Tina was born and raised in Massachusetts in a newly converted but active LDS family. She was guided to BYU where she met her husband Brandon. They were married in the Temple in 2000 and are the proud parents of four beautiful children, two sons and two daughters. Tina has her Bachelors Degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education from BYU. She has used her education to teach kindergarten, early intervention, preschool and her own children. She enjoys spending time in nature and having fun and laughing with her family. Tina has struggled through some difficult challenges but always strived to serve in the church and follow the path that the Lord wanted for her.
FAITH TO CROSS MY OCEANS: FOLLOWING THE LORD’S PLAN OVER MY OWN
When I learned that my husband was transgender I was devastated and felt like my own plan of happiness had been shaken. All my life I had tried to do what was right and follow God’s plan for me, and it was hard to believe that I might not always be blessed in the way I had expected. I had been sure that I had lived in a way to be blessed to live my own plan of happiness. Instead, through no fault of my own, I found myself in this situation and was filled with shock, sadness, fear of the unknown, and major confusion. Only by holding on for dear life to what I had learned about the atonement of Christ, my relationship to Heavenly Father, and my own truths regarding what is “right” have I been able to get through this most challenging time in my life. I am able to see that what seemed like a dark time was ultimately just a small dimming prior to a potentially much brighter future.
My Big Plans
I grew up in Massachusetts, the third of my parents’ four kids together and the first born after my parents joined the LDS Church and had been sealed in the temple. I was the first child to be “born in the covenant.” We went to church each week and my parents fulfilled their callings to serve. We held family home evening, scripture study, and family prayer sporadically. We followed a typical cycle of assessing how we were doing as a family, trying to improve, doing better for a while, slipping into old habits, reassessing how we were doing and recommitting to improve, only to slip back into old habits and try again. Although I don’t have vivid memories of specific events that fostered it, I gained my own testimony during those years. I have always known that the Church was true and it had always felt “right” to follow the teachings of the Church and do as I “should.”
When I struggled in my youth, as so many do, to fit in, I relied on what I had been taught. I had low self-esteem and poor body image, but I knew that if I didn’t feel good about how I looked, I could always do something about how well I would choose the right. In time I earned the nickname “Mormon,” and during high school, it was a well-known fact that I was the one who was never interested in drinking, smoking, doing drugs, swearing, watching inappropriate movies, etc. I was usually home much earlier than most teens on Friday or Saturday night because my friends would drop me off before they went out to have the “real” fun.
As hard as it was to be the different kid, it gave me comfort that I was always the good kid. I excelled in school, wanting to be the student with the good grades so I could then go on to a good school. I had great attendance at early morning seminary and was the Seminary President my senior year. I served in the YW class presidencies and went regularly to mutual each week. I served on the Stake Youth Committee to plan stake activities and provide leadership to the youth of the stake. My parents didn’t have much money, so I also worked multiple jobs during high school to make some money for spending money and to save to support myself through college. I did everything I could to be good, though I wasn’t perfect and I definitely challenged my parents plenty. I often joked that my years as a good teenager were to make up for the many years before as a not so good pre-teen!
As I faced the end of high school and the big decision of what schools to apply to, I was determined to stay in Massachusetts and applied to multiple in-state schools. I did, however, feel compelled to apply to BYU, even though I was sure that I wouldn’t actually choose to go that far away from home to that seemingly foreign land of Utah. I wanted to keep my options open. It surprised me how excited I became when I was accepted since I still was sure that wasn’t where I wanted to go. But as I thought and prayed about it, I realized it was indeed where I needed to go and the path I should follow.
The Lord’s Plan Wins Out Over My Own
I entered BYU as a determined student. Not just determined to do well, succeed and be the good student I had always been, but I was also determined not to become one of those girls—the typical BYU student from out-of-state, who marries some Utah boy too quickly and gets stuck living in Utah for the rest of her life. I was determined that I was going to serve a mission when I turned twenty-one, “and no guy was getting in my way!” I was certain that I would return to Massachusetts where I belonged, and that I wouldn’t marry until I was much older. I was determined that I would not go to BYU to find a husband and an “MRS” degree, but to truly get my education.
I worked hard at school and did well, I made great friends, learned to be independent, but also dependent upon the Lord for strength and support. I continued to strive to live as the Lord wanted me to and to be “good but my first few years at BYU were difficult. Looking back, I realize that I struggled with mental health issues, although I didn’t recognize them for what they were. I had an eating disorder and was not able to serve my mission when I turned twenty-one, but I was improving and determined to go as soon I was ready. But the Lord had other plans!
