Circumcision, Mutilation, and Conversion Therapy

In preparing for my youth Sunday School lesson this morning, a scripture jumped out and bit me in the way that they sometimes do when you read something that you have read dozens of times before but all of a sudden notice that it means something that you never suspected it meant. The scripture was in the third chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians. 

Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh! For it is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh. (Phil. 3:2-3 NRSV)

My great surprise is in the phrase “those who mutilate the flesh,” by which Paul means those who require circumcision. But this is a much stronger condemnation of circumcision than he makes in other places, where ie more or less says “do it or don’t; it’s up to you.” The KJV encourages us to miss the strength of the condemnation by using the word “concision,” instead of “those who mutilate.” And, while “concision” meant something like “mutilation” in the 16th century, it now mainly has to do with the length of one’s paragraphs.

So, why is Paul, who is writing from prison and trying to prepare the Church to move forward without his leadership, so harsh on a practice that he and most of the other Church leaders have undergone and willingly advocated for their family members? We know, of course, that circumcision had become the principal dividing line in the early Church between those who saw Christianity as an extension of Judaism and those who saw it as its own thing. Paul was very squarely in the “its own thing” camp.

But this is not the only thing at stake. Adult circumcision was a significant barrier to entry in the days before anesthesia or antibiotics. (Even now it would not exactly be no big deal). Under the best of circumstances it was extremely painful, and, under the worst, things could go drastically wrong. Christians in Paul’s day were often called to sacrifice far greater things in the name of discipleship, but Paul felt strongly that those sacrifices should actually have something to do with discipleship.

Circumcision, on the other hand, had to do with making certain people comfortable. But this is not how the first generation of Jewish converts saw it. They saw circumcision, along with certain dietary restrictions and other tenets of the law, as self-evident truths of nature and, therefore, non-negotiable requirements for living in accordance with the will of God.

This view was held even by the head of the Church, Peter, until his remarkable vision in Acts 10, after which he stands up in the First Christian Council and asks, “Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?” (Acts 15: 10 NRSV).

The question, I think, is one that we all have to ask ourselves regularly. Why do we require sacrifices of others that we do not require of ourselves? Why do we create entry barriers to the Kingdom of God? Is it really the cost of discipleship? Or are we placing a yoke on potential disciples in order to make sure that we are not uncomfortable around them?

The entire phenomenon of conversion therapy–which has been in the news this week as the State of Utah considers legislation to ban the practice for minors–raises very similar issues for our Christian community. Even if we assume that it works (and there is absolutely no reason to assume that it works) conversion therapy begins from the premise that a person is unacceptable to God as they are, and it requires them to submit to painful procedures (emotionally if not physically) in order to qualify for God’s acceptance. The state must only decide whether or not such a procedure abuses children. Christians, on the other hand, should also think about whether or not it abuses scripture.

The question is not about whether or not we change, but about how and what we change. Undergoing a mighty change of heart actually is one of the requirements of Christian discipleship. When Paul calls circumcision “mutilation,” he is not saying that people don’t have to give things up, or make sacrifices, in order to become Christians. Rather, he is saying to the Church, “don’t create barriers that aren’t really barriers” and “don’t make people convert who they are into who you are simply so that you don’t have to be uncomfortable around them.” 

Throughout the New Testament, both Peter and Paul warn us that we must be very careful about the yokes and burdens we present as the costs of discipleship. Partly this is because we have not been called to police the starting line, but to make sure that everyone feels enough love and grace to begin the journey. But it is also because human beings have a hard time distinguishing between the divine law and our own sense of comfort. In order to feel more comfortable, we often “pu[t] God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear.” This is precisely what Paul called “mutilation,” and it is not how the Kingdom of God works.


  1. Great scriptural insight. Beyond just conversion therapy, the requirement of lifelong celibacy (or marrying someone you are not instinctively attracted to) is another burden the church imposes on its gay members and on no one else. If lifelong celibacy is such an important concept, and a sacrifice well worth the cost, why doesn’t the church require it of others?

  2. Another Roy says:

    Thank you!

  3. This is a wonderful insight, Michael; thanks very much for sharing.

  4. I’d make the application to the conversion therapy dispute perhaps even more direct, because my theory is that the Church’s disagreement, at its core, is that modern standards of therapy are sensitive to the individual’s religious identity and personal faith goals, whereas the Church wants standards and practices that are sensitive to the Church’s and the parent’s religious identity and faith goals. The shift from what’s comfortable for old folk to what’s comfortable for young folk is seen as high stakes.

  5. Given that Paul wrote mutilation and not circumcision, I believe he was referring to more than circumcision. I think he was referring to tattoos, body piercing, etc.

  6. Lee Williams says:

    The Wayment translation, which I almost exclusively quote from in my Gospel Doctrine classes, reads: “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, and beware of those who mutilate the flesh!”

  7. It is very hard to argue that ‘mutilation’ in verse 2 is about anything other than circumcision, given the continued theme through the next few verses (3 and 5, specifically). He states that he himself followed the law (circumcised at 8 days old), but that he found Christ, not through the law (of which circumcision is his cited example) but through faith.
    Here’s a decent discussion of the Greek:

  8. I pray for a softening of the hearts, I pray that I may be able to attend the temple again some day. I am not able to go because I had to either endure body and heart rending misery and continue to live as a male, or to be the woman I have been in my brain and heart from my childhood. This is a sacrifice not required of most. I miss it. But I don’t miss the misery of walking through this world all wrong and without hope of being right. Ironically, to go to the temple now I would have to walk through the days with a mutilated heart, a male presentation, and my true face continually veiled.

