. Definitely feminine pronouns though, however I’m in a very awkward position now being forced to present as male for the forseeable future so I’m totally cool with whatever happens. It cuts a little being male, but the majority of my social interactions and all of my business based interactions will be happening that way for some time to come.

Molly:

Are there resources you have been accessing to educate yourself about this? Can you recommend any for me?

Ms. Jones:

The few transgender people I know have been amazing resources and have pointed me to many sites online. Three that I have found especially useful on a personal level are transgendercare.com, Lynn Conway’s Homepage and Transsexual Roadmap. The last is probably more applicable to me but I’ve always considered any information to be useful as you gain insights into how others view the world too! Beyond that obviously PFLAG. I’m still incredibly early in my transitional journey so at this point I’m sure I have a thousand more things to discover myself, let alone share with others.

Molly:

Are you safe from harassment?

Ms. Jones:

Bearing in mind my location I would answer most likely not. However, with that being said, at least for the short to medium term I would imagine not. I’m still forced to mostly present publically as male due to work and current social constraints. There is nobody in my immediate vicinity, save for those from PFLAG, who know my true identity. Thankfully we’ve already managed to navigate the possibly muddy waters of meeting randomly in public and how to talk to each other there!

Molly:

What can I do to better support you at this time?

Ms. Jones:

You’ve been amazing and more than I would have dared ask for so far. This is both a wonderful and incredibly scary journey for me. In myself I truly feel free of depression that has haunted me for goodness knows how long, I can see and feel the spark of hope in life that I’d almost forgotten existed. At this stage understanding, questions, and communication are what I really hope for. I’ve been good at reaching out to tell people so far, but I’m not good at keeping the conversation going, I’m never quite sure if the responses have been positive and nice to placate me so people can just gradually dissociate. So regular reaching out, small talk, conversation, and understanding mean the world to me 🙂

Molly:

Is there anything I can do to help?

Ms. Jones:

You already are, both with my previous answer, and with the fact you’ve shown enough interest to go through this process with me.

Q&A with Marilyn – Part One

Yesterday I had a chat with a BYU freshman who is living in the dorms and wanted to provide some insight into what it’s like to adjust to not just university but a religious dominated university. We plan on doing future sessions, so if any readers have questions for Marilyn, please post them in the comments below and I’ll put them into the next Q&A.

Molly: Thanks for doing this. I suppose we can’t use your real name. Do you have a preference for a nom de plume?

Marilyn: Hmm. I love Marilyn Monroe, but I don’t know if I should use that name.

Molly: No, it’s a good one. We can call you Marilyn.

Marilyn: She’s my favorite actress. She said a lot of deep shit and was hot as fuck. (Laughs) Make sure you use that exact wording when you say why I admire her.

Molly: I’ll do that. So for our first question. When you got to the dorms at BYU this year, what did you encounter that you least expected and felt unprepared for?

Marilyn: How hard the girls try here. Eighty to ninety percent are super skinny and fit. Perfect skin, hair always done, and huge flirts. Its ironic because even though the church is against being slutty, the girls still try so hard to get boys because they all have been taught that marriage comes in college. They wont admit it, but they’re here to get their BA and their MRS. I’m okay with wearing glasses and putting my unbrushed hair into a messy bun, while my roomate spends at least an hour a day on her hair alone. She changes her outfit, like, 5 times before she walks out the door and fixes her hair and makeup every time we’re about to go out.

Molly: Do you ever find that being surrounded by girls like that makes it hard for you to take your education seriously?

Marilyn: Yeah, sometimes. There are smart girls and they obviously have goals and stuff but there’s always that second thought of, “Yeah, I’ll pursue my dreams until I find a husband and have babies. Then I’ll just stay at home.”

Molly: Is it correct for me to say that BYU does not provide good support to women who want to have a career?

Marilyn: I don’t know. It’s mixed. It’s a fucked up blend of chivalry and sexism. Its like, they are supportive, but it seems like a facade at the same time. They say we should work hard but then your religion teacher talks about gender roles and it conflicts.

Molly: So it seems like they are okay with women going to college, as long as women don’t forget that their first priority should be to get married and have kids and stay at home.

