VOICES OF HOPE
KYLE & AMY
Kyle and Amy both grew up in homes with loving families who taught them the importance of agency and the strength of the Atonement in effecting good in their lives. They met in a Latin class at BYU, which set the foundation for their deliciously nerdy love affair. They married five years ago in the Provo Temple.
Kyle is currently working through a grad program in classics at BYU, and Amy teaches Latin to junior high students in Payson and classical mythology to BYU students. In their day-to-day life, they both enjoy gastronomy, shopping, freshwater fish-keeping, playing Dungeons and Dragons with friends, and watching My Little Pony.
Kyle experiences gender dysphoria, and it is only through the loving help of Amy and the Atonement of Jesus Christ that Kyle has begun to find peace in his experience.
Kyle is the oldest of five children. He grew up in an amazing family and he’s grateful for the strength his family gives him. Kyle is currently attending graduate school at Brigham Young University studying Classical Languages and Literature. He loves literature and loves sharing this love of literature with others. Music has always been a huge part of his life and he plays trumpet, piano, and organ. Kyle has been married for almost five years to Amy who is one of the most amazing women in the world. She helps him to be a better person every day. Kyle loves reading, watching chick flicks, shopping with his wife, and all things nerdy.
Amy is an enthusiastic teacher of ancient literature and the Latin language. She has a firm love of ancient history, literature, cuddly things, and unicorns. Amy once wanted nothing more than to have a nice ordinary life with a nice white picket fence. And then she discovered Kyle, who turned out to be more beguiling than a whole blessing of unicorns. While still trying to figure out how in the world life works being married to a transgender spouse, she is happy with her sometimes confusing, always quirky, but definitely happy life. She and Kyle have now been married for five years and look forward to many more wonderful years together.
Full Interview (58 Minutes)
Highlights Interview (10 Minutes)
Ever since I was a small child, I have had a strong aversion to mirrors. Every time I look in a mirror the person looking back seems like a stranger. That can’t be me, can it? The person in the mirror feels wrong—a deep, jarring, painful kind of wrong, as if the mirror were a window into some alternate world. Every morning as I’m getting ready for the day I try so hard to avoid looking in the mirror, but inevitably I look anyway. I’ve been trying to avoid looking in the mirror for years now. As a young child I remember staring into the mirror and hoping somehow I would see something different. I just wanted the image in the mirror to match what I felt like in my head.
Who am I? That’s not a question I can answer very easily. I can give simple answers: my name is Kyle Merkley, I am twenty-eight years old, I’m a graduate student at BYU in Classics, I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I am transgender—for some reason the gender of my brain and of my body don’t seem to match. But that doesn’t really tell you much about me. Who am I? If I’m being honest I would answer that sometimes I don’t know… I’m still trying to figure out what it means to be a transgender Mormon. I don’t always know how to deal with the pain of having gender dysphoria, and I constantly wonder how my identity as transgender fits with my identity as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I wish it were easy to explain what it was like to experience gender dysphoria. I’ve tried to explain gender dysphoria dozens of times, but it’s not something that can really be explained—just lived. It’s a feeling of wrongness that occurs when the gender of your mind and the gender of your body don’t seem to match. But how do you explain feeling “wrong’? To me, gender dysphoria feels like having a hole in my heart: it feels like being incomplete. It feels like always being lost in the dark. If I were to write a dictionary, the word “wrong” would be defined as feelings of gender dysphoria. It’s a feeling that is hard to externalize, but it incessantly gnaws at you internally. Gender dysphoria is pain.
This is my journey. I wish I could say it was a journey entirely of redemption and faith, and my story does have a lot of each. But my journey is also filled with forays into dark, sad, and desolate places. It’s filled with mistakes I’m not proud of, and it’s filled with feelings of confusion. This journey is also full of hope; hope I can find a way to reconcile the gospel of Jesus Christ with gender identity incongruence. I’m still traveling on this journey, and that hope is a powerful motivator to keep moving forward. While I still don’t have all the answers, I hope they are there, and that hope keeps me searching.
I first realized something about me was different when I was ten or eleven. Suddenly the feeling struck me that I should have been born a girl. The mere thought of being a girl just felt so right, like not being a girl was the one thing preventing my life from being complete. I didn’t understand these feelings, didn’t know where they came from, and certainly couldn’t explain them to my parents.
My favorite part of the day soon became falling asleep. As I fell asleep I would imagine I were a girl, and when I imagined everything felt better. At the same time, I started really noticing all the gendered differences between men and women. I wondered why women always got the pretty clothes and was often envious. I just wanted to be pretty too. I wanted to be just like all the other girls at school and around my neighborhood, but I wasn’t like them and couldn’t be for some reason I didn’t understand.
This led to me sneaking into my mother’s room and finding clothes that would help me be pretty. Soon I was waking up in the middle of the night and changing into whatever I could “borrow” from my mother’s room. I would change and quietly prance around the house. I loved the way the skirts swirled around my legs as I danced. All I did was imagine life were different and that I had been born a girl.
Of course it didn’t take long for my mother to catch me. At the time I could barely vocalize my feelings. How could I explain I felt like I should be a girl? All I wanted to do was feel pretty for just a moment. I could tell my mother was upset and confused, and I didn’t ever want her to feel like that. Clearly imagining I was a girl was something wrong, so I must be wrong. I must be broken. I didn’t want to feel this way, so I started to try and hide it. I just wanted to be normal.
But imagining I was a girl felt so right; it was the only time I was happy. So I started to live in my own little world, an imaginary place where I could be whatever I wanted. At the same time, I was so ashamed of myself. I hated wanting to pretend; hate turned to depression, and the only answer was to pretend more or to find activities that would successfully distract me from reality. I spent most of my teenage years using a variety of activities to self-medicate so I could stop thinking about who I was. Some of these activities weren’t too harmful; for example, I became an avid reader consuming tens of thousands of pages of literature, I filled every moment of my time with extra-curricular activities, and music became a huge part of my life because when I played gender didn’t matter—I was finally free to be myself through music. On the other hand, some of my coping mechanisms were pretty self-destructive.
