FAIR is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing well-documented answers to criticisms of the doctrine, practice, and history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Question: Since there are people that are born intersex, experience gender dysphoria, or identify as transgender, does this invalidate the Latter-day Saint ("Mormon") doctrine of eternal male and/or female gender?
Question: Since there are people that are born intersex, experience gender dysphoria, or identify as transgender, does this invalidate the Latter-day Saint ("Mormon") doctrine of eternal male and/or female gender?
Some secularist critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints point to the existence of intersex humans, people who experience gender dysphoria, or people who identify as transgender in order to invalidate the doctrine of eternal, binary gender.
Intersex people are defined as those that:
are born with any of several variations in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals that, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, "do not fit the typical definitions for male or female bodies."
Transgender people are those that identify with, dress as, and/or have gender-reassignment surgeries performed on them to become, identify with, and or act as a different gender than the one they were proclaimed to be at birth.
Gender dysphoria is the dissonance caused by not identifying with the gender (male or female) that one is proclaimed to be apart of at birth.
It is claimed that this invalidates the doctrine of gender as outlined by "The Family: A Proclamation to the World":
All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.
It should be noted here that "gender" is used synonymously with "biological sex".
It should be first noted that those who make this argument commit the naturalistic fallacy in logic. Just because it occurs in nature, that does not, by necessity, make the behavior inherently correct.
Secondly, it is important to understand that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints espouses a particularly detailed set of doctrines—believed to have come through divine revelation—that outline the purpose of our pre-mortal, mortal, and post-mortal life that make accepting transgender identity within the Church virtually impossible without surrendering core doctrinal values and propositions. The first part of this article will detail some philosophical objections to this criticism and then outline the aforementioned doctrinal propositions that Latter-day Saints would be reticent to relinquish.
The Problem of Ontology
The philosophical study of ontology studies issues such as cause, being, and the self. What is the self? What is identity? Philosophers have debated these issues for a long, long time. The next section (or three subsections) will detail important claims in mainstream LGBT thought regarding ontology and the problems associated with those claims.
Feelings are not Being
Latter-day Saint researcher Ty Mansfield PhD. pointed out something important in regard to feelings not forming identity:
“Being gay” is not a scientific idea, but rather a cultural and philosophical one, addressing the subjective and largely existential phenomenon of identity. From a social constructionist/constructivist perspective, our sense of identity is something we negotiate with our environment. Environment can include biological environment, but our biology is still environment. From an LDS perspective, the essential spiritual person within us exists independent of our mortal biology, so our biology, our body is something that we relate to and negotiate our identity with, rather than something that inherently or essentially defines us. Also, while there has likely been homoerotic attraction, desire, behavior, and even relationships, among humans as long as there have been humans, the narratives through which sexuality is understood and incorporated into one’s sense of self and identity is subjective and culturally influenced. The “gay” person or personality didn’t exist prior to the mid-20th century.
In an LDS context, people often express concern about words that are used—whether they be “same-sex attraction,” which some feel denies the realities of the gay experience, or “gay,” “lesbian,” or “LGBT,” which some feels speaks more to specific lifestyle choices. What’s important to understand, however, is that identity isn’t just about the words we use but the paradigms and worldviews and perceptions of or beliefs about the “self” and “self-hood” through which we interpret and integrate our various experiences into a sense of personal identity, sexual or otherwise. And identity is highly fluid and subject to modification with change in personal values or socio-cultural context. The terms “gay,” “lesbian,” and “bisexual” aren’t uniformly understood or experienced in the same way by everyone who may use or adopt those terms, so it’s the way those terms or labels are incorporated into self-hood that accounts for identity. One person might identify as “gay” simply as shorthand for the mouthful “son or daughter of God who happens to experience romantic, sexual or other desire for persons of the same sex for causes unknown and for the short duration of mortality,” while another person experiences themselves as “gay” as a sort of eternal identity and state of being.An important philosophical thread in the overall experience of identity, is the experience of “selfhood”—what it means to have a self, and what it means to “be true to” that self. The question of what it means to be “true to ourselves” is a philosophical rather than a scientific one. In her book Multiplicity: The New Science of Personality, Identity, and the Self, award-winning science and medical writer Rita Carter explores the plurality of “selves” who live in each one of us and how each of those varied and sometimes conflicting senses of self inform various aspects of our identity(ies). This sense seems to be universal. In the movie The Incredibles, there’s a scene in which IncrediBoy says to Mr. Incredible, “You always, always say, ‘Be true to yourself,’ but you never say which part of yourself to be true to!”
