By M.K. Gilmour
Copyright © 2017 M.K. Gilmour
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. Contact email@example.com and provide feedback!
Cover by M.K. Gilmour
This short story is a piece of fiction, but it doesn’t have to be. It depicts how a loving, faithful, politically and socially conservative family might deal with their child’s struggles with the complicated and controversial topic of gender identity. There are some medical details in here that might upset sensitive readers. This story is an attempt at demonstrating that one can be loving toward one’s child, ensure that they obtain the best medical care possible, prudently and faithfully search for spiritual and physical answers, and adhere to the principles of one’s faith. It is possible. This piece may be fictional, but it is based on real stories of real individuals in these situations. I pray that you will read it with that in mind, and even if your family never confronts these issues in such a personal way, that you will open your hearts to those who do.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints does not endorse this story and any opinions in this story are those of the author alone.
Nothing in this story should be construed as medical advice.
Experiences with gender identity vary and nothing in this story should be considered a medical or spiritual standard.
I found out April was pregnant with our second child while I was watching the Steelers wipe the floor with the Patriots. April grew up in Connecticut and she’s a huge Patriots fan. Usually she jumps up at every touchdown, and yells at the TV when the game doesn’t go her way. I’m the same way, I just root for the right team. Anyway, this particular day in November, she didn’t even protest when the Steelers rushed 50 yards for a touchdown that brought us up by 21 points. So I knew something was up.
I paused the game and I asked her if everything was okay. She looked a little sick to me. Michael was down for a nap, so we had time to talk. She was nervous, and said she had something to tell me. She wasn’t sure how I would react. Eventually, she managed to tell me that she had a positive pregnancy test earlier that day.
To be honest, I was terrified. I was in my first year of my internal medicine residency and our salary barely paid for April to stay home with Michael. We had agreed we were going to wait until we were a little more financially stable. But in that moment, I could see the look in her eyes and I knew if I didn’t say something supportive and husbandly (is that a word?), it would be a serious mistake. So I gave her a hug and told her how much I loved her and how we would make it work, and how happy I was. And, predictably, she started crying, but they were good tears. She sounded relieved.
The pregnancy wasn’t physically tough on April. Michael was harder on her. But emotionally, it was very tough. There were some moments when she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I had a sixteen-hour shift at the hospital one day and she called me forty times. Forty times. I had 103 unread text messages. One night, I came home in the middle of the night, hours after my shift ended, and she confronted me at the door and accused me of cheating on her. Another time, she came to me sobbing, and told me we had to get rid of our dog, Jax, because he had chewed through his leash again and she just couldn’t handle an undisciplined dog and a baby at the same time. For the record, Jax stayed.
During that time, we visited the Temple more often than we ever had before. Even though it was next to impossible to coordinate babysitting and my work schedule simultaneously, we made it work. No—He made it work. We faithfully attended Sacrament, Sunday School, and Relief Society/Priesthood meetings. We didn’t stop reading the Scriptures together. We didn’t stop praying together. We didn’t stop doing our callings. Even when April felt terrible, she still managed to soldier on as Primary secretary. It was during those moments, or during dinner when she would tell one of her quirky jokes, or when she would pull out her camera and start taking pictures again, that I was reminded that my April was still there. It enabled me to recognize her emotional outbursts as artificial byproducts of the pregnancy.
I gave her three Priesthood blessings during that time. After one of them, notably, she wrote in her journal, “The Lord told me, through Sam, that this pregnancy would not be the end to our struggles. That we would have to endure much more. But I was promised that if we remain faithful, that the Holy Spirit would guide us, and that our home would be filled with love. I was promised that our children would grow up knowing that we want the best for them, and that they have an advocate, a friend, and a Savior in Jesus Christ.”
Our child was born in a hospital in downtown Pittsburgh at 3 am, July 23rd. We were told we had a beautiful baby girl. We named her Grace Keeley Park—Grace was April’s grandmother’s name, and she absolutely adored her. Keeley was my best friend’s name. He passed away the previous year, so we thought we would honor him that way.
Grace was a healthy baby. She met all her milestones early. She would follow people with her eyes and I could swear she knew exactly what we were saying to her. She said her first word at 7 months. It was ‘Mama’. By twelve months she had a pretty extensive vocabulary and spoke in one-word sentences. By eighteen months, she could string two words together.
We lived in Pittsburgh, so it was pretty chilly. In her toddler years, April would put pants on underneath Grace’s skirts because she loved the baby skirts, but didn’t want Grace to be cold. At around fifteen months, Grace started taking her skirts off and leaving the pants. I realize, scientifically speaking, there is nothing odd about this and it’s pretty normal behavior. It’s also worth noting that Grace used to toss her shoes into the freezer in the frozen food section, too. Mentioning the skirt thing is probably more confirmation bias than anything else, on my part. But it sticks in my memory.
April recalls this incident that happened when Grace was two that actually is pertinent. Grace was standing in front of a mirror on the back of the bathroom door, and staring at her reflection for at least ten minutes, maybe longer. April asked her what she was doing, and Grace asked, in one of her most complete sentences yet, “Why is there a girl in there?” April thought she just didn’t recognize her own reflection, and so she told her that she was looking at herself. But according to April, Grace was still terribly confused, and kept asking the same question.
Grace wanted to play with Michael constantly, but Michael didn’t always reciprocate. He was used to being an only child and it was hard to adjust to having a new baby sister. It was pretty clear to us early on that Grace had less interest in her own toys than she did Michael’s, and that she wanted to do everything like him. She put his clothes on. She followed him around.
She was developing faster than he did, intellectually speaking. She could read at three and a half, and Michael didn’t start until he was five. But socially and emotionally, Grace seemed to be lagging behind. At age two, she started telling everyone that she was a boy. We would correct her, and I was pretty convinced that it was just a phase she would grow out of, but April was worried. She became especially worried when the behavior didn’t stop at age three, or four.