Naturally, as much as I tried to hide my depression and my desire to be a girl, my parents knew something was going on. Unfortunately, I was too ashamed to ever really communicate or open up to them. Since I wasn’t good at communicating, my parents really had no idea what to do. During this time I talked to several bishops, but I couldn’t make anyone understand what I felt like. It was almost always assumed my interest in femininity and women’s clothes stemmed from inappropriate sexual thoughts, but that explanation never felt right to me. I just felt like I should be a girl; it wasn’t arousing to me, just natural, almost like breathing. Inevitably these conversations left me feeling entirely alone and misunderstood.
This loneliness and shame coupled with the desire to do the right thing led me to try and repress my feelings even further. I would determinedly resolve to not act or think about my desires to be a girl, and then inevitably after a couple days I would collapse in an emotionally exhausted heap just allowing the desires and fantasies to completely take over. Of course, this only increased the shame I was feeling. I knew Heavenly Father wouldn’t give me a temptation above what I was able, so clearly I was just not strong enough. In seminary as a teenager we often talked about “Abrahamic” trials, and I thought these feelings were my trial to bear. I just wished I were actually strong enough to bear it.
In the midst of my suffering I found a great deal of hope in the atonement of Jesus Christ. I remember latching onto the words of Moroni 10:32 as I completed reading the Book of Mormon. “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ…” I understood this scripture to mean that if I followed Christ well enough, he could make me perfect. Christ could take away this feeling of wrongness. I remember striving towards that goal with all my heart, just trying to follow Him well enough that he could make me whole. I spent countless hours on my knees praying, begging my Heavenly Father to take away these feelings and heal me. However, the feelings never went away, and for a long time I blamed myself for not being righteous enough.
These feelings of failure and shame culminated in me believing that not only were these feelings wrong, but because I was so powerless to prevent them, I myself must be wrong maybe even evil. I contemplated suicide many times. I remember one night standing in an empty basement holding a knife to my wrists trying to gather the courage to go through with it. But I never could. I was too afraid of the pain, afraid of what would happen to me if I woke up on the other side to an angry God, and afraid of the unknown. Afterwards I would feel like a coward for not being able to even kill myself properly.
The only place I could consistently feel joy was when I played my trumpet. Music was a place where gender didn’t matter, my sorrows didn’t matter, and I was free to express my feelings. When I played, I knew what my place in the world was and understood exactly what I was supposed to do. All I’d ever wanted was to understand my place in the world and have the freedom to act accordingly. Music was freedom.
Music became such a large part of my life that when I started college all I wanted to do was play. Music had provided me some degree of hope and purpose and kept me afloat in a world where I didn’t even understand who I was. I was elated when I was accepted into the music program at BYU. I spent a couple years at BYU and then decided to go on a mission. When I made that decision, I was still struggling; I still felt like I was wrong. I was still ashamed of myself. I still hated myself. But I really wanted to do the right thing, and I had been told my entire life that the right thing was to go on a mission.
In 2006, I was called to serve in the California Anaheim mission. While serving a mission was really hard in some ways (I had to deal with constant depression, and living with all guys triggered my gender dysphoria), I found serving a mission also clearly defined a role for me. I didn’t have to struggle with the question of who I was. I was told exactly who I was and how I was supposed to act every day. It was that sense of purpose which kept me going. I also saw how much good I was able to do while trying to be a good missionary. On my mission, I was truly converted to the gospel of Christ: I saw the power of the Book of Mormon, gained a testimony of Joseph Smith, and saw people change as gospel truths entered their lives. While I saw the transformative power of the gospel in others, I constantly wondered why I couldn’t see that same power in my life. Why couldn’t I be changed? Why couldn’t these feelings of wrongness be taken away? Why did I feel like I should be a girl?
On my mission, I encountered another transgender individual for the first time. I remember my shock when I realized that the woman whom I was talking to hadn’t been born a woman. All at once it struck me that there were other people in this world like me. I wasn’t alone. There was a name for what I was: transgender. While talking to that same woman I also saw the deep chasm many transgender people feel separates them from God. She told me God couldn’t love her anymore. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that; this woman’s doubt still haunts me, because it echoes what I felt much of my life.
I wondered about that experience for the rest of my mission. What did it mean to be transgender? Was there a way I could get rid of these feelings of wrongness? What did it mean to be transgender and Mormon? I couldn’t answer any of these questions while serving a mission, so I waited patiently until my mission was over.
Falling into Despair
As soon as I got home from my mission I was completely consumed with finding the answers to these questions. I spent hundreds of hours reading everything I could about being transgender. I read about transitioning gender and presenting as the gender you felt like you were. I read about surgeries and other options that would help people “pass” as their preferred gender. I read the conclusions of multiple medical studies about the relative success transitioning had at removing the dysphoria. Everywhere I turned it seemed like transition was the only viable answer. It was the only option there was any information on—it was presented as if I could either choose to transition, or I could expect to die lonely and miserable, probably of suicide.
At the same time I was trying to figure out what it meant to be LDS and to be transgender. It was really hard to find anything on the topic at all. I found several threads on the forums at lds.net. But the general conclusion of those threads seemed to be that if you were transgender, you weren’t welcome in the Church. I ran across several tragic stories of individuals who had transitioned who felt forced out of the Church, but I couldn’t find a single positive experience. It seemed impossible to be a member of the Church and acknowledge and deal with gender dysphoria.
All of these stories just reinforced the fact that I was evil for having these feelings. I believed in the Church, I believed in my testimony, and my hope in the atonement of Christ was the only thing that had kept me going during some of my more difficult teenage years. But it seemed like I needed to choose one path or the other. Accept myself, transition and abandon the Church, or become strong enough to reject the feelings of dysphoria. So I tried to turn myself into iron. I tried harder than I ever had to push the feelings away. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t succeed. There’s a problem with iron though, it snaps when put under too much pressure.
I snapped hard. I was a complete failure. I couldn’t live with these feelings. I couldn’t control these feelings. Why had God given me a challenge that was breaking me completely? Was there really even a God? I just couldn’t do it. I lost all hope. For a while, I forgot how it felt to truly feel happy. I was miserable and I couldn’t care about anything. I started skipping school. I spent hours each day dreaming about how to kill myself. I started cross dressing whenever I was alone using those brief moments and the feeling of rightness they gave me to give me enough hope to carry on one more day. I embraced anything that could help me ignore my self-loathing and the pain. Pornography became a coping mechanism of choice. I could just ignore myself, focus on something else, and feel better.