I returned to BYU a few weeks after my twenty-first birthday with the plan to finish one more semester, then serve my mission. But I met Brandon! He was a returned missionary from Orem with whom I quickly felt a true connection. I was able to talk to him unlike I ever had with any boy. It didn’t take long to realize that the Lord had a much different plan for me than the big plans I had been so determined to fulfill. Our relationship moved along so quickly that we were engaged after dating only 5 weeks and married after 6 months. I knew as it was happening that I was doing exactly what I had been so determined to not do. Long story short, I ate all my words. I did not serve a mission, instead I married a Utah boy before I had graduated with my bachelor’s degree.
But I knew that I was following what the Lord wanted for me. As sure as I had always been that I would follow a certain path, I felt equally sure that this was the path that was truly right for me, because of my ability to talk openly and honestly with Brandon. After dating for just a few weeks, and before we were even engaged, he knew that I had a history of both child abuse and an eating disorder. I was shocked at my ability to tell him things that I had told to so few people. It confirmed to me the depth of the trust and connection I had with him that I hadn’t felt with anyone else I had known. We were married in the Mount Timpanogos Temple in April of 2000. For the record, I did graduate the next year with my bachelor’s degree in Elementary and Early Childhood Education and we, as a family, did move back to Massachusetts for a short time. But we returned to Utah and I am quite sure that I am officially stuck here, and I am now totally happy with that!
Fulfilling OUR Plans
The next 13 years brought us both challenges and a lot of happiness. Following two miscarriages, we were able to have four beautiful healthy children (now 12, 9, 6 and 3). There were many years of barely scraping by, but through hard work Brandon was able to complete his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work and began his career as a therapist. We were able to buy a home and felt that we were fulfilling the goals we set as young newlyweds.
My struggle with anxiety and depression was a challenge we faced together. I felt that I was managing it with medication and other skills, but after our third child was born severe anxiety hit me from out of the blue. I began therapy while trying to function as a “good” mother and wife, and though I felt I was failing, friends and family assured me I was doing just fine. However Brandon also began to experience depression, which he never had before. I worried that maybe my struggles were causing his. I wishfully attributed his depression to “therapist burnout” and that he might quickly work through it and be OK again. Brandon decided he needed therapy too, and having worked with many female therapists in school and in practice, felt he might be more comfortable seeing a woman, however none could see him right away. Feeling that things were worsening, he was able to meet immediately with Rich, a male therapist, who he really liked and felt that it was a good fit. Finding Rich would turn out to be one of our tender mercies!
Facing the Smaller Oceans
A few weeks into his therapy, Brandon came to me and told me that he had struggled most of his life with cross dressing. He explained that his ongoing desire to dress and to hide it was the cause of his depression. I was shocked, I hadn’t seen this coming, and I never saw any warning signs. I asked questions to try to understand. I was still having a hard time with depression, and this news didn’t help. I prayed to know how to help him and to grasp what this all meant.
After much discussion and prayer, we decided together that we would let him explore his need to cross-dress. I was trying to understand even though I wasn’t totally comfortable and found it so confusing, it felt right to allow him to explore on his own and away from me until I felt more comfortable with it. My big concern was, “Is this okay?” Will his church standing, his priesthood, his salvation be affected if he explores this part of him that he has suppressed for so long?
I looked to the scriptures and other Church resources but there were no answers to be found. I turned to our priesthood leaders; I wanted to be “good!” I wanted to do what was right like I always had, and follow what I was told. We went in together to tell the bishop what was happening. He asked questions. He wasn’t sure how to counsel us, but felt that cross dressing didn’t seem like something that Brandon should be doing and he recommended that it stop. Brandon initially struggled with this counsel, but soon decided that he wanted do what the bishop asked and stop. I was so proud of him the night he ceremoniously took the shoebox with the shoes and the few pieces of women’s clothing he’d purchased to the dumpster. I worried about his depression, and often checked in with him to see how he was doing. He would tell me if he was having hard days, but all in all he seemed to be doing ok.
