the transgender boy and the kindegarten bathroom

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When Sally was two years old, he found things he could stick between his legs to represent a penis. While he didn’t have the words to describe it, he was distressed by the lack of a penis there, something he noticed his brother had, and he tried to convey that to his parents with grunts and cries, but they simply didn’t understand, as much as they loved him.

Sally’s mother would lovingly comb his long hair each morning. When she pulled Sally’s hair back into a braid or a ponytail, Sally would tug the hair free until it hung loose on his shoulders. Sally’s mom stopped trying to style his hair.

Sally’s father would help dress Sally every morning, in white tights and a pink dress perhaps. Sally would cry and fidget until the tights were off, and would clutch and pull at the dress with his little fingers. Finally they would dress him in shorts or jeans and a T-shirt instead.

Sally’s parents assumed they had a very willful daughter.

When Sally turned 4, his distress grew worse. At home, he was allowed to play with trucks and blocks and tools. He hated the sight of a Barbie doll or a makeup kit or a fairy princess. At home, he could use the bathroom just fine, but in public, he refused to enter the women’s restroom, instead marching into the men’s. His dad was fine with that, but that only worked when Sally was out in public with dad; when he was with mom, she would have to take Sally into the women’s, and Sally would fidget and cry and scream and wail.

When Sally turned 5, he was spending more and more time frustrated, crying, and angry. His parents attempted to put him in daycare, but he couldn’t go, he would cry and scream and throw tantrums all day. They couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Sally began getting angry whenever they used the name Sally to address him, so they tried out nicknames. He hated ‘sis’ and ‘princess’, so they tried out Sam. He liked Sam just fine.

A few months after his fifth birthday, Sam went into the kitchen medicine cabinet and found a bottle of extra strength Tylenol. He took it to his mom and asked her to open it. When his mother asked him why, he said it was because he wanted the pain to go away. She found him holding the bottle again a few days later. And Sam’s parents realized it was time to get him help.

It took the therapist only two sessions to realize that Sam was a boy. The mental health diagnosis is Gender Dysphoria, a condition in which a person shows significant distress with their assigned gender. Simply put, Sam was a boy trapped in a girl’s body.

Over the next few months, the parents learned everything they could about transgender kids. They cut Sam’s hair. They let Sam dress like he chose, in jeans, in ball caps. They continued to let him use his own toys. And they started using HE instead of SHE to describe him. And almost immediately, Sam’s emotional and behavioral problems went away. Sam started smiling, and playing with other kids, and being sweeter to his parents, and getting along with his brother. When he was upset, his behavior was within normal reactions, a short cry or a stern word, but at vastly reduced levels compared to his previous behavior.

Sam was soon enrolled in kindergarten. The parents were extremely nervous and they had a long conversation with the principal and the teacher about Sam and his condition. The faculty was surprisingly supportive. Although they had to enroll “Sally” in the classroom, they introduced him as Sam, and a boy, and Sam made friends quickly. He continued working in therapy and he began to understand what being transgender is.

Sam used the boy’s bathroom at the school until one of the other teachers learned he was transgender. She demanded Sam use the girl’s bathroom, and the school felt they had to comply given the complaint. Sam cried every time he used the girl’s bathroom. He began just holding it all day, to the point he felt ill, but it was easier for him to be sick than to be called a girl. He looked like a boy, and the other kids were confused when he went in the girl’s bathroom. And that was when the teasing started.

Sometimes Sam’s older brother called him Sally, or called him a girl, in order to antagonize his little brother at home. But he learned quickly that whenever he did, Sam seemed overcome with anger and sadness and would rush to his room crying. So he stopped doing that. He loved his little brother.

Working with the parents, the school started letting Sam use the teacher’s bathroom instead of the girls’. That helped a little, but it was uncomfortable. He was the only kid in class who used the teacher’s bathroom. He didn’t want to feel different from the other kids, even though he was. He wanted to fit in with the other boys like he had before.

Sam’s parents kept fighting the school on this, but they felt their hands were tied. They considered home-schooling Sam, but knew he needed the social interaction, and they felt he deserved the right to have an education with his peers. He was only five and he had already been through so much.

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Though I have changed the name and left out identifying details, Sam is a kid that I know. Not every transgender person experiences such gender distress at such a young age, but many do. And while some kids have passing phases, where they want to be more masculine or feminine for a brief period of time, Sam is an example of a child who is most definitely transgender.

When we see the transgender bathroom issues being debated on the news and on social media, I want you to think of Sam. Every kid in every class deserves to belong and to feel safe. It’s a much bigger deal than you think.

Dear Mormon leaders,

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I don’t plan to send this letter, but I’m writing it just the same. I won’t send it, because I already know what your response will be: no response at all.

I spent my childhood, adolescence, and much of my adult life believing that you had my best interests at heart. I have the same story that you must have heard hundreds of thousands of times by now. I knew I was different from other boys from the time I was five years old, I knew to hide it by seven, and I started getting teased about it at 10. While all of you were (presumably) learning how to like girls and what that meant for you, I was learning how NOT to like boys, how to form a part of myself deep down inside that no one could know about.

I don’t blame you for any of that, of course, that is just how society treats gay people. But here’s the part where you are to blame, where you hurt me: you created and backed up church policies that taught the contradictory doctrine that God loves his children and creates them in His image, yet he doesn’t create gay or transgender people. You published books that taught me that being gay was being selfish, was not trying hard enough, was a crime against nature, was an abomination, was wrong. You taught me how to be ashamed of who I am in God’s eyes, and perhaps worse, you taught me that I could cure it, if I just tried and kept trying.

