Demeaned & Dismissed
My Mormon Intersex Experience
Deconstruction of my mormon life began in 2017 and came to a climax last week. This is my experience as an intersex mormon. I grew up a devout Mormon hiding. My identity had been repressed by me because I had been oppressed by the LDS church. What follows is the truth as to how I came to realize I had been robbed. If my story resonates with you or causes you to pause and ask why, I have a favor to ask of you as an ally.
Growing up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormon, I had a happy childhood. But on occasion and without warning I felt I didn’t belong- I’ve come to realize, I didn’t.
I was most uncomfortable when I was forced to wear a dress, taught to sew while the boys played basketball, was included in Mother’s Day celebrations as a teen, or expected to prepare for marriage. I graduated BYU Hawaii as a walk on student athlete earning a social science education degree. After college I went on a mission to the midwest and enjoyed the incredible people there. I was bought in. I had literally given 25+ years of my life to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Cracks In The Mold
It was in the spring of 2016 that I moved to Utah after my mission to pursue a job, cheap living, and good friends. It was there that the pressures of mormon culture and teachings wore me down. Pressure came from the expectation to date and live commandments, two things that were supposed to make me happy but brought misery as I struggled to conform. Sadly, my mental health tanked as I experienced anxiety and depression for the first time in my life. Thoughts routinely spiraled and it was crippling to manage them.
The mormon church’s commandments around heartfelt prayer, devoting time to studying scriptures, and strict purity standards were supposed to bring me joy but they were actually the root of heartache. I needed a break. I decided to stop trying to live the rules and in turn give myself grace and compassion. The result was an immediate lift. My heart was buoyed and I was on the path to true joy.
I Became My Own Person
“Well if you’re not doing so well in Utah why don’t you come with Mo, the boys, and I to Portland?” said my brother who is two years my elder.
A lifeline. A beacon of hope amid the darkness.
That summer in Portland was a salve for my wounded soul. I explored and understood myself more that summer. As cheesy as it sounds, I began shaping my destiny. I looked at the world differently as I saw coworkers and community members as humans rather than their decisions or status as a nonmember (that’s Mormon talk for anyone that’s not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). I spent hours alone, riding the countryside on my moped, reading at a park, or swimming laps in the river. I chose happiness routinely and my church attendance became sporadic.
My perspective continued to shift as I found peace and clarity and moved back to San Diego in September of 2017. I officially stepped away from the mormon church that fall and my mental health improved. I dedicated 2018 to Courtney. I did this by investing in my physical and emotional health, exploring my sexuality and intersex identity, and giving myself space and time to know myself. (Read more of my story.)
Jan 3 2019
What’s Your Position?
With this massive shift in perception and newfound self discovery I began to wonder where I and others in the intersex community fit within the mormon faith and church. There was still a strong tie to the community for me. I’ve heard it said, but the culture and traditions of The Church of Jesus Chris of Latter-day Saints are so strong you can leave but you’ll always be mormon. The culture, habits, teachings, and friends and family who remain in the church are inextricably connected to you.
It was in December of 2018 that I made my first inquiry to church leaders. I know the organization well. I knew that if I wanted answers and a listening ear I had to play their game. So I spoke with my assigned bishop who quickly passed me to a regional leader, the stake president.
Before meeting with the stake president I sat down to write. My baby activist brain strung together some ideas and words to accurately convey my life experience and present an inquiry to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I presented the letter to the stake president explaining my experience and question. I was shaking. My voice quivered and my body sweat as I shared with this stranger the deepest and darkest secrets of my life. Just months earlier I had come out to my best friend, the first person outside of family to know my truth.
The stake president inquired to church headquarters at Salt Lake City, Utah on the matter and came back with nothing. The leaders were aware but still “praying on the topic”.
Eventually we got in touch with the area seventy for San Diego, the next man up on the leadership ladder. I met with him and the stake president and presented my letter again. I was able to tell my story and ask my ever important question for a second time:
"ALL HUMAN BEINGS—male and female—are created in the image of God... Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose."
