There were multiple social media reports over the weekend from people saying basically, “a dude in a dress is in Relief Society.” These reports may or may not be true, but the point of this post is not to discuss that. This post instead addresses the inevitable time when guys in dresses will go to Relief Society and what the right response of faithful Latter-day Saints should be.
First, let’s make a point that is not obvious: not all cases of dudes in dresses going to RS are the same.
Let’s consider first Paul, who likes to be known now as Paulina. Paul has been in the ward for 15 years, and everybody knows him. He is a loner but a pleasant guy who always shows up for service projects and does his calling. He goes to the temple regularly. He has always been a bit effeminate. He has never dated any of the single women in the ward and seems very socially awkward, but overall a really nice guy. Paul disappears for a year and then comes back in a dress and asks people to call him Paulina. His hair is longer and he/she now has no facial hair. Same nice guy, now dresses like a woman. Because he/she is well-known in the ward, most people feel comfortable around him and lovingly do their best to accept him into the ward family. He/she still has a strong testimony but wants to go to Relief Society.
I think most people would not have an issue with Paulina going to Relief Society. (Or maybe not, tell me what you think).
(Before you give me a lecture on how unlikely this scenario is, I knew a guy just like this in the 1970s growing up in California, so it is not that unlikely at all. He/she was not a latter-day Saint but was a nice man who I knew personally who in the space of a year started calling himself a woman.)
Now let’s contrast Paulina with Pat, who is a political activist man dressed like a woman who shows up one day at church with an attitude, clearly intending to show what a bunch of bigots we Latter-day Saints are. He has a beard and a huge clearly fake bosom and wears a big Hawaiian muumuu. He sighs and makes comments from the back of Sacrament meeting and then announces he is going to Relief Society, and says, “let’s see if any of you Mormons can stop me.” Once he is there, he is noisy and disruptive and loudly asks impolite questions, accusing members of Relief Society of being “Molly Mormons.”
Now obviously Pat is an exaggerated character, but don’t be surprised if you hear of a person like Pat trying to disrupt RS sometime soon (and it may have already happened for all I know).
I hope we can all agree that this Pat character should be kicked out of Relief Society, right?
The point here is that our attitude toward a dude in a dress going to RS depends a lot on how this person behaves, or at least that should be a factor to consider.
Now, let’s see what the Church says on this subject.
Some key excerpts from the handbook:
Attendance at Church Meetings
The Savior taught that His disciples should love their neighbors (see Matthew 22:39). Paul invited new converts to “no more be strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints” (Ephesians 2:19). The Savior also taught that Church members are not to “cast any one out from … public meetings, which are held before the world” (Doctrine and Covenants 46:3).
All are welcome to attend sacrament meeting, other Sunday meetings, and social events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The presiding officer is responsible to ensure that all who attend are respectful of the sacred setting.
Those who attend should avoid disruptions or distractions contrary to worship or other purposes of the meeting. All age and behavior requirements of different Church meetings and events should be respected. That requires refraining from overt romantic behavior and from dress or grooming that causes distraction. It also precludes making political statements or speaking of sexual orientation or other personal characteristics in a way that detracts from meetings focused on the Savior.
If there is inappropriate behavior, the bishop or stake president gives private counsel in a spirit of love. He encourages those whose behavior is improper for the occasion to focus on helping maintain a sacred space for everyone present with a special emphasis on worshipping Heavenly Father and the Savior.
Church meetinghouses remain private property subject to Church policies. Persons unwilling to follow these guidelines will be asked in a respectful way not to attend Church meetings and events.
Here is some more:
Persons Who Identify as Transgender
A transgender person may be baptized and confirmed if he or she is not pursuing elective medical or surgical intervention to attempt to transition to the opposite of his or her biological sex at birth (“sex reassignment”).
Mission presidents should counsel with the Area Presidency to address individual situations with sensitivity and Christlike love.
A person who has completed sex reassignment through elective medical or surgical intervention must have First Presidency approval to be baptized. The mission president may request this approval if he has interviewed the person, found him or her to be otherwise worthy, and can recommend baptism. The person will not be able to receive the priesthood, a temple recommend, or some Church callings. However, he or she can participate in the Church in other ways.
