Showing posts with label gender. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gender. Show all posts

Things I'm Tired of Explaining about Infertility to Other Members of My Church

Infertility in the LDS Church is such a weird place to occupy because it's the place where so much of the Church's messaging on sex and gender, on Complementarianism and traditional divisions of labor within the community, completely fall apart.

Being a parent may be the most important thing some people will ever do. I have no issue at all with people saying this about themselves to describe their own journey through the world. But that's not universally true for everyone because of someone's gender or alleged propensity for reproduction. The fact that infertility exists at all is all the evidence you need of that. If it were somehow necessary for a person's salvation or exaltation for everyone to have children, it wouldn't be withheld from anyone.

Having children is not the most important thing I will ever do. For me, there are entire lists of priorities and experiences that are more important for me. The greatest happiness and joy I could ever know is not being withheld from me. My life is complete and joyful without children in it. It is not only possible to be happy without children, there are many aspects of happiness and self-fulfillment that I have access to that parents will never know. Those who have spent their entire adult lives as parents shouldn't pretend to know what my life is like, or expect me to be unhappy in it. It's far from the worst thing that could happen to someone. It's definitely nowhere near the top of the list of the worst things that have happened to me. Those who act as if it is are useless to and unprepared for ministering to infertile individuals and couples in any meaningful way. Especially when the most important message many of need to hear is "God has a plan for you that will ultimately be better for you than having children."

So why do people, including church leadership, continue to treat having children like it's essential to our salvation, when neither the gospel of Jesus Christ nor any of the covenants we've made present it that way?

Power consolidation. Boundary maintenance. Cultural curation for the kind of person who treats children as an identity marker and avatars for their own influence on the world.

It's how the Church is trying to ignore the problem of dwindling membership, which this exact messaging has caused, instead of addressing the problematic gender disparities reflected in this messaging.

No one is entitled to have children, then to use those children as a means of self-fulfillment, spiritual education, or approximations to the divine experience of being God. Even if you can have children, this is a harmful way of viewing children because it makes having children all about the parents and their needs.

You don't have children to meet your needs. You have children to meet their needs.

I didn't need to have children to learn that lesson, or many of the other lessons that people needed to become parents to learn. There is more than one way to approach that kind of selfless love, in all kinds of relationships. Parenting is one of many, not the only kind of selfless love, and certainly not the most important kind of selfless love for many people.

And what kills me in talking to members of the Church who try to push back against this perspective is this: they claim to be the arbiters of the ultimate form of selfless love because they are parents. But these are the same people who will pound on the single piano key about parenthood to such an extreme that it alienates other people. And when they do, and someone tells them it's harmful, they're the first ones to say that what they're doing is more important than anyone else's feelings. They talk of a selfless love they don't actually possess—not for people outside of their family and, I would argue, not for anyone inside of it either.

All this to say: the Venn Diagram overlap between people who don't respect or value people at church with infertility and the people who also enmesh themselves in disturbing ways with their own children is a circle.

Catch neither one of us wanting to be at church with them as adults.

What Relief Society Means to Me

I'm not one for making any statements that assert the Church is "true"—mostly because I think it's semi-nonsensical, poorly articulated phrasing best used by children and promptly abandoned when a person achieves the capacity for more nuanced thoughts.

However, to the extent that there is any part of the Church that is unquestionably, undeniably true to me, it's the divine calling of the Relief Society.

I deeply love Relief Society and everything it represents. It has kept my head above water so many times.

The women I've met through it have had such an important impact on my life and faith. They have been the hands of God in my life too many times to count.

When people talk about the ministry of Christ, the miracles he did and the ways he cared for people individually, I don't think of the prophets and apostles. 

I think of the Relief Society.

I think of the women who have been taking care of me since I joined the Church as a teenager.

Even when there were some truly obtuse people who turned out to be the exceptions, I cannot say that they weren't trying, in their own way, to be good in the only way they knew how.

All of the best impulses of the institutional Church are present in the Relief Society. 

I think the Church would be a better place if the men just came to Relief Society and got to enjoy real, organized, consistent practice in being effective and engaged.

You cannot change my mind.

Sending Female Companion Speakers during High Council Sunday

Months ago, I was talking to someone that high council Sunday is the worst because it guarantees the most speaking time per year in every ward to the same man. We hear from the high councilmen in total more than we hear from anyone else in the Church, including the prophet.

This bothers me. It was something I was praying about. From what I've seen in this stake, it's the first time they seem to rotate everyone on the council each month. That alone is a good change, but I'm so tired of having incredible female leadership I never see or get to interact with.

Our stake is now sending a woman leader from the stake to speak on every third Sunday with the high councilman. They're creating a standing reservation for women to speak in sacrament meeting every month.

This was my first time seeing and meeting my stake Relief Society president. She gave a phenomenal talk about the sacrament. And the high councilman who was with us this week opened his talk by expressing his confidence in her. They've both lived in this area for many decades, so they've served together in the Church for many years. It was lovely and it was the nicest fulfillment of what I was imagining in my head when I previously criticized the formula for "Dry Council Sunday" in saying it needed improvement.

