Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Warning: This Is a Purely Speculative Post on a Highly Controversial Topic

Russell M. Nelson said in his spring 2002 General Conference address, How Firm Our Foundation:

"Gender disorientation is poorly understood."

When discussing the topic of gender and sexual orientation, I focus on one thing first - the mathematics. We all know, hopefully, that biological sex is not determined at the moment of conception, but rather that it happens through the process of gestation. We have NO IDEA when the spirit enters the body; the prophets have been very clear about that. Therefore, even if spirits are male and female, we have no idea whatsoever when they enter the forming fetus.

So, assuming for a moment that spirits are male and female just to stay solidly within the bounds of current Mormon doctrine, what are the mathematical chances that there end up being the exact same number of male and female spirits as there are male and female mortal bodies? Why would it be against our theology in any way to say that there MIGHT be some male spirits in female bodies and female spirits in male bodies? Perhaps they enter the body prior to formal, biological sexual "assignment"; perhaps there simply is an imbalance when all is said and done and some "mixing" must occur for all spirits to be born into mortal bodies; perhaps any number of other explanations exist. My point is that there is no concrete reason of which I can think that every male spirit MUST enter a male mortal body or every female spirit MUST enter a female mortal body.

Actually, if we allow for that simple possibility, much (if not all) of our difficulty in dealing with homosexuality and inter-sex issues would disappear. As I've said elsewhere, taking mortal sexuality out of the eternal equation (leaving gender/sex alone, but removing all things dealing with actual sexual intercourse and its related activities) would open up all kinds of possibilities in the hereafter - and it would remove instantly much of our repulsion toward and problems with polygamy, as well.

I'm NOT saying this is the "right" outlook or "true". I have no clue, really, if there will be a "sexual" component to the afterlife. I personally doubt it, and there is nothing in our canon that insists there will be, but I don't know. What I'm saying is that much if not all of our angst and confusion and difficulty would vanish if we held to "gender/sex" as an eternal characteristic but let go of "sexual activity" as an eternal characteristic - and that is totally consistent with a reasonable parsing of "The Family: A Proclamation to the World". 

Elder Nelson was 100% right in his 2002 talk: This is one area where there is little concrete understanding - a MUCH more complicated topic than most people realize and accept. Therefore, I am open to lots of possibilities that would help us reconcile these things without having to lose the core framework of our theology - and I believe there are multiple ways to do so that fit solidly within the broad spectrum of Mormonism, even if we still can't reach certainty in our conclusions.


ji said...

"assuming for a moment that spirits are male and female just to stay solidly within the bounds of basic Mormon theology"

Warning: My comment is purely speculative also.

I know President Packer has taught this, but was he the first to teach that gender is eternal? I'm just not aware of this teaching in previous times. The scriptures seem to be silent on almost every matter regarding the pre-mortal life, and we Latter-day Saints seem to be good at filling in all the blanks, sometimes perhaps by revelation and sometimes perhaps to justify or support other important beliefs. I'm not saying the principle isn't true -- it is taught currently by those who are in authority to teach, and I sustain them. I just don't know if the teaching that gender is eternal is itself an eternal teaching.

Anonymous said...

We all know, hopefully, that biological sex is not determined at the moment of conception, but rather that it happens through the process of gestation.

Can you explain further what you mean by this? Isn't biological sex almost always determined at the moment of conception? If the egg is fertilized by a sperm bearing a Y chromosome, the resulting child will almost always be male; if it's fertilized by an X chromosome, the resulting child will almost always be female. There are some unusual disorders that make it more complicated, but even then, most of them involve chromosomal/genetic issues that are determined at the moment of conception.

Papa D said...

ji, I really should have said "current Mormon doctrine" instead of "basic Mormon theology". Thanks for catching that; I'm going to update the post to reflect that wording change.

Anonymous, "almost always" is the operative phrase. I didn't want to make the post any lengthier than it had to be, and I really didn't want to focus on only one aspect of the overall question, so I sacrificed precision a bit.

SilverRain said...

I think, Ray, I'm having a hard time with your "sacrifice of precision" when that is what a good portion of your speculation is based on.

For the record, I don't think it utterly impossible that a female spirit could come to a male body and vice versa, but I don't grasp the soundness of your reasoning. And I don't see what, if anything, this has to do with homosexuality.

Papa D said...