  9. I’m sure this has been discussed, but it’s certainly all a confusion to me.

    Feminists say there are no real major differences between men and women, only social conditioning.
    Some men feel they should always have been women, but their body didn’t develop “right”.
    So men and women think and feel differently and the man who knows he should be a woman is certain that how he feels is how a woman feels? The man who wants to be a woman is just attracted to men and likes “girl things”, but desires a heterosexual experience with female anatomy? But there are no real “girl things” just socialization.

    And don’t you dare belittle the girl things as demeaning, because the fact is skirts, and lacey underwear, or dolls, and makeup, and hair dye, and curls or dislike of sports (all socializations actually) are the “things” that get pointed to as evidence of wanting to be a girl. It sounds a little bit closer to psychosis, but now has cultural affirmation.

    The questions can keep flowing, but the issue is very confused and I’m certain that I shouldn’t take compassion on people by telling them they need to do severe functioning body parts and hammer their body with hormones. I’d rather suggest we help people who are confused feel comfortable with who they are and most importantly help them become who God wants them to be — that’s compassionate.

    I fail to see how gender surgery isn’t “conversion therapy” of a much more drastic nature. Society is telling thousands of people it’s ok and even pressuring them to sever functioning body parts, destroy others, and flood their body with mind and body altering hormones and drugs. Then they receive counseling, and so on. That sounds just as bad if not worse than the worst conversion therapy. And as we know, many many wish to go back and find they aren’t happy and commit suicide.

    All that being said, I think the point here in the article is good and can be applied in many cases. Even though I’m quasi-pro circumcision. I don’t think circumcision was the point here and risks becoming a side-tangent. The point I take is, that we ought not to force difficult traditions we have been able live by on people who are raised under a different set of circumstances in the new normal. Fair enough. There’s certainly a balance there, but we have to ask what is the tradition. The church doesn’t force circumcision or payot on anyone.

    Issues dealing with reproduction and the creation of life can’t get much more binary that right and wrong though.

    The primary issue I have with that application to gender and sex, is that is THE generational, eternal, societal mechanism that is most important. We’re not talking about hobbies, jobs, philosophies, styles, etc. But procreation and the means by which society reproduces. Anything that deviates from that “normal” is not a net positive by definition.

    If you’re infertile, we don’t celebrate it as positive unless you want to be cruel by saying XYZ people shouldn’t reproduce. We don’t need to beat any body up for not having children.

    If a person is not attracted to the opposite sex, even though they are physically capable of procreating, I personally don’t believe the best solution for that person is to ignore the biological reality of their genetic potential and design.

    It’s not popular advice, and it’s not given to others for good reason — it’s something I’d hope we could all decide and commit to for ourselves. You sure as h-e-double hockey sticks shouldn’t convert to the church because I told you, and you certainly shouldn’t go make a family with someone because I told you.

    But the truth is your (potential) children are more important than you desire for pleasure, happiness and/or fulfillment. It was always that way — across all species of any significance on this planet.

    And the reality is the prophets and God know that your best chance at a lasting positive impact and lasting joy and true happiness comes through having your own children wherever possible. Where it’s not possible, we don’t use as an object lesson for why traditional morality should be overturned.

  10. Thanks for this post, Michael.

  11. Lona
    You might be missing something. Have you considered going to counseling to LDS Family Services? If you do get someone who is 100% in tune with the First Oresidency and The Twelve Apostles.

  12. Did somebody just… Suggest that a trans woman go to specifically religious counseling for something that would almost certainly be conversion therapy or arguably conversion therapy? On this post? Seriously?

    Lona, if the temple is important to you I hope you can go back one day. Some people have luck resigning and being rebaptized under a new name, though of people in the church in your area know you, that’s just leadership roulette. Thinking of you.

  13. lcn – goodness, where to start. There exist a not insignificant number of people in the world who are born with some genital configuration that is not obviously male or female. Doctors (heaving counseling parents) do their best to just pick one. There are people who have obviously one gender configuration, but their bodies hormones direct their development completely the other direction. There are many, many genetic, hormonal, and other physical things that can happen in bodies, many of which we’re only barely learning of. With so many people who have the possibility of being a spirit of one gender living the life of the other gender, how can anyone say that any single person cannot also be in this condition?

    Try to figure out how to never again use the term “feminists say” – feminists aren’t unified in this (look up TERF) or pretty much anything else but wanting women to be treated as fill human beings.

    The Church has been inconsistent in this. There is a documented case of a transgender woman being allowed to marry a man in the Temple with the full knowledge and permission of the First Presidency. Even now, counselors in LDS Family Services vary widely, some trying to help the mental health of their patients no matter what their decisions are in being transgender (as is consistent with general psychology) and others pressing hard for remaining the gender the were initially perceived as. As Pres Oaks said, the opinion of a single GA does not make it the policy or doctrine of the Church.

    I am a transgender woman. I am in no way attracted to men or “girl things” (whatever that means), nor do I want to ever have the heterosexual experience as a woman with a man. I’ve no desire for lacy underwear, dolls, makeup, or hair dye. The curls I have naturally. There are a myriad of experiences in my life that point to my being transgender, but I would never have come to this point without a great deal of prayer and confirmation from God. I didn’t even think it was possible and had come to terms with my life being male until almost five years ago.

    There is so much variation in the lives of people who have gender dysphoria and/or are transgender that it completely defies the limitations you place of “severe(sic) functioning body parts and hammer their body with hormones”. Some transgender people -never- transition. Some do simply need counseling to work out other issues that can cause a misdiagnosis of gender dysphoria, but much more commonly counselling will not find any such issues. Each journey is different.

  14. Did somebody just… suggest trying to “get back to the temple” by lying about their identity? So your suggestion is that he use deceit to get what he wants instead of seeking professional counseling?