I went up to the stand afterwards to thank her and introduce myself, and to let her know that her presence was the answer to a prayer for me. We had a wonderful conversation and I confided in her what this means to me personally, my history of feeling frustration with gender dynamics in the Church. She listened so well and embraced me, thanked me for sharing, and said she would let the rest of the leadership of the stake know that this is a meaningful and well-received change.

All this to say: when there is something about the way the Church functions that is painful and unfair, don't keep it to yourself. Tell God in prayer. Pour out your soul about what you think and feel. Leave that hurt on the altar where it belongs, especially if it never should've been yours to carry. Trust your Heavenly Family to know how to help and rescue you.

It may not happen immediately, but change will come. I've seen this so many times in my church experience. God hears us and cares when we suffer. That suffering is held and known completely in the body of Christ, where it can also be healed. And in time, change will come.

Sex and Gender in Creation

M82 Galaxy, Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI/CXC/UofA/ESA/AURA/JHU

So the whole approach that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has with gender, and it being an eternal binary and complementary? And they say that binary is necessary because sex is necessary to creation?

Let's unpack that and throw it into the recycle bin.

So Creation involves two different creative acts at its core, which I want to discuss:

  1. Making Stuff
  2. Making People

Scripture gives us a couple different accounts of the Creation. 

In Genesis, God (understood singularly) creates everything, with the exception of "Let us make man in our image." That statement remains plural in a way that goes totally unacknowledged and unexplained in the text. 

Moses 2 then has God speaking in the first person telling this story. 

We learn during the endowment that the Creation involved a collective effort between God, Jehovah (the premortal name of Jesus), and Michael (the premortal name of Adam). 

The creation of Stuff in these depictions are non-sexual in nature, and nonsensically male. Especially since Abraham 4 calls this a collaboration between plural Gods. With God being a title that is shared, according to Mormonism, between perfected heterosexual couples, it simply makes no sense that our conceptions of Creation do not include women anywhere. That's not how they're read, understood, or taught in any official capacity. 

The label of "God" didn't yet apply to Jehovah or Michael in their premortal, unembodied, unordained, and unendowed states. But somehow, we are more comfortable with their participation in the Creation than we are with acknowledging the perfected, resurrected, empowered contributions of our own Heavenly Mother.

We're supposed to base our entire notion of divinity on the power of sealed men and women—and no other type of relationship. But our understanding and presentations of the Creation are too timid to even acknowledge that any woman was even there.

If gender matters so much in the creation of Stuff that women don't even get to participate, or approach in no way supports the need for women in these partnerships. And if women were present for and are essential to the Creation, then the way we interpret and teach the Scripture needs to change drastically to include women. One has to give away to the other.

And then there's reproduction! Surely it takes a combination of the right equipment, requiring both men and women in the gender binary to reproduce! This may be where the sidewalk ends in terms of "the known world" in Mormonism, but this is the reason we give, more than any other, for the justification of why we cling to the gender binary.

The greatest incongruence between what we believe and what we teach on this front is apparent in the endowment. In that depiction, there are no women present. Returning to Scripture, there is no need to see it this way. Abraham 4 speaks plurally about the Creation of Adam and Eve, that there are multiple participants there. Genesis 1 or Moses 2 can also read this way if we get comfortable with the voice of God including both Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother, a duet of voices instead of a solo masculine voice. That's not what we teach, but I believe it should be.

You can have a cosmology in which women are so important to a heterosexual couple, no eternal union is complete without one. Or you can contradict this notion entirely and maintain that God's children only need a Father. And these thoughts do contradict each other at their core. Yet somehow, they've existed together in the air we breathe for so long, we don't even have the language to name this contradiction unless we gather it from somewhere outside of our community. But pointing out that contradiction isn't enough for some people to challenge the gender binary as anything less than divine.

Nevermind that sex and gender are delineated separately in Scripture—male and female created first, Man and Woman named second.

Nevermind that there's no necessary connection between gender and what reproductive capabilities and equipment someone may or may not have.

Nevermind the way the flimsy eternal gender binary falls apart every time another intersex person is born neither male nor female, as if that detail somehow escaped God's perfect notice—whoops! Like God suddenly forgot their own rules.

We are at a place in scientific advancement where we can produce healthy biological offspring between same sex parents. That technology and capability is new to us, but none of it is new to God. God understands genetics, and has for the entire history of our relationship with them. The potential and ability to use genetics in this way has been there this entire time. As with all assistive reproductive technologies, creating life doesn't cease to be sacred just because a penis never entered a vagina at any point. And if that's the hill we're dying on, that battle was lost back in the 1980s when gamete donation and IVF became a normal part of reproductive healthcare. The children born from medical interventions in pregnancy aren't lesser people because of how they were conceived. There's no reason for this to be different for queer couples who use those technologies, even as it defies what we've traditionally thought as being necessary to create life.

So what makes sex holy? Is it the gender binary? The monogamy? The presence of a sealing ceremony? The ability to produce offspring? Which parts of heterosexual coupling are the necessary elements to honor and serve God?

It's not monogamy, and there are many dead polygamists who will fight you on sight for suggesting it.