It was almost time for our little girl to go to school, and Grace wanted nothing to do with anything girly. She ignored any girls’ toys we bought for her. She only played with the boys in Primary. She refused to wear any girls’ clothes. She threw a massive tantrum when we put a dress on her, every single time. We tried everything. We tried time out, we tried taking away privileges, we tried bribery. Nothing worked. And with this kid, usually everything worked. She was very responsive to discipline. Usually you tell her no, and she listens, and if she doesn’t, then a time out will do the trick. I was pretty sure we just had a little tomboy, but it bothered me that she still insisted she was a boy, relentlessly, even when we corrected her.
We taught Grace to pray early on. Her vocabulary was very advanced. She impressed me and sometimes brought me to tears with her prayers. At about four, she would say things during family prayer like, “Heavenly Father, I’m thankful for Mama and Daddy and for the Priesthood in our home, because it makes me know I have a forever family.” Or “Heavenly Father, thank you for Jax. He’s just a dog, but we love him because he has a spirit and you sent him to us to make us happy.”
I will never forget a prayer I happened to eavesdrop on, around that time in her life. She was kneeling, folding her arms in her room, a tiny little statue on the floor. She didn’t know I was in the doorway. And she said, aloud, “Heavenly Father, please turn my body into a boy. That’s how I belong.”
We had a talk before the first day of school. We told her she was a daughter of a loving Heavenly Father, and that He had made her a girl. We told her that she shouldn’t want to turn into anything other than what Heavenly Father had already made her. But she looked at April and myself dead in the eye, and said, “But I don’t want to be a boy. I am a boy.” Even though she didn’t agree with what we were telling her, we ended the conversation by telling her that we loved her, and that God loved her. She gave us a hug and told us that she knew that. She told us, though, that she wished we knew she was a boy. For a child so compliant with almost everything else (except eating her vegetables), on this topic, she was relentless.
School was rough on her. She was not placed into second grade, because the school system believed that she was not socially ready even though she was reading, writing, and doing math on a second grade level. She told the Kindergarten class she was a boy on the first day, and the kids laughed at her. The teacher corrected her, and later called us to let us know what had happened. It was then that April and I decided to take her to the pediatrician.
Being a physician, I knew about transgender concerns. I was convinced, though, that this did not describe my child. Grace was a tomboy. She was a very rough-and-tumble little kid who loved to get dirty, play with boys’ toys, and was never shy. She was bold about speaking her mind. But that could easily describe the next President of the United States, if you gave her 60 years or so. It could describe a CEO, or a neurosurgeon, or any other successful female individual living in the twenty-first century. We never held Grace back by telling her that she had to conform to a gender role. We let her be herself in every respect, and we were convinced that if we did that, she would eventually blossom into a healthy, strong, accomplished young woman who would take the world by storm. We were convinced that Heavenly Father had great plans for her as His daughter.
The pediatrician knew I was a physician, and he spoke plainly to me. He told me that Grace might very well be transgender, based on our descriptions of her behavior. He also knew we were LDS, that we voted Republican, that we were pro-life, and that we loved the Second Amendment. We liked him because he understood us, and agreed with us on many issues. He knew that we might have misgivings about Grace being diagnosed with gender dysphoria, and so he spoke openly to us about what options we had. Counseling was one option. It might be that Grace had some underlying psychiatric issue. Perhaps her intelligence had led to some psychological discomfort, and this was how it was manifesting itself. These speculations, strangely, gave April and me hope that perhaps we weren’t dealing with what seemed like an impossible task of having a transgender child.
We decided to enroll Grace in counseling with a professional who dealt with these issues, but we did our research to find one who also was of our faith. The last thing we wanted was for some state or federal government employee to show up at our door and take Grace away because we were ‘abusing’ her by not letting her complete a gender transition to the opposite sex. This was something that April worried about more than I did. I found it extremely unlikely that it would happen, though the fear was in the back of my mind. April, on the other hand, was convinced that we should pull Grace out of school to avoid just that situation.
I was optimistic about the counseling after talking with a couple I met online. They were also LDS, and their son had gone through a similar gender dysphoric episode when he was younger. They told us that he no longer had any dysphoria after going through counseling. I did some research and found that there were many similar reports, though I couldn’t track down any scientific studies that indicated those results were universal. I did read some claims that over 80% of children who went through a gender dysphoric episode before puberty would assume their biological gender identity in adolescence.1,2 Those number gave me hope that Grace would outgrow this problem once the hormones started to flow.
It’s safe to say I did a very thorough job researching this condition. I read countless stories from other parents that sounded exactly like ours. I reached out to people online, through Facebook or Twitter or email—whatever means I could. I read scientific articles about gender identity. I discovered that there was a significant amount of research that pointed to transgender individuals having similar brain behavior and structure to the gender they believed themselves to be. I also found some research that indicated transgender individuals to have an equal chance of having both congruent and incongruent brain behavior and structure. 3,4,5,6,7
Then one day, I read a group of studies that indicated that children didn’t develop gender constancy—the idea that gender can’t change—until age seven or eight.8,9 That it was perfectly normal for children to ‘pretend’ to be the other gender while they were Grace’s age. I remember going into our bedroom with my tablet and saying to April, “Full stop. You have to read this. We are moving way too fast on this thing. Full stop.”
We made the decision at that point that we would not make any decisions until after Grace’s brain was at the age of gender constancy. She was malleable. She was little and vulnerable. Even though she was a brilliant little girl, she was still five years old. Way too young to make any permanent or even semi-permanent decisions about life, however sure she seemed to be.
