I recently was in an online discussion of women who run Relief Society organizations in their wards. One woman asked the group about a married man in the ward who has come out as a woman and wants to attend Relief Society. The question was whether other wards had been through this, and did they have any advice on how to help the Relief Society handle this smoothly.

It’s a difficult question, and a tough situation, and frankly, without knowing more about the situation, there is a lot to understand to be able to determine the best way to help. How does the rest of their family feel? How does his wife feel? Will they be sitting together in Relief Society, or are they at odds? Does this individual plan to transition or just express as a woman?

While many of the responses were tentative and unsure, some other responses really took me aback. There is a lot of hatred among some Church members toward trans people and very little understanding. There is fear related to trans people being a threat to children (under what set of assumptions I don’t know–that’s never been a thing I’ve heard before), and the biggest fear of all, the fear that a “man in a dress” (a mocking way to describe a trans person if ever I’ve heard one) will be in the women’s restroom which one woman claimed was her “safe space” (making me wonder what the heck she’s doing in there).  I’ll be honest, I don’t get the bathroom fears at all, for several reasons:

  • I’ve worked with trans people who shared a bathroom with me, and it simply wasn’t a big deal.
  • There are stall doors in the women’s restroom.
  • I don’t pay attention to what’s going on in other stalls. I barely pay attention to what’s going on in my own.
  • There are male children traipsing in and out of the women’s restroom ALL THE TIME in my ward, many of whom seem a little old for this.
  • The women’s restroom is notoriously bad because apparently men don’t have to change diapers, just women. Where is this so-called “safe space”? Mine’s full of diaper fumes.
  • I’ve never checked anyone’s biological sex at Church. Everyone makes those decisions without my intervention. There are plenty of trans people who pass for the gender they express.
  • Trans people are far more likely to be victims of violence. Claiming they are a threat to safety isn’t just ironic, but disingenuous.

Unfortunately, there are clearly a few more questions that have to be asked when considering how a ward should handle such a situation: What is the ward’s general temperament toward trans people? Are there individuals in the ward who are hostile and hateful toward trans people? Here are things that people do and say who are hostile toward trans people:

  • Deadnaming. Using their pre-trans name, and insisting on referring to them by their former sex, not their gender identity. This was done by many of the most hostile women in this discussion thread.
  • Referring to them as a “man in a dress” or other way to make them appear ridiculous and not credible.
  • Stating that Church policy is clear and will never change (this is definitely not the case as scientific knowledge is emerging).
  • Calling them “perverts.” Again, this was a term that was used in several places in this discussion group. Name calling is pretty clearly a hostile tactic.
  • Pointing out that people who are exposed to a trans person are the “real victims” who are being made uncomfortable. Yikes. Enough said on that one.
  • Overstating threats and fears, such as the likelihood that the bathroom will become unsafe. With 2 hour church, it’s even less likely the trans person (or any of us) will have to use the bathroom at all.
  • Assuming devious intent by the trans person. Those hostile to trans people assume they are intentionally deceiving others to gain access to other gendered spaces for some unstated nefarious purpose.
  • Lack of awareness of intersex, that around 0.4 to 1% of births have some form of ambiguous biological sex identification (e.g. unclear genitalia, chromosomal variation, etc.).
  • Being too defensive of male / female differences being fundamental to one’s nature, as opposed to acknowledging that there is more variation within gender groups than there is between the genders.

Unfortunately, some of these hostile attitudes are things I suspect go all the way to the top, even though top leaders are trying to understand trans people.

This discussion was honestly more hostile than I expected. But it wasn’t all bad. There were many sisters who expressed compassion. There were a whole lot who (also not great) gave their go-to answer for literally EVERY question asked: let the bishop decide. Ugh. There were a few who mentioned articles on the nature of trans people, and quite a few who talked about gender dysphoria and the psychological distress of the individual if they are rejected. It was mostly a vocal handful who were completely unwilling to be nice to a trans person if one were to show up in their ward.

What do you think?

  • Is your ward hostile to trans people or are they more compassionate and willing to listen?
  • Will trans people find a place in our Church? If so, how long?
  • Would ward members be more welcoming of one of the youth who was trans than they would for a married adult?
    Would the Church be more welcoming to a male-to-female trans person or to a female-to-male trans person? Why do you think so?

Discuss.