Meanwhile, I continued to struggle through therapy, changes in meds and a lot of tears. By spring 2014, I realized that the IUD I used for birth control was contributing to my declining mental health. In a relatively short time after I had it removed I felt improvement, more energy and motivation. I was able to handle day-to-day challenges without feeling swallowed up in sadness and feeling overwhelmed. I felt joy that had been missing, and decided I was doing well enough to wean myself off therapy. The waves of depression still came, but I was able to rise above them and use the coping mechanisms I’d learned to keep going. Brandon seemed to be doing okay with his struggle too. Things were looking up for us!
Then towards the end of June 2014, my life was shaken like never before. Brandon told me that he was struggling again. As he tried to explain, he was unable to say the words and I thought it seemed so silly, what could he possibly have to tell me that was hard? We had always been honest with each other and it was weird to see him struggling to get the words out, I said, “Just tell me!” He finally said that he understood some things about himself, and that he had not been completely honest the year before when he told me about the cross dressing. He wasn’t just a cross dresser, he was transgender.
This flooded me with so many emotions, but I tried to hold myself together and not react in a way that would hurt him or make him regret being honest with me. As what he said sunk in I was filled with questions and in turn bombarded him with questions:
What exactly did it mean to be transgender? What is gender dysphoria? Can there really be a difference between someone’s sex and their gender? What does this mean for us? Could we stay married? Did he even want to stay married? Did he still love me? Was he even attracted to me? What was going to happen to our children? And so on.
He answered my questions as honestly as he could. He reassured me that he was attracted to me and that he wanted to stay married. He told me that his priorities were the Lord and the gospel, as well as me, our marriage, and our children. Whatever he was going through wouldn’t get in the way of those priorities, and though knowing all that was a relief, I still felt devastated. Over time, I realized what this also meant, that my life would never be the same and my future would look very different than I had pictured.
Sorting through my confusion, I came to realizations that were my truth. There were some basic things that I knew! I love him. He loves me. I know that we were meant to be together. Heavenly Father knows us, of our struggles, and He loves us. There have been many nights that we have sat and talked and cried and tried to answer questions and be honest with each other. Often those nights ended with holding each other and asking ourselves though tears, “What do we know?” On those nights, those few simple truths had to be enough.
Trying to make sense of this new situation, I truly felt like I was in crisis. My depression spiraled; I fell back into unhealthy habits and coping mechanisms that I had previously overcome. I struggled with my eating. Memories of childhood abuse flooded back torturing me. It was difficult to get up in the morning and simply function as a person, let alone as a mother with the care of four children. I tried to reestablish healthy coping, but one of my best mechanisms had always been talking things through with friends, but how could I talk about this? I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want to be judged, or for people to think we were bad people. I tried to maintain the appearance that we were a normal, happy couple and that everything was okay. But it wasn’t okay. I felt more alone than I ever had in my depression.
Being Guided to North Star
A major turning point for us was Brandon hearing on the radio the story of a transgender youth who had found love and acceptance in his LDS ward. We realized that there might be a way to deal with this issue and remain active in the Church. A Google search for more information about this youth led to us North Star and its online support groups for both transgender individuals and their spouses. We discovered that we weren’t alone in this struggle; there were other couples like us trying to remain married and active members of the Church.
I found in the others’ stories a common theme that explained the emotions that I was experiencing. It was normal for family members to go through the mourning process when they learn a loved one is transgender. All my feelings were part of that process: the fear of the unknown, the letting go of the future I had envisioned for us, the realization that I didn’t actually know my husband inside and out, as I had always thought, that my children weren’t going to have the same relationship with their dad that I had pictured, and that this was going to be a difficult journey with whatever path we chose.
I know that life throws unexpected challenges in front of everyone, but to me this seemed bigger than that; I had not signed up for this! I had married a strong, active, return missionary in the temple. I had been “good” and made “good” choices. I had followed the Spirit in my major life decisions, and even in many small ones. Losing the security in my life and marriage because of no choice I had made didn’t seem fair. But to have to deal with something so confusing and unknown and seemingly shameful was just too much! I had always believed the idea that “Heavenly Father doesn’t give us more than we can handle,” but I was starting to really doubt his faith in my abilities.
Challenging My Faith
I turned to the Lord and prayed many tearful prayers to try to understand what I was supposed to do with these challenges. I knew that even though this was difficult and confusing to me, I could see the very real struggle Brandon had, and how he had suppressed and hidden it for so long. Through my prayers I felt that I needed to give him permission to explore his needs without fear of the shame or guilt that had always been connected to it. I checked and double-checked with the Lord that I had actually received the inspiration to let my husband dress like a woman. I kept thinking “Seriously, Heavenly Father? Really? Are you sure?” But as much as I tried to deny that I received this answer, I knew that it was truly what the Lord knew we needed to do.