A few months after that, April called me while I was at work. She found Grace in the bathroom with a pair of scissors, chopping away at her hair, tears streaming down her face. April wasn’t even mad. She was just exhausted. But that call made my blood chill a bit. I remembered reading a story online from a couple with a child who was born biologically male, but identified as female. At age five—Grace’s age—they found him in the bathroom with a pair of scissors, ready to castrate himself. The similarities weren’t lost on me. Grace’s action wasn’t a life-threatening one, but it very well could have been, if our situation was only slightly different.
Every night, my heart ached for my little girl. I prayed to Heavenly Father to ease our burden or give us the strength to bear it. Don’t get me wrong—Grace was normally a happy, cheerful, playful little kid. She was full of energy. She was not clinically depressed. Not even close. I myself wanted to have her evaluated for depression because I know it presents differently in children. A psychologist and a psychiatrist gave our little girl a clean bill of mental health—except for the persistent gender dysphoria issue, that is.
The lack of knowing what was wrong with Grace was worse than the pain of suffering through her tantrums at receiving girls’ toys, or being called ‘she’, or being told she was pretty. The lack of knowing was far more painful than having to say the Happy Meal was for a ‘boy’ in the drive-through line so we could get the toy she wanted. The lack of knowing ate away at me. I worried so much about her future. Whether she would be able to be functional.
At the end of her Kindergarten year, we decided to homeschool her. There were too many problems with the school. She was not making friends. She was aggressive with all of the kids who challenged her or called her a girl. She was lightyears ahead of them academically, and was bored out of her mind. And she never let up on insisting she was a boy, albeit, she did find different ways to express it. She caught on quickly that grown-ups didn’t approve when she outright declared herself to be a boy, so she would sneak it into sentences. If she was referred to as ‘she’, she would state, “Don’t you mean ‘he’?” and then she would keep talking quickly, without giving you a chance to respond in the negative. In games where the children had to line up in alternating genders, she would always stick herself between two girls, knowing full well that she would be requested to move between two boys. And then she would throw a tantrum. After learning that she spent a good portion of almost every day being disciplined for her behavior, we decided this was not conducive to learning. And April began the hefty task of learning how to homeschool.
Grace flourished at home. She continued to play with the neighborhood kids outside, so she got plenty of exercise. April and she would go for walks every day. She would have playdates with the kids from church Primary. Her best friend was a little boy named Greg who was adopted from Russia by a childless couple in our ward. She essentially taught him English. They lived down the street from us, so the two of them played outside almost every day. They would come in covered in mud and carrying sticks in their belts like swords.
We noticed after a little while that Greg started calling Grace “Keeley,” her middle name. We asked Grace about it, and she responded that she had asked Greg to call her by her middle name instead of her first name, because Greg had told her it was a girls’ name. “But you can still call me Grace because you don’t think I’m a boy and Greg knows the truth,” she told us. Hearing her say that just tore at my heart. To think my little girl thought that I was essentially ‘unteachable,’ that I didn’t know ‘the truth’ about her…and she was only six?
That evening, I cried to the Lord when I said my evening prayers. I hadn’t sobbed in a while. But I was just so worried, so overwhelmed, that I thought she would grow up to hate us. I could see, almost in a vision, her growing up to join some half-naked march in the street under a rainbow flag, with her head shaved and her body covered in tattoos and piercings…rejecting the Church, rejecting everything we had taught her, hating the Lord, hating us…proclaiming her atheism and reviling the wisdom and love of Jesus Christ.
I know it sounds extreme. But that’s what April and I were really worried about. These were the stories we read online, from people who identified as transgender. They talked about how they tried to tell their parents when they were children, and no one would listen. They talked about how their church ‘abused’ them by trying to ‘change’ them. They talked about religion as if it was something stuck to the bottom of their shoe, or worse. They talked about their parents as hopelessly clueless, abusive, useless people of their past, with whom they could have no contact, ‘for our own mental health.’ Was this who Grace would grow up to be?
We did our best to make sure it wasn’t so. We prayed with her every night. We sat with her and Michael during Family Home Evening and read Scriptures to them, and talked about them. We played games as a family. We let Grace be herself—we never forced her to play with girls’ toys, or include girls in her inner circle of friends. We did try to introduce those things to her. We regularly purchased girls’ toys, and arranged playdates with little girls whose parents “just happened” to have a “meeting” with April. But she would usually ignore the toy, and typically had very little interest in playing with the girl.
So, for the most part, we let her be herself. We found the more we pushed, the more resistant she became, even when we tried the things that typically worked for her—incentives, reasoning, time-outs, rewards. None of it worked when it came to “girly” things. Her answer was just ‘no.’ We tried to be as accommodating as possible, without backing down on the truth that Grace was eternally a girl. That she had been sent here into a girl’s body from the Pre-Mortal World. That her spirit must be female because the modern day prophets had promised us that no mistakes could be made.
By the time Grace was nine years old, she had become quiet about her gender identity. She still dressed and acted like a boy. She put her hair up in a hat so everyone would think she was a boy at first glance. But she stopped arguing with people, insisting she be called ‘he’ or ‘Keeley’ or telling people outright that she was a boy. As she got a bit quieter and less assertive about it, we at first thought that she was finally starting to accept that she was a tomboy, not an actual boy.
But April noticed a change in her behavior, as well. She became more aggressive and moody. She picked fights with Michael and at one point, punched him hard enough in the nose to induce bleeding. I started to notice it as well. During one Steelers’ game, we watched as our guy threw an interception, and Grace got up, yelled in frustration, and threw the remote control across the room. We sent her to her room, because that behavior is completely unacceptable and she lost the privilege to watch the rest of the game. But that was the first time since she was a preschooler that I had seen her behave like that.
The regression got worse. We had to go to a function at my hospital—it was a ballroom dance, and children were invited. It was Christmas time, and it was formal, so Michael needed a new suit. The boy looked like he had been in a flood in his old suit. And Grace needed a dress. That was going to be the challenge. We hit the boys’ department first. Grace watched quietly with her hair up in her hat, staring at Michael as the tailor measured him. I stole a few glances and thought I saw the rage in her eyes. But maybe that’s just my opinion, retrospectively.