There is also this in the handbook:
Transgender individuals face complex challenges. Members and nonmembers who identify as transgender—and their family and friends—should be treated with sensitivity, kindness, compassion, and an abundance of Christlike love. All are welcome to attend sacrament meeting, other Sunday meetings, and social events of the Church (see 38.1.1).
Gender is an essential characteristic of Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness. The intended meaning of gender in the family proclamation is biological sex at birth. Some people experience feelings of incongruence between their biological sex and their gender identity. As a result, they may identify as transgender. The Church does not take a position on the causes of people identifying as transgender.
Most Church participation and some priesthood ordinances are gender neutral. Transgender persons may be baptized and confirmed as outlined in 18.104.22.168. They may also partake of the sacrament and receive priesthood blessings. However, priesthood ordination and temple ordinances are received according to biological sex at birth.
Church leaders counsel against elective medical or surgical intervention for the purpose of attempting to transition to the opposite gender of a person’s biological sex at birth (“sex reassignment”). Leaders advise that taking these actions will be cause for Church membership restrictions.
Leaders also counsel against social transitioning. A social transition includes changing dress or grooming, or changing a name or pronouns, to present oneself as other than his or her biological sex at birth. Leaders advise that those who socially transition will experience some Church membership restrictions for the duration of this transition.
Restrictions include receiving or exercising the priesthood, receiving or using a temple recommend, and receiving some Church callings. Although some privileges of Church membership are restricted, other Church participation is welcomed.
Transgender individuals who do not pursue medical, surgical, or social transition to the opposite gender and are worthy may receive Church callings, temple recommends, and temple ordinances.
Some children, youth, and adults are prescribed hormone therapy by a licensed medical professional to ease gender dysphoria or reduce suicidal thoughts. Before a person begins such therapy, it is important that he or she (and the parents of a minor) understands the potential risks and benefits. If these members are not attempting to transition to the opposite gender and are worthy, they may receive Church callings, temple recommends, and temple ordinances.
If a member decides to change his or her preferred name or pronouns of address, the name preference may be noted in the preferred name field on the membership record. The person may be addressed by the preferred name in the ward.
Circumstances vary greatly from unit to unit and person to person. Members and leaders counsel together and with the Lord. Area Presidencies will help local leaders sensitively address individual situations. Bishops counsel with the stake president. Stake presidents and mission presidents must seek counsel from the Area Presidency (see 32.6.3 and 22.214.171.124).
The Church has several pages dedicated to this issue, which can be read here.
By pure coincidence, Elder Oaks addressed this issue just a few days ago and said the following:
President Oaks then addressed some of his remarks to high school seniors in attendance. He acknowledged their generation’s prevalent struggles with anxiety, drugs and social media. He shared a portion of a letter he received from a young woman about gender dysphoria.
“I truly don’t understand why so many youth in our church don’t see any problem with people changing their gender every other day, dating people who are the same sex or identify as no gender,” the young woman wrote. “I know we are supposed to love everyone and show them respect, and I always do. I [just] feel there is a line being crossed.”
President Oaks responded by pointing to the way Jesus balances His love while emphasizing the importance of law in John 8 in the New Testament. When religious leaders of the time brought a woman to him to be judged for adultery, Jesus responded, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” Jesus later applied the power of love by declining to condemn her and affirmed the law by saying that she should “sin no more.”
President Oaks urged his audience to live the commandments of love and law “in a more complete way. Anyone who does not treat individuals who face gender identity challenges with love and dignity is not aligned with the teachings of the first and second great commandments. Thus, on the subject of God’s law, we need to remember that God has revealed again and again that He created male and female. And on the subject of our duty to love our neighbor, we need to remember that God has commanded us to love even those who do not keep all the commandments.
“If you, a family member or a friend is struggling with these issues of confusion of identity,” he continued, “I urge you to apply both the law of the gospel and the love and mercy of our Savior and Redeemer, who will help and guide you, if you patiently walk in His paths.”
Back to me now.
The whole issue of how to treat people with gender dysphoria is one of the tests of our time. I see it very similar to other issues related to non-traditional sexuality. There are two tests going on: 1)can we as faithful members uphold the standards of the Church at a time when society seems to be increasingly accepting of non-traditional behavior? and 2)can we as members maintain Christ-like love for all around us, including those whose sexual behavior we may see as problematic?
They never said it would be easy to be a Latter-day Saint, but they did say it would be worth it.