Columns Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

When your Mormon child comes out … as trans

A guest post by Mette Harrison

As I’ve become more active in Affirmation and Mama Dragons, I’ve been taught by dear friends who are transgender about this unique part of the rainbow spectrum, the “T” in “LGBTQ+.” I also had the gift of having my “nephew” (his parents are aunt/uncle to my children, though not by blood) come out as trans and walking alongside him in transition. Grayson Moore is my nephew, and Neca is one of my dearest and oldest friends. Through her and my own activism, I’ve become connected to wonderful mothers like Karin Berg who have helped shepherd their own children through their own transitions, which often take several steps.

Neca and Grayson.

Grayson was born to a Mormon family in Utah, assigned female at birth. As he grew up he was attracted to women, so he labeled himself as “lesbian,” but then gender dysphoria became apparent. When he learned about the possibility of being trans, he realized that many of his feelings were likely because he was a transgender young man. He told our family at the age of 16, when he began to transition, that he had the “soul” of a man in a woman’s body.

Neca suggested that this was very much in line with the Mormon “Proclamation on the Family,” which says that gender is innate and unchangeable, which is how she feels that Grayson’s gender is. He did not “choose” to be transgender, but rather was made this way by God. Grayson was an active Mormon for many years, though he’s on “sabbatical” at the moment. Neca remains active in the Church.

Neca says that she knew that Grayson (not his birth name, which can be triggering for some transgender people) was not a typical little girl, but she and her husband weren’t gender typical themselves, so that never bothered them. They expected a nerdy child who liked building toys and playing computer games, and Grayson fit into that mold very well. But at puberty, things started to change and Grayson was very unhappy and confused about the accompanying body changes.

Many parents of children who are on the rainbow spectrum experience multiple transitions. Some come out first as bisexual, then as gay. Some come out as gay first, then as trans. Some settle on “queer” as an identity and others as “non-binary,” meaning they don’t feel like either gender binary is for them. They switch between genders or are androgynous or something individual that feels right for them.

For other parents, Mormon or not, who have a trans child, Neca suggests the Facebook group “Parents of Transgender Children” for more information, but it’s a closed group. There’s also a Mama Dragons subgroup (a group of women who advocate for their kids who are LGBTQ+) for mothers with trans kids. She suggests asking to be added because there has to be privacy for parents to talk about things before their child comes out fully. If a child is pre-pubescent, Neca suggests that puberty blockers might be possible, to help delay puberty changes that can be so distressing. But she also says that keeping open conversation between parents and child is the most important thing.

For Neca, there was never a grieving period after Grayson came out as trans, though she says it is very common. Many parents mourn the loss of the future they imagined they would have with their child, a future that had specific rites of passage that mark one gender or another, like Scouting in the Mormon church or bride’s room activities and childbirth for women. Neca says, “Grayson is right here, the same person he has always been.” But she herself is still angry that society is so unsupportive of transgender people, especially many within the Mormon church.

When Grayson first came out as trans, his ward was supportive, but the handbook says that undergoing “elective transsexual operation” (what this means is undefined, and could refer to hysterectomy, breast removal, or other surgery doctors may consider necessary) “may be cause for formal church discipline.” Grayson was asked not to attend priesthood meetings. But later, his YSA wards were more accepting and welcomed him where he felt comfortable. For Neca, some particularly joyful moments have been Grayson’s singing in the “One Voice Community Choir” that includes many members of the Mormon church.

Karin and Skye.

Karin Bergtold me about her transgender daughter Skye’s transition and how difficult it was within a Mormon context that taught that her daughter would be “healed” in the next life and made to accept that she “really” is male. She talks about Syke’s father’s belief that being transgender was wrong, and that the whole family needed to fast and pray to change Skye. But no matter the prayers, Skye was still transgender, and Mormon theology didn’t seem to have a way to deal with what happens when God doesn’t answer a prayer like this.