Then we had to walk about a hundred feet to the girls’ department. We were walking down the center of the shopping center, our shoes squeaking on the newly-waxed tile floors, and as we rounded a corner around a pillar, the giant sign for the girls’ department became visible. Grace knew this was the plan. We had talked about it. But suddenly, she had a catastrophic reaction. I’ve seen Alzheimer’s patients have them. I’ve seen patients with other psychological disturbances have them.
Out of the blue, as soon as she saw that sign, our previously passive little girl began to sob uncontrollably, shake, and dig her heels into the floor. I tried to take her hand and move her forward but she screamed at me like I was a stranger about to kidnap her. I was so frustrated and bewildered and, to be perfectly honest, angry with her, that I made the mistake of trying to make her move. I had it in my head that I was the father and I needed to put my foot down. She needed discipline. This nonsense had to stop. She was embarrassing us. The more I pulled her toward the pink section of the store, the more she resisted, and the worse her reaction became. She threw herself down on the ground and screamed.
People were staring. I was fuming. I grabbed her by the arm…probably harder than I should have…and I whispered in her ear that if she didn’t get up off the floor immediately, I was going to spank her. I had never spanked her. I had promised myself I would never do that. But I was ready to do it right then. It was not my proudest moment.
And it didn’t do anything to change her behavior, either. If anything, it got worse. She began begging, “Please! Please, please, please! Please! NO! Please!” It was like she was begging for her life in panicked, inarticulate desperation. The physician in me finally came to realize that she was tachypneic—she was breathing too rapidly. She was on the verge of having a panic attack.
I was too stupid and too slow to recognize my chance to do something to help my little girl in this situation. But that’s why we have eternal companions. They are our complements, and our helpers. In our faith, we have a saying that the wife is a “help, meet for us,” in which context “meet” means “sufficient for our needs.” I had never needed her help more than at that moment, I realized later. She truly was a help, meet for our family. She forgot the shopping bags and her purse. She forgot the stares of the people around us. She got down on the ground with Grace, and enveloped her in her arms.
Grace’s breathing quieted. She still sobbed, and clutched at her mother like a petrified drowning victim. She clawed at April’s sweater and clung to her desperately. It was like her mother had just saved her from death. I took a step back and realized that to Grace, this had just been a life-or-death situation. Being labeled by society as a girl, to her, was a fate equal to death.
That night, I went online and discovered something that nearly made me vomit. 50% of transgender children under the age of 25 years old are suicidal.10 I remember reading that and having my vision gray out for a moment. I literally felt the room spin. I grabbed the trash can, thinking I would lose my dinner into it. This was my daughter. This was my precious baby girl.
I fell off of the chair and onto my knees. I folded my arms in my study and I didn’t even care to close the door. I just immediately started praying. Begging Heavenly Father—like Grace had pled with us this afternoon—to please not let our baby be taken from us. To please protect her. To save her from this fate. To lift this burden from her, or give her the strength to overcome it.
I was impressed at that moment with a profound sense of calm. With a peace that I had not felt in quite a while. It was remarkable, and it surrounded me with such glory and warmth that it took my breath away. I realized that Grace would be able to overcome this. I felt…perhaps even heard…that promise spoken to me.
But, I realized, I would need to play a part in this task. I would play a huge part, and with my help, and with the help of those around her, Grace would be okay.
I ran into the Osgoods online in a forum for parents with transgender children. Grace was 10 at the time, and our anxiety about her impending puberty was mounting. She was performing academically at an eighth grade level, but socially she was still acting like an eight or nine-year-old child, and openly rejected any discussion about puberty. She had an almost-catastrophic reaction like the one in the department store when April tried to talk to her about deodorant, let alone any conversations about bras, periods, or sex.
The Osgoods had a child who was born genetically female, but had developed significant physical problems in her—I mean…his…teen years. He was called Theodore now. His birth name was Theodora, so I guess that was easy. They were not LDS, but they were evangelical Christians, and they agreed with us politically as well. It was very hard on them to change Theodore’s gender, but they actually didn’t see it as a change.
Theodore began developing migraine headaches when he hit puberty—female puberty. He also developed intense, unbearable cramping, and heavy bleeding. Far too much for a young girl. He had identified as a boy from the age of two, just like Grace. He was also brilliant, just like Grace. So much of his story was similar to hers, except he had this physical development that was puzzling his parents. They too wanted their child to develop as a normal female, thinking that once female puberty occurred, Theodora would realize that “she” was just a tomboy, and would begin to like boys, and identify as a girl. This did not occur. If anything, everything got thousands of times worse.
Theodore’s chest developed abnormally, with one breast growing so quickly that by age fifteen, they didn’t make bras in his size. Theodore was also a very small child, significantly smaller than the others in his class, and small for his genes, too. Numerous physicians ran tests and could find nothing wrong with him except for an enlarged clitoris. His testosterone levels were a little high, but not too far outside normal ranges. His genetic tests came back normal. As a physician, I read the Osgoods’ story and thought that this child had to be experiencing some kind of intersex condition. But they were open enough to send me some of his medical records and I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what the root cause might be.
Regardless, Theodore was getting worse. He felt sick regularly. He was out of commission for about half of every month, because of his monthly cycle. Birth control was prescribed, but his symptoms only intensified. Though his cycle was now on a regular schedule, and it was shorter than it used to be, the pain was worse, and the breast development increased significantly, causing him back and shoulder problems. He had no romantic attraction toward either gender. He showed no interest in dating and actually was like Grace in that he insisted he was still a child. He didn’t want to be a teenager. He was not intellectually deficient in any way—he was brilliant, just like Grace. But he became more aloof, throwing himself into fictional shows and hobbies and isolating himself from his parents. He began to reject his church as well.