Pornography creates an alternate world where only one thing matters. There are no complications and no problems. In this world, you can imagine or be almost anything you want. I used porn to imagine I was female. It allowed me to run away from who I was, imagine something different, and momentarily feel good afterwards. It was the perfect drug for me. Of course, I also felt worse afterwards and hated myself a little more each time. Every day I felt a little more bitter and felt my desire to live slip away a little further.
It seemed impossible to be LDS and transgender. I couldn’t reject the feelings and I was tearing myself apart trying. Since I couldn’t get rid of these feelings—I had been praying for that for years—and I couldn’t ignore them, I wondered if the only thing left to do was embrace them. Maybe if I left the Church, left BYU, and transitioned, my life would become bearable. I couldn’t imagine telling my parents about any of these feelings, so I wondered if it would be better if I just ran away; disappeared one day and began a totally new life. I began to research and put together a plan on how I was going to accomplish this goal. For several months the only thing that kept me from committing suicide was the thought that maybe I could find something that would make me feel better. Maybe, just maybe, transition was the answer.
I was too ashamed to talk to anyone I knew about my plans. I couldn’t stand the thought of hurting anyone else by divulging my feelings, so I discussed details of the plan with strangers I met in forums online. Often these people didn’t have my best interests at heart, and caused me further pain. Every day I dug myself a little deeper into despair. The changes necessary for transition were overwhelming; the costs (financial and emotional) were enormous. I wondered if I really could abandon my family, but at the same time, I wondered if it was better to abandon them since I felt like I was giving in to something evil. Everywhere I turned there was more darkness. Just like I didn’t have the courage to commit suicide, I couldn’t find the courage to commit myself to my plan. So I floundered. Every day felt like I was treading in quicksand. I remember pleading with my Heavenly Father asking him to throw me some life-line, asking him to show me which way he wanted me to go, asking for the smallest shred of hope.
A Glimpse of Hope
That’s when Amy came into my life. She asked me out when I didn’t have the self-confidence to ask anyone out. She liked me when I couldn’t find the strength to like myself. And eventually, she loved me when all I felt inside was self-loathing. When we started dating she brought happiness back into my life. Every time I was around her, I felt so right—a rightness I’d been searching for my whole life. She made the pain of gender dysphoria recede into the background. She brought light and color back into a world which was colorless and bleak. She gave me hope. She loves life so much and finds joy in so many little things. Every time I was with her I found little joyful reasons to love life as well. As we dated, she began the process of healing my broken spirit.
I also needed the opportunity to care about someone outside of myself. I was so wrapped up in my own problems that I couldn’t possibly begin to untangle myself. But I could help her with the little stresses and trials she faced—keep her smiling and happy. I could love her and show her that she deserved my love and attention. I could help her see her beauty and in doing so stop worrying about my own problems for a while. I seized the opportunity to feel loved and to share my love in return as quickly and eagerly as possible. For once, I wasn’t alone, and it was such a relief.
As we were dating things quickly turned fairly serious. I began to wonder if someone like me should get married. What was I? I was a man who felt like a woman who wanted to marry a woman. Would that kind of relationship be fair to Amy? Eternally speaking, was I male or female? Is it possible my body was mismatched with my eternal gender as some kind of a birth defect? If so, how would our relationship look in the next life? Did my Heavenly Father really want me to do this? Being with Amy had helped dampen the dysphoria and when I was around her I did feel better, but I was so afraid it wouldn’t last. In the end, what I held onto most was that dating Amy felt like an answer to prayers. I’d been praying for a life-line and here she was, literally making me feel valuable again and giving me hope.
But I couldn’t possibly marry her without first telling her about some of the difficulties I’d been through. I decided the easiest thing to do was to write a letter. It was the hardest letter I ever had to write—I was risking my happiness almost entirely. I had to do it though. I wrote about some of the difficulties I’d had, I admitted some of my faults and sins, and admitted I had struggled with pornography. Finally, in the center of the letter I admitted I’d struggled with “transsexual feelings” for most of my life. I didn’t know what else to say. I didn’t want to scare her away, but I wanted to be honest. I’m sure receiving that letter was completely overwhelming for her—I was admitting some pretty serious flaws and faults.
After receiving my letter, Amy went up to the Provo temple, sat on the grounds, and asked Heavenly Father if she should marry me. Later she told me the answer she received was that life with me wouldn’t be the easiest path, but if she freely chose it, she would find joy commensurate to the difficulties she would have. It was the happiest day of my life when she agreed to marry me.
Among the many revelations contained in the letter I sent her, the brief section about struggling with transsexual feelings got lost among other concerns. We talked briefly but didn’t really discuss how much it had affected my life. And at the time I was doing pretty well, and I hoped I would ever after. The dysphoria was a distant buzz and I hoped I would finally be able to control those feelings and just live the nice normal life I wanted. I became more determined than ever to keep those feelings at bay. Now I wasn’t just doing this for myself, I was doing this for Amy. Maybe with that motivation and the desire not to hurt her, I could finally overcome the dysphoria. I became more determined than ever to handle this on my own, to take care of my own problems, and to be independent.
A Relapse into Darkness
I lasted five months. Three months into my marriage with Amy, the gender dysphoria came back with a vengeance. I had already determined this was a problem I would be a noble martyr for. I was determined to finally handle this myself. All my energy was dedicated to trying to fight off the feelings of dysphoria, trying to push them away and just be normal, trying to be a good husband for my new wife. That fight took a massive emotional toll. I couldn’t handle it and it didn’t take long for me to fall back into the same patterns of self-destructive behavior. I coped with the dysphoria the only way I knew how. Emotionally I ran away, I used any excuse to disappear into an alternate world: books, computer games, school work. I started wearing my wife’s clothes when she wasn’t around and when those weren’t enough I started to look for pornography.
I was starting to fall back into old bad habits. I had convinced myself that what my wife didn’t know couldn’t hurt her, and that it was better to handle this on my own than to burden her. I saw the vicious cycle of my youth starting again and didn’t see any way I could stop it. I was going to get sucked in, and there was nothing I could do about it. The only thing that mattered was trying to keep gender dysphoria from ruining my marriage, and keeping Amy safe from the pain.