    *slow clap*

  15. Michael Austin says:

    I think that many of us are more comfortable than we should be–in situations where a person’s cognitive gender conflicts with their body parts–simply assuming that the body is “right” and the mind is “wrong.” I suspect that this is just an expression of the availability heuristic–we privilege the aspect of another person’s gender that is the most visible to us, which is the body part. Such an assumption also assumes that minds are not real, material things that operate according to actual physical laws. We don’t understand those laws nearly as well as we understand the laws that govern penises and vaginas. But the brain is also an organ, and there are things about it that are as hard-wired as sex organs are to the body. And there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that minds, like bodies, have gendered components which in most, but absolutely not in all cases correspond, more or less, to the gendered components of our reproductive systems.

    So, recognizing that, in some percentage of the population, the gender of the mind and the gender of the body are in conflict, why in the world would we assume that it is morally acceptable to try to use “counseling” to change the mind to match the body, but absolutely morally impermissible to change the body to match the mind? If we actually acknowledge that minds are things, and that they come from God too, then there is no moral difference between these two approaches. And the scientific difference is in favor of changing the body, rather than the mind, simply because, at our current stage of intellectual development, we know a lot more about bodies than we do about minds. Yet people seem comfortable inflicting a whole lot of violence on minds to get them to match bodies, rather than the other way around, under the assumption that God never makes mistakes on body parts. Of course, this requires us to believe that God totally messes up minds with impunity.

    The larger question, though, and the only one that matters in the context of the original post, is why any of this should matter in whether or not we accept and embrace people in the Kingdom of God. In the Pauline letters generally, Paul says that circumcision is something that individuals get to make their own choice about. It becomes “mutilation” when the religious community requires it as a condition of fellowship. We do not have the right to set these kinds of terms for our fellowship, even though, at the time that Paul said this, the head of the whole Church, Peter, felt otherwise.

    As I am not a transgender human being, I do not have to answer the question of how to best align the cognitive and the genital aspects of my gender in a way that best supports my development as a human being. The only question that I have to answer is whether or not I am going to require, or proscribe, any particular approach to this question as a condition of my fellowship or my obligation to love. I am not. And I do not believe that the church, or any church, should either. That is just not how churches, as I understand them from reading the letters of Paul, should operate.

  16. In the context of the proposed Utah regulation, I think it is important to note what the Church’s concern actually is. The Church is not attempting to limit what kinds of therapy people can seek; only to avoid severely limiting the type of therapy Family Services can provide. As Michael notes, where there is a mismatch of the body and the mind, one of the two needs to change. The Church’s official position at this point is that it is better to try to align the mind to the body rather than the other way around. As worded, the regulation potentially limits Family Services therapists’ ability to follow that path, even though (a) that path may be the most effective given the patient’s religious beliefs and (b) there is a substantial body of evidence indicating that changing the body to match the mind is ineffective in the long term.

  17. Can anyone define woman? Can anyone define man? The whole discussion on transgenderism revolves around what we even mean by woman and man. Most answers I have seen either fit into the category of anatomy, chromosomes, genotype, and phenotype – which can all be objectively observed; or, the category of identity or expression – which are mutable social constructs. If there is a gender of the mind then how is that defined and known? Is gender a physical and objective trait or is it a subjective identity? If it is both then it is neither and the word has no meaning. I sincerely ask anyone to please define woman.

    But to the point of the OP, if foreskin should be irrelevant to participating in the body of Christ then perhaps also gender, or perceived gender, should be irrelevant likewise. Maybe.

    And, the bigger question for theological debate is whether or not humans can change, what can they change, and what should they change?

  18. I think so-called “gay conversion therapy” is a great example of how people, who may otherwise have had good intentions, can go very, very wrong.

    Having said that, I do not believe that a medical or mental health professional who treats an individual experiencing bulimia would recommend that that person have life-altering gastric bypass surgery in order to feed into (no pun intended) the distorted body image their mind is continuously putting into their thoughts. Something is either a mental disorder resulting in a distortion of what is physically real, or it is not. Science, and God, do not allow you to have it both ways.

  19. If anyone is reading this and has not yet had surgery please consider not getting it. When you have surgery especially males the original equipment is gone and is gone forever and cannot be duplicated or recreated. In other words completely irreversible.

  20. Jon Miranda, FWIW: JS commenting on resurrection and one of Orson Pratt’s statement said no “fundamental part” of our bodies ever goes into another body. [Hist. of Church, vol. v, p. 339 quoted in Young Woman’s Journal, vol. 23, p.190] I wonder what parts he thought were fundamental and what he though happens when man eating predators or others pick the bones clean.
    While I have next to no understanding of transgender/gender dysphoria, I do wonder why some insist on giving primacy to adult genitalia over adult brains when the two are apparently in conflict.

  21. Since both the mind and the body may be incorrect, giving one automatic primacy over the other is going to be wrong it at least some amount of cases. We have the additional complication of theology of eternal gender. Please spare us the objections of “Why would God do such a thing” – God does and allows a great many things that are inexplicable to us.

  22. Wondering, I’m wondering too that when someone says there is gender in the brain what does that mean? Is there an objective medical condition or state? Gender in genitalia is pretty obvious, although we recognize there are medical exceptions with intersex, yet there are objective standards by which those are measured. How is gender in the brain recognized? Do we just rely on a person to self-disclose their brain gender?

    Women usually have the XX chromosome karyotype and men usually have the XY chromosome karyotype, yet we can get into the medical discussion about gonadal dysgenesis, Swyer, Klinefelter, Turner syndrome etc. and the myriad of sexual chromosomal variants. These are objective. Is gender objective or subjective?

    If a person with testicles and a penis has XY chromosomes and yet claims to be a woman what does that mean? How did this person come to that conclusion? What evidence is there? Do we rely solely on the subjective feelings of this person? Are there ‘man’ feelings and ‘woman’ feelings that make a person so? What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman?