Karin is concerned with the number of suicides she is seeing among transgender Mormons, especially the youth. They are told to be faithful and endure, that they will be “healed in the next life” and will “no longer have to suffer with this affliction.” That doesn’t help in the here and now, though. Most of the Mormons around Karin and Skye continued to believe they should be praying more to change the feelings of gender dysphoria instead of moving toward transition to the proper gender, as medical professionals now recommend. Even worse, Karin felt that many other Mormons gave the impression that they believed Skye’s transgenderism was infectious and could “rub off” on their own children, so they withdrew former friendships and made Skye feel very alone. This is one of the reasons Karin has officially resigned and Skye has stopped attending the Mormon church.

When I asked Karin if she had had a feeling all along that her child was different, she said that she thought the child she had named “Michael” was gay. When Karin was growing up, someone she loved deeply had to hide the fact that he was gay, and she was determined her children wouldn’t have to do that. She saw differences in “Michael,” but tried to give lessons on how to be more “male.” She feels guilty now that her child had to hide for eighteen years. Many parents have this sense of guilt at least initially, but it slowly resolves over time as they have more experiences with their child’s new identity.

Karin writes, “She used to fantasize that she was a girl, as a child as young as four or five. She determined that all little boys did this.” And “She spent most of her time alone, because she didn’t fit in with boys, and the girls didn’t want her either.”

Skye was taught at church that being transgender was a sin, “Oh my god, the battle she fought within herself. Skye believed who she really was couldn’t be real. That she had to be making it all up. . . The shame was overwhelming.”

To other parents, Karin gives the advice to “step back from themselves and all their fears, and remember this isn’t about them. No matter how much it hurts.” Though parents have expectations for every child, sometimes these expectations have to be given up. The gift we can give to every child is that of seeing them clearly, and accepting them as they are. They need to determine their own lives. Karin says, “We can be warriors for them, or roadblocks.” She chose the former. She doesn’t believe there is much to be done in the Mormon church, however, and feels she has to move beyond that.

Other guest posts by Mette Harrison:


About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.


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  • We humans have an annoying tendency to try to assign everyone into neat little boxes and then we get frustrated, sometimes to the point of anger and even violence, when some people don’t fit into our neat little boxes. And instead of forcing ourselves to adjust to other people’s reality and their perceptions of themselves, we insist that they conform to our own and then assign blame and/or punishment if they refuse. This is called selfishness, and according to Christian tradition, that’s a sin.

  • “Nature delights in diversity. Why can’t people do the same?”

    An interesting soundbite, but that won’t help families on THIS Issue. Oh no no. Transgenderism is NOT a matter of “Nature delights in diversity.” So let me offer some brief alternative Information, Christian oriented, but helpful for all.

    “On Transgender Identity”, brief soundbites:
    “How To Talk to Children about Transgenderism”:

    Also, has some excellent life stories and resources, plus a “Find Help” button at the top of the screen, that enables you to search for and click on helpful resource groups across the USA.

  • My twopennyworth.

    We have an evolutionarily developed “short cut” facility which enables us, for example, to recall names from minimal characteristics (leading to misidentification when that subset of factors apply to someone we don’t know). It is essential since we don’t have the brainpower (memory and/or processing) to retain and handle all possible inputs in a timely manner.

    It serves us well in fight-or-flight situations – the downside is that it applies to all our systems including areas such as gender – and when we get confused some of us are unable to handle the fact that we are imperfect and resort to self-justifying irrational thoughts and actions.

    High quality, supportive and sympathetic education is probably the only civilised way forward.

  • People tend to pigeonhole themselves into neat little boxes:

    If we read your posts, Ben in Oakland’s posts, and some others we read individuals whose primary identification, agenda, and interests are neat little boxes in their own pigeonholes.

    That does make it a bit difficult logically to complain, eh?

    It is difficult to read at either of the two sites noted, or Ben in Oakland’s constant ranting at religions and laws which displease him, and not conclude that he is not in favor of forcing others to his reality and perceptions, or he’ll assign blame and punishment if they refuse.