Infertile couples will tell you it's not the ability or inability to produce offspring. None of us are being thrown out or blocked from full participation in the Church because of that.

"Children are entitled to a mother and a father," they say. But single parents, widows and widowers who don't remarry, don't have their sealings cancelled because their children are missing a parent of a certain gender. 

None of these justifications for maintaining the gender binary as a necessary part of our faith holds up to scrutiny. And since the sealing ceremony is being withheld from people based on their adherence to the gender binary, queer exclusion is a policy with no real valid justification other than "We've always done it that way," and "because we said so."

But let's say none of this convinces you. The idea that queer people in same-sex relationships cannot bear their own children is the hill you're willing to crucify others on. Within the structure of eternal family building, this still doesn't matter because adoptive sealings exist! 

If my husband and I adopted a child and my brothers-in-law adopted a child, we are both equally shut out of those children's lives because we didn't give birth to them in the covenant, and are therefore not sealed to them. The circumstances are identical. The roll that will fix it is identical. Because sealing works for me and my husband in our relationship, there is no necessary reason why it wouldn't similarly work for queer couples of whatever configuration. 

The seating solution would exist deep into eternity, especially for the number of eternal families that will end up divided over queer rejection. According to one of the speakers at general conference last week, no one is going to be forced to remain in a familial sealing where they don't feel safe, valued, and respected. For that reason, there will be many queer people in search of families in eternity, from every age and culture in the world.

We have to start acknowledging that the formation of these families is a better solution than forcing queer people into celibacy—a state which is contrary to divine mandate, happiness itself, and the ability for anyone to receive their full inheritance in the Kingdom of God. If the only alternatives you can come up with for queer relationships are ones that God would reflect because of how they harm individuals and place their relationships on unequal footing with everyone else, it's a good indication that it's a man-made problem paired with shoddy human problem-solving. An all-knowing God wouldn't set someone up to fail from something they can't change in such an eternally unfair way. (See Genesis 2:18 and D&C 38:24-27)

What this really comes down to, the more I think about it, is the insecurity that comes to people of a certain age and status in the Church in admitting they are wrong. There is fear in having to acknowledge the holiness in all kinds of love, and all the many kinds of relationships that are born out of this love.

If anyone can fall in love with anyone and form a family, then doesn't that make MY family less special and holy?

No. Of course not. Unless your family relationships were born out of duty and obligation instead of love, and you now have to admit that there was no need to put yourself, or anyone else, through that. I've personally been left holding the bag with church policies that are disavowed only after they've done damage to me. The harm that has happened to others is no justification for ongoing harm. If the best time to have changed that approach was twenty years ago, the next best time is now.

The insistence of heterosexual supremacy in the Church is full of contradictions, which should be our first clue that it doesn't come from God. It's preventing us from taking the gospel "into all the world," according to the injunction the Savior gave to his original apostles. It's preventing the fullness of the gospel from reaching many who cannot access it because of their sexual orientation and gender expression, which have never been and never will be valid reasons to withhold access to God from anyone. (See Mark 16:15, 2 Nephi 26, and Alma 32)

Queer people deserve to participate fully in the Church. They deserve to be sealed in the temple to their partners. They deserve to know the joy that comes from being able to form eternal families. They deserve to be able to seek out valid and essential healthcare without having their positions in the Church threatened or questioned in any way. They deserve to be in the pews with us, presenting as who they truly are. Honesty is the Spirit of worship, and we need to stop asking queer people around us to build their lives on foundations of lies and deceit for the comfort of others at church.

Don't let anyone tell you this has to be difficult. It's not difficult to see the unnecessary obstacles created by policy. It's easy to recognize them for what they are and commit to getting rid of them. The love we have for God, which requires us to love ALL of God's children, should compel us to make these things right. We should want to envision the arms of God stretching out wide enough to include everyone in this world.

Being the voice of a loving God, who doesn't fail and is not a hypocrite in that love, is the easiest thing in the world. We would all know that if that was the God we worshiped.

And, as a warning that is needed by some: just because you do not worship a God who loves and honors queerness doesn't mean that version of God doesn't exist. It does mean you've prevented yourself from perceiving God that way.

In the same way those who have claimed to serve God have justified slavery, you will end up with egg on your face when you realize God does not endorse forced subjugation and exclusion of anyone. Affirmation, like abolition, is simply the right thing to do. No appeals to Scripture will ever change that.

We don't have to keep making this mistake. We can believe that when God said he loves all people, that all are welcome and none are forbidden, that God is no respecter of persons, that we are all children of God—we can believe it.

Instead of fighting the will of God, we stop making excuses and just... do it.

"You Can't Do That" and Other Stumbling Blocks


When I was investigating the Church, I told the people around me I wanted to get baptized after I'd only been to services a few times. I hadn't read much of The Book of Mormon. There were many things I didn't know or understand. But I had felt the Spirit of God and knew that this was the place where I would find God. I knew I was supposed to be baptized.

What was the response?

"You can't do that."

They didn't have missionaries. They didn't have anyone to teach me the discussions. I was coming to Church in a different place from where I lived because of where my friends, who were members and who had invited me, were living.