Marilyn: Yeah. They’re not against women having a career. It’s just not the first thing they would say. That comes as a second thought because they realize how sexist it would be not to say having a career was okay too.

Molly: Did you feel this conflict at all when you were in high school?

Marilyn: Nnnnnnoooo! Well, maybe at church. But never at school.

Molly: Do you feel that your high school gave equal support to the personal goals of boys and girls?

Marilyn: Yes. Of course. My math teacher had two kids and she still worked. There were lots of brilliant women that worked there that were moms.

Molly: Did you ever feel conflict over the gender roles taught at church, or were you able to push it to the back of your mind because you spent most of your time at a secular public school, interacting with non-Mormons?

Marilyn: Yeah. Because my guy friends didn’t think that way. I didn’t realize how sexist Mormonism was until I explained it out loud to my friend once. It never really affected me like this before, because I was in high school. The church’s teachings didn’t really apply to me to the way they do now.

Molly: Do you feel that moving to BYU, where everything is somehow connected to Mormonism, has forced you to really think about these issues for the first time in your life?

Marilyn: It’s not the first time. But I don’t like being at a school where my First Amendment rights are seriously limited. College is supposed to be an environment for free thinking and progress. I shouldn’t feel uncomfortable saying that I support gay marriage, that I’m pro-choice, and other crap like that. I shouldn’t be in fear of a sermon from a 19-year-old who grew up in conservative cow country

Molly: How often do you censor yourself in order to prevent others from noticing that you are more liberal than the average Mormon?

Marilyn: I have a small group of friends who are okay with it. I haven’t really gotten into any arguments with other people, although my roommate did the other day over gay marriage. This guy was just being an asshole and she was pissed.

Molly: So your roommate is pro-gay?

Marilyn: I think so . . . I don’t know. She was using the “hate the sin not the sinner” argument with him. So I’m not really sure if she just toned it down for him or what.

Molly: Do you think she might be pro-gay but afraid to be too open about it?

Marilyn: Yeah maybe. Her parents are super conservative too, so I think she’s in the same boat as I am.

Molly: If you were the ruler of BYU for one day, what advice would you give every student?

Marilyn: And have them actually follow it? Hmm. (Pause) I’d tell the girls to wear whatever the fuck they want and see if the campus breaks out into hell like the authorities think it will. I’d also tell the super Mormon students to sit down and talk with a super liberal person without judging them or cutting them off. Let them explain their views, because that’s something they have never heard. College is supposed to expand your mind to at least understand all views of the world.

Molly: Do you think there is an inherent conflict in a university that is controlled by one religion?

Marilyn: Yes. How can you learn in a box when the point of learning to think outside the box? There is no progress with limitations.

Molly: That was pretty deep.

Marilyn: Aww yee! Come at me smart people!

Molly: (Laughs) Okay, I’d better let you get to class. But that was brilliant. We should do this again.

Marilyn: Okie dokie!

Homophobic Friends

A film editor has groomed ten years’ worth of the popular TV series Friends and spliced together all the homophobia so we can see how utterly pervasive this problem is in our culture. We’re meant to laugh at others’ expense. The video is a great way to raise your awareness of how much intolerance we allow, even celebrate. Keep in mind this show ran for ten series and won numerous awards. But would you really want friends like these?

Homophobic Friends from WayDownEast on Vimeo.

Teh Gays Are Coming to Get You, America

So in three months Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will be history in the U.S. Military. And the conservatives are concerned.

After all, what’s going to happen when Americans allow people in the armed forces who:

  • Have short, clean-cut haircuts
  • Work out a lot
  • Are accustomed to hanging out in mostly male social groups
  • Are known for their ability to be neat and tidy in their appearance
  • Know what it’s like to feel attacked on all sides yet keep it together and move forward

Oh . . . wait . . .

Oh . . .

Which is better: Gay or Dead?