And so I spent days in prayer and fasting, nights and mornings on my knees pleading, wasted energy in public service. I asked for blessings, I served in every calling, I was faithful and true, I served a mission, I was unfaltering in my resolve. And every General Conference, I would tune in with open heart and ears, hoping beyond hope that there would be guidance from God on how I could live with myself, hoping I would finally fit in and belong, feel that God loved me.

What I didn’t know is that my story is the story of hundreds of thousands of other gay and lesbian Mormons, and it is even harder out there for the transgender Mormons, the ones whose spirits don’t match their bodies, and the ones who are made to believe they can’t even exist. No answers came, not ever. And worse, no compassion. Only calls to repentance.

Because I was raised this way, because I was made to believe I was broken, I never held hands with or kissed another person until I was 26 years old. I married a woman and we had children. I went to therapy. I did everything I was told, and I was a shell of a person, empty and broken and bleeding and pleading. My entire life.

And there was no light from God, no compassion, no love. I began to hear of other gay Mormons out there, excommunicated for being homosexual, being told to marry someone of the opposite gender, being sent to reparative therapy camps where they would be abused. I heard about the Proclamation on the Family, Church’s stance in Proposition 8, and I heard about the suicides that resulted after both. Dozens upon dozens of bodies that were broken and bleeding like me until they couldn’t do it any longer. A mass grave of God’s LGBT children, dead because of the words you spoke.

And now, I am no longer a member of your organization.  I finally accepted myself for who I am. It was like coming up for air after years of holding my breath. I finally felt what it meant to kiss someone, to hold hands, to feel whole. I finally understood that God loved me, once I realized the words you speak are not the truth. I was, quite literally, born again, my baptism and rebirth made possible only through leaving your organization.

I now reside in Salt Lake City, just blocks from where you meet, from where you make decisions and policies that impact the lives of my loved ones and community and family. Though I am not a member of your church, I see and feel the pain you cause in the hearts of LGBT members around the world, and the wedges you drive into families. Every few weeks, there is some cold and painful new announcement from your mouths, or from your offices, that sends furious winds across the lands, and every time there are those who are like I was, silently suffering and hoping beyond hope that you will show your love instead of your disdain.

I grew up with an abusive step-father. Much of the time, he would just ignore the fact that I existed. Then he would get violent, with flung fists and objects, ugly and painful words. And then, on rare occasions, every once in a while, he would do something just a tiny bit kind, and I would light up and think that he loved me again. Days later, the cycle of ignoring and abuse would start all over again.

And it dawns on me, that this is you. This is how you treat your LGBT members. You ignore them most of the time, then you are cruel and spiteful and mean. You use penalties and punishments, lay out impossible expectations, give poor counsel, and throw around harsh words like apostate and sinner and abomination. And then, from time to time, you will say or do something just a tiny bit kind and everyone will hope beyond hope that at last you are changing, at last you will show love. Then the cycle of ignoring and abuse starts all over again.

And yet the thing that makes me most furious? Only the merest shred of kindness on your parts is needed to save lives. No dramatic change or reversal in policy is necessary, no temple acceptance. All it would take for you to save lives would be just a few words of kindness.

Elder Nelson or Elder Oaks or President Monson, any of you, standing up and saying, “My dear brothers and sisters, those of you who are gay and lesbian and bisexual and especially transgender, we want you to know that God loves you and he wants you to be happy. You are welcome in our wards and worship services. We love you and we want you to be part of us. We are so sorry for any pain our actions have caused. Please, never never think of harming yourselves. We love you and are here to help.”

A few words and hearts would heal. Lives would be saved. Families would be reunited.

Men, there is blood on your hands. Every time a Mormon mother throws out her lesbian teenage daughter into the streets, it is on your hands. Every time a young transgender boy cries himself to sleep, praying for God to make him a girl inside, it is on your hands. Every time a gay man takes a woman to the temple, promising to love her forever yet knowing he can’t, it’s on your hands. Every time a council of men gathers to excommunicate a member of their ward for daring to find love in the arms of someone of the same gender, it’s on your hands.

And every time a 15 year old child wraps a rope around his neck and hangs himself from a closet rod because he believes God didn’t love him enough, it is on your heads.

You claim to speak for God, and you deliver words of hatred. If you could look your own children and grandchildren in the eyes as they sob, and tell them, “I speak for God. You are broken. He loves you, just try harder to change. Anything else is a sin. Try harder.” If you can do that… well, I can’t imagine how the spirit of God you strive for could possibly dwell in you.

I could never look into the eyes of my sons and see anything but a miracle. Not something to be fixed or amended, but a perfect child who deserves every ounce of happiness in the world.

You who are men. White, elderly men. You who are retired fathers and grandfathers, men who wait for years for seniority appointments into the roles of apostles and prophets. You who speak in the name of God to millions of his children here on the Earth. You who say that you don’t, you can’t make mistakes; and that if you do, they are the mistakes of men, not of God. You who hold the powers of life and death in your hands.

If you see dead teenagers and broken marriages and parents disowning their children and pain in the hearts of your LGBT Saints as acceptable collateral damage in your quest to enforce your views of the laws of God, well, then, I want no part of the God you believe in. The God I believe in is one of love.

I won’t send you this letter because I know it will be met with silence.

A few words of kindness and compassion from you is all it would take.

Brethren, people are dying. Children are dying. And it’s on you. The blood of children is on your hands.

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