  23. Wondering says:

    Yes, there is that complication. Joseph Fielding Smith didn’t buy it (at least if gender means being a man or a woman). “Some of the functions in the celestial body will not appear in the terrestrial body, neither in the telestial body, and the power of procreation will be removed. I take it that men and women will, in these kingdoms, be just what the so-called Christian world expects us all to be neither man nor woman, merely immortal beings having received the resurrection.” (Doctrines of Salvation 2:287-288 — currently claimed by Deseret Book to be “an authoritative work, written by the most outstanding scholar of the gospel in the Church”)

  24. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    T – “Do we just rely on a person to self-disclose their brain gender?” Yep. Just like I get to self-disclose if i like broccoli (yes), or onions (nope), or baseball (yes), or chess (not so much). I might change my mind on some things (chess?), but NEVER other things (onions!). But even this assumes it’s a matter of taste, which skirts tricky issues like identity or self. Living life as a circumcised person wasn’t my choice, as I wasn’t involved in the decision. Luckily, for me, that doesn’t conflict with other parts of my identity. And I’m so grateful I’m not forced to self-disclose my circumcision in my public life, or privately to Church officials.

  25. [A response to Michael Austin at 10:53 am]
    Testing why the body should be given priority in a mind-body model is useful to puncture the traditional birth certificate rule for transgender persons. [Note that the Church apparently has an answer in President Oaks’ 10/2/2019 teaching that “the intended meaning of gender in the family proclamation and as used in Church statements and publications since that time is biological sex at birth.” For some this will be the answer, the end of any discussion.]

    But framing the issue as mind or body assumes simple dualisms–mind/body, male/female–that limit the imagination and box people in. What about the whole intersex world? What about non-binaries of all variety? What about monists? (That would be me.) The very idea of ‘helping’ a person fit into somebody else’s boxes makes me shudder. Especially when somebody else’s boxes means exactly two boxes. [Acknowledging here that the current LDS Church position is very firm on two boxes, A failure of imagination in my view.]

    For my understanding, the call to fellowship and obligation to love for the individual and for the church, is first best illustrated by Philip’s ministry to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8), where I view the eunuch as intentionally ambiguous, neither obviously Jew nor Gentile, neither obviously cis-male nor cis-female, but a third or intermediate or other. “[T]he fact that the first Gentile convert to Christianity is from a sexual minority and a different race, ethnicity and nationality together calls Christians to be radically inclusive and welcoming.” (Quoting Wikipedia quoting Jack Rogers in “Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality” (Westminster John Knox 2009).)

  26. Michael Austin says:

    “But framing the issue as mind or body assumes simple dualisms–mind/body, male/female–that limit the imagination and box people in. What about the whole intersex world? What about non-binaries of all variety?”

    I tried (not entirely successfully, I find, as I looked back), not to invoke a mind-body dichotomy, but rather a mind-genital dichotomy. This is because I don’t actually see a difference between the mind and the body. The brain is part of the body. It is material and chemical just like the rest of us. But we don’t understand it very well. So I suppose I would say that I am a non-Cartesian materialist who sees both “mind” and “body” as subsumed by body.

    On the other question, though, I think that you are being overly facile about dismissing the male-female gender dichotomy as inherently illegitimate. It is not absolute, of course. There are people who do not fit into it, or who fit in different places than we are used to, and I have great respect for that. I don’t think that anybody should be put in a box.

    However, the dichotomy between male and female is not just a random social construct. It has deep evolutionary roots that affect the part of our body we call “the mind” and the part of the body that we call “the body,” And it also has deep cultural roots in the way that we structure society. This means that there actually are people whose brains and whose genitalia are in clear conflict with each other because they are on opposite ends of the dichotomy. If the question is, “how does one encourage people in such a situation to live happy and fulfilled lives?” then, I think, talking in terms of the male-female dichotomy that some people feel they are on the wrong side of is quite appropriate.

    None of this, of course, has anything to do with how we love or fellowship people or build the Kingdom of God.

  27. “talking in terms of the male-female dichotomy that some people feel they are on the wrong side of is quite appropriate”
    Absolutely appropriate. But unnecessarily limiting. If I’m actually interested in the health and welfare of the individual, not in making them fit predetermined boxes for my convenience, I want to listen to them with options and alternatives in mind. For evolutionary and deep cultural reasons it’s always going to be true that most of the action takes place on the bimodal male/female axis (which is real, I agree). But I’m also thinking of an acquaintance who is interested in presenting as female but that interest seems to be not a body-related gender dysphoria but all about the social construct of gender–in effect a desire to be positioned or seen or respected as a woman in their society. And another acquaintance who goes out of their way, on several dimensions, to avoid typing, to present as ambiguous or neither. When we talk about loving and accepting, when we talk about the flourishing of every ‘god in embryo’, they are in my welcome too.

  28. Did A Turtle Named Mack just reduce gender to a choice like broccoli or baseball? I thought (still think) gender is more determined than just a choice. I believe gender is a biological taxonomy distinction between the sexes (male-female); again, recognizing certain intersex conditions. Are we at a point where our society has redefined the word to refer to attitudes, feelings, thoughts, behaviors, and customs? No matter how many times I have asked the question in person to people or online via numerous forums nobody has ever been able to give me a definition of what it means to be a woman. Anyone? If we can’t even define woman or man then the whole discussion is pointless as we have rendered the word meaningless.

  29. Transgender is NOT a gender. Transgender describes a process that describes transitioning between the two sexes, male and female.

  30. lcn, and T, you both ask a worthwhile question. If nothing is inherently “male” or “female”, what does it mean to be transgender? How can gender exist in the brain?