So we decided this is how we would proceed, we would set up boundaries and allow him to explore this side of him. Our boundaries were: 1) he would only dress in our bedroom where I was not involved, it was still too difficult for me to see him yet, 2) he would only dress behind a locked door, to protect our children from finding him and having to explain what we were not ready for them to know, and 3) before he did anything in this exploration journey, he would let me know and I would have to be okay with him trying it. And so we proceeded.
He dressed almost every night at first. We joked that he was like a kid in a candy store, but I saw a change in him that both surprised and scared me. He was much happier. He was more at peace and more of the laid-back man that I had married. It was wonderful to see him feeling better, but it scared me that this was what he needed to feel better, that I needed to realize this was actually happening, there was no turning back and it was a real thing that was going to be a part of the rest of our lives.
My therapist that I’d seen for years admitted that though she was more than willing to continue to help me with my anxiety and depression, that my needs as a spouse of a transgender person were beyond her expertise and I deserved someone with the experience to help me. Though it was difficult news to take I knew she was right. I respected her honesty but was already feeling so lost and confused. I was in the midst of total crisis and I needed to find a new therapist! Yet another challenge presented by this new enemy called gender dysphoria. We asked Brandon’s therapist, Rich who had been a huge help to us already, if he knew someone for me. He had a female colleague close by who was training to become a sex therapist. Kristin is LDS, and as we quickly realized, the perfect fit for me. This was another of the tender mercies showing that the Lord knows our needs and orchestrates things to meet those needs.
Navigating Our Correct Course
With the financial strain two therapists placed upon us and wanting guidance as we navigated through all of this we reached out again to our bishop. We were reluctant to tell him that Brandon was dressing again when he had counseled against it, but we strongly felt the need to be honest with him and hopefully help him understand the whole picture and the real needs we had. We also sought his input on the Church’s stance on dealing with gender dysphoria.
So, armed with a letter from Brandon explaining his life-long struggle and a packet of information about gender dysphoria, we faithfully and hopefully went to talk to our bishop. He admitted to not knowing much about it, but attempted to understand. He listened and asked a few questions regarding behaviors that he knew were unacceptable and asked for some time to pray about it and seek guidance from the stake president. He agreed to give some assistance in our time of need. All in all, we felt okay with how it went but still uneasy about what guidance he would give when we met again.
Not long after, Brandon went to get his temple recommend renewed and was shocked by the outcome. The bishop, per direction from the stake president, explained that as long as Brandon was dressing that he was unworthy to attend the temple. We were devastated and confused. We were certain the stake president had misunderstood something and decided that we needed to meet with him personally. The bishop joined us two nights later as we went to his office. Brandon explained our story and he listened patiently. He expressed his concern for us but stood by his opinion that dressing was “unnatural and unholy” and that doing so made Brandon unworthy of a recommend. We tried to further explain but as our emotions got stronger, Brandon recognized that the Spirit was gone, the conversation was no longer helpful and that we needed to leave. I still had some fight in me and wanted to argue and prove my point, but I knew Brandon was right and respectfully followed him out.
The days that followed were very dark. Brandon hid in bed overcome with depression. Guilt and shame came flooding back to him. Confusion and loneliness came flooding back to me. I was deeply worried about him. I tried to function enough to keep our children fed and safe. Within a few days we were able to function again and the following week Brandon had to go out of town for a conference. I decided that I needed to go alone to talk to the stake president. I felt like if I took a different approach that he might better understand. He had also said some things that made me realize that he thought all my depression and need for therapy was the result of Brandon’s “coming out.” I felt that I needed to clarify that I had struggled with many of these issues long before any of this surfaced.
Fighting back much anxiety, I went to speak with him. Upon further explaining my understanding of the dressing to be a coping mechanism, similar to a medical prescription and explaining that my need for therapy was not solely based on my husband’s behavior, he hesitated but stated that he still was uneasy but that he felt that he could allow Brandon to have a recommend for now. I has so relieved and excited! I felt like he was starting to understand and this was really working out. The door of the stake center hadn’t closed behind me before I had Brandon on the phone to excitedly report that he could go to the temple!