Horrified but unsurprised by The Gay Dot’s report of an LDS bishop saying suicide is preferable to being gay, I retweeted the link to the post. xJane sparked the following train of thought yesterday:

NotSoPoetic: (link) #mormon bishop says suicide is preferable to being gay http://bit.ly/eMtcvm
xJane: @NotSoPoetic Does suicide send you to hell in Mormonism (as it does in Catholicism)?
NotSoPoetic: @xJane It sends you to the lowest heaven with Hitler and serial killers. Only high-up priesthood holders who defect can go to mormon hell.
xJane: @NotSoPoetic wait, Hitler’s in heaven? I’m SET!
xJane: @NotSoPoetic but still, weighing theological probabilities, wouldn’t it be better just to be gay?
NotSoPoetic: @xJane From mormon perspective, yes, as sexual sin is second to killing. Gay mormons may possibly be able to get into second highest heaven.
xJane: @NotSoPoetic So, he was homophobic and wrong!

And suddenly Twitter is no longer sufficient for the magnitude of this conversation. xJane is correct; this LDS bishop, who abused the trust of a gay Mormon coming out to him by responding that it was “best to follow through the suicide than to give into men,” was wrong. First, because he’s a bigot. Second, because what he’s said is theologically incorrect from an LDS perspective.

Mormons have a much more complicated and forgiving scheme of salvation and damnation than your garden variety Christianity. The traditional view is as follows:

Baptism -> Death -> Go to Heaven

Really that’s supposed to be it. There’s a Heaven and a Hell, and if you become a Christian you get to go to heaven. It’s gotten much more complex over the years, with niggling arguments over who can perform the baptism and how much water to use, and then the Catholics had to go and add bleeding Limbo to the mix. But I think we can agree that the traditional concept of Christian salvation involves acknowledging the sacrifice of Christ through the act of baptism, which then places your name on St. Peter’s VIP list.

Mormons, being the pyramid-scheme loving, wacky new business model enthusiasts that they are, had to go and muck up the works by injecting a fat load of second chances, bootstrapping and free will into the equation:

pre-existence -> earth life -> death -> bonus round -> final judgement -> go to one of three levels of heaven

Mormons teach that prior to this life they voted on participating in God’s plan for humanity, choosing to go through with an earthly life. They were given bodies, sent to earth and view this life as a trial. Jesus dying for all mankind gets nearly everybody out of Hell. In fact, the only way to get into Mormon Hell is through deliberate rejection of entering any kind of heaven. Only “Sons of Perdition” or priesthood-holding men in leadership positions allowing them a “sure knowledge” of God and His PlanTM can be damned to join Lucifer and his rebellious angels in Hell. In a way this really marginalises the function of Jesus in humanity’s salvation. Even serial killers get to go to some kind of Heaven. Your religious affiliation plays no part in your pretty much guaranteed pass out of Hell.

Mormons believe that after we all die we go to a holding tank until the Final Judgement Day that accompanies Christ’s Second Coming. Good Mormons go to Paradise, where they are called upon to minister to those who chose not to become Mormons or didn’t have the chance to hear about Mormonism. Back on earth, the living perform the necessary rituals for dead people so that they can become Mormons posthumously and have a shot at one of the higher kingdoms of heaven.

After the Final Judgement, Human beings, based on their Mormonliness, are sorted into three kingdoms not unlike the various houses at Hogwarts. Everyone is guaranteed to at least find a home in the Telestial Kingdom, the Slytherin of the Mormon afterlife. Suicides, murderers, and the scum of all mankind will be found in this kingdom. And apparently it’s not too bad! Wilford Woodruff (allegedly) once said that if human beings knew how lovely it was in this lowliest of heavens, they’d be killing themselves to get there, and the general understanding among Mormons is that Telestial Slytherin House is pretty nice.

In the middle is the Terrestrial Kingdom for spiritual Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws, where decent non-Mormon people and backslidden Mormons will go. These are folks who never became Mormon or didn’t accept posthumous Mormonisation.

The Gryffindor of the afterlife is the Celestial Kingdom, which is for good Mormons. The top tier of Celestial glory is reserved for Mormons who are heterosexually married in the temple. (You can see how this makes being gay a problem.) For years it was also taught that a man needed at least three wives to achieve this highest level of glory, something that Fundamentalist Mormons and traditionalist LDS still believe in. Good Mormons who have done everything right, received their temple ordinances, but never got married, will serve as “ministering angels,” a bit like personal assistants to the glorified married folks birthing new spirit babies and creating new worlds to set up yet another deified Ponzi scheme.