Thus, there is big difference between feelings and the meaning or labels that we assign to feelings. Thank goodness that feelings are not being. Couldn't we imagine a time where someone would want to change feelings that they didn't feel described their identity such as impulses for pornography, drugs, or violence? This does not mean that the author is comparing sexual orientation to bad impulses, this is simply to point out that feelings do not inherently control identity. We assign identity to feelings.
These points demonstrate that we all have to seek out something else to determine identity that is enduring, real, and meaningful. Some of us turn to God for that identity. Others may subconsciously or consciously create some form of a platonic entity to ground our morality and identity i.e. "Love binds the universe. Love is my religion". But the basic point still stands—our feelings may be used to form identity, but that identity--the identity based in our feelings that we are having now--isn't enduring; and we must turn to the unseen world to form abiding and real identity.
Where We Get Identity From is Based in What Epistemic Assumptions We Assume
Since feelings are not being, we need to turn to somewhere to get identity. Thus, we need to make a decision as to where we place our moral authority. There are a number of different approaches one may take to form identity and the concept of the self. Where we place our authority reveals what we believe about epistemology or the source from which we should gain normative (what should be the case) or descriptive (what simply is the case) knowledge from the world.
Some people (such as our critics) turn to a school of thought known as scientism which is "the promotion of science as the best or only objective means by which society should determine normative and epistemological values." Thus, if something is scientifically understood as good, then all should believe it is good. This position is the most likely to deny the existence of God and rely solely upon what is scientifically observable for morality. This is probably the position most in opposition to the Gospel. The global problem of skepticism, however, makes scientism untenable for establishing morality. If there is no actual reality that is being observed, and reality is just an illusion, then what is the point in using science as our basis for morality?
Some people ascribe to naturalism which is "'idea or belief that only natural (as opposed to supernatural or spiritual) laws and forces operate in the world.' Adherents of naturalism (i.e., naturalists) assert that natural laws are the rules that govern the structure and behavior of the natural universe, that the changing universe at every stage is a product of these laws." Some naturalists are faithful Latter-day Saints who believe in God, other naturalists don't believe in God at all (a position known as atheism) or don't believe in the Latter-day Saint understanding of God. Naturalist atheists would probably be those who would oppose obstention from accepting homosexual behavior as correct and moral.
We've already seen that atheistic naturalism needs to find a compelling solution to the problem of skepticism, a solution which doesn't currently exist, to make their morality work. Those religions that accept homosexual behavior as inherently correct because of belief in a different articulation of God's attributes and character are also going to oppose us strongly.
An additional problem with the above two epistemic positions is that they don't provide any solution to the "Is-ought problem". Without a compelling solution to these issues (including the problems of identity), there is no grounding for the claim that denying multiplicity of genders or the proclaimed gender identity of those that experience gender dysphoria is prejudiced discrimination.
To understand the Latter-day Saint position and to see its validity, one must look through a Latter-day Saint lens. The most common metaphysical belief among Latter-day Saint theologians, philosophers, and laypeople is that of materialism (D&C 131:7) which is the assertion that all things that exist have matter. If something does not have matter, it does not exist. Latter-day Saints deny creatio ex nihilo or the belief that the universe was created out of nothing and instead affirm creatio ex materia which is the belief in creation from pre-existing, eternal matter. Latter-day Saints also affirm the existence of a sovereign God who is corporeal (meaning "has a body") and anthropomorphic (meaning "human"). He reveals knowledge about himself--occasionally by making physical appearances (Joseph Smith-History 1:17) and sending angels (Joseph Smith-History 1:30-33)-- but most of the time, he provides revelation through the Holy Ghost (Moroni 10:5). It may be argued that, with things such as the global problem of skepticism, that we should turn to the unseen (but still material) world for truly abiding knowledge of who we are, why we're here, where we come from, and where we're going. We can't turn to "just science" to establish abiding identity. Revelation from God may be the only thing that can establish true identity! But now, what does revelation from God tell us?