Luckily my wife was inspired. She’s always been very sensitive to how I’m doing and she knew something was wrong almost immediately. It didn’t take long before she decided she should check the browsing history on my computer and I was caught. As soon as she confronted me I realized what a horrible mistake I had made. I was ruining my marriage, my relationship with the greatest person who had ever entered my life, and worse I had hurt her deeply. She asked me what was going on and for the first time in my life I really started to open up.
Finding Hope Again
In many ways this process of opening up marked the first positive step on my journey with gender dysphoria. Before I had always denied it, fought against it, pushed it away, felt evil, and crippled by a fear of rejection. It wasn’t until I was confronted by the harsh reality—I could either destroy my marriage or open up—that I finally had the strength to be honest with myself. I admitted to my wife that the transsexual feelings I had mentioned before we got married had come back with a vengeance, and that I didn’t have any idea how to deal with it. Amy was crushed; she watched the white picket fence she had desired her whole life come down under the harsh realities of gender dysphoria. She wondered if our marriage could possibly last. She wondered if she was supposed to leave. Most of all, she worried that someday I would run away, transition, and start living a totally different life without her.
My admission of gender dysphoria and the mistakes I had made tore a massive hole in our relationship. One day Amy and I were happily married and the next it was almost like we were strangers. We had to start on this new relationship from the very beginning. Both of us were desperately scared the other would decide the relationship wasn’t worth the pain and just leave. We both looked online for advice and based on all the statistics and stories we could find, it seemed like our marriage and our life together were doomed to fail. We rapidly realized that if we were going to make this work we would need to pave our own path. We certainly weren’t able to do this overnight. We both had to work very, very hard to keep our relationship together.
One of the very first things I realized was that if I wanted to stay married to Amy, I needed to learn how to be truly honest and open. This was a really difficult thing for me; I didn’t just need to learn how to be honest with Amy, I first needed to learn how to be honest with myself. For years I had tried to hide from my gender issues; I’d run away at every opportunity or ignored them. Hiding it from others, including Amy, was a chronic reflex I had to constantly work through. Learning to be honest caused a lot of tearful nights. I remember telling Amy that it felt like I had a whole closet packed with secrets I had carefully hidden away, and being honest required taking each and every box out of the closet, and unpacking all those memories and experiences. Reliving all those experiences was painful, and it took scores of hours of painful contemplation and discussion to deal with each facet of my challenges. However, it was even more painful trying to figure out how all those thoughts and experiences fit into our relationship.
As part of my desire to be more honest and open I started meeting with several different therapists. The first non-LDS therapist I met with was convinced that most of my concerns stemmed from the fact that I was LDS. She repeatedly asked me why I was a member of the Church since it seemed to make everything harder. Try as I might, I couldn’t figure out how to convince her that being LDS was just as important to my identity as being transgender. I needed to find a way to live with both of these identities in harmony. I had no idea if this was actually possible, but that was what I desired more than anything else.
Eventually I found a fantastic LDS therapist. After meeting with him for a couple months I remember him looking at me and asking, “Did you choose to have gender dysphoria?” Of course I didn’t choose this. Who in their right mind would wish to have this kind of suffering? This was followed by another question, “If you didn’t choose this, is it your fault you feel this way?” Once again, the answer was obvious: of course these feelings weren’t my fault.
If these feelings weren’t my fault, if I didn’t choose to have them, why should I be so ashamed? I wasn’t an evil person because I had these feelings. This conversation was a turning point and I began to push away the shame which I had so deeply and carefully internalized. Heavenly Father must have given me these feelings for some reason. He still loved me, and I would always be His child.
As soon as I accepted myself and pushed away the shame I had so many new questions. If being transgender wasn’t inherently evil, which activities and thoughts were morally acceptable and which were wrong? The Church had always defined exactly what was right and what was wrong. I liked the fact that the Church drew lines everywhere. So I started looking for where the Church drew the lines concerning transgender issues. I wanted a handbook that told me exactly what was appropriate and what was not. Instead, I found that the Church has almost no teaching on the subject. The Church Handbook of Instruction mentions that elective transsexual operation may be a cause for a disciplinary council. But that line was drawn at one extreme end of the spectrum of possible actions, what about actions in the middle?
Was it appropriate to admit that I felt like I was female? If so, to what degree could I accept my identity? Was it appropriate to wear women’s clothes? What about little things like brightly colored socks or watches? How about attempting to be androgynous? If wearing women’s clothes was wrong, at what point does an androgynous piece of clothing pass from being acceptable to being too feminine? There were numerous other questions, but in the end, all of these questions boiled down to the single question: what is right and what is wrong?
I tried looking in the scriptures for answers, but nowhere in the scriptures does it talk about gender dysphoria. I looked through modern Church teachings and found that there was a dearth of advice or guidelines there as well. I rapidly realized that no one was going to define right and wrong for me. Those answers were between me, my wife, and our Heavenly Father.
Before this point I don’t think I really understood what agency was. My whole life I’d tried to do what I was told and I let others define what was right and wrong. For the first time, I had to come to a series of decisions based solely upon my faith and personal revelation. My wife and I would talk about boundaries and appropriateness, come to a decision, and then ask Heavenly Father if our answer was acceptable. Each decision was deeply personal and required a lot of trust—both in our own decision-making and in the Lord.
We certainly didn’t get answers to every question that we prayed about. For a while, one question in particular preyed upon my mind. I knew that the Church taught that gender was eternal. But was it possible that Heavenly Father would place a spirit in a body that was the opposite gender as a test or trial in this fallen world? There are plenty of people who are born into imperfect bodies where their sex is ambiguous. Could gender dysphoria be similar? I prayed and fasted for weeks trying to find an answer to this question. After weeks of tears and searching I received one of the clearest answers I have ever received. The answer was, “You really don’t need to know that in this life.”
I’m still trying to figure out how to live with that ambiguity. I don’t know who I am. I feel female but I live in a male body. What does that mean for me? In the end, all I can do is pray and try to follow what the Spirit prompts me to do.
After going through all of this I am starting to understand what it truly means to live by faith. Amy and I don’t have many answers. We don’t know where this experience will lead us. We are still trying to figure out what being a transgender Mormon even means. The eternities sometimes seem blurry. If my eternal spirit is female what would that mean for our marriage? If my eternal spirit is male would I even be the same person? How would this change in gender change me as a person?