Eventually, the Osgoods felt impressed by the Holy Spirit that they should listen to Theodore. That perhaps Theodore truly was a boy. And, perhaps being a boy would help his physical situation. This decision was only reached after months of prayer and fasting. Remarkably, when they took him off the birth control and allowed him to start testosterone, it was only a month later that his migraines were reduced from once a week to one in the entire month. His pain diminished until it was completely gone. By the fourth month, he reported one migraine every other month. He reported no pain. He was scheduled for chest surgery about six months after that, and the insurance even paid for it because of his unique situation with his back and shoulders. He also became more social. He gained confidence as he grew facial hair and muscle mass. He developed romantic feelings after about two months on testosterone, and gathered up the courage to ask a girl out on a date. After about five months, he decided to go back to church with his parents.
The Osgoods’ story gave me pause. These were not members of our church, and they didn’t have the same beliefs about the Gospel that we did. Their child also had some very significant physical problems that raised doubts in my mind as to whether he was actually transgender. Even though we couldn’t put our finger on what was wrong, hormonally speaking, it doesn’t mean that he wasn’t actually a male spirit sent into a broken, male body, that seemed more female than male only because of its illness.
That’s when I started thinking about what the Prophets have said about this issue. In our church, we believe that there is no prophets’ revelation that is more important for our day than that which comes from our modern day prophets. Here are some of those pearls of wisdom from these revered men who lead us:
“Your gender existed before you came to earth.” Richard G. Scott, “The Joy of Living the Great Plan of Happiness,” General Conference, Oct. 1996.
“From our premortal life we were directed into a physical body. There is no mismatching of bodies and spirits.” Boyd K. Packer, “A Message to Young Men”, General Conference, Oct. 1976.
“Our gender was determined before we came to earth and is part of our eternal identity.” Virginia U. Jensen, “Come Listen to a Prophet’s Voice,” General Conference, Oct. 1998.
"We unquestionably knew before we elected to come to this earth the conditions under which we would here exist, and live, and work." Henry D. Moyle, General Conference, October 1952
“Until you have a broad perspective of the eternal nature of [the plan], you won’t make much sense out of the inequities in life. Some are born with so little and others with so much. Some are born in poverty, with handicaps, with pain, with suffering. Some experience premature death, even innocent children. There are the brutal, unforgiving forces of nature and the brutality of man to man. Do not suppose that God willfully causes that which, for His own purposes, he permits. When you know the plan and the purpose of it all, even these things will manifest a loving Father in Heaven.” Boyd K. Packer, The Play and the Plan [satellite broadcast, 7 May 1995], 1–2
“We affirm as reasonable, scriptural, and true, the eternity of gender among the children of God. The distinction between male and female is no condition peculiar to the relatively brief period of mortal life; it was an essential characteristic of our pre-existent condition, even as it shall continue after death, in both the disembodied and resurrected states… There is no accident or chance, due to purely physical conditions, by which the gender of the unborn is determined. The body takes form as male or female, according to the gender of the spirit whose appointment it is to tenant that body as a tabernacle formed of the elements of earth, through which means alone the individual may enter upon the indispensable course of human experience, probation, and training. Man is man, and woman is woman, fundamentally, unchangeably, eternally. Each is indispensable to the other and to the accomplishment of the purposes of God.” Elder James E. Talmage (The Essential James E. Talmage, the Millennial SFtar, 24 Aug. 1922, p. 539) and the Young Woman’s Journal 25 [October 1914]: 600-604).
“Some people are ignorant or vicious and apparently attempting to destroy the concept of masculinity and femininity. More and more girls dress, groom, and act like men. More and more men dress, groom, and act like women. The high purposes of life are damaged and destroyed by the growing unisex theory. God made man in his own image, male and female made he them. With relatively few accidents of nature, we are born male or female. The Lord knew best. Certainly, men and women who would change their sex status will answer to their Maker.” Spencer W. Kimball, “God Will Not Be Mocked“, General Conference, Oct. 1974.
The last one really hit me. That is, after all, what we were talking about here, wasn’t it? Even if April and I never came out and said it, we both pretty much knew that we were enabling Grace to eventually undergo a gender transition. By allowing her to dress, groom, and act like a man, were we enabling her to become damaged? Were we hurting her feminine spirit?
But the reality of the situation was that she was psychologically miserable when we tried to force her to comply. She was happy and acted like a normal child when we let her be herself. She just acted like a normal boy.
God does not make mistakes. I know this to be true. Our prophets have told us that we should not suppose that God willfully causes that which He permits. We know that forces of nature can be incredibly unforgiving. We also know that we couldn’t be perfected if we lived in a perfect world. Without challenges to overcome, what would we even be doing on this planet in the first place?
The question that gnawed at April and me was whether Grace was supposed to overcome this challenge by training her brain to accept the will of her chromosomes, or by treating her chromosome-driven body to behave in accordance with her brain. Either way, her spirit would need to overcome what seemed like insurmountable challenges with eternal consequences.
We were facing an upcoming deadline. I knew, as a physician, that in most cases like Grace’s, we would recommend puberty blockers until she was older. Numerous tests have shown them to be perfectly safe, and completely reversible.11,12,13,14 All they do is halt puberty, giving the child more time to mature and develop their thought processes on what they want to do to their bodies. If they should choose to go through puberty the way they would have on their own, then we simply remove the puberty blockers and allow their bodies to undergo the process. If they decide to go through puberty as the other gender would have, then we would remove the puberty blockers and add hormone replacement therapy.