“...I found it difficult to reconcile my non-binary (neither male nor female) self in the context of church doctrine and teachings. To quote The Family: A Proclamation to the World, "ALL HUMAN BEINGS—male and female—are created in the image of God... Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose." For non-binary and intersex persons such as myself there is no direction from the church or it's doctrine. We simply do not fit in with what I have learned. I am of the opinion that if you believe in a God that created us in His image, He created me intersex and a doctor proclaimed me female.
So I come to the table with two communities in mind and a very straight forward question: what is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' position on intersex persons, our gender, and our community?”
Aug 11 2019
I Had Been Robbed
It was in this meeting that I had a moment that would change my life. The stake president, who I’d known for the better part of 2019, asked me a wonderful question, “what have you been denied as an intersex person?”
I put on my activist hat and spoke to the lack of representation of intersex persons in society and by governments. I explained the atrocities we face in the medical industry.
It hit me strong-like a testimony meeting used to, “The most important thing I have been robbed of as an intersex person is my identity. My core sense of self.” It was there in that church office that I found my purpose. I found the root of my struggle.
I was never myself as a woman. I was never myself in a dress. I was never myself preparing to be a mother and wife. I was never myself. I am not a woman. I am intersex.
My letter made its way to Kevin Pearson, a regional leader in North America. From Kevin my letter was delivered to an apostle, Quinten Cook, and eventually Dallin Oaks, a member of the first presidency and right hand man to the prophet. In less than a year my words went from my shaky hands to the offices of the most powerful men in the mormon church- apostles and prophets
Shortly after Dallin Oaks read my letter he presented a training to the quorum of the 70 which is a large group of upper level leaders from all across the world. The address was titled “Policies, Love, and Law” and was presented to leadership at the 2019 October General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This training (word for word document of his remarks) was passed to my stake president and read to me on December 12th, 2019. The training focused on LGBTQ topics.
To say the training was disheartening as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community would be an understatement. It spoke of god’s laws being greater than love, marriage being between a man and a woman, and that gender as male and female is eternal.
But there was a separate section addressing intersex persons, conditions, and decisions. The remarks were brief and vague but spoke of decisions by parents to determine a child’s sex at birth and that those decisions should be made with wisdom and compassion. Church leadership failed to explicitly apply their binary doctrine when addressing the intersex community.
I was not permitted to record the meeting nor was I provided a copy of Dallin Oaks’ remarks and was told it was confidential. Additionally, I was also denied the opportunity to take a picture of the specific intersex section. I was given the addresses of Quinten and Dallin and was encouraged to write them.
Roughly three months after my meeting with the stake president The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints included a section (38.7.6) in the handbook titled General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints entitled “Individuals Whose Sex at Birth Is Not Clear”, strangely placed right after the section titled “Hypnosis.”
The section is a gross misrepresentation of intersex persons, gives vague guidance to members, and fails to apply a firm church policy. Frankly it is dismissive and inaccurate. Heck, they can have a stance that members should not participate in recreational hypnosis but they have failed to address my inquiry directly.
By the time June 2020 came around I had the emotional and mental bandwidth to write Dallin Oaks and Quintin Cook regarding the statement. I gave valid and clear direction on how the statement could be improved to better represent and serve the intersex community. I also offered my services as a voice from the community in an attempt to open the dialogue further.
A month later I received correspondence from the San Diego area leader via email. He was a messenger from Dallin Oaks. Their words were as follows:
…commitments in serving saints and leaders, caring for the poor and needy, and extending the blessings of the gospel to every person worldwide, does not allow for engaging in the type of ongoing correspondence…
“I received a copy from church HQ of the letter that you sent to President Dallin H. Oaks along with your suggestions for improvements to the new language in the handbook regarding Intersex members. Thank you for taking the time to write. Your correspondence and suggestions were appreciated and reviewed. President Oaks wanted me to thank you for writing and encourage you in your faith and testimony.