Since we don’t have all the answers, Amy and I often feel like we are struggling forward together in the dark. Our only hope lies in the atonement of Christ; because of this, our family motto has become “Jesus wins.” It’s a constant reminder to have faith that in the end everything is going to be alright; a reminder to remember to trust in the Savior and be patient. Oftentimes “Jesus wins” is the only answer that can give us any assurance. That hope is what keeps me moving—sometimes stumbling—forward.
Finding the Right Path
That brings us up to today. Amy and I have been married for nearly five years. While gender dysphoria is still really hard, I’ve accomplished two really big things. First, I’ve accepted my past; all the pain, confusion, questions, and mistakes are part of what made me the person I am today. I’ve prayerfully sought repentance for my mistakes and I’m at peace with my past experiences. Second, I know what direction I am supposed to be walking. For so much of my life I had no idea where I was going, I felt completely lost. It took years but I finally think I’ve found a path that I can walk balancing both my gender dysphoria and my belief. Having hope that I can do this is such a relief. I’ve remembered what it’s like to be happy, and some days when I am looking back on darker times it seems like I used to see the world in black and white and now I see the world in color. Life’s not perfect but at least I can approach my challenges with a smile.
As for Amy and I, gender dysphoria has been a crucible that has forged our relationship into something stronger. We share everything, we are completely honest, and we both would do anything for the other. I know that Amy loves me and would support any decision that we prayerfully arrived at together. Amy knows that if I was given the choice in the eternities to either be female or to stay with her as a male that I would always choose to stay with her. She is my everything. She saved me from the darkest times of my life and has loved and supported me through some of my most difficult trials. She accepted me when I thought everyone would reject me, and she loved me even when I didn’t always deserve her love. The only way to deal with gender dysphoria is for both of us to trust each other and for both us to want what is best for the other.
Even with all the progress that I have made—learning to be honest, keeping my marriage together, accepting myself for who I am, learning to live with ambiguity, living through revelation and faith, and learning to rely on the atonement of Jesus Christ—gender dysphoria is still really hard. Amy and I discuss how I am doing almost every day. Looking in a mirror still hurts. The person in the mirror still doesn’t look like me. I still don’t know who I am. I constantly wonder which actions or choices would be appropriate and which are not. In order to be a functional human being, I need to accept my gender dysphoria and find outlets and activities that are appropriate. The only way to determine what is appropriate or not is to ask Amy and then ask my Heavenly Father.
I’ve chosen to wear unobtrusively androgynous clothing, often a mix of male and female labels. It helps me, doesn’t offend others, and doesn’t bother Amy at all. I’m currently on medication that eases the pain of the dysphoria and allows me to function. I have no plans to transition. I’ve made promises to my wife in this life and I am going to do my very best to be a faithful husband and priesthood holder. From here I am going to constantly be trying to keep walking on this path, figuring out how to be transgender and Mormon. I’m still seeking answers and I still wonder what decisions are right for me. I’m trying to listen to the Holy Ghost and I’ll be relying on my Savior’s atonement to help me deal with the pain. Who am I? In many ways I don’t know. But I do know that I am a child of God and that my Heavenly Father loves me. I also know how I am going to live my life. I trust in my Savior’s atonement, I strive to walk forward with faith, and I will always remember that Jesus wins.
Growing up, I endeavored to be a good girl. I wasn’t perfect, but I managed to negotiate adolescence relatively unscathed, I thought, my greatest sin being my indefatigable pride. I felt so sure of who I was and what I was supposed to do, and I knew what I wanted from my life. Once during a youth activity, I was asked to write down what I wanted in my future husband. I knew I wanted someone practical and wise like my mother, gentle and kind like my father, and finally, enlightened by my childish conceit, I decided I wanted him to be smart like me.
I loved to be with my family as a child, and never could imagine being without them. I grew up close to all my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, even to the point of living in the same small Florida cattle town with them for most of my childhood. We generally had very happy relationships with all of them, though there was still some drama, as with most families.
When my older brother and I were very young, my mother converted to the LDS Church, much to the dismay of my very traditional family. I grew up overhearing comments on how I and my brothers were “brainwashed” into believing in a “cult” that would surely take us straight to hell. When we went home from a family visit, it was sometimes difficult for our child-aged brains to reconcile the sugar cookies in our bellies with the evangelical vinegar in our ears.
But we still knew that they loved us, even so. They also taught us how good people treat each other. I never remember hearing any parent or grandparent of mine say an unkind word to their spouse or to anyone else in the family. Even tense discussions were founded on love and mutual respect. To this day I’m grateful for the examples of kindness and love I was exposed to from a very early age, because they guided me through some dark times.
As I finished school, my deep Southern roots pulled up like a tumbleweed, and I blew out west to BYU to start college. This was a big step for me, as I didn’t have any close family or friends for hundreds of miles, but I quickly found my own there, and loved every moment of it. I joyfully vacillated between majors for a while, as most students do, until I finally found my home—ancient history and classics. I particularly found pleasure in the language aspects of this study. I loved to hear the sounds that had been stilled on native tongues for millennia, and read words written by hands long dead.
It was in this pursuit that I first met Kyle.
Ah, Kyle. When I first agreed to write this essay, my reaction to my husband was something like, “but my writing won’t be able to make them love you like I love you…” This story will surely seem nonsensical without a knowledge of Kyle or the depth of my feelings for him. But for those who know Kyle, hopefully my decisions make a little more sense. For those who don’t, allow me to elaborate:
Kyle is gentle, like the smell of your mom’s pillow after a childhood nightmare. He’s kind like a park bench in the middle of your first lengthy jog in far too long. He’s patient like a kindergarten teacher in August. Kyle does not envy or boast; he is not proud. He constantly sees only the good in others, yet he routinely abases himself. He’s never angry, and he never keeps score. Every time I think about him, I feel like I have to steal far older, grander words than anything I can come up with, just to hint at who he is.