The Doctrine of Binarized Gender Essentialism is not based on scientifically observed phenomenon from a fallen world, but an ideal that was experienced in the pre-existence, at creation, and what the ideal will be post-resurrection/exaltation.
Many people fail to recognize that the doctrine of binarized gender essentialism is not based on scientifically observed phenomena from a fallen world, but on an ideal that was experienced in the pre-existence, at creation, and what the ideal will be post-resurrection/exaltation. We believe this ideal has been revealed by God to prophets.
Doctrine from the Pre-existence
In the pre-existence, our Heavenly Father and Mother created us (exactly how we're not sure and don't have an official doctrine on the point)—male and female— from spirit matter (sometimes referred to as "intelligence" Abraham 3:21). There are many scriptures that bear the doctrine of binarily gendered spirits out.
Doctrine from Creation
We know from repeated statements in scripture that all people—male and female— were created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26; Mosiah 7:27, Ether 3:15, Doctrine and Covenants 20:18, Moses 1:6; 2:26, 6:9, Abraham 4:26). If there is any ambiguity as to the notion that we all had binary gendered spirits before coming to earth, this doctrine solidifies that fact. Some have stated that since the translation is rendered as "God" that this suggests some gender neutrality in the scriptures. This is implausible.
The traditional translation is "in the image of God he created them." This does not entirely make sense, since the last line speaks of "male and female," and God in the Bible is not androgynous but male. An alternative is to understand elohim in the second line in its plural sense: humans are male and female in the image of the gods—because the gods are male and female, humans are as well. Which male and female deities are the model? Although the entire pantheon is a possibility, the divine couple, Yahweh and his goddess consort, are more likely.
Even if we cannot entirely probe the mind of P, we can speak with less hesitation about the editor R (for Redactor) who consciously and deliberately associated these passages as part of a larger corpus and a more detailed picture of the Godhead.
God is speaking to others when he says, “Let us make man (’adam) in our image, according to our likeness.” God will do the making, as is confirmed in verse 27... Humans of both genders are created in the image of God, but that is an image that he already has shared with others, chiefly the bene ’elohim, who constitute his associates in the heavenly realm. These are presumably the same ones who are addressed in, and who share with God in the knowledge of good and evil, and also in eternal life.
Another very important distinction emerges from our text. Speaking generically, God creates humanity (’adam) in his image, but humanity includes both male and female. The specific human being actually created first is “the man” (ha’adam), that is, “male,” and shares that maleness with God, in the latter’s image. While it is often said that the God of the Bible is beyond gender...that is hardly the case with either biblical language or biblical thinking. In the Hebrew Scriptures, he is always clearly male, even patriarchal. Occasionally, he is described as having qualities and emotions associated with women, especially mothers in childbirth or those bereaved, but these are poetic and metaphoric descriptions which are also applied to human males and do not affect their basic and essential masculinity. As can be shown in numerous ways, the God of the Hebrew Bible is undeniably male and masculine. And so is the first human: ha’adam.
It has also been suggested that the God of the Bible is androgynous, having both male and female characteristics, and that the same was the case with the first human being. Later the first man and the first woman were created by dividing the first androgyne into male and female counterparts, which is, to say the least, a very curious and forced reading of the story in Genesis. While the idea continues to have appeal in certain quarters and may find some echoes and evidence in the myths and traditions of various peoples, the Bible shows little awareness of any such possibility, and on any reasonable reading of the Genesis texts such a conclusion cannot be reached or sustained. There is nothing androgynous about the God of the Bible or about the first man.