    The Masterpiece Bakery case was a classic illustration of the problem.

    So, anyone echoing his comments is sinning, according to your analysis.

    As to “Nature delights in diversity”, let’s rephrase that. Nature is diverse, sometimes to benefit, sometimes to detriment.

    In a human society delighting in blindness, kleptomania, low intelligence, or neurological impairment does not seem to offer much in the way of upside.

    Respecting that others have problems that not all of us have seems a better approach.

  • Genders are not “assigned” at birth. Biological sex is determined at birth.

    I’m all for loving and accepting people and not forcing rigid gender roles on society, but we do no one any favors by just pretending the reality is something other than what it is.

  • In the west we tend to assign gender at the same time we assign sex. Indeed we assign gender based on the assigned sex.

    Let’s buy a bunch of blue onesies, the ultrasound said “It’s a boy!”

  • It’s interesting that the popular culture nowadays dictates that gender fluidity is the norm. In fact, we see more people convincing themselves that they are gay or transgender now than at any other time in history- human biology hasn’t changed but the messages we put into heads via perverted media has.

  • I was hoping that LGBT people would gain rights politically as time went on. This would put pressure on the insulated church leadership who stay holed up in their great and spacious building floating in Salt Lake. Sadly, with trump in office and a slew of conservative judges being confirmed, I am not hopeful. Prejudice rules the day in and out of the church.

  • A couple of quick questions, living in northern AZ, our coalition group has a subgroup called Faith Bridges, for those who still have their faith despite what most churchs do those of us in the LGBTQ+ community. works finding churchs, groups etc that are accepting,supportive, or complete NO GO’s so people can find a safe place to worship,etc. she has also had contact with the Mama Dragon group in Phoenix i think? i was under the impression, while they dont disallow others, it was primarily (or at least started FROM) mothers who were in the Mormon faith? was that in error? or just not really covered here. i have heard great things, just wanting to make sure i have the proper info.

    for those NOT around a similar group and NOT into social networking much, there is a LOT of info on line about being LGBTQ+ and the MISCONCEPTIONS in currently theological beliefs. such as mentions of likely transgender persons, the fact the bible in the first few books at least, use both gender for god, moses, etc. heck there is a name for the female ASPECT of God, Shekinah (sp?), and that the soul is neither male nor female, so to god, there is NO issue. the fact the word that Paul uses (only references to homosexual, supposedly, in the new testament) is actually NOT as translated. it is, by base root word research as this word exists NO WHERE ELSE in any other writings, to be either: pagan temple male prostitutes, male prostitutes in general, homosexual criminals, pedophiles, a pimp (of any sort, not just homosexual), etc. since there was ALREADY a common term for male same sex lovers, consenting adults, “paiderasste”, why would Paul make up a NEW WORD for an existing one? the source material for this is at this link:

    I can totally agree with skye’s story, it matches along mine pretty well. while my mothers family was mormon, and even though i am baptized mormon (but have NEVER participated, long story) the church was never my issue. it was the fact i was very sick a lot as a child so had little interaction except for family. not friends who i slept over at, etc. so it wasnt until my younger sister was just over one almost two (in that neighborhood) when i noticed physical differences. i had bathed with my old brothers, but never with a female, at 5, you dont think of those things until you see it, etc.

  • your very use of terms shows you are on the hate side of this issue. NO ONE is forcing kids to be trans, no one is forcing children to “get sex changes” in fact the WPATH standard FORBIDS surgery until adulthood. this is typical hate filled christianity, same ones responsible for the with trials, the inquisition, and the crusades “dont be afraid we are here to help you (as they rape and pillage all the christians living in those citis they “freed”.

  • there are known cases through out history, even in your precious misinterpreted bible. try actually reading the REAL one, not one of the 400 versions rewritten to fit YOUR particular hate filled views.