The first time we met, Kyle sat behind me in our third semester of Latin. Our professor, a deeply earnest teacher and occasionally preoccupied mother, would sometimes forget her textbook in her office in her haste to get to class on time. Being the solicitous student that I was, I would offer her my textbook to use for the duration of class. This over-eagerness would often put me in a difficult position though, as I tended to rely too heavily on the vocabulary and grammar notes that I had scrawled on every spare inch of the page to translate any given passage. Imagine my relief and then my dismay when the kind soul behind me offered to share his text, but its margins were completely free of any helpful annotation, as if Caesar were Green Eggs and Ham to him.
Kyle just works like that–conscientious and smart and helpful, almost to a fault, yet quietly humble about it all.
On one of our first dates, he took me bowling. I was ridiculously nervous, having never bowled a round in my life prior to that moment.
“Don’t worry about it, Amy!” he tried to reassure me as we arrived at the bowling alley, “I bet you won’t even get a single gutter ball.”
“Yeah, sure,” I said, voice dripping with irony, “I’m sure I’ll be a natural…”
I think he sensed my anxiety. “Do you want to leave and do something else?” he asked me, as he started to pull out his wallet to pay.
“No,” I answered, trying somewhat unsuccessfully to be a good sport, “just don’t laugh at me when I fail utterly.” He just smiled, squeezed my hand, and told me it was time to pick a ball. As I did, I didn’t see him ask the attendant to raise the bumpers on our lane.
“Wait, what are these?” I asked as the protective barriers closed off the gutters.
“Bumpers… Is that okay?” he asked uncertainly. “I’m sure you’d do fine without them, but a lot of people use them when they first start out, and I thought maybe you’d enjoy playing more without all the pressure. We can take them down if you want…”
He smiled at me sheepishly, unsure if maybe I felt patronized by his gesture, but I didn’t. I was touched. He proceeded to throw goofy trick shots the rest of the game, hoping to make me laugh and let me win my first game in the process. He didn’t once try to teach me or correct my horrible form or impress me with his own bowling prowess. He just wanted me to have fun and be happy.
He was like that the whole time we were dating. Every moment with him was full of a clarity I’d never experienced before. I felt like the more I was around him, the more I was me. I felt facades and insecurities I didn’t even know I had slip off me like water when I was around him, because he made me feel safe and valued just the way I was. He seemed to live to “make my eyes dance” as he put it, and every time he saw me happy, he glowed. He never pressured me to be a certain way; he seemed to marvel at every little quirk and singularity I had, as if they took his breath away.
One of the first things that drew me to him was his hands–the way they did things so gently. Whether he used their talent to give me a personal organ concert in the empty chapel by my apartment building, or plied their strength to quietly complete neglected chores around my apartment, everything was kind and quiet and gentle. He would first hold one of my hands, and then the other to warm them during the cold nights I had to patrol student housing units for my job. He always came with me, even though he didn’t have to (and wasn’t really supposed to), and his hands were always warmer than mine. Every time he touched me, it was with a careful, breathless reverence that made me feel like I was a sylph or a saint.
And so it was with great confusion that I would hear him tell me that he wasn’t a good person, as he would sometimes when the conversation turned toward our pasts. I couldn’t imagine that this same gentle, magnanimous soul who went about nourishing others with every talent and treasure he possessed could be anything but good. I thought maybe it was some exaggerated modesty, or at worst, some youthful foible that made him talk so, and I told him I was most interested in who he was now. But I couldn’t change this appraisal he had of himself.
“Someday I’ll tell you about it,” he said sadly as we walked one winter evening, the soft-falling snow dissolving pitifully in the muddy street beside us.
“I really don’t care, Kyle,” I tried to reassure him, “As long as you don’t have some kind of official rap sheet, what you do now is more important, and how you treat me.”
He stopped and looked into my eyes for a long time after that, as if he were searching for something. “Maybe,” he finally said after a while, consciously turning his wistful expression into a smile for me as we continued down the sidewalk, turning to other points of conversation.
And I really believed I didn’t care. I probably should have, more than I did, but I had never met anyone as kind and smart and gentle as Kyle, and I couldn’t imagine how anything else could make any difference. Back then I also thought that just about anything could be overcome in this life through the Atonement of Christ.
But as it happened, once things finally came out, I did care. I can still remember the words that glowed at me, laying out all the history he had promised to share; and the feel and smell of the blanket I had to retrieve halfway through reading that email he sent me, when the chill in my heart made me shiver.
Worthlessness. Hopelessness. Addiction. Transsexualism. So many of his words seemed so ugly to me. Yet others were so poignant.
“…if you don’t want to see me tonight, I understand; if you need some time to sort out your feelings, I understand; if you decide that you never want to see me again, I understand…”
“…I know I have a Savior who loves me…”
“…I love you, Amy, and I hope you can find it in you to forgive me…”
Such gentle words, yet they tore at me so much.
After reading all that he’d been through, a large part of my heart, the part responsible for self preservation, told me to run, run far, far away and never, ever look back. I felt like I didn’t have the courage to continue in a relationship that had such ghosts haunting it. And then, as I tried to steel myself into frost and stone towards him, the thought of his warm hazel eyes arrested me, eyes full of kindness and sadness and worshipful love for me, and his gentle hands. They stopped me with a force I had never experienced before.
Love is truly, truly blind, I thought in despair, as my sense of reason, for the first time in my life, was utterly hamstrung. I couldn’t think with all the tumult in my head and heart, so I fled to the most peaceful place I could think of–the temple.
‘The house of the Lord–holiness to the Lord,’ peace to men of goodwill—that’s what I sought. I craved this peace and this holiness. With reason, courage, and love all failing me, all warring with each other, these were the only things that remained to me to help me with this decision. Should I slam the door on all the things about Kyle that frightened me and freed me alike? Or should I choose to wade through these things with Kyle, helping him as well as I could, knowing they may well be too much for both of us?
What followed was one of the most tangible spiritual experiences I’ve ever had. No angels or trumpets, just a clarity beyond anything I’ve ever known. I just saw Kyle, with his measureless capacity for compassion and kindness, and I saw how all his suffering had imprinted him with this capacity. I felt that he was meant to do great things in the service of others, but that he needed help focusing and projecting himself outwards.
You could do that for him, if you choose, a still, small voice whispered to me.
But what about all that grief I see for myself, I rebutted, what of all the untangling he has ahead of him, and all the suffering that would inevitably cause me?