    One interesting answer requires an analogy to veterans who have lost limbs. Many of these wounded soldiers have a continuing sense of their arm or leg, even though it is no longer there. The “phantom limb” can be inconvenient and even cause great pain. This is because on a deep neurological level, the veteran’s brain seems to know that an arm or leg “should” be there. Although on a conscious level, they know perfectly well that their limb is long gone, it is much harder to convince the deep part of their brain that used to be connected to the missing limb.

    Even more interestingly, some people who were born without an arm or a leg still possess that sensation of a phantom limb. Fortunately, these people who are born that way are much less likely to experience pain in their phantom arm or leg, but they may still have a vivid sense of it, as if their brain prepared itself for the possibility of a limb that never grew.

    A study by V.S. Ramachandran, a neurologist who has taken a special interest in phantom limbs, shows that in transgender people who have surgery so that their sense of the body they “should” have matches their physical reality, “phantom sensations” from the body parts that are altered or removed are much less common than they are in people who are not transgender who undergo surgery for other reasons!

    This suggests that perhaps on some deep level, a transgender person’s brain has always “expected” a body different from the one they were born with, and feels more at home after surgery than before it. This is still a very young branch of medicine, and there is much left to be learned, but maybe that is a way of thinking about it that will make more sense to you.

    lcn also says that many transgender people wish to reverse their surgery, but the numbers don’t seem to bear that out. According to Cornell University’s Public Policy Research Portal, only a very small percentage of people regret transitioning — somewhere between 0.3 and 3.8%, with that number tending to decrease as medical techniques and social support improve. From what science can tell us, it just isn’t that common for people to take such a big step with their lives unless they’re sure it’s what they want.

    Dsc, I would also recommend Cornell University’s overview of this subject to you. Not all transgender people desire to transition physically, but among those who do, it generally improves rather than worsens their well-being. You can read more about the factors that affect a transgender person’s outcomes on their website, if you’re interested in learning more.

    I really appreciate this post and many of the comments. I’ve lurked on BCC for a while, but this is the first time I felt like I had something to offer to the discussion. Thank you, Michael Austin and all, for making me a little bit more hopeful about the world and the LDS Church!

  31. I feel sometimes as if the various factions of the Church treat each new issue as a pendulum, wanting (or trying to force??) others to their end. The Church leaders state the rule for the general case. Others raise the issues faced by the exceptions to the rule. Each side then doubles down, Church leaders becoming more firm in insisting there is only one way of looking at things, others insisting the general rule be tossed aside to accommodate the needs of those who do not fit the general rule. The general rule is heterosexuality and marriage. LGBTQ people are the exceptions. Certainly we can find a way to respect the experiences of the exceptions without undermining the general rule and the critical functions it performs in our society. And hopefully we can honestly explore the feelings and beliefs of members of the LGBTQ community without feeling that any idea activists and researchers suggest be immediately adopted as correct just because their feelings insist it is so. Some scientific rigor would be greatly appreciated. And yes, there was a time not so long ago when many hospitals ceased performing gender reassignment surgeries because the follow-up studies showed the people undergoing it were not psychologically happier after it than they were before. Has something changed? Amputating body parts seems a barbaric practice, akin to lobotomies, and I think will be viewed as such in the future when we have better understanding of exactly what is different in the brains of transgender people compared to heterosexual people. Can we use our love for others who do not fit the general rule be the impetus to the search for a more complete truth.

  32. Boyd K. Packers injunction, given in one of his famous talks, that first we state the rule, then we deal with the exceptions, seemed to me to have one serious flaw. Church leaders never seemed to deal with the exceptions. They just stated and restated the rules until the exceptions were seen by the average member to be excuses for failure to live the laws. Life is more complicated than the general case. I cannot help but think God is asking more of us, by providing so many exceptions based on biology. I believe He is asking us to think deeper and pray harder for truth and insight. But I do not think He is directing us to follow whatever the current worldly wisdom is in relation to these matters.
    There is mental illness that causes some gender dysphoria. Borderline Personality Disorder is the most obvious example. Do not let our ignorance of its symptoms cause us to advocate radical solutions that forever mutilate human bodies.
    Zion can only be founded on truth and love. Do we want it enough to prioritize our public spending on research to seek truth?

  33. Amazing how people who want everyone to do more research ignore the great amount of research that shows that there do exist physiological differences and that gender dysphoria is not a mental illness. Gender reassignment surgery is no more mutilation than is repairing a cleft lip or removing breasts based on the possibility of cancer. (and comparing it to a lobotomy, a discontinued procedure performed on unwilling subjects who didn’t conform to society, is rather sickening)

    What if someone invented a “spirit detector”; a 100% accurate way of knowing what gender the spirit is inside the body? Would we allow transgender people who passed that test? Would we insist on reassigning the gender of people who had lived their whole lives as the wrong gender?

    We don’t have any 100% accurate indicator of gender. There are too many variations in sexual characteristics and how the brain is physically put together. It’s not new or even recent, just more obvious lately because it’s more accepted and better researched.

    At the least, don’t assume we’ve not spent a great deal of prayer in learning who we are.

  34. Frank Pellett, where exactly has some one commenting here made the assumption that someone has not spent time in prayer about their identity? Because I do not see it.
    And gender dysphoria is a possible symptom of Borderline Personality Disorder. Check out the research yourself.

  35. Frank – My sincere question is what criteria should we use to determine a person’s gender? If a person is born with testicles, a penis, and has XY chromosomes then what criteria is used to justify calling that person a woman? Do we rely on feelings, emotions, prayer? How are we to define woman? If a person claims to be a woman regardless of anatomy but rather based on internal feelings, emotions, attitudes, and social behaviors, image, and representation then are we saying gender is actually not anatomical or chromosomal but rather mental, emotional, or cultural? What does it mean to be a woman?