It got bad enough that I set a date for myself to get baptized and told them they had that long to figure it out and deal with their scruples. And they did.

Then I found out about patriarchal blessings in one of the lessons I had in Young Women. I wanted mine. I went to my branch president and told him that.

"You can't do that."

I hadn't been to church long enough. Could I wait a year? Six months?

But that's not what the lesson I was taught said. It said that if I felt like I was ready, then I could have one. So I showed up outside of my branch president's office every week for over a month to ask again. Finally, he talked to the stake president, who told him there was no rule or timeline mandated in the Handbook of Instruction that prevented me from receiving my patriarchal blessing. I finally received it 4 months after I was baptized.

Then I went to Brigham Young University. I was in one of my favorite wards I've ever attended. Everyone around me was so kind and supportive. They helped me deepen my knowledge of the restored gospel and the scriptures. And when all the young men in my classes started receiving mission calls, I wanted to as well. I felt "called to the work," and the Doctrine and Covenants said that was enough.

"You can't do that."

They didn't let women serve at 19 at the time. I had to wait. Why? Because I might get married instead. The hypothetical possibility of reserving me for a man was more important than the calling I had received from God.

I had the opportunity to serve in the temple regularly for the first time in my life. I was from an area where the temple was two hours away, which meant I got to go only a couple times a year, at most. As the only member in my family, I had many names to do. And as the endowments started piling up, I could feel the weight of my responsibility to get the names done weighing on me. I didn't have a ward full of endowed people to rely on in my student wards. It was just me. And the more I went to the temple, the more I craved that divine closeness, the spiritual support for how much harder it was for me to be a member of the Church than it was for everyone else. I was totally on my own, no support from large extended families like they had. I needed more support to come from somewhere. So I started asking to receive my endowment.

"You can't do that."

I needed to be getting married (preferably, in their minds) or serving a mission to get endowed. That was the rule at the time. It didn't matter that I already wanted to serve a mission. It would be so much more special if I could go with my husband! Didn't I see that? My life was just supposed to stay on hold for him, whoever he was. The idea that I would have a spiritual development and progression separate from his was a totally foreign idea at the time, and wasn't reason enough for me to receive my own endowment. Meanwhile, as the ordinances in my own family backed up higher and higher because I was in student wards with no access to the endowment or other endowed people, I was just stuck and alone.

Then the identity of the mysterious young man I would eventually marry was revealed to me. Hurray! And we both went on missions. We were planning our wedding. And after years of alienating my family with all the milestones of my adult life they didn't get to witness because I was in Utah thousands of miles away, I wanted to have a ring ceremony so they could at least watch me get married.

"You can't do that."

And every reason I was given, especially the one that it took away from the validity and the sacredness of my temple sealing, was later disavowed when they did away with this rule.

All of this to say, I've been in the Church for almost 18 years. I have seen so many changes come into the Church and its culture in that time. The things that were impediments to me as a young believer and convert are no longer there, in part because I left so many bloody knuckle prints on heaven's door, pleading for these things to change. Heaven bore witness to how many times I was told "You can't do that" by my own community—with shallow, indefensible reasons for why my journey needed to be so much harder and lonelier than it needed to be.

Changes like these do not come about simply by waiting. They come because the faithful, especially those who are most affected by the lack of change, keep praying and pleading with heaven for change. The hurt goes on the altar because it never should've been mine to carry. Let God witness it. Let him see, feel, and know the burdens I bore in his name, solely at the behest of my community whose reasoning for it was poor and indefensible because it all came down to a single failure: they couldn't begin to imagine the impact their choices were having on me. And until they could begin to understand it, they could never conceive of why their status quo needed to change. Their ignorance and desire to remain in what was familiar and comfortable was a form of bondage to me. That was true.

But what was equally true was that there was nothing wrong or evil in pushing back against all of that, with all the strength I possessed. I would live to see so many of these stumbling blocks I encountered change for those who came behind me. Young people in my church community today don't have to make many of the same choices I did anymore—and thank God for that! I called down the powers of heaven to me to witness these burdens so no one else would ever have to carry them again! I have been witness to the power that these prayers—my prayers—have had to build the kingdom of God on the earth by affecting these changes.

And we're not done. There are many more such changes that need to come to fruition , including (but not limited to) making the Church fully accessible to everyone in our community. Our LGBTQIA+ and disabled people, our women and single Saints, our marginalized, abused, and forgotten in communities of color all over this world.

The kingdom of Heaven is not built, our work is not finished, until ALL are safely gathered in. That is, until they all CAN be safely gathered in. Until all that resists unity, diversity, equity, and inclusion that will define Heaven are removed by the Saints, whose job it is to build that kingdom. To never say again to someone who is trying to come to Christ "you can't do that."

Because with enough time and effort from the Saints, you'll find they can, in fact, do that.

The F Word


I'm an elder millennial and I've been in LDS/Mormon online spaces since I was a teenager. Since 2007. Sixteen years. That's almost as long as some of you have been alive. And there's something I've never talked about before that I want to explain to those of you who need to hear it. And you need to stick around for THE WHOLE THING not to misunderstand what I'm going to say.