But those were decisions that most members of the Church did not have to make. In our church, we believe that gender is an essential characteristic that contributes to your overall mission in life, and in eternity. We believe it is an eternal characteristic, which cannot be changed. If I allowed my daughter to halt that natural progression, it might be that I would be hurting her ability to spiritually progress. But if I didn’t do so, Grace would be absolutely devastated. I don’t mean in the same way that kids are devastated when they learn they can’t go to a concert or when their first boyfriend breaks up with them. I’ve seen that kind of devastation. When Michael’s first girlfriend broke up with him, he didn’t leave his room for three days. Thank goodness it was a long weekend and we didn’t have to force him to go to school.
But Grace was different. I believed—and April agreed, as did Grace’s pediatrician—that if Grace were forced to go through female puberty, she might be seriously psychologically damaged by it. Think about that catastrophic reaction she had in the department store. That behavior was not a one-off attack. That was the result of persistent, consistent feelings that Grace has had since she was two years old. That was the result of almost a full decade of frustration and anger that the world did not see her as she saw herself.
No amount of counseling had changed this about her. We took her to five different counselors from age five to the present time, and none of them were able to budge Grace from her position on her gender. Though, the constant negative feedback she received was enough to make her become silent on the subject when confronted. She was no longer feisty about it in an argument, no longer trying to find a way to passive-aggressively assert herself. She was becoming like the Osgoods reported Theodore was. Aloof. Distant. Rejecting us as her confidants.
I brought up the idea of puberty blockers. I told Grace what they were, after April and I had discussed it. I had never seen more hope and joy enter my little girl’s face than when I explained what these drugs did. It was as if an angel had come down and showed her a light at the end of a tunnel. She lit up, and before I even told her that I had decided if it was something she wanted, she could have them, she jumped up from the couch and embraced me in a bear hug. Tears streamed down her cheeks. She could do nothing but whisper, “Thank you.”
And at that moment, I felt the Holy Spirit’s presence again. I was positive April and I had made the right choice.
In our church, most boys enter the Aaronic Priesthood at age 12. The Aaronic Priests are responsible for blessing and passing the Sacrament, ministering to the congregation, and ministering to each other. They are learning how to eventually become Melchizedek Priests, which is the higher priesthood.
When Grace turned 12, she came into my office rather timidly, knocking on the door as if she was afraid to even be there. I invited her in, and she asked in the tiniest voice I’ve ever heard my bold little child use, “Dad…is it possible that I could have the Priesthood?”
I had no idea how to answer her question. I tried to explain that the Priesthood was something that the Lord had decided was men’s responsibility, to which she replied that she was a man—or at least, would be, eventually. The way she said it, with her head down, expecting me to contradict her, made me purse my lips and say nothing in return. Finally, I asked her why she wanted the Priesthood, and she told me “So I can serve the Lord to the best of my ability.”
I then listed all the ways in which she could serve the Lord, and she agreed that she wanted to do all of them. But when I got to the part about becoming a mother, she shook her head vehemently and said something I will never forget. “Dad, that’s just wrong.” She didn’t say it like teenage children express their distaste for your dancing in your pajamas in the kitchen. She said it like adults express their distaste for the most heinous crimes imaginable.
“It’s not wrong, Grace. It’s the most beautiful thing in the world. I would love for you to see a live birth. What do you think?”
I had been taking her to the hospital with me to shadow me whenever I could get approval. She wanted to become a doctor, and with her intelligence, I was pretty convinced that if it remained an interest of hers, she could achieve it without a problem.
She readily agreed to witness a birth, and seemed very excited about it. But she told me, looking me in the eye, “I am not going to be a mother, Dad. I wasn’t made for that.”
I had done a fair amount of Scripture study on gender issues, and immediately I thought of Matthew 19. Jesus was asked about marriage, and He states that it is designed to be between a man and a woman. But then He goes on to say, “But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” (Matthew 19:11-12)
I realized that it was quite possible that Grace was given a circumstance whereby she was not expected to be able to obey this commandment. Certainly, God looks upon our best efforts, not upon the outcome. This was the essence of accountability, wasn’t it?
Isaiah also speaks of this. “Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the Lord, speak, saying, The Lord hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus saith the Lord unto the eunuchs that keep my Sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughter: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off…Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.” (Isaiah 56:3-7)
God accepts our best efforts, or “offerings”, and wants to welcome all. We are all striving at our own pace to eventually be able to hear the words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21)
I smiled at my child who brought these things to my remembrance. I began to feel the Holy Spirit strongly in the room. Although I had asked her this before, I just wanted to clarify. “Are you saying that God made a mistake with you?”
“No. I was born in the exact body I was always meant to be born into,” she told me, and I could tell she believed it. It wasn’t just a line.
“You were made a woman, Grace. That is the body you received from Heavenly Father.”
Then, she taught me something. She had apparently been thinking about this a lot, and she paused before she spoke. When she did, her tone was thoughtful and mature, not angry or discontented. “You take care of sick people all day.”
“Those bodies that are sick…they were received from Heavenly Father, too. They weren’t mistakes. They were given to the exact people they were supposed to be given to.”
“Grace, your body isn’t sick,” I said, but my thoughts immediately went to Theodore. There was a child who clearly was sick. How was my child that much different from him? Did a sickness of the mind constitute something substantially different than a sickness of the body? Grace seemed to read my thoughts.
“My brain is physically made to be a boy’s brain. I know that’s true.”
“How do you know it’s true? Did you read about it online?” Even if she had said that she had, it wouldn’t have disturbed me. I had shared with Grace the scientific evidence I had found both for and against the theory of a brain-related root cause of gender dysphoria. But that isn’t what she said.
She shook her head, and met my eyes. “I prayed about it.”
She surprised me. “You did?”
With a nod, she paused before continuing. “I read online that we don’t know how the brain works, really. That there are solid structures and stuff but that there are kind of…electrical?...connections that hold your personality together?”
I smiled at her understanding, which was good enough for age twelve, and nodded for her to continue.