I was reminded of the story of Achilles, which I had read and translated and memorized in my studies. He had a choice too—dual destinies to either dare, fight, and fulfill his life’s measure despite the pain he would endure; or to play it safe, live anonymously, die forgotten without having ever tested his now-synonymous mettle.
I tried to picture a fearful, weak Achilles, a man whose fear erased him from myth or history. I couldn’t do it. That’s not who he was.
But who was I?
We met a while later in a sodium-vapor lit park after dusk. I crushed my head into his soft shoulder as he whispered soft words of anguish and regret and timid hope over and over in my ear. It almost blurred into a constant stream of “I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry…”
I listened, though I still wasn’t sure I should. All of this wouldn’t end in a confessional email, my heart told me. I would surely have to live and breathe with these things in the future, as I was now. Could I do this? It was surely insane, it was madness to even consider a life with someone like this! I knew this, and yet my earlier clarity gently continued to scrub away at the confusion and fear smeared all over my thoughts.
God does not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and a sound mind.
You don’t have to do this, this spirit whispered to me, but if you do, you won’t regret it.
I only really realized how much I loved him when, in that moment, I knew the answer was yes. Despite the fact that I really understood nothing about his struggles or about gender dysphoria at that point, I felt peace about moving forward. Not only could I do this, I felt, but I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone else having this role in my stead. Just me. My Kyle.
He proposed to me a few days later in a garden stuffed with all the blooms of April. I said yes.
Now some may think I was crazy to make the choice I did, I don’t blame them. No one can doubt my wisdom or even my sanity as much as I did myself. But every time the doubt began to simmer within me, it was cooled by an unfathomable peace I couldn’t argue with. Some people get cold feet on their wedding day, and I, of all people, ought to have had feet of ice that day, but I didn’t. I felt nothing but joy that day, and I think so did Kyle.
I remember on our wedding night being struck by the glow this joy lent him. “You’re beautiful,” I told him, before I could even think how he, a man, might take being described by such a dainty term. But his answering smile shone like the sun.
But our initial happiness only lasted for six months or so before a crushing secret despair weighed Kyle down like a millstone. I couldn’t fathom what could possibly have gone wrong in our relationship to have made my once-loving and ebullient husband turn into the distant vacuum of despair that replaced him. Surely the dysphoria and all its accompanying demons weren’t making a reappearance so soon after peace had persisted for so long…
It got so bad he slept twelve hours a day, and even when he was awake it was difficult to get him up to go to work or school. I finally took him to a doctor who ran some tests, but who, with a shrug of her shoulders, ultimately dismissed his fatal spiral as psychosomatic.
“Get him some sun,” she suggested finally. We would need to position him somewhere within the coronasphere to get enough sun to correct this, I retorted internally as we left the clinic.
All the while, as I returned from school each day, relief washed over me to see that he was still breathing; that he hadn’t succumbed to some malady of mind that I wasn’t clever enough to fix for him.
Even if it was all in his head, what was it that was making him so anguished? I suspected maybe I wasn’t good enough. Maybe I wasn’t pretty enough, or a good enough wife to him. I think I turned to these explanations because I felt like if the problem were me, maybe I could fix it. If it were within him, I wouldn’t have any control. My heart started to echo his despair.
But that same clarity that convinced me to marry him in the first place abided still, and made those self-deprecating thoughts seem tarnished and hollow somehow. Even if I were the worst wife in the world, this thick, black fog of depression couldn’t have been explained by just me. Kyle continued to evince herculean efforts to treat me as kindly as ever, banishing any mention of my pet explanations for his dark torpor, constantly using his favored endearment for me—Beautiful. But his continued sorrow made my life feel anything but beautiful at the time.
After a particularly troubling evening, I finally confronted him: either he would tell me to the very best of his communication skills what was going on, or more drastic measures would need to be taken to protect our relationship.
“I meant to protect you, Amy,” he told me with tears in his eyes. “Or I never meant for this to come back in the first place. I hoped it was gone…”
He went on to explain that the feelings (whatever they were; he wasn’t terribly good at framing them coherently at the time) that he had struggled with so long and hard before he met me had come back with a vengeance. Our state of twitterpation had kept them at bay for almost a year, he told me, and so he had thought that maybe I had the magical ability to drive them away from him for good.
But I clearly didn’t.
I didn’t even know what he was talking about at first. He threw out terms like gender dysphoria that I had no conception of, no means of understanding. He had told me about them once before, but I hadn’t understood what they felt like or looked like, and I didn’t know how to fix them. He tried to describe the hole in his heart that bled out all of his joy and love, the ‘wrongness’ that plagued him at every moment, but I had no framework to comprehend it. He told me he was trying to fight them away for me, so that I could just be happy and have a normal life and marriage, but he was failing miserably, and neither of us could understand why.
But I tried to understand it all. You feel like you were born in the wrong body? Fine. I can maybe try to imagine that. You feel like you just accidentally walked into the wrong restroom, only all the time? Okay, I’ve at least done that before once or twice. You want to do all the cooking and cleaning and plumping of pillows and such around our house? That’s totally cool by me.
But I didn’t understand how those feelings of confusion translated into the soul-sucking distress he seemed to go through every day for months, or the incredibly hurtful, destructive coping mechanisms he went through, one by one, to try to fix it for me.
Online, nearly every source told me that continuing a marriage under these circumstances was an exercise in futility, and that our relationship, which we believed was meant to last for all eternity, was doomed. Was this true? Was I being a fool for believing that love in the face of overwhelming, incomprehensible adversity was the truest, most exquisite and meaningful kind? Were we destined to fail? I asked myself this question constantly, and I even asked Kyle once too.
“No…” he had whispered painfully, but it wasn’t the confident reassurance I craved. It was a plea.
I remember clearly one night, our garishly flowered bare boxspring contrasted absurdly with my beloved ball of misery sobbing quietly for no apparent reason on the unmade bed. I had just taken a shower, and the resulting condensation dripping down the cool cinder block walls seemed to weep with him. I had just found out that he hadn’t been wearing his seatbelt for weeks now in the wild hope that some careless driver would put both him and me out of our misery. I couldn’t seem to convince him that I wasn’t better off without him, and that passive suicide wasn’t a solution that would help me.