The vast majority of you end up okay. You'll make it. You'll figure out your happiness and embrace it fully, and it'll all work out. You'll be okay. I care about you all tremendously, but I've seen your stories play out enough times that I know how it ends. If we can keep you from yeeting off the mortal coil prematurely, you'll be just fine.

There is one group this isn't true for. They're the ones I worry about the most every time I see them: the trad wife cohort. The women who have already decided that their only plan for their future is to get married, have an undetermined number of children, and leave everything after that as a giant question mark, to be decided for them by other people's choices.

I'm the only LDS person in my family. I come from a family with three generations of divorced/separated women. To be financially independent enough to take care of myself was instilled in me from birth. Protect yourself and your financial freedom from abusive men, from men who do not have your best interest anywhere near their thoughts.

That's what I learned from watching my mother work herself to the bone to pay for my father's attorney from the constant legal trouble that alcoholism, drugs, and nonsense behavior from untreated mental illness brought upon us. There were times we didn't have food, but there was always a case of beer in the refrigerator. That's what I learned from my grandmother, who divorced her husband at a time when that was unheard of because he abused her. That was what I learned from not one, but two great-grandmothers who, as southern women with all of the cultural baggage it entailed, left their husbands and lived on their own rather than putting up with disrespectful behavior from the men they married. Women who believed that it is better to be alone than with any man who doesn't respect you.

This is my backstory, my lore, if you will. And I swore I would honor it by never putting myself anywhere near situations that looked like these. To be financially dependent on any man, no matter how kind and generous, was something I never wanted for myself. I wanted my own job, my own money, the ability to travel, to do as I pleased. I wanted financial freedom, the security of knowing I would always be able to take care of myself AND him AND our children if it ever came down to that.

That's not the life I have. In all but name only, I'm a trad wife. Chronic illness and disabilities have made it so I cannot work. I am fully financially dependent on my husband, and every effort I have made to change my situation has come at great financial expense, as well as compromising my physical and mental health. I've had to let go of the life I wanted for myself because I've never found any employer who was willing to give me the accommodations I need to accomplish even a fraction of my goals. And even if they did, it's impossible for me to work enough hours for me to ever achieve them.

I'm a trad wife, not by choice, but out of necessity. And it scares me every day.

If my husband dies in an accident, or a mass shooting? If he becomes disabled? If he ever becomes as sick as I am, or worse? What will we do? We have plans for this. We have multiple retirement accounts, including one in my own name, that he puts money into. He sees my situation, understands it, and prioritizes it in how he manages our finances. But if it were to happen today, tomorrow, any time before we both can retire, we're screwed. Shit Creek, no paddle.

If he leaves me? If I ever have to leave him? How will I support myself? Honestly, I don't know. I don't have an answer to that question. It scares me more than I can articulate. I hope I never have to find out because I'm too disabled to take care of myself. That's the only thing I know.

There are too many women who are far too eager to put themselves into this place of financial insecurity and precarity. They don't even realize how dangerous that path is, for them and for their children, to have nothing that truly belongs to you. Not really. Not if the money that paid for it wasn't yours. Not when everything you treasure and recognize as the life you want has his name on it.

Being a trad wife is built on an agreement of mutual exploitation. In exchange for providing unpaid, undocumented labor, your spouse has agreed to pay all of your expenses indefinitely into the future. If this were a job, you would never agree to those terms. Trad wives don't understand that when it comes to marriage, however, they're jumping into that exact situation head first.

All of this to say: I'm not morally or ideologically opposed to anyone being a house wife or SAHM. I understand EXACTLY what happens to women to make that a necessity. I don't judge anyone who ends up in that position, either by choice or by force. But I'm not going to let anyone go into or remain in that situation blindly, having never once thought about how to finance the life they're dreaming about. I'm not going to let anyone walk through life somehow thinking that everything is supposed to magically work out for them like some sort of fairy tale. That's not how the world works. That not how life works. And I hate the thought that the first time all of this occurs to someone is when their life comes crashing down around them.

If "feminism" is the dirtiest word you know, you're not in any kind of position to advocate for yourself. If you don't see yourself as your husband's equal (which is what feminism, by definition, HAS to mean), how could you even begin to negotiate for yourself in a divorce, a job interview after being out of the workplace for 10+ years, or to family who you'll be reliant upon to get you back on your feet? If you don't even have the courage to say you deserve to be treated like an equal in society when everything is going to plan, how would you do it from the floor with the wind knocked out of you?

I'm not here to argue about the superiority of trad wives OR working wives. I'm not here to fight for anything but Universal Basic Income so we can all exist in a more secure financial state, independent of individual circumstances. And I'm definitely not here to scare you.

I'm simply here as the person you will inevitably be turning to in that moment of crisis, where faith and devotion fall short of giving you everything you wanted in life. I'll be the one with the bottle of water and saying "You are brilliant and strong. You can figure this out." I'll also be the one nodding in agreement that your husband took for granted all the love and labor you gave to him, purely because he was socialized to think he has a right to do that to you. No, I don't think you're crazy. No, I don't think you're asking too much. YES, YOU NEED A LAWYER FOR YOUR CHILD SUPPORT CASE. I'll be there for all of it, to say all of the things to you that you can't imagine ever needing when you say "all I want is to be a trad wife."