“Well, if your personality is made by connections that are like, charges, or pulses that jump around and send signals to different places, and your body is made up of muscles that receive signals in the same kind of way, but with different chemicals that make them move, then how is what is wrong with me any different than what’s wrong with someone who can’t send signals to their leg to make it move?”
“Well, Grace, you bring up a really good point. But if someone couldn’t send signals to their leg to make it move, we would probably be looking into why that wasn’t happening, and we would be trying to restore those signals to make them work.”
“But if you can’t, because science doesn’t work like that yet, then wouldn’t you give him a wheelchair or a brace or something? Wouldn’t you help him work with what he has?”
She had a very valid argument. “Are you trying to say that you believe that us helping you live as a boy and grow into a man would be like giving you a wheelchair?”
“If this is the way my brain is,” she told me, matter-of-factly, “then why wouldn’t I want to get the most out of this life, living it to my fullest? You wouldn’t let a guy who can’t walk sit in his room without a wheelchair, would you? You’d want him to get out there into the world, so you give him a wheelchair, so he can be the best him that he can be.”
At that point, I took her hand. “Grace,” I started, and then tried to find the right words. “If we did that, and your spirit was female, then we would be hurting your ability to be the best you that you can be. If your spirit is female, then when you’re resurrected in the Second Coming, you’ll be given a perfect, female body, with a perfect, female brain that doesn’t have mixed signals about what gender you are. Have you thought about that possibility?”
She shook her head vehemently. “No, that isn’t true,” she insisted, and took her hand from me. “Dad, I’m trying to tell you. I’ve prayed about this. I prayed about that exact thing. Because I already thought of that. I asked God what I would be like when my body was resurrected. And I know I’ll be a man.”
Grace was not one for making up stories in order to win an argument. She would not just play this trump card in order to get her way. I might have, when I was her age. But that isn’t my child. I looked into her eyes and I saw that she was dead serious. She felt that impression. It had moved her to come into my office tonight, I realized. I wondered if she had arisen from her knees and come straight here.
And so…as much as we didn’t want to make this decision so soon…April and I decided to allow Grace to change his name temporarily to Keeley, and to go by male pronouns. Even writing that sentence made me cringe a little bit.
Keeley is not a new person. He was always the person I wrote about as Grace. We did not lose a daughter, even though it feels like it. We have not gained a son. We simply have a child, who is now engaged in something called a ‘real life experience.’ So far, it’s going splendidly for Keeley. Michael has caught on very quickly and hasn’t misgendered him once. I misgendered him a number of times, but that’s because I’m a little slow on the uptake. April is not thrilled with this but she feels that our three fasts and nightly prayers and Temple trip have confirmed, in her mind, that it’s the right thing to do for now.
Keeley doesn’t dress or act any differently than he used to. He is simply called something else, and by a different pronoun. The only difference in his behavior is that there are no age-inappropriate tantrums or angry outbursts. There are no screaming fights, no tears, no immature regressions. He has actually become a lot more sociable as of late with the kids in the neighborhood.
The only struggle is the ward. This is a culturally difficult thing to explain. April and I are going to talk to the Bishop this Sunday. A Bishop is like our pastor or priest in our church. Keeley never had any physical ailments that might explain this change, but that’s the easiest explanation for those who don’t know the whole story. It’s not how we should explain it to the Bishop. We will ask for the Bishop’s opinion. We hope he will tell us that if we felt strongly that we had received personal revelation for our family that this was a good temporary measure to take for our child’s mental health, then he would feel comfortable supporting it.
I have given Keeley so many blessings, it’s hard to count. I don’t know what will happen when Keeley receives his Patriarchal Blessing, which is when a Patriarch lays his hands on the person’s head, and provides them with spiritual knowledge spoken to them from the Holy Spirit about their past, present, and future. I don’t know whether Keeley will eventually take testosterone shots, grow a beard, and date women. I don’t know if Keeley will eventually develop romantic feelings towards men. There are many unknowns in my child’s life, including whether he will be safe, and whether he will stay active in the Church.
But I believe that if we continue to support him, and love him, and help him to ground himself in the Gospel, then you would be hard-pressed to find a more spiritually stable child. This child has endured so much heartache and unbelievable psychological pain. When I watched Keeley writhe on the floor of a department store, acting like we were trying to murder him over a piece of clothing, my vision transformed from seeing a belligerent child to seeing a soul in serious, gut-wrenching agony. This was not a temper tantrum.
Keeley is a brilliant kid. He is smart, funny, outgoing, and fun. He loves football. He loves to watch surgeries on Youtube. He loves inserting random medical words into his vocabulary that don’t really fit but make him feel like a doctor, at age twelve. He watches longingly as boys his age pass the Sacrament every Sunday. He kneels at his bed every night and says his prayers.
How can I protect him from the world? How can I do my job as his father? I hope I’ve already started. He knows he was not sent here by mistake. He knows that his body was not given to him by mistake, as so many transgender children think is the case. He knows God doesn’t make mistakes, but that He does permit hardship to occur in nature, for our benefit. He knows his parents love him. That is a huge start—so many transgender children don’t know that. He knows we want the best for him, even when he doesn’t agree with us. I’ve done a fair job, I suppose, of giving him the medical knowledge he needs to understand what is happening to him, to the best of our scientific understanding. I hope I’ve done the same on a spiritual level. That he is enthusiastic about Church and wants to become a Priest tells me that he at least understands how important the Priesthood is.
I hope that if Keeley does decide to grow into the man he wants to be, that it will be because he has received confirmation of his spirit’s gender from Heavenly Father, through the Holy Spirit. I am thankful that he already recognizes that his spirit was not mismatched to his body, but that his struggle was his unique challenge for him to go through, to learn and grow.