  36. Jerry – see Wanda’ comment earlier this morning – “I believe He is asking us to think deeper and pray harder for truth and insight.”
    Arguing what is a “possible symptom” is useless. Back pain is a possible symptom of cancer. Gender dysphoria is not a mental illness.

  37. T – considering we’re nowhere near being able to give any criteria that fits all cases (ignoring the idea of a spirit gender), there is no objective way to determine the gender of another person. If we do pick some determinations, what happens when our knowledge increases and those determinations are shown to be incorrect or insufficient?

  38. T at 9:15 am: I focus on functional definitions rather than labels. If I’m concerned about having a child then anatomy is important, especially internal structures. If I’m concerned with athletic competition, I’m looking at testosterone levels over a period of time (and I predict that’s where the various sport governing bodies will gravitate to). If I’m concerned with identifying an intimate sexual partner then it’s a complicated mix of genitalia and emotional makeup and self-identification (and hypothetical, since that one I’ve covered already).

    The Church seems to be concerned about gender for allowing or proscribing ordination. I gather the current rule is the birth certificate rule. I think that’s the wrong rule, but even more I think it’s the wrong question and will ultimately be solved by removing the priesthood difference rather than finding the perfect gender categories. (But that’s obviously opinion and at the progressive end of things.)

    Individuals seem to care a lot for themselves. I’m not sure how much and for whom that’s a kinesthetic body image matter, and how much it’s a cultural fitting? Either way, my answer would be to let the person who cares make the decision.

    And now I’ve run out of reasons to care. How about “person” for everything else?

    (I guess there’s bathrooms to worry about? But that’s just silly.)

  39. Frank – A significant segment of our population defines gender as biologic sex which can be objectively defined (except for the rare intersex exceptions I have previously noted) as has been for centuries. Now a segment of our population wants to redefine gender as a personal identity, fully up to the individual to self-identify. Much of our social, religious, political, and legal debates and disagreements are because these two segments do not agree on what gender even is. One group prefers the traditional taxonomic definition while the other prefers a personal non-objective non-binary undefined non-criteria definition. We really need to come to some agreement.

    If gender can’t be defined or determined except for self-declarations then nobody should be offended or upset when people disagree on another person’s gender. So Caitlyn Jenner can claim she’s a woman and I can say he’s a man and we are both correct because we are both free to apply our own criteria or definition? Must Caitlyn be forced to use my criteria? Must I be forced to use his criteria?

    If I say Caitlyn Jenner is a man what I mean is that Caitlyn Jenner was born with a penis and testicles and XY chromosomes, and that is how I define man. Should people be able to bully and shame me because I use a criteria they don’t like? After all, if there is no objective way to determine gender then I guess we can each apply our own subjective gender. Really?

    And what is a spirit gender anyway? If a spirit were to be female what would that mean? Can you list out the characteristics of a female spirit which would differ from a male spirit?

  40. T – have you checked the genitals of many people lately? People assume the gender of others based on appearance. It’s easy to be mistaken; we even make jokes about it at the expense of others. When you are mistaken, if you’re at all a decent person, you apologize and change your perception. You accept their gender because they say so, not because you determined it to be so. For example, you talk to someone on the phone you’ve never met and assume their gender based on their pitch, tone, and vocal mannerisms. What if you’re wrong? Do you insist on referring to them in the wrong gender? You meet a tall, broad shouldered person with short hair, slightly hairy chin, and a flat chest, do you assume they are male or do you accept their word that they are “properly equipped” and are female?

    No one is forcing you to use their criteria; you are quite welcome to be thought of as bigoted/sexist/stupid because you refuse to accept the persons word for what gender they are.

    There is no way to objectively determine the gender of another person. You can try subjectively, but you have to accept that you may be mistaken.

    (and spirit gender is from the Proclamation on the Family. I have no idea where to even start differentiating at that level.)

  41. I am simply stating that gender is not just what someone wants it to be. It is objectively determined, even if at times that is difficult to know. And my other point was exactly that just as a transgendered person wants to be treated with respect based on their definitions, people that have different definitions should also be treated with respect and not accused of being bigoted/sexist/stupid for using actual scientific definitions of male/female. If you think I am stupid for stating that Caitlyn Jenner is a man then you need to go back and study biology. Cutting off a penis, taking hormones, and wearing make-up does not make a man a woman; nor does having any other female stereotypical characteristics, thoughts, attitudes, emotions, feelings, temperaments, or behaviors make a man into a woman.

  42. Wanda, can you tell us more about the hospitals that stopped providing gender affirming surgery? So far I have only been able to find articles about John Hopkins University, which seems to have discontinued surgery on the basis of a single study and at the discretion of a director who is said to have opposed the program from the beginning. John Hopkins has since resumed offering all forms of trans health care.

    T, a couple of comments ago you said: “If gender can’t be defined or determined except for self-declarations then nobody should be offended or upset when people disagree on another person’s gender.” But it’s inherent in the word “self” that there’s one person who’s closest to the situation — the person whose life, identity, and body it is. No one else’s opinions about your gender matter as much as your own does.

    It’s clear that you feel that biology is the only legitimate basis for determining a person’s gender, and you are certainly entitled to your opinion, but science does not support you. I’m glad you recognize that intersex people exist. Perhaps in time you’ll come to be more understanding of transgender people, as well.

    As a side note, it is not at all customary to “cut off penises” when providing gender affirming surgery to trans women, although that’s a common misconception. The tissue is preserved as much as possible, only reshaped so as to alleviate gender dysphoria.