What about the first woman? I think the clause “male and female he created them” is to be correlated literally with the phrase “in our image, after our likeness.” Just as the male God is the model and image for the first man, so some divine or heavenly female figure serves as the model and likeness for the human female, the first woman. We know that goddesses figured notably in the religion of historic Israel and Judah, although ultimately they were banished from the official cult. We have convincing if not conclusive evidence for the association of specific goddesses with different shrines and cult centers in Israel and Judah during the monarchic period, and we can identify them as consorts of Yahweh...
If it is objected that by the time that P wrote, the goddesses had been put away and banished from the official religion, which I doubt, then it would still not be difficult to find a divine or heavenly female model or image for female humanity. Such a figure is to be located in a perfectly orthodox biblical context, usually dated in the early post-exilic period, but having roots in the same mythology from which the stories of Creation have their origin. Consider the remarkable passage in Proverbs 8:22-31 in which the status and role of Lady Wisdom (in Hebrew hokmah) are described... According to this and other passages, Lady Wisdom was begotten or created before the general Creation, and in fact served Yahweh as co-worker or agent in the process of creation. Further, she was his close and intimate companion in the heavenly home...
[I]t is quite legitimate to imagine the conversation recorded in Genesis... as being addressed to a person like Lady Wisdom:“Let us make humanity in our image, according to our likeness...” The man was made in the image of the male God Yahweh, and the woman after the likeness of the female companion of God, Lady Wisdom (hokmah).
Thus, "God", our creator, may be more properly referred to as "Gods" (Abraham 4:1). These Gods, according to Dr. Coogan and Dr. Freedman (two of the most respected biblical scholars of the 21st century), are a male and female deity. This male and female deity would then be the creator of our spirits since "God" is the father of our spirits (Num. 16:22;27:16; Mal. 2:10; Matt. 6:9; Eph. 4:6; Heb. 12:9). Thus we learn something about what the ideal will be post-resurrection/exaltation.
These Gods created the mortal tabernacles Adam and Eve—a male and female— and provided spirits to inhabit their bodies. God commanded Adam and Eve to multiply and replenish the earth. The reasons are obvious as to why a male and female would be commanded to do such: they're the only ones who can procreate without the need of additional technological and/or vicarious/proxy assistance.
As an aside, there is scientific evidence in favor of binarized gender. While males and females do overlap significantly, we are different in meaningful ways.
Doctrine from The Fall
We learn that, after the fall, that thorns, thistles, and noxious weeds would torment man. We learn that nature would become chaotic in some ways and divert from the creational ideal. Thus nature has an order to it, but not complete order. These revelations that we have received about creation remind us what the ideal was during the pre-existence, at creation, and what the ideal will be post-resurrection/exaltation.
During this time of the fall, we have no evidence that God creates any of our bodies. Our biological parents, living in this fallen world, create(d) our bodies. Those bodies are subject to the affects of the Fall. We only have evidence that God created our spirits and the bodies of Adam and Eve. This is simply one of the effects of the fall that we have to overcome. Everyone has them. Christ asks us to take up our cross (Matthew 10:28; 16:24; Luke 9:23; 14:27) and overcome the natural man (Mosiah 3:19). Will one presume that someone is created with Downe's syndrome, autism, depression, anxiety, depression, etc? Such would make God evil, and as a scriptural truism, God is not evil. Those who identify as LGBT will need to wrestle more sincerely with the problem of evil and theodicy.
Doctrine from Resurrection
We know that at resurrection, our bodies will be perfected and stripped from the effects of the Fall (Alma 11:43-45).
Doctrine from Exaltation
We learn that upon resurrection, we will be judged. When we are judged, and if we obtain the celestial kingdom, we will become Gods and go on to have everlasting increase. This is only done with husband and wife—male and female—sealed in holy temples of the Lord (D&C 132:18-20)—based upon the pattern followed at creation.