These ministering angels in the Celestial Kingdom should, doctrinally speaking, include gay Mormons who remained faithful to their covenants. Gay Mormons who killed themselves, regardless of other issues of worthiness, would end up in the Telestial Kingdom. It’s hard to say where a sexually active gay Mormon would end up. I want to say that if the person had ethical sexual relationships, they’d likely end up in the Terrestrial Kingdom. So if the Mormons are right, repression or living a gay lifestyle seems like it leads to a better situation than suicide.

So not only was that worthless git of a bishop abusing his parishioner by telling him suicide was better than being gay, he was wrong according to his own doctrine.

And, since I believe Mormon teachings are a load of rubbish, I’ll add that he was just plain wrong.

The post that will get me excommunicated

I didn’t pay any attention to Ginrul Confernz, as my BYU brethren were wont to pronounce it. I spent the weekend pubbing and clubbing in my hometown. (It’s the rather sprawly one with the horribly oversized airport on the lower right corner of the map.) The advantage of this laziness is that I can reap the fruit of everyone else’s labour.

Looks like most of the talks were the usual — follow the prophet, gender roles, tithing, missionary work et cetera et cetera. Apart from honourable mention given to the soppy yet sweet talk on gratitude by CEO Monson, the headline-grabber was Boyd K. Packer’s latest assault on The Gay.

This evening @porlob put forth the question: “Anyone else starting to think Boyd K. Packer is a big ol’ closet-case? He’s always had hangups on sex and and gayness.”

The answer: Yes. Unequivocally, absolutely, unreservedly. No person who devotes as much of their professional career as Packer has to sexual repression and denial can possibly be a healthy individual. Given the timely release of the most comprehensive study of American sexual behaviour ever, it seems that 8% of American males are gay or bisexual. (My guess is that the number is likely a percentage point or two higher, given that homosexuality is very likely to be under-reported due to stigma.) Eight percent. Let’s see. There are twelve apostles in the LDS church. What’s one divided by twelve? Gee whiz, it’s eight percent.

Based on pure statistics, somebody in the quorum is just a little more fabulous than the rest. My money’s on Packer. He was the 10th of 11 children; younger sons are more likely to be gay. Each older brother increases the probability of being gay by a third. Packer is the fifth son.

It’s interesting that all published accounts of Packer’s courtship with his wife, Donna, show her as the initiator. The story goes that Packer was asked to give a talk in a ward he did not usually attend. His future wife was present and thought to herself “Now, this is the type of man I would wish to marry.”

If there’s one central theme to Packer’s career, it’s self-denial. Glancing over the greatest hits of his career, it’s easy to see the signs of a deeply conflicted man who represses himself so badly that he can’t ponder a world where all men don’t need similar restraints. This is a bloke who disdains art and music if it doesn’t serve a utilitarian function of promoting “The Spirit.” I found a fairly comprehensive list of his speeches, and a disproportionate number are addressed at the youth, and a disproportionate number address masturbation, sex and pornography. It is nearly impossible for him to give a talk that is aimed at youth without sexualising them to some degree. These highlights stuck out at me, and I think they offer us a glimpse into his state of mind when we consider that his talks may be aimed at himself as much as they were at us:

  1. 1965: I’m a Person: In an uncharacteristic speech, Packer tells us we should “feel free, perfectly free, uninhibited” and affirms the importance of feeling like “a person” with “eternal worth.” This hardly sounds like the mean-spirited old man we hear from today.
  2. 1970: The Path to Manhood: Packer’s appropriately-titled début as a member of the twelve highlights the necessity of marrying a woman in the temple and pillow talk with his military bunkmate in which he asks “What did I do wrong?” He relates how a military supervisor told him that he was too uptight and needed to go out and have some fun. Packer congratulates himself for never giving in to self-gratification.
  3. 1972: Why Stay Morally Clean?: Packer tells teenagers to stay out of each others’ pants. Sex is only for procreation, and nobody has any reason to grope one another.
  4. 1976: To Young Men Only: Don’t touch yourself. Self-gratification is evil. Gay sex is evil. If you touch yourself, you will go gay. If someone tries to get gay with you, beat them up.
  5. 1981: Marriage – Divorce is evil. Sex is only permitted in marriage. Do not lose faith in marriage. Do not lose faith in marriage. Do not lose faith in marriage.
  6. 1986: Little Children – The top two gravest threats to children are the idea that any two adults can have sex even if they aren’t married and “misuse of that procreative power in degraded acts of perversion is widely promoted as the right of consenting adults.” The biggest threat to kids is two people enjoying themselves in a consensual relationship. Not lack of access to education, physical abuse, or malnutrition.
  7. 1989: To Young Women and Men – AIDS and crack and Satanism is your doom if you give into temptation.
  8. 1993: Talk to the All-Church Coordinating Council – Gays, lesbians, feminists and intellectuals (all groups that advocate self-acceptance and explosion of stigmatising gender roles) are the greatest threat the church faces.
  9. 1996: The Unwritten Order of Things – Even when you are dead, you don’t deserve to have some attention for yourself. Even your funeral needs to be co-opted as a marketing tool for The Church. High-ranking priesthood leaders should never indulge themselves and come down from the stand to sit with their families during church. Don’t ever ask to be released from a calling.
  10. 1997: The Father and the Family – Packer begins with an overtly sexual definition of why people have families but later reprises his wish that everyone can feel like “a person.”
  11. 2009: Counsel to Young Men – Stay pure and worthy. Don’t wank and don’t let anyone else wank for you.
  12. 2010: October Conference – Gay is a choice. The church will continue to try to stigmatise homosexual relationships by preventing them from gaining social and legal standing.

It makes sense that a man who refuses to confront his own sexuality would give sermons demonizing free thought demonising self-indulgence. The most telling passage, for me, comes from “For Young Men Only.” Dim the lights and read this passage aloud to yourself in a sultry voice. It quickly becomes clear that no person comfortable with their sexuality could have possibly imagined that the following would have any value in a meeting meant for spiritual education:

Now a warning! I am hesitant to even mention it, for it is not pleasant. It must be labeled as major transgression. But I will speak plainly. There are some circumstances in which young men may be tempted to handle one another, to have contact with one another physically in unusual ways. Latter-day Saint young men are not to do this. Sometimes this begins in a moment of idle foolishness, when boys are just playing around. But it is not foolishness. It is remarkably dangerous. Such practices, however tempting, are perversion. When a young man is finding his way into manhood, such experiences can misdirect his normal desires and pervert him not only physically but emotionally and spiritually as well. It was intended that we use this power only with our partner in marriage. I repeat, very plainly, physical mischief with another man is forbidden. It is forbidden by the Lord. There are some men who entice young men to join them in these immoral acts. If you are ever approached to participate in anything like that, it is time to vigorously resist.

Now skip to the following and imagine yourself alone in a room, penning these words, tears trickling down your face as you force yourself to believe them:

There is a falsehood that some are born with an attraction to their own kind, with nothing they can do about it. They are just “that way” and can only yield to those desires. That is a malicious and destructive lie. While it is a convincing idea to some, it is of the devil. No one is locked into that kind of life. From our premortal life we were directed into a physical body. There is no mismatching of bodies and spirits. Boys are to become men –masculine, manly men –ultimately to become husbands and fathers. No one is predestined to a perverted use of these powers.

Verbal self-flagellation if I ever read it. If you are trying to force yourself to believe such words, the best method would be to get others to believe them too. The level of obsession is ridiculous. Packer’s in the closet, but the door is made of glass. The cheap shot that I simply can’t avoid taking is the irony of a repressed self-loathing gay man with the surname of “Packer.” He is someone to be pitied and loathed. When he shuffles off the mortal coil, the world will be a better place. In different circumstances, he could have led a happier and more productive life. However, the part of me that wants to forgive him for being the victim of a system that assaulted his identity from birth is overwhelmed by the part of me that holds him responsible for the deaths of countless LGBT youth.

Come out of the closet, Boyd. It isn’t too late. You can’t take back the years of agony you inflicted on the trusting souls who believed you spoke for God, but now that you’re at the end of your life and your health is beginning to fail, would it really be so bad to go through the last rite of honesty?