  • while i can see where you are coming from, if these types of things were so “dead end evolutionary limbs” my words, but basically what you are saying by “detriment”, then why do they CONTINUE TO BE BORN. we have physical evidence of those who are trans, with over a 95% accuracy in the old tech, i dont know how much better the new tech is. and i am talking about brain DISSECTION of deceased trans and cis person, compared at a microscopic level developmental wise. 95% of those claiming to be trans had brain development similar to the gender they claim, NOT their natal sex. then you will say its because of all the years of HRT, right? except some of them were NEVER on HRT, never transitioned because of people LIKE YOU. and recently they have used MRI and SONOGRAM technology to do brain scans of CHILDREN, NO HRT at all and they had the SAME development as the original study. all christians have is a 2000+ year old book, translated numerous times, with errors, either intentional or by accident, and over 400 DIFFERENT VERSIONS in existence. so you tell me WHICH IS THE ONE TRUE WORD OF GOD????

  • hmm, and what past 5th year biology gives you the expertise to say this? many trans have genetic variations that CAUSE this. what about intersex? i guess they are not real either? there is a large case study about a drug, DES used from the 40s to early 70’s that has a HIGH relativity to those who are gender non conforming. it was an anti miscarriage drug that didnt prevent miscarriages, but has an up to FOUR generations longevity of effects (after initial exposure) of producing higher than normal rates of GNC children.

    as koseighty says, most western (and some eastern) cultures assume gender by natal sex. most older cultures have histories showing up to FIVE genders, and not only were they accepted, some were greatly HONORED for their status.

  • The answer to “why do they CONTINUE TO BE BORN” is that we live in a fallen creation.

    If you don’t believe the Abrahamic religions, then try natural law.

    If you reject natural law, it is hard to argue against atheistic communism, the Nazis, or much else.

  • lol, i dont follow any religion, farthest i go is that of deism, just like most of our founding fathers who were NOT christian, at least the majority.

    and natural is evolution. if its such a dead end thing, it would NOT continue to happen, now would it, its the very point of evolution, that which works, goes on, that which doesnt, dies off. its not like all gay people come from gay parents, the vast majority come from straight couples.

  • I’m not sure what the historical Crusades have to do with this topic. But I do know that there are parents, families, and individuals who are seriously looking for helpful, truthful information and resource groups. Right now.

    They instinctively know that there’s something really wrong with this transgender stuff, but since their local pastor, priest, rabbi, or imam never publicly discussed the issue, they don’t know where to look for help. So I seek to provide good online information and helping groups, from a Christian perspective. I’m really not concerned about the LGBT activists or the PC-Police on this one. People are looking for help NOW.

  • Your argument basically states that heterosexuality in mammals is not conducive to the various species’ survival.

    Biology begs to differ, as do I.

    Not reproducing is not a survival strategy for a race.

    Now, if you’re making the argument that lots of non-productive characteristics occur – Down’s Syndrome, blindness, deafness, neurological issues – I agree.

    They’re defects.

  • No, that’s just your transphobia talking. How much is the KKK paying you to do their dirty work for them?

  • no you promote hate, torture and ruining of lives, just like those priests you promote. there is nothing wrong with being transgender. there are mentions of trans in history, even the bible “eunuchs made by man, by choice to serve god, and those born that way” has been read to mean transgender persons. remember you have a flawed book, if you cant even admit that, then you are so brainwashed, there is NO hope for an intelligent conversation with you, as zealots never reason.

    as to the Crusades, they were LAUNCHED for supposed christian reasons, but most were about gold, period. as i said, those good christian souls fighting to free their christian brethren from captivity (when quite a few of those cities joined with the muslims because back then they had better science than we did) and while doing killed, raped and pillaged those same christians they were there to “save” typical christian behavior all through history

  • i thought that, my next question was are they STILL only mormon moms, or is anyone welcome to be involved (not for me but so i can refer others to them in the future)