Thus we see that the doctrine of binarized gender essentialism cannot truly be harmed by those that identify as transgender, are born intersex, or who experience gender dysphoria. All of these things are based upon what is observed scientifically in a fallen world. Our doctrine is based upon what we believe God has revealed about the ideals manifested at pre-existence, creation, and what will be manifested once we are resurrected and exalted. We see that the disagreement is not based upon what is observed. All of us can observe the existence of these people. Where we (in this case members of the Church and secularists and/or progressive members) disagree is about where one's epistemic assumptions should lie i.e. where to turn to for knowledge about morality and/or ideals to categorize nature with.
The Argument from Personal Revelation
There are often claims from members of the Church who identify as transgender and other members of the Church who support transgenderism that they have received personal revelation that they are meant to identify as the gender that they currently identify as and/or that gender is not meant to be binary. Both situations are highly improbable. For the first issue, it would require that God allow a person to enter the body of an individual when their sex chromosomes are unknown. Since life is not conceived until a sperm and egg cell meet, and since the sperm determine the sex of the individual, it seems highly unlikely to suppose that God would allow someone to inhabit a body that did not accord with their correct gender. Though perhaps the people act on their own when entering the body and thus sin. Thus this is highly improbable--though theoretically possible.
For the second issue: since this is a topic that involves the ontological makeup of the entire human family and since the revelation on this issue seems to already be very clear, this type of revelation does not lie within the stewardship of those that identify as transgender or those that support transgenderism, but with the prophet of God and the prophets have consistently declared a nature of either male or female (D&C 28:2-4; 42:53-58; 112:20; see above for scriptures outlining identity). Thus, it is more than likely that these individuals have been deceived by false Spirits (D&C 50:1-2) and their testimonies should be disregarded. If these individuals were to receive true revelation that this was the case, they would be placed under strict commandment to not impart it to other people until that revelation accorded with the prophets (Alma 12:9). Some argue against this using the example of Cornelius who received revelation that he would receive baptism—supposedly before Peter received the revelation to take the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10). Yet there are two problems:
- The Savior had already given the command to the apostles to go to all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature and baptize them (Mark 16:15-16; Mormon 9:22-24). Thus, this wasn't necessarily a question of what but of when. This was not a revelation about essential missiological outlook, it was a revelation of when to execute it. Thus the example is not analogous to this situation.
- Even if we were to assume that a revelation to Cornelius signaled the future change of the Church in ancient times, that is certainly not how the Lord has wished to distribute revelation in modern times as seen in the three first scriptures from Doctrine and Covenants cited at the top of this section.
Argument from Fallibility
Some argue that the prophets are simply wrong on this issue and have presented a few examples to bolster their case.
Some argue that there may yet be additional light added to this question because of questions that need to be answered regarding LGBT issues. Usually, disagreement over this issue stem from one side's insistence on deducing conclusions based on propositions already established in Scripture (which the author adheres to) and the other's insistence that there needs to be additional revelation on this issue. Questioners ask things like the following:
- What if people are born into the wrong bodies? As addressed above, its theoretically and theologically possible, though not very probable. Since the personal revelation of these individuals involves the essential ontological nature of the human species, their revelation should still not be considered as relevant for the Church as a whole and it is likely that they have been deceived by false Spirits.
- What constitutes being male and female? Some people accept the premise in The Family: A Proclamation to the World that all children of God are male and female but ask what constitutes maleness and femaleness. What if a male has feminine characteristics and/or is the more nurturing one in the familial relationship? What if a female is more industrial and earns money for the family? The first thing to be pointed out is that the Family mentions that individual circumstances may necessitate individual adaption. The second point is that the main function of males and females is creational as is seen from our pre-mortal existence, the creation narratives, and from scriptures pertaining to our exaltation (see above).
Latter-day Saints do not believe in the doctrine of infallibility. Prophets are considered mortals that can make mistakes at times. Some advocates of the LGBT position have argued that the prophets are simply wrong on this issue (usually for reasons discussed above). The problems with the position are outlined above. The position is the result of revelation that has come to prophets over three thousand years beginning with the authorship of the J source of the Pentateuch circa 1000 BC. If the prophets have gotten our essential ontology wrong for that amount of time, it's difficult to imagine how we can trust them. This wouldn't be just because of how long of time, but also because of how easily deducible it is from the scriptures what our eternal identity and purpose is and the fundamental rewriting of that purpose. It makes God deceptive.
