Does “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” answer all of our questions about transgenderism?
In a general sense, “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” addresses some themes relevant to the experience of gender incongruence or gender dysphoria, while still leaving some questions unresolved. Ultimately, the Proclamation is a distillation of principles that have been taught by prophets, seers, and revelators, both ancient and modern. It is our personal responsibility and spiritual commission to carefully and prayerfully apply those principles to our individual circumstances.
Elder Richard G. Scott has taught,
“As you seek spiritual knowledge, search for principles. Carefully separate them from the detail used to explain them. Principles are concentrated truth, packaged for application to a wide variety of circumstances. A true principle makes decisions clear even under the most confusing and compelling circumstances” (“Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge,” Ensign, November 1993).
While it is certainly true that some aspects of gender—particularly some region and culture-specific norms concerning roles, interests, attitudes, and behaviors—are social constructs that have nothing to do with eternal principles or truths (and may actually conflict with eternal truth), there is a truth, as articulated in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” that on some essential level, there is a divine differentiation between male and female.
There is a gender binary, and understanding, embracing and growing into the divine expression of that binary—which, as noted, may also mean transcending or shedding cultural attributes or expressions of gender that are inconsistent with a divine expression of gender—is an integral part of our divine journey toward becoming like our Heavenly Parents.
Most people who experience gender incongruence/dysphoria would agree that gender is very meaningful and many believe in the Proclamation’s declaration that it is an “essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose”—but how that principle then relates to an individual who dis-identifies with their birth sex and/or identifies with the opposite gender is not imminently clear. The Proclamation does not differentiate “sex” and “gender” or address how one might address or make sense of identity conflicts between the two; it only addresses “gender” as a generic term. It does define roles typical to individual sex roles (father or mother) and gender roles (male or female). It indicates that mothers and fathers have distinct and divinely assigned roles in the family: “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.”
The Proclamation does note that there may need to be “individual adaptation” to circumstances such as death, disability or “other” circumstances. The degree to which an individual or couple may feel the “other” designation applies to them, and what possible adaptations might be, is something that would be very individual based upon each individual’s unique circumstances, and would need to be worked out with the Lord in intimate communion Him and perhaps with the counsel and aid of local Church leaders and mental health professionals.
Additionally, the Proclamation indicates that the marital relationship is to be one built on love and mutual care. Regardless of the presence of gender dysphoria or transgender feelings within the marriage, love and care should characterize the marriage. Achieving this takes unselfishness, kindness, and consideration for each other with or without the presence of gender concerns. The experience of gender dysphoria does not dismiss the importance of behaving in a loving and caring way in a marriage. This calls forth great patience, unselfishness, and faith in both marriage partners as they counsel together and with the Lord, seeking inspiration for their customized path forward.
Lastly, the Proclamation warns against abuse of family members and neglect of family roles. As previously noted, how an individual might best understand feelings of gender dysphoria is not addressed, but the Proclamation does warn that neglecting one’s family role as a mother or father is a serious matter that will lead to “calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.”
If we sometimes feel frustrated that answers are not more specific regarding how to navigate transgenderism in the Church, we might remember that part of faith is to rely on our own intellect and to seek our own personal revelation. We are not given all the answers for our lives without asking. Remember that “it is not meet that I should command in all things, for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant” (D&C 58:26). Or as Ezra Taft Benson once said:
“Usually the Lord gives us the overall objectives to be accomplished and some guidelines to follow, but he expects us to work out most of the details and methods. The methods and procedures are usually developed through study and prayer and by living so that we can obtain and follow the promptings of the Spirit. Less spiritually advanced people, such as those in the days of Moses, had to be commanded in many things. Today those spiritually alert look at the objectives, check the guidelines laid down by the Lord and his prophets, and then prayerfully act—without having to be commanded ‘in all things.’ This attitude prepares men for godhood. …
“Sometimes the Lord hopefully waits on his children to act on their own, and when they do not, they lose the greater prize, and the Lord will either drop the entire matter and let them suffer the consequences or else he will have to spell it out in greater detail. Usually, I fear, the more he has to spell it out, the smaller is our reward” (“Not Commanded in All Things,” Conference Report, April 1965, pp. 121-125)
The Proclamation clearly states our individual duties in our families, but many questions are left unanswered. Finding these answers requires personal revelation and faith.