As you can imagine, the volume of correspondence received by the First Presidency from members of the church across the world is enormous. Thus, their commitments in serving saints and leaders, caring for the poor and needy, and extending the blessings of the gospel to every person worldwide, does not allow for engaging in the type of ongoing correspondence you requested. None the less – Thank you for the letter and suggestions.”
I didn’t matter.
Mormon church leaders don’t have time for me, our community, or the estimated quarter million members with intersex traits. But they had time to be included in a joint religious Amicus Curiae in opposition to the supreme court ruling in June that expanded protections to LGBTQIA+ persons’ employment.
Their priorities are loud and clear. Oppress. Demean. Dismiss.
Their Hands Are Tied
More than ever I am boldly proclaiming that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is being wishy washy and sidestepping the issue. Let me break it down:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fails to overtly apply their strong binary teachings and doctrine when describing intersex persons. The men who run the church are lawyers, businessmen, and doctors. These leaders know full well what the dismantling of my mere existence does to a cornerstone of their belief structure.
Additionally, the the leaders advise parents to select a sex for children but fail to mention binary distinctions in the policy. They are asking parents to correct what god has created. But god is all knowing and perfect. By that reason, to alter an intersex body admits to god having errored. Their hands are tied.
Where would an intersex person serve in the church? How would an intersex person marry in temples? Would god make an intersex person “whole” in the resurrection and what would that look like? Should revelation to parents drive sex assignment at birth? If so, does that mean we’re fixing god’s mistakes? What if a parent is not worthy of such revelation? Which section in the temple would an intersex person sit in? Would they attend Relief Society or priesthood meetings? Does someone with XY chromosomes automatically get the priesthood?
Binary sex and gender drive EVERYTHING in the mormon faith!
If The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sides with intersex lives and recognizes our legitimacy they will be forced to dramatically shift all operations and beliefs. For a multibillion dollar corporation with 16.5++ million members world wide, this would be a monumental adjustment.
If The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints denies the legitimacy of intersex lives (which their binary doctrine seems to imply) they contribute to the bigotry, erasure, and silencing of intersex persons. They knowingly contribute to the oppression of an entire population of human beings.
The mormon church’s hands are tied. I’ve presented a situation that beautifully blows up their patriarchal model of organization and worship.
Where do I fit? I can read between the lines and their half effort fluff. Can you?
Friends & Allies, A Call To Action
Join me in sending letters to church headquarters, Quentin Cook, and Dallin Oaks to demand The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ revision of section 38.7.6 of the general handbook, demand that the mormon church state their position on intersex persons’ gender and sex, and advocate for the fair treatment of all in the LGBTQIA+ community.
Use and adapt the script below as you wish to write church leaders:
Church Admin Building (Headquarters)
47 E S Temple
Salt Lake City, UT 84150
47 E South Temple
Salt Lake City, Utah 84150
47 E South Temple
Salt Lake City, Utah 84150
[To Whom It May Concern/Dallin Oaks/Quentin Cook],
It has come to my attention that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has recently included a section titled “Individuals Whose Sex at Birth Is Not Clear” (section 38.7.6) in the handbook titled General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I’ve written to you today to provide feedback on the section and raise a very important question.
Section 38.7.6 needs to be revised with direction from the intersex community to include more inclusive language, an accurate description of intersex persons and traits, and specific guidlines as to the church’s stance on intersex persons’ gender and sex. Making corrections to this section would benefit intersex persons in the church, of which there are over a quarter million!
All persons, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, sex, or gender expression deserve a safe place. A place where love and radical inclusion drive decisions, policy, and culture. The church which teaches “love thy neighbor” should be one of those places for those who wish to find refuge there.
Intersex persons deserve to know where they stand with the church. There has been overt communication from from leadership that sex and gender is binary, eternal, and essential. But this clear language has not been applied to the intersex community and the section of the handbook mentioned above. Why is that?
I come to you with a simple and clear question: What is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ stance on intersex persons, their gender, community, and sex?
Intersex not invisible,
Thank you for your continued support. My journey would not be complete without it.