But when Brandon went to get his recommend signed, the stake president reported that the more he thought about it, he still felt uncomfortable allowing Brandon to enter the temple unless he promised that he would no longer dress. Brandon was shocked. As he sat in the office trying to decide what to do he thought about how important the temple had always been and felt that he really needed to comply. So he promised that he would not dress and got the recommend, and hurried out. Again this encounter was followed by days of darkness. Not only had the shame we’d been working so hard to overcome come flooding back, but now we were questioning our ability to understand the Spirit and our ability to know what the Lord wanted for us. Why would he guide us to do something and make choices that would ultimately lead to Brandon being kept from the temple? For me it was the first time that I started to question the most fundamental things that I thought I knew about the gospel.
My guidance on this path came through prayer in the same way I had prayed to know that the Church, the scriptures, and the gospel were true, and if I should marry Brandon, and if it was time to have each of our children. If my inspiration was wrong with this, had I been wrong and misled with each of those decisions as well? As I watched Brandon wrestle with how to proceed and work through the hurt and anger and confusion that he was experiencing, I promised I would support him however he felt he needed to proceed. Although I had been taught to follow the guidance of Church leaders, I knew we had been given inspired direction that was different from our leaders. I also knew that it could be very painful and scary for Brandon to try to repress all those feelings yet again. After days of struggle and prayer, he decided that the temple was important to him and he wanted to do what he could to remain worthy in the eyes of the stake president so that he could continue to attend. I was so proud of him to be “choosing the right” and I felt that it would be a step in the right direction for us to start getting back to life as it had been.
To our dismay, what then followed were the five darkest weeks of our lives. We were praying earnestly but felt that something was missing; we could feel the loss of the Spirit and his comfort in our home. We read our scriptures and attended church, but felt like we were barely functioning. Brandon struggled to manage his dysphoria without dressing, and I struggled to help him through it. Then one morning it finally hit me. This was not working and it wasn’t working because we were not following what the Lord had told us through revelation that we needed to do, even though we were following our leaders. We had been given the guidance we had so desperately sought and we had done the opposite. Things needed to change.
So we began a discussion I never thought I would. Should Brandon do what the Lord told us to do to for him to have healing and peace and therefore give up his recommend? We were concerned that if Brandon didn’t have a recommend that he would be unable to confer the priesthood on our son who would be turning twelve within the next several months. We wanted to be sure that opportunity wasn’t jeopardized. We also wanted to demonstrate that this wasn’t an addiction that he couldn’t control, but a careful, informed decision that we were making. After getting things clarified and making the final decision, we went to the temple together one last time. We decided he was going to give up his recommend and start dressing again. As soon as we made the decision, things seemed to improve and feel better.
Just Keep Swimming
As the months passed, though things were still very difficult, we continued to feel at peace with our decision. I worked towards feeling more comfortable around Brandon while he was dressed and had to work at remembering that he was the same person I had always loved and that this was something that was difficult, but important. We started to find others who were struggling with gender dysphoria, in ways that were similar and yet often drastically different. I soon learned that there are so many diverse paths for transgender individuals and although drastically different, can still be what is “right” for that individual. Finding others who were transgender and still living the gospel brought us comfort. Learning that there were some who were happily married also brought so much relief. To know I was not alone in this trial gave me hope. We became friends with others in this group, learned about their struggles, successes, strengths, weaknesses, journeys. One thing that stood out to me was their faith. Despite the immense trials and questions they faced, they were striving to do what was right.
However, unlike other trials I have faced, there is nowhere to find the answer to exactly what is the right thing to do. As we attended some activities with these new friends, I still struggled with a lot of anxiety. I was uncomfortable being in this group, not because I thought that those around me were bad or unrighteous, but because I knew that so many of them were struggling and hurting. I didn’t know how to help and I feared that they would misinterpret my anxiety as dislike, rejection, or discomfort with them as individuals. It really wasn’t that. It was me trying to come to terms with the fact that my life had just taken a drastic turn into a realm I had never pictured for myself. And that as hard as it was to face, the Lord knew what he was doing and was guiding me to right where I needed to be.
As we tried to reconcile the experience we had with our leaders, we realized we were stuck on the simple idea that we felt our inspiration for ourselves was right and that they were wrong. A friend suggested a way that possibly we had both received correct inspiration. We were lead to a “Mormon message” clip and story by Elder Jeffery R. Holland, who shared a story that taught the lesson that at times the Lord allows us to travel down the wrong road for a distance to help us ultimately learn that it was wrong, so to then know with equal surety, that the alternate road is the correct one to travel.