Father, help, please. I’ll do anything. It was a prayer that seemed to hang from every step and breath I took in those days. Miserable or not, I still felt I couldn’t live without him. His gentleness and kindness were still there, though it tore my heart to see those same gentle hands, now weighed down by some agony I couldn’t fight, continue to make pitiful efforts to see me smile again.
“Is there nothing we can do about this?” I asked aloud in despair to no one in particular. As another sob broke in response from the bedroom, I knew there wasn’t, not that wouldn’t destroy our lives. The consensus from the medical community was that gender transition–living permanently as the opposite sex–was the only treatment option for Kyle’s degree of gender dysphoria. But that couldn’t be the only option for us—Kyle said he didn’t want to transition, and I didn’t want him to either. There was too much good still in this life for both of us.
I finally got him to a therapist, which should have happened long before, but he was resistant. He thought surely a few conversations with a stranger wouldn’t help him any. He also figured when he came out as transgender to me and I didn’t run away, he had used up all his luck with me, and there was no way anyone else in the world would be able to interact with him without disgust. I just rolled my eyes at that. Gender dysphoria is a drama queen.
When his first session went well, I was encouraged, and so was he, which was a truly magnificent novelty. He had spent so many months with no hope for the future, having another good experience with being vulnerable gave him a considerable high. This therapist talked a lot about acceptance, and helped guide Kyle through the realization that this wasn’t his fault, and that he wasn’t a bad person as he had believed his whole life. “I’m not evil” is a phrase most people could say about themselves, but they wouldn’t because they take it for granted. But for Kyle, it was a huge victory.
He suddenly realized that all the toxic coping mechanisms he had developed were just that–coping mechanisms–for a problem that wasn’t inherently bad, and that he could choose other ones that would help him more, and wouldn’t make him feel like a horrible person. Just the idea that he could be a good person, that it was even possible in his circumstances changed his outlook tremendously.
I tried to back up this idea by helping him realize that many of his natural inclinations were kind of awesome at best and harmless at worst. I really liked that Kyle was excited to see the “girly” movies that I wanted to see, and I LOVED that he wanted to develop his talent for cooking. He often came in dead handy when I needed a clothes-shopping attendant. I even managed to convince him that his partiality for pink was certainly within his rights as a unique human being.
As I continued to show him that he could be loved, his outlook began to change, and I saw a deeper happiness begin to bloom within him than I had ever seen, even when we were dating. Back then, though he seemed very happy with me, I had always sensed that dissatisfaction and gloom he had when he thought about himself. Now, that was beginning to dissipate. I think I finally convinced him that he could be himself and still be my Kyle, and that others would love and accept him too.
This introduced a whole new experience of growth for him, as he realized he had been so busy trying to be what others expected of him, mirroring the personalities and expressions of those around him to fill in the cracks, that he had never really figured out who he really was.
Once when we were newly married, he had suggested that he maybe wanted to grow a beard, or get a motorcycle someday, or was toying with the idea of joining the National Guard. I had rolled my eyes at the time, not being terribly enthused about any of those ideas, but once Kyle began this process of self-discovery, I realized those expressions of hyper-masculinity were his attempt to be who he thought I wanted, who he thought any woman would want.
“But I like you,” I told him. “I like you gentle and soft and kind and strong in your own quiet way. You don’t need to be a lumberjack for me or anyone else. I don’t need someone to drag me along on camping trips or to fix my car or take me to football games. I like you.”
His response was incredulous at first, but the more I reassured him of this, the more those constant golden threads of sweetness, gentleness, and generosity showed up in the weft of his personality.
Not everything about accompanying Kyle on this quest for identity was easy for me though. I realized pretty quickly that we all define our gender by contrast to some extent, so I often found it difficult for me to find meaning for my own femininity when my “other half” had little contrast to offer me. In some ways, I still do find this difficult. In my relationship, I’m not necessarily valued for my femininity in the dualistic way I thought I would be. This is compounded somewhat by that fact that due to medications Kyle takes to address the chemical components of his dysphoria and depression, we won’t be having children any time soon, if ever.
In my upbringing, I was taught that being a wife and mother were important parts of the ultimate meaning of my life. Now that those things aren’t turning out quite the way I thought I wanted them to, I’ve been forced to find that meaning elsewhere, and I feel like I have. I teach Latin and mythology to children as young as eleven, and adults as old as 60. None of these people are my children biologically, but I find a deep, almost spiritual satisfaction in watching the information and discipline I impart to them help them grow into better people; which is much of what I would imagine motherhood would involve.
In a similar way, Kyle’s domestic talent eclipses mine in many ways, so I’ve had to seek my meaning as a wife elsewhere. Ultimately, I ask myself what more a wife can be than a strong, levelheaded companion, and what greater trait can she have than courage. I don’t know that I ever possessed the courage to face a challenge like this innately, but those warm hazel eyes, those kind gentle hands, and that daily eagerness to see me smile if sorrow or weariness prevent the accomplishment of any other task all combine to arrest me, keep me coming back for more. It doesn’t even seem like it was courage that got me through all the miserable moments of fear and hopelessness until I look back at all the territory we’ve covered together.
But maybe that’s what courage really is—a vaunted term for a perhaps unassuming love that just refuses to give up its object, and simply refuses to quit, and a faith that makes that make sense for some reason.
I don’t know what the future will bring. We still have hard days, and while they are now often months apart instead of every day, I know there’ll be more in the future. I continue to pray that Kyle and I will continue to find happiness together, even through the direst difficulties, throughout the rest of our lives; and I think if anything will see us through to this goal, it’s the mutual kindness, unselfishness, respect, and tenacious regard for one another that have proven to be the firm underpinnings of our relationship thus far. For those who find themselves in a similar situation to mine for whatever reason, the cultivation of these traits in both spouses is the only thing I can confidently recommend for everyone irrespective of circumstance.
Looking back over the last five years since I married Kyle, I don’t know why things happen the way they do, or why I felt peace at the brink of this particularly frightening precipice. However, I have realized that we all walk through shadowy valleys, whether of death, or of poverty, physical suffering, dashed hopes, or any other suffering native to this mortal sphere; and I know we can be led through them all through faith in our Lord and Savior. He is Love, and He will give us the capacity to love when the whole world seems arrayed against us.