The Argument from Priesthood Restriction
As an additional means of justifying opposition to the Church's position on same sex marriage, some point to the pre-1978 restrictions on people of African descent from holding the Church's priesthood or officiating in temple ordinances, including the Church's disavowed explanations for the restrictions. If the Church was wrong about their explanations for that, could it be wrong about this issue? This has been examined in another article on the FairMormon wiki.
As a final word which we wish to emphasize:
FairMormon joins The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in unequivocally condemning the discrimination of any of God's children based upon gender (or gender identity), race, sexual identity and/or orientation, and/or religious affiliation..
- Wikipedia, "Intersex" <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersex> (accessed 4 January 2019)
- The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" <https://www.lds.org/topics/family-proclamation?lang=eng&old=true> (accessed 4 January 2019)
- Church Newsroom, "General Conference Leadership Meetings Begin" ,https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/october-2019-general-conference-first-presidency-leadership-session> (accessed 7 October 2019). “'Finally, the long-standing doctrinal statements reaffirmed in The Family: A Proclamation to the World 23 years ago will not change. They may be clarified as directed by inspiration.' For example, 'the intended meaning of gender in the family proclamation and as used in Church statements and publications since that time is biological sex at birth.'”
- Ty Mansfield, "'Mormons can be gay, they just can’t do gay': Deconstructing Sexuality and Identity from an LDS Perspective" FairMormon Conference, 2014. <https://www.fairmormon.org/conference/august-2014/mormons-can-gay-just-cant-gay> Accessed October 17, 2019
- See Jennifer Nagel, "Epistemology: Three Responses to Skepticism" Wireless Philosophy. February 19, 2019. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xehTcQeqDWs>. Accessed October 17, 2019; Jennifer Nagel, "Epistemology: New Responses to Skepticism" Wireless Philosophy. February 26, 2019. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4cKyPeDYh8w>. Accessed October 17, 2019.
- Michael Coogan, "God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says" (New York City, NY: Grand Central, 2010), 175.
- David Noel Freedman, “The status and role of humanity in the cosmos according to the Hebrew Bible,” On Human Nature: The Jerusalem Center Symposium ed. Truman G. Madsen, David Noel Freedman, and Pam Fox Kuhlken (Ann Arbor, MI: Pryor Pettengill Publishers, 2004), 22-25.
- Steven Pinker, "The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature" (London: Penguin Books, 2003); W. Bradford Wilcox and Kathleen Kovner Kline, "Gender and Parenthood: Biological and Social Scientific Perspectives" (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013); Diane F. Halpern, "Sex Differences in Cognitive Abilities: 4th Edition " (London: Psychology Press, 2013); Paul Seabright, "The War of the Sexes: How Conflict and Cooperation Have Shaped Men and Women from Prehistory to the Present" (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012); Walker Wright, "Does More Gender Egalitarianism Reduce Gender Differences?" <https://difficultrun.nathanielgivens.com/2018/01/24/does-more-gender-egalitarianism-reduce-gender-differences/?fbclid=IwAR1oFl4vcY1OFXfuhbjUiVlUAxWkA4etZ46LUBMK_lRGBW973oEckRjD-A0> (accessed 20 August 2019); Walker Wright, "Does Gender Egalitarianism Reduce the STEM Field Gender Gap?" <https://difficultrun.nathanielgivens.com/2018/02/21/does-gender-egalitarianism-reduce-the-stem-field-gender-gap/?fbclid=IwAR19NhT5L-r2mV5OinYIlE-h--7xzrXwdi8F2XZxqxMoqkLmBq9UePNbvk4> (accessed 20 August 2019)
- See David L. Paulsen, "Joseph Smith and the Problem of Evil" BYU Speeches, September 21, 1999
- Be sure to see our article on the longer ending of Mark.