  43. Nath – We can disagree, that is fine, all due respect intended. I have studied the topic extensively though I do not claim to be an expert. My position is that gender is not solely self-determined. Sexuality is self-determined. Personal representation is self-determined. Thoughts and feelings are self-determined. Emotions and beliefs are self-determined. Attitudes and behaviors are self-determined. I categorize gender as an objective state, not a mental, emotional, cultural, lifestyle, or social state. You can’t personally determine your age, race, or species, and you can’t self-determine your gender. But you can determine your lifestyle, attitudes, appearance, emotions, and behaviors. And yes, I do consider biology to be the legitimate basis for determining gender. That is science. By the way, my reliance on biological science does not mean I do not have compassion for any person, regardless. I do not tolerate any hate or abuse of anybody. But my compassion for all people does not mean I have to abandon science and the English language and the meaning of gender. Now, obviously society is trying hard to completely redefine the word gender. Perhaps I should have said, cut off testicles. I am familiar with the surgery procedures and I know that much of the tissue, blood vessels, and nerve endings are retained. But reconfiguring sexual organs does not make a person the other sex/gender.

  44. T – considering you’re ignoring the science that says it can’t be reliably determined, I’d say you’re only relying on biological science you agree with. There’s a reason you can’t self determine age, race, and species; there is absolutely no ambiguity in any of them. Gender, as you have said and dismissed, can be inconclusive. As science learns more, we find that there is more ambiguity in gender than the simplistic idea that sexual organs win. There was a study which showed that transgender women more likely had brain structures more similar to women than men, but this could only be measure post mortem. This is one of many indicators that we know of in being transgender.

  45. You still haven’t answered the question, what is woman? Likely nobody will because they will either land on biology or traditional stereotypical gender roles and traits, and we don’t want to confine women to traditional stereotypical roles and traits.

  46. There is no scientific reason to consider only biological characteristics when describing gender. Obviously, gender is much more than just a biological fact. We’re not doing actual science if we choose to treat as irrelevant people’s lived experience with gender. (In my view, that approach also falls short of the authentic concern that true religion requires.)

  47. T – woman (the same as man) is an accretion of experiences that conform to the societal and traditional expectations of what makes a woman, any of which may not be the same as the experiences of other women.

    For example, I was assigned male at birth. I experienced many things growing up that boys experience, but also many things that girls experience. Once I understood that it was possible to be misgendered, I took stock of my life and understood that many of the experiences that I had which didn’t fit being male fit better with my being female. Understanding that, the conclusion was unsurprising. I may not ever (in this life) be able to change my appearance to match what is expected of a woman, but at the least I know who and what I am.

    It’s not the physical, mental, or societal traits that define our gender. It is our experience and growth and understanding of ourselves that define us.

  48. Frank
    It’s not the physical, mental, or societal traits that define our gender.
    I have a different opinion. What’s between your legs and in your brain is hardwired.

  49. Jon, go study so science on the matter. You opinion really doesn’t matter.

  50. T, I’m glad you have compassion for transgender people, including those of us in this thread. I hope I can show compassion towards you as well. And certainly it’s true that different people have different ideas about what gender is or means. But I wonder if maybe you’re letting the unfamiliarity of transgender experience lead you to believe that it’s all more mysterious or complex than it really is.

    After all, it isn’t as if anyone disagrees that trans women most often have XY chromosomes or were born with enough male traits to be considered boys at the time. That’s what it means when we say that someone is transgender. So if for some reason you want to specify what sort of body Caitlyn Jenner was born with, you don’t need to disrespectfully call her a man. You can simply say that she is a trans woman, and everyone will understand you. There is no confusion about the physical facts.

    I respect your desire not have your intelligence or values questioned for holding the beliefs that you do. It’s painful to be addressed in that way. But I notice that although you compare your beliefs to a transgender person’s desire to have their gender recognized, you also say that you disagree with them about what their gender truly is. Is it more acceptable for you to question their gender than it is for others to question your values? If that’s the case, aren’t you in reality asking for greater respect than you extend to trans people, rather than for this discussion to happen on truly equal footing?

  51. “On December 19, 1841, Joseph spoke at his home in response to concerns “of some church members that he was a fallen prophet either because he delivered revelation less frequently than in times past or because he provided revelation containing direction that differed from earlier revealed instruction” (page 33).”
    To all honest seekers of truth, it is clear that Joseph received contradictory revelations and failed prophecies. See the revelation calling David Patton on a mission, the temple in Independence Missouri, finding treasure in Salem MA, selling the copyright of the Book of Mormon, etc.
    Deuteronomy chapters 13 and 18 gives us the test of a true prophet. Joseph fails the test.
    Beloved Mormons, you need a Savior, not a religion with its ordinances of the flesh that can never save (Galatians 3:3). Jesus saves, not because of righteous things we have done, but because of His mercy (Titus 3:5). Come to Jesus and throw off the yoke of religion.

  52. Brian
    And yours does?

  53. I didn’t offer my opinion, Jon, you did. Your opinion doesn’t change someone’s gender. Again, go read some science. Even from some people in these comments. Show that you aren’t just a troll.

  54. Brian
    I’ve read lots and lots and lots.
    There’s a certain militant faction within the LGBT community that will do anything to upend society. Right now there’s a case in Texas where a mother is forcing her seven-year-old son to be transgender. Sad to say but I think that when gets older he’s going to probably kill her for ruining his life.

    I would to God that this would not happen but you can’t just do something and not expect consequences negative or positive.

  55. Jon, neither you nor I have enough information to know if the Texas case is as it appears to be. Only one side has been promoted. Without getting information from the child, independent of either parent, we’re just speculating.

  56. Jon, it’s clear now that you are a troll. And I hate to give you any more responses, but, honestly, I’ve said nothing about the merits of the Texas case. Reading lots and lots, perhaps, but from what sources? Your comment “he’s probably going to kill her’ response is irresponsible and disgusting. Finally, to throw it back at you, there is a militant conservative contingent that denies that gay people exist, that it’s simply a choice, that conversion therapy is good, and that if an adult someone undergoes sex change therapy, they have ruined their eternal salvation. None of which the LDS church (currently) teaches–they’ve changed their ‘opinions’ an awful lot on these matters as more research has come out. Ha. Funny pun to end on.