Maybe the reason our inspiration and the counsel from our leaders conflicted was to give us understanding just how important the temple is for us and that we needed to learn to trust ourselves and our own relationship with the Lord.
Possibly the experience gained during those five dark weeks was exactly what we needed so we could appreciate that subsequent weeks experiences, although difficult, were what we were really supposed to have. Only by having the contrasting experiences could I have realized that it was truly the “right” thing for my husband to choose to follow the revelation we had received as a couple to be well emotionally, even at the cost (hopefully only temporarily) of his temple recommend.
The Lord’s Plan Wins Out Over My Own…Again!
I long felt that the very few people we had shared our “secret” with (which did not include our children) were the only ones who would ever have to know. But as the Lord likes to do with me, he slowly helped me realized that my plan was not his plan. As I have thought of others who struggle with feelings of gender dysphoria and the rejection that so many of them face, I have wondered if there was something bigger than ourselves that we would be part of because of what we had learned.
A while ago, we were asked to participate in a fireside and I offered to share my testimony. Not long afterwards I began to seriously reconsider what I had offered. I had so much anxiety only going to these events, but now I would be speaking! What was I thinking? Again, I prayed and debated and knew it was the right thing for me to do. It was difficult, I shook with anxiety as I did it, but I was able to speak, survive, and even be proud of myself for doing it. A little later, we were asked to speak on a panel in front of therapists and share our experiences to help them to better serve their clients with gender issues. Again, we accepted, I questioned it, knew it was right, faced and overcame major anxiety and then was proud to have succeeded.
We recognized that by sharing, we were helping others in similar situations know they were not alone as well as provide a better understanding of this difficult trial. This helped us have the courage to share in these semi-public, controlled environments. I knew that the people that we were sharing with were understanding of these types of trials and were less likely to judge us harshly. Meanwhile, I still felt like we needed to keep our secret, which we had spent so long guarding, from close friends and from family. Yet we felt really uncomfortable living a double life. I wanted to share our experiences with my family and friends too. I didn’t feel like I was being completely honest or authentic. All of this fostered shame that I hated, but the fear and shame of others knowing continued to win over for a while.
Dropping the “Trans-Bomb” on Our Kids
We knew that the only way we wanted our children to learn of this was from us directly. We had to present it in a way that we would all be comfortable. We were afraid that now that we had begun to openly tell our story that it would somehow get back to them, so it was time to tell them ourselves. We prayed about it for weeks and I tried to prepare myself for all possible reactions and any questions they could ask. We talked with others who had told their children, we met with Rich for ideas and guidance in how to explain it. Then finally we sat down the older two children, our 12-year-old boy and 9-year old girl. We stuck to the basics and used the wording that was recommended. We made sure that they understood that we would love them no matter what, that we were determined to remain a happy family, and that that honesty was something that we always wanted in our family. We emphasized that they could always ask questions about this topic and that any question was okay to ask. We used it as a teaching tool and explained that if there were anything that they were ever struggling with that they could come to us and be honest and we would love them and support them through it. They listened intently and were surprised but seemed to be ok with it. It was a relief to have that honesty among our family; however I still worried about how it would affect them as time passed. One night, about a week later, I asked my son how he was feeling about “everything we talked about with Dad”. His response, with a shrug of his shoulders, was “it’s fine, it is still Dad” and he walked out the door. I was so relieved and proud of him. We have included them in our decisions to go more public with our story. They have been understanding and have realized that it is important to help other people understand. They have helped me to further understand Christ-like love and acceptance and what Christ meant when he taught us to “be as a little child.”
Leaving Dry Land: Attending the North Star Conference
In April 2015, we both sat on discussion panels for the transgender track of the North Star conference. Attending the conference was a big turning point for us. Just by attending, we could see how much progress we had made in a relatively short time. Only a few months earlier we hesitated to attend small meetings with other transgender individuals in fear that others would somehow see us there and know our secret. Now, we were not only attending a big conference (and close to home), but we were planning to be a part of it!
It didn’t take long after the opening prayer of the conference to know that we were, once again, exactly where the Lord wanted us to be. Through the music, several speakers, and even comments in breakout sessions, we felt strongly that the Lord knew us individually. He knew the specific topics that we were struggling with. He wanted us to learn specific principles and concepts.