How do I know? Because I've been doing it for sixteen years now with people who sounded just like you do now. In person and online. In public and in private. With friends and strangers. I've never had the luxury of being anything but a feminist, an advocate for women they don't even realize they need, that they don't (and won't!) have the vocabulary to ask for.

Not as long as "feminism" is the dirtiest word they know.

Is the Holy Ghost also Heavenly Mother?

Some of my dearest friends believe the Holy Ghost and Heavenly Mother are the same. It's a valid question and discussion, and I thought I would share my perspective and reasoning for why I disagree.

You may think differently after all this. You may still think Heavenly Mother is the Holy Ghost. That's cool. I like being able to reason together, based on what we know and have personally experienced. You don't have to change what you believe based on what I've said. My purpose here isn't to say to anyone "You're wrong." It's to add another way of thinking about things to the discussion. Add what makes sense to you to your cafeteria tray. Or don't. It's your call.

The reason I don't share this belief is because the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit without a body, as described in D&C 130:22. That's how they can perform the essential functions of the Holy Ghost. D&C 130 explains that for the Holy Ghost to perform the function assigned to them by God, being disembodied is a crucial part of that.

Heavenly Mother is a resurrected, exalted being. For her to be a co-creator, equal with God and in full possession of her powers, she must possess a perfected body. 

One of the unique messages of Mormonism is that exaltation is inseparable from having a resurrected, exalted body. From D&C 76 and its descriptions of "bodies celestial" to the description in Abraham 3 of those who "keep their second estate" having "glory added upon their heads for ever and ever." Removing Heavenly Mother from her embodied physical state would put her into an unequal relationship with our Father in Heaven, incomplete and subject to him. That's why the Prophet Joseph Smith taught that "all beings who have bodies have power over those who have not."

He, She, or They?

This point, however, does raise an interesting question I've never considered before. Is it appropriate for someone who has never received a body, and therefore never experienced gender in the flesh, to be assigned as male?

The Gift, Walter Rane
 

I've explored the relationship between biological sex and gender before. Being familiar with that perspective will help elaborate my comments here.

I know what the family proclamation says about gender being eternal. The language being used there has expanded and changed since 1995 when the family proclamation was given. When they said gender is eternal, they were referring to what we would now describe as biological sex. The family proclamation asserts that biological sex is eternal.

Gender is completely separate from biological sex. Gender is a social construct that is shaped by our own responses to our biological sex. Does our sex match how we perceive ourselves and our lived experiences in our own bodies, or are they incongruent with each other? That's not something that can be determined just by looking at someone. While leaders and the authors of scripture in times past have seen the Holy Ghost in vision, described him as male, or quoted Christ in teaching the Holy Ghost is male, these are secondhand accounts. I don't consider them definitive sources

Some of my dearest friends believe the Holy Ghost and Heavenly Mother are the same. It's a valid question and discussion, and I thought I would share my perspective and reasoning for why I disagree.

You may think differently after all this. You may still think Heavenly Mother is the Holy Ghost. That's cool. I like being able to reason together, based on what we know and have personally experienced. You don't have to change what you believe based on what I've said. My purpose here isn't to say to anyone "You're wrong." It's to add another way of thinking about things to the discussion. Add what makes sense to you to your cafeteria tray. Or don't. It's your call.

The reason I don't share this belief is because the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit without a body, as described in D&C 130:22. That's how they can perform the essential functions of the Holy Ghost. D&C 130 explains that for the Holy Ghost to perform the function assigned to them by God, being disembodied is a crucial part of that.

Heavenly Mother is a resurrected, exalted being. For her to be a co-creator, equal with God and in full possession of her powers, she must possess a perfected body. One of the unique messages of Mormonism is that exaltation is inseparable from having a resurrected, exalted

Some of my dearest friends believe the Holy Ghost and Heavenly Mother are the same. It's a valid question and discussion, and I thought I would share my perspective and reasoning for why I disagree.

You may think differently after all this. You may still think Heavenly Mother is the Holy Ghost. That's cool. I like being able to reason together, based on what we know and have personally experienced. You don't have to change what you believe based on what I've said. My purpose here isn't to say to anyone "You're wrong." It's to add another way of thinking about things to the discussion. Add what makes sense to you to your cafeteria tray. Or don't. It's your call.

The reason I don't share this belief is because the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit without a body, as described in D&C 130:22. That's how they can perform the essential functions of the Holy Ghost. D&C 130 explains that for the Holy Ghost to perform the function assigned to them by God, being disembodied is a crucial part of that.

Heavenly Mother is a resurrected, exalted being. For her to be a co-creator, equal with God and in full possession of her powers, she must possess a perfected body. One of the unique messages of Mormonism is that exaltation is inseparable from having a resurrected, exalted body. From D&C 76 and its descriptions of "bodies celestial" to the description in Abraham 3 of those who "keep their second estate" having "glory added upon their heads for ever and ever." Removing Heavenly Mother from her embodied physical state would put her into an unequal relationship with our Father in Heaven, incomplete and subject to him. 