  57. People experiencing this need to be very careful especially when it comes to gender surgery. Once you do that there’s no going back because you cannot replace or duplicate the original equipment especially for males.

  58. A little off the topic but I am reminded both of a conversation with a woman who was lesbian in sexual orientation and with an appearance of Ellen on the Oprah show.
    In my personal conversation, my colleague explained that when she was a child she wanted to be an archeologist and marry a man who was also an archeologist and with their children travel the world. As she grew up she realized she was gay because she wanted a career and not just to be a wife and mother. I, who had wanted to work for the CIA and even though I became a computer programmer, still insisted on spending my vacations traveling to dangerous and exciting world destinations like Communist countries and areas caught up in civil wars, was speechless. How did wanting more than PTA meetings equate with believing that required you to be gay?
    And once when Ellen appeared on the Oprah show she explained that she had had sex with a number of men but she had not experienced the earthshaking feelings and fireworks people spoke about. Oprah and the entire audience of women just began to laugh. Then Oprah told Ellen she hoped this was not what made her realize she was gay because no woman experiences what movies and books present sex as. Ellen looked sincerely confused.
    The point: Are we defining masculinity and femininity too narrowly? As one friend told me she once commented in a Relief Society lesson on the subject, the list the women created just looked to her like an indoor duty liist for the women and an outdoor duty list for the men. I realize transgender is more than this. But I am wondering if we could free people from the rigid gender norms that seem to require them to feel and think in certain ways based on their biological sex.
    I guess Frank Pellett, I am asking you. What makes you believe you are a woman inside? How can you imagine what a woman feels? I would never believe I could really know what a man feels other than the experiences that are common to both, which I define quite broadly. And which feminism has insisted on broadening greatly in my lifetime, for which I am sincerely grateful. And yet, still a difference between me and a man. When a woman has a child, she focuses inward on that child. Her husband usually focuses outward on his job, feeling responsible for the physical need to provide and protect so his wife can provide and protect within the home. Do you, as a transgender woman, want to nurture and train children to adulthood? Is your greatest desire to live and nourish a marriage and family? Or are your feelings of femininity focused on something else?

  59. Louise (a2a) – “How can you imagine what a woman feels?”
    Same way I imagine how a man feels; by observation. As we grow, we see how grown women and men behave and emulate those behaviors that fit our sense of who we believe ourselves to be. What makes me feel like a woman inside is the feeling of belonging around other women, the desire to be more like them. I’d taken in the doctrinal understanding (in Primary) that the bodies we have now are how we looked in the pre-existence, so despite that nagging feeling that I was different than the boys and wished I could be one of the girls, I tried my best to fit in the boy category.

    I can understand Ellens confusion in Oprahs interview. One of the myths of being LGBT is that there was some single experience that “made” you that way. When we look at our lives, we don’t see any single experience that we have or dont have that “turned us” this way. When we do realize we’re LGBT, see can see the experiences that didn’t fit fall into place. Ophahs questioning feeds directly into the myths, that all she needed was the right man to bed her to turn her straight.

    Yes, I’ve often been jealous of women who could bear children and my greatest desire is to be a stay-at-home parent, but being a woman is much, much more than that (just ask the cis women who aren’t able to do either). Yes, I do have experience of being sexually abused over a few years by a male cousin, but my experiences in childhood well before that and continued through and into teenager-hood and through adulthood. I didn’t have a name for it or any understanding of the possibility, theologically, of being transgender. Most people don’t question their sexuality or their gender.

  60. Louise.
    I have a slightly different angle of an answer than Frank on what makes me feel like I am a woman. My answer is a simple phenomenology of experiencing life feeling as if I should have been a girl at birth. Many transgender people simply feel this, often from an early age, even though sometimes they may not have the comprehension exactly what it was. Socialization did not teach me that I felt like a woman, it was a constant sometime subtle hum- sometime violent roar- but always present. My first memory of this would have been when I was about three, the age when many cis gender people also start to have a comprehension of gender. Here is a Haibun about my memory:
    As for socialization, that led me into solid male roles that dominated my behavior for 45 years. But all throughout there was a struggle to keep the girl down, to suppress who I was. I believe the brain usually eventually wins this battle of incongruence between external roles and genitalia and intrinsic identity, but I nearly died in the process and many actually do.
    In terms of what causes the brain to experience the phenomology? Biology, the research is already extensive and continues to expand, more ALWAYS needs to be learned in any field of science, but it is biology that made me a transgender woman just like biology made Michael Austin a cisgender man. Here are a few interesting links to get you started:
    In terms of what we do about the whole wonderful situation? The best science does not say the solution is to keep it down and suppress it and marginalize and isolate transgender people, but to allow them to transition as far as each person needs to in as supportive an environment as possible. Here is the mother of all links on that question:

    Reflecting back to the original post, I feel like the years of suppression and incongruence was a mutilation on my heart and to ask me not to be how I was created (transgender woman), and to keep me out of the temple if I do medically/socially transition, and to excommunicate me if I surgically transition is a. Type of sacrifice that is not asked of those lucky enough to be congruent. I pray that one day we may be one.

  61. If you understood the awakening process (which is severely curtailed by all denominations) you will see there is a better way and a welcoming path to your greater, personal spirituality.

  62. Frank, thank you for your reply. One correction to your observation. Oprah and the other women in the room were not laughing because they thought bedding the right man would have convinced Ellen she was not gay. It was because no sex with any man is THAT great. Ellen was under the misconception that straight women knew they were straight because sex with a man was amazing and earth shaking. And she was sincerely confused to discover they did not feel that way.

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