SilverRain, the "sacrifice of precision" quote means, basically, that I didn't want to write a really, really long post exploring all of the nauances of this particular topic - so I abbreviated heavily in multiple areas and tried to keep it pretty generic. I knew it wouldn't be comrehensive by any means, but I hoped my main concern would be enough - and that simply is that Elder Nelson was correct in his statement. Still to this day, we know relatively little about issues of sexual orientation - and what we assume often is based much less on divine pronouncement and on scientific discoveries that on pre-scientific discovery . . . assumptions.

As far as homosexuality is concerned, for years a common theme in arguments about it was that, "Men should just be men," and, "Women should just be women," - and, "If you only had enough faith you wouldn't feel those unnatural attractions." Sure, the specific statements often weren't that simple - but in many cases they were. When you add the idea that "a (wo)man in this life ALWAYS has been a (wo)man and ALWAYS will be", that adds a whole new level of guilt for something that, in many cases, we now know really isn't a "choice" (the attraction, NOT the action).

At heart, I'm saying we just don't know enough about this issue yet to make those kind of judgments - even if we can hold onto a belief that following through on attractions outside of marriage is "sin" - and that there are ways to see the big picture that are more charitable and understanding without sacrificing core theological principles.

Sabrina said...

Long time reader, first time commenter (very much enjoy your blog), hope that's ok.

I have known a few individuals who have struggled with, I guess we can call them gender confusion issues, and have pondered how some people feel like they are trapped in the wrong body or attracted to someone of the same sex. I haven't considered that perhaps the gender of the spirit really doesn't match the sex of the physical body. That is an interesting view to ponder.

Another theory I have thought about is that we are all progressing / digressing and, I believe, were before this life as well (and will continue to after). Some things have been easy for us to overcome, others not so much and it's different for each individual. My thought is perhaps this is one of many areas we need to overcome as we progress and some came to mortality having not overcome that particular issue, so they must face it here in mortality and if they don't overcome it here through the atonement it may continue to be part of their progression in the next stage of life. Anyway, I obviously have no more definitive answer than the next person. However, I do believe we need to treat these issues with a lot of compassion. It seems like a very difficult trial

Papa D said...

Thank you, Sabrina, for commenting - and for your kind words. Please feel free to comment whenever you feel like doing so.

I really like the following, especially:

"I do believe we need to treat these issues with a lot of compassion."

Amen. I think the gay community, in many ways, might be the best example of "Samaritans and lepers" in our modern culture (in the eyes of those who needed to hear the parable of the Good Samaritan and see Jesus interact openly with the lepers) - and that is worth considering, I believe, as we struggle to understand and love those who are different than we are in a Christ-like way.

proud daugher of eve said...

Joseph Smith taught that the soul is the body and the spirit united eternally. I don't see God condemning a male spirit to a female body (or vice versa) for the rest of eternity.

Papa D said...

I agree, pdoe.

Michelle said...

I tend to think of these kinds of struggles as evidences of the fall. There are plenty of examples of how a person's spiritual self is not going to be consistent with the body he/she ended up with. I know I don't know how it would be to have to face such struggles, but I think the answer ultimately has to be that the Atonement can help people face what they face.

I also think it's important not to perpetuate the idea that *facing* something is not the same thing as having it *fixed* in this life. That is not the position that is taken presently and I'd really like to not see anything other than that given any more traction.

I like the idea of detaching a bit from sexuality as you seem to suggest here. Quite frankly, I think we could all benefit a bit from that kind of approach -- by not defining identity or self or satisfaction or happiness so tightly with sexuality that we aren't willing to bend and submit to the commandments and also to not demand its fulfillment as some Absolute Necessity as our society tends to frame it. Our eternal identities are about so much more than our sexuality. I think for most people, sexuality is something that needs to be tamed and harnessed and molded and shaped and bridled and given up to some degree, at least at times in life. Even male vs. female 'needs' in a marriage can often end up creating problems if they aren't seen in a larger context of what the purpose and place of sex is in God's plan. (In my view, it's both really important, but at the same time not supposed to be central to our identity and personality and is ultimately designed to be about the marriage and family, not about the individual.)

Just some thoughts...don't know if I'm making much sense. It's late. ;)

Papa D said...

Michelle, it made sense to me. I especially like your first paragraph.

I absolutely LOVE our Second Article of Faith - and I think the "list" of effects of The Fall from which we all have been "redeemed" is FAR more expansive than most people realize, including myself.

Richard Alger said...

Thanks for your perspective

Anonymous said...

I have another point of view on the matter but I share your implied conclusion: humility and love and minding our own business not what others do or what they don't.