by CJ Connor
Updated: Jun 7, 2022
I was on a bike ride during my junior year of high school, the first time I recognized that I was not cisgender. Biking was one of my favorite ways to clear my mind, one that as someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder is often muddy and riddled with concerns. I often went on long rides around the Murdock Canal trail head that stretched from Lehi to Provo. Sometimes I biked to work through my worries, and sometimes I biked to forget them altogether.
This was a “working through” kind of day. It was 2014, and transgender issues had begun to receive attention from the media. Not positive or negative attention per se, but certainly attention. Growing up, I’d seen trashy TV specials about what unkind people referred to as “men who thought they were women” or films that played crossdressing as a joke. I’d seen a news headline about “The World’s First Pregnant Man” when I was eight or nine. I thought this was fascinating but when I’d asked my dad about it, he said, “That’s definitely not a man.” Nothing else.
Now, however, the climate toward transgender issues was starting to shift. I’d read about trans boys who wanted to play in the men’s league for high school sports and a transgender actress who advocated for queer women of color. At my high school, a student one year ahead of me had transitioned to female. She put all of the dysphoria and school bullying she experienced into slam poetry performances that were, I’d heard, quite moving. I never talked to her, but I’d been thinking about her and whether we had something in common that I’d never admitted to myself.
The wheels in my head turned along with the bike’s, and it connected in a tangible way for the first time. I’m a lot like these people, I thought. I think I may be transgender. And if I am really transgender, these feelings I have aren’t going away. I’m going to have to deal with them.
After coming to this realization, I felt two things in immediate succession. The first was relief–maybe even joy–because I had a name for what I’d experienced for so long. There was a community of people like me and, while they struggled, they seemed to have a place in the world. Some of them even seemed happy. This gave me hope that someday, I would find somewhere I belonged and could find my own happiness, however small, in this world.
These feelings were replaced as quickly as they’d come with a blanketing sense of darkness. The closest way I can think to compare it is the darkness Joseph Smith described while praying about which church was true. It felt as though they’d cut off my connection with God entirely. It took years for me to tell anyone about how I felt because I worried that by accepting myself as transgender, I would be rejected from my family and my community—and maybe even from God.
Now that I am older and have reached greater peace with my non-binary identity, I’ve thought about that darkness and why it followed me for so many years. While I identified it as guilt and temptation at the time, I think it was rooted in shame. It’s so easy to mistake what we’ve been taught about the LGBT community for spiritual feelings or temptation. They say that hell is a state of mind, and we queer people of faith are adept at shaming ourselves into our own personal hells. I have always been someone who thrives when I feel that I belong, and the idea that I could be alienated or even harassed for an inherent part of myself was unbearable.
The church’s stance on gender identity is often handled on a case by case basis, and it puts transgender and non-binary members in a position where they must decide for themselves how to best reconcile their spiritual and gender identities. Having no clear-cut answers can be scary but in a way, I think it’s also freeing. It reinforces that there is no one answer to life's hardest questions for anyone, cisgender or transgender, and that different choices are right for different people.
For example, a lot of my transgender friends have prayed over the decision to transition. Some received spiritual revelation that it was the right thing to do, while others felt strongly that they shouldn’t. Some receive an answer that their place is in the church, and some are prompted to leave. Both sides seem happy and spiritually at peace, especially since the choice was between them and God.
Personally, I’ve prayed many times—year after year after year—about my gender identity and never received an answer. But when I pray asking if God loves me, I feel an overwhelming sense of compassion and peace. Sometimes I wish I received a clearer answer like some friends, but I like to think that maybe He trusts me enough to let me make my own decisions. Perhaps my journey is to understand that I am loved, even if I do not always feel it, and help others believe that they are loved by treating them with kindness—just like it may be my friends’ journeys to reconcile their gender identities in the ways that bring them the most peace.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that my path as a non-binary member has been easy. I miss doing temple services, something that used to give me great peace. And one of the greatest pains in my life is that my husband and I cannot be sealed there together—in part because I have transitioned. While so much has changed for the better since my high school years, I still haven’t figured out how to reconcile that. But I trust in God, and I know things will turn out alright in the end even if I don’t know how.
I wish I’d known when I was young that we can’t always find our actions on a list of “right” and “wrong” decisions. Every person’s life circumstances are, after all, unique to them. All we can do is put our trust in God and ourselves and know that even if we make mistakes along the way, He’s with us for every step of our journeys. I don't know much about this life, why it can be so beautiful and confusing and sometimes quite painful, but I believe in God's love above all else.