I fear that we are wrong, and that Keeley is actually female, and that this is a gigantic mistake for which we’ll pay eternally. It won’t be payment from an angry God, but rather it will be the natural consequences of missed opportunities—Keeley won’t have gotten the chance to grow into the woman he was meant to become if we misguide him and lead him into a dangerous route that is off the Lord’s path. But it will help to talk to our spiritual leaders, and the Patriarch, and listen to Keeley’s own promptings, which shouldn’t be ignored.
At the very least, I think I’ve averted the crisis of Keeley shaving his head and going to march half-naked in some kind of parade, railing against capitalism and the Church and everything else I hold dear simply out of spite. He isn’t going to be rejected by us, only to run into the open arms of whomever accepts him for who he is. That’s how most kids get into these anti-Church settings. But that won’t be Keeley. I have received personal confirmation from the Holy Spirit that he loves me, and he loves his mother, and he only wants to do what is truly right. There is no spite in him.
You see, Keeley cares about the truth. His truth seeking has been honest throughout his entire life. Keeley is a budding scientist, whose integrity is above board. He wants to know, and while he is not yet mentally okay with living with the consequences, he has expressed to me that if he received revelation from Heavenly Father that he was truly a female spirit, that he would pray for the strength to live that life. He knows he doesn’t have it now, but through the Atonement of Christ, he could receive it, if it was the Lord’s will. But he truly doesn’t believe it is the Lord’s will. He believes, honestly, that the Lord’s will is for him to overcome this challenge and grow into a man. He is starting to love his body instead of hate it as he realizes that his body is part of his challenge in this life, an honorable quest with which he has been uniquely entrusted, a precious gift from his Heavenly Father. I don’t know of another twelve-year-old who has had to think of things like this.
And as I am praying about it as well, as I’ve been writing this for the past couple of days, I realize that Keeley is probably right about himself. But he has promised to continue praying about it, because, surprisingly, he accepts it when April and I say that he is really too young to make that kind of decision. He is a remarkably prudent child.
I love my little Keeley. I want him to be happy, and experience eternal joy. That’s it. There is no agenda in this rather long story of ours. It is only meant to educate, uplift, and inspire. If you or someone you know is struggling with gender identity, please center yourselves on the Lord, and consider what is best for your child’s future. It may not be what you had dreamed for him or her, but the Lord’s plan is always bigger than ours. I say these things in the name of my Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
GENDER IDENTITY DISORDER IN DSM?
Cohen-Kettenis, Peggy T.
Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Volume 40, Issue 4, 391.↩
THE TREATMENT OF ADOLESCENT TRANSSEXUALS: CHANGING INSIGHTS.
Cohen-Kettenis PT, Delemarre-van de Waal HA, and Gooren LJG.
J Sex Med 2008;5:1892-1897.↩
A SEX DIFFERENCE IN THE HUMAN BRAIN AND ITS RELATION TO TRANSSEXUALITY.
Zhou, J.N., Hofman, M.A., Gooren, L.J., Swaab, D.F.
NATURE (1995), 378:68-70.↩
White matter microstructure in female to male transsexuals before cross-sex hormonal treatment. A diffusion tensor imaging study.
Rametti, Giuseppina, Carillo, Beatriz, Gómez-Gil, Esther, Junque, Carme, Segovia, Santiago, Gomez, Angel, Guillamon, Antonio.
Journal of Psychiatric Research (2011) Volume 45 Issue 2: 199-204.↩
Male-to-Female Transsexuals Have Female Neuron Numbers in a Limbic Nucleus.
Kruijver, Frank P.M., Zhou, J.N., Pool, Chris W., Hofman, Michel A., Gooren, Louis J.G., Swaab, Dick F.
The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism (2000) , Volume 85 Number 5: 2034-2041.↩
Regional grey matter structure differences between transsexuals and healthy controls—a voxel based morphometry study.
Simon, L., Kozak, L. R., Simon, V., Czobor, P., Unoka, Z., Szabo, A., & Csukly, G.
PLoS One (2013), 8, e83947.↩
A Review of the Status of Brain Structure Research in Transsexualism.
Guillamon, A., Junque, C. & Gómez-Gil, E.
Arch Sex Behav (2016) 45: 1615. doi:10.1007/s10508-016-0768-5.↩
Development of gender constancy and selective attention to same-sex models.
Slaby, R.G., & Frey, K. S.
Child Development, 1975, 46, 849–856.↩
The development of cognitive gender constancy and sex role preferences.
Marcus, D., & Overton, W. F.
Child Development, 1978, 49, 434–444.↩
Transgender Youth and Life-Threatening Behaviors. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behaviors.
Grossman, A.H. & D’Augelli, A.R.
The American Association of Suicidology (2007). 37(5), 527-37.↩
Young Adult Psychological Outcome After Puberty Suppression and Gender Reassignment
Annelou L.C. de Vries, Jenifer K. McGuire, Thomas D. Steensma, Eva C.F.Wagenaar, Theo A.H. Doreleijers, Peggy T. Cohen-Kettenis
Pediatrics Sep 2014, peds.2013-2958; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2013-2958.↩
Puberty Suppression in a Gender-Dysphoric Adolescent: A 22-Year Follow-Up
Cohen-Kettenis, P.T., Schagen, S.E.E., Steensma, T.D. et al.
Arch Sex Behav (2011) 40: 843. doi:10.1007/s10508-011-9758-9.↩
Long-term delay of puberty by treatment with GnRH analogues and the effect on bone mineral density in transsexual adolescents.
Wouters, F., Schagen, S. E., Cohen-Kettenis, P. T., & Delemarre-van de Waal, H. A.
Hormone Research, (2007) 68(suppl. 1), 67.↩
Early Medical Intervention in Adolescents with Gender Dysphoria
Delemarre-van de Waal, H. A.
Gender Dysphoria and Disorders of Sex Development, 2013, pp 193-203.
*This is not an exhaustive list of references available on this subject. Please continue to do your own research.↩