That's why the Prophet Joseph Smith taught that "all beings who have bodies have power over those who have not." 

body. From D&C 76 and its descriptions of "bodies celestial" to the description in Abraham 3 of those who "keep their second estate" having "glory added upon their heads for ever and ever." Removing Heavenly Mother from her embodied physical state would put her into an unequal relationship with our Father in Heaven, incomplete and subject to him. 

That's why the Prophet Joseph Smith taught that "all beings who have bodies have power over those who have not." 

of this information because they weren't written, preserved, or translated by impartial bastions of gender equity.

Because the Holy Ghost has never had a body, they don't know what their gender is. This is why we refer to the Holy Ghost as a personage of spirit, rather than a person. It's also why I think the most accurate pronoun to use for the Holy Ghost is "they," rather than "he." There are too many ways that biological sex and gender can manifest in humans for me to ever assume I know what it'll be for someone who has never even been mortal before. That's a decision the Holy Ghost has to make for themselves once they receive a body. 

So what is it going to take for me to feel like I know the Holy Ghost enough to definitively assign pronouns to them? The same way I do with anyone else: by having the person introduce themselves to me and tell me firsthand what pronouns they prefer.

We don't have anything like that from the Holy Ghost. It's unwise to misrepresent the scriptures we have as if they are. And if the idea of the Holy Ghost deciding, in the actual experience of being embodied, to come out as queer bothers you, it might be time ask yourself why.

Why Every Man in the Church Needs Relief Society

 

As a young co-ed at Brigham Young University, I wasn’t trying to become a subversive voice for cultural change and gender equality. I wasn’t advocating for women’s ordination. I wasn’t personally invested in the budding movement to wear pants to church on Sundays. All I wanted was to watch the general Relief Society meeting, and to know if anyone else was coming with me. On that autumn day in 2010, all I cared about getting a seat to watch the meeting in the Marriot Center—on time.

Regency Apartments was an all-girls complex that fit six women to each unit. Someone was always coming or going from my friends’ apartment—usually me, or one of half a dozen other people with some connection to someone there. Clarissa didn’t feel like going to the Marriot Center with me, but did I mind turning the television on so she could watch it from home? That’s what I was doing when someone else’s boyfriend and another guy I didn’t know came in through the door. Katie wasn’t ready yet, but could they just sit on the couch and wait for a bit? She’d be right out.

Out of the boredom that overtakes all men sitting on couches, they asked what I was doing.

“Looking for the general Relief Society meeting.”

One of them laughed and scoffed.

“You mean the meeting with all the doilies and women CRYING?” They laughed heartily at their own joke.

I didn’t look up from what I was doing before I gave a caustic response.

“Relief Society is not a meeting where we all go to cry like children. We are grown women and this is the female leadership of our church. If you wouldn’t talk about the priesthood leadership like that, don’t talk about our leadership that way.”

I don’t remember what response they managed to sputter out, and frankly I didn’t care. I had somewhere to be and nothing nice to say to them at that point.

But I’ve thought about that experience a lot. I’ve asked myself a lot of questions about it—the same kinds of questions I found myself asking many times at BYU. How can someone be raised in the Church their entire lives and have no respect for the Relief Society? How can someone who was raised by a Relief Society sister be this painfully ignorant about the contributions and sacrifices we make? It was another experience where I, the convert in the room, had to explain something fundamentally basic about the Church to someone who was raised in it, who had taken that experience for granted. It was profoundly isolating in a way I hadn’t been prepared for.

But this was different. It landed differently. It hurt more. I got my first glimpse of what too many men in my own church genuinely think of me, whether they will openly admit to it or not.

As the years passed and I continued gathering experiences as a woman in the Church—first as a missionary, then as a wife, a childless woman, and eventually a temple ordinance worker—I noticed a pattern emerging. This stereotype of women who cry and make things pretty without contributing anything of substance was not an isolated attitude. I encountered it in multiple countries, from men young and old, in converts and those who were born in the covenant. The failure to instill respect for Relief Society in our boys and young men is all but universal, and begins at an early age.

Allow me to demonstrate.

How many times do boys and young men hear their male leadership pray for women by name from a pulpit, or at an altar? The general, stake, or local Relief Society president—how often do we pray for them publicly? I’ve been in the Church for fifteen years now. I’ve never heard it once.

How many various male leaders do they see receiving prayers by name from a pulpit? The bishop, the stake president, the visiting general authority, the apostle who is sick, the president of the Church—the list goes on forever. Some will be familiar with the temple policy that forbids any prayer to be said for any individual by name who is not the president of the Church. This excludes all female leadership. How is that discrepancy reinforced in how these young men are taught to pray at home?

When boys and young men receive temple recommends at twelve, they affirm they have a testimony of the president of the Church as the only living person with the power to access the keys of the priesthood. They sustain that prophet by name. That experience is then reinforced in general conference when they give a similar affirmation, by name, for every single member of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve as “prophets, seers, and revelators.”