One of the biggest things I took from the conference was a song, called “This Boat” that a friend shared. As he played it and I intently listened to the words and the message, I was overcome with how strongly I could feel the spirit. This song was for me! The song referenced the Book of Mormon stories of the brother of Jared and of Nephi and Lehi. They were both commanded to build boats and leave their lands to cross oceans. They both trusted themselves that they’d received the correct guidance (although others probably thought they were a little crazy) and they did it and took that huge leap of faith because they wanted to do what was “right” and follow the Lord’s will. And they both were led to a promised land.
The line of the song that stood out and that I have repeated in my mind countless times is “We all have our oceans, some great some small; we can find the answers, we know who to call.” We all have our own struggles. But if we follow the Lord and do as we are told, we will get to our own promised land. We have no ideas what the journey will be like, but we have to have faith that the Lord has a plan for us and his plan is what is right for us individually. It might not be smooth sailing, but eventually we will get there! Another line says, “I had never thought to leave dry land. I know there is a way, when there is a command.” I never thought that I would be asked to cross “Transgender Ocean” but I have been. And because I have been and there is a command, I know that somehow there is a way and it is right for my family and me. And if I can learn what I am supposed to and stay close with the Lord, my faith will lead me to my own promised land, whatever that may look like.
Two strong impressions we both received throughout the conference were that we needed to forgive our leaders, and we needed to be more open with our story. There were others who would benefit from our courage and willingness to share and it was our responsibility to overcome our fear and help them.
Following the conference and a lot more prayer and fasting, we made two big, probably life-changing, decisions. We would follow the Lord’s counsel in these two areas. We would “build our boat” and “cross our ocean” as the Lord wanted.
First we needed to forgive the leaders and stop holding onto the negative feelings that we had toward them. Holding onto these negative feelings was paralyzing our own spiritual growth. Brandon met with both the bishop and stake president and apologized for the feelings he had been experiencing towards them. He knew all he could change was himself and his feelings and this was how he needed to do it. Seeing the relief on his face when he got home from those meetings was priceless. I was so proud of him and his willingness and ability to humble himself in such a way. He could feel and I could see the weight that had been taken off his shoulders.
Second, we knew it was time to share our stories publicly. Not only were we planning to share our stories through these essays, but it was time to be totally honest with all those around us by taking the opportunity that the Lord has given us to be authentic, honest, and faithful. We decided that Brandon would “out himself” on Facebook and share his experience through a personal blog. We learned some things from others’ experiences that had previously come out. We wanted to be open and take the opportunity to teach others about our experience, but realized there would be some who were not ready to be bombarded with a topic that was this confusing and hard to understand.
We felt that if he used Facebook to simply explain what he was going through and then add links to his blog he could open up the line of communication and then, those who were interested, could follow links to learn more details. This seemed like the best way to balance being open and honest without being totally in-your-face about it. I knew that this was the right step, but I was worried about the possible backlash. Again I needed to trust Heavenly Father’s plan for me over what I felt was safe or comfortable. But this time seemed more difficult. This time the unknown had so much potential to bring hurt or difficulty to the people I loved most, my husband and children.
Setting Sail Across Our Ocean
We knew that there were certain family members and friends that needed to hear this from us face to face. We joked about our “coming out tour” as we drove to Idaho for a weekend to talk to some close friends, and then I flew to Massachusetts to tell my family and share what we’d been going through.
While I was in Massachusetts, after I had told my family, we took the huge leap of faith and posted it all on Facebook with a link to his blog for what felt like the whole world. The majority of the responses have been positive and supportive. The attitude of the reactions has been a mixture of surprise, concern, and support.
As I have dealt with the vulnerability and fear of sharing such a personal story, I have had to continually remind myself that I knowthat this is what the Lord wants us to do! Just as in so many other times in my life when I was sure I knew what path I should take, it has always worked out to trust in the Lord and the direction he was gently nudging me. I know that if there is even one lost soul who has felt abandoned by family or friends and can feel my love and acceptance or one family member who is able to better accept and understand the struggle their loved one is going through, than this all is worth it.
Finding my own Promised Land
Being so determined to follow what the Lord wants so that I can help others, I have learned so many lessons about myself. My relationship with my husband has grown more deeply than I ever could have thought. My faith and trust in the Lord and in myself to know and do what he wants from me have all grown drastically. This is not going to be an easy path, but I will be blessed along the way and it will all, eventually, be worth the struggles when I reach my own promised land!