They do not similarly sustain any woman by name in a temple recommend interview. They sustain women by name in general conference and in their local units only when the leadership changes. Depending on their age and where they live, they may be able to count how many times they’ve witnessed this in their lifetimes. And even though women prophesy[1], have visions[2], and receive revelation[3] in this church, these boys and young men have never heard ANY modern woman referred to as a prophetess, seer, or revelator. When God declared, “It is not good that the man should be alone,” surely, he meant in every aspect of his life—including leadership and church administration.[4]

As participants in the offices of the Aaronic (and later, the Melchizedek) priesthood, they will act as ministering brothers to women in their wards with their leaders and relatives. They will have occasions to see men blessing women through the power of the priesthood. They will never see that action reciprocated. How DO women bless men, other than by making food or giving them children? Of course, that’s all some of them think women are good for—that’s all they’ve ever seen us do! And in their young minds, they cannot fathom how the priesthood blessings they watch their fathers give to sisters in the ward are equal in power and influence to the casseroles those same sisters bring over for a variety of reasons throughout their lives. The confusion is understandable because the assertion is laughable. How is an ordinance supposed to compare in importance to a tray of funeral potatoes? Especially if the sister doesn’t “do it right” like their family does, and everyone eating it complains about how weird it tastes and how much better it would be “if mother had made it"?

We can quote scripture at these kids all we want. We can tell them “neither is the man without the woman, neither is the woman without the man in the Lord.”[5] We can quote 1 Corinthians 12 at them about how every member of the body is as important as every other part. We can quote Joel about how our daughters will prophesy and upon the “handmaids” in the last days God will pour out his spirit.

When are we going to realize our youth are not internalizing what we tell them? They’re internalizing what they hear and see us do. And what they hear and see is an unacceptable discrepancy between how men and women are sustained at church. The unspoken message, taught in action, is that women don’t receive these opportunities because they don’t deserve them. Their work is not important enough to merit any real acknowledgment or praise by name. After all, women exist to make babies and feed people. That is their purpose because nothing else they do will ever be more important than that. What could they possibly want or need with more?

This sounds harsh—until you’ve been a young woman in this church and you’ve heard these words come out of a young man’s mouth. Then the mouth of someone the same age as your father. Then a grandfather. Then you hear versions of this from your bishop. A stake president. A mission president. The elders in your mission. Your ministering brothers. The day you hear some version of it come out of your husband’s mouth is a particularly hard day.

But the day that would truly break me would be the day I hear any of this come out of the mouth of my son. That is why the secret prayer of my heart, long before I ever fully realized it was there, was that I would never have to raise a boy in the Church.

Why should every man in the Church be required to go to Relief Society? So they can learn what the voice of the Divine Feminine sounds like, and truly “live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.”[6] I want them to realize that for as long as they believe there is no woman in the Church equal in power and authority to the prophet, they are unprepared to enter the presence of the Lord and to meet his Equal. I want them to realize we are also servants.[7] We have names. We are also the anointed.[8] I want them to understand that in a church of continuing revelation, there is no “sealed portion”—just the words written in the fleshy tables of a woman’s heart they will never receive without us, no matter how much they ask, seek, and knock.[9]

I want them to see the sheer number of clipboards and sign-up sheets it takes to do all the compassionate service, community outreach, and the amount of cooking it takes to run a congregation the way they expect it to operate.

I want them to see how differently women speak in spaces that don’t revolve around men—how honest we are with each other. How vulnerable we are, in ways many of them are still not allowed to be. If there’s any truth to Relief Society being a place where women cry, men shouldn’t be laughing about it. We’re usually crying because of something they’ve said or done. In those moments, we’re exercising the gift of healing (and the gift to be healed) from the wounds men have been causing us since before this world began. It’s an endowment of power unique to us. It also comes complete with a whisper network where we discuss together which men at church to avoid for our own protection. You know, the ones President Monson warned us (and you) about when he said, "Men, take care not to make women weep, for God counts their tears."[10]

I want the men in my church to listen to women. Really listen. Hear the voice of God in what we have to say. Recognize it. Hear that it is prophetic. It is revelation, for “whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.” I want men to understand they’re not the only prophets, seers, and revelators in this church. Clearly, that’s not something they’re learning in Priesthood these days.

So come on over to Relief Society, fellas! Pull up a chair. Get a cookie that some woman got up early to make this morning before she came to church. Let’s taste the quiet desperation in every bite as you finally realize it’s there for the first time.

We can all cry about it together.



[1] Judg. 4:6-7, 1 Sam. 2:10, Joel 2:28-29, Luke 1:48, Luke 2:36, Acts 2:17-18, 21:9.

[2] Matt. 27:19, Luke 24:23, and A of F 1:7.

[3] D&C 25:7-9.

[4] Gen. 2:18.

[5] 1 Cor. 11:11.

[6] D&C 68:3-5.

[7] D&C 84:36.

[8] D&C 121:16.

[9] 2 Cor. 3:3.

[10] Monson, Thomas S., “That We May Touch Heaven,” churchofjesuschrist.org, April 1990 General Conference, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1990/10/that-we-may-touch-heaven.

More Posts from Me

The Unimpressive Origins of Anti-Queerness in the LDS Church

"Sister Collins, why don't you believe being queer is a sin like the rest of the righteous, obedient Mormons?" Because despite...