Last week’s post laid before your consideration the reality of sexual variation in the physical universe. The existence of such people represents a tremendous spiritual opportunity to us, to sanctify their bodies in Mormon theology by offering what few religions can: a narrative of divine origins and destiny as a being embodied by God in their own unique reality, as are we all. However, many Mormons think that the Lord wants us to uphold the heterosexual male/female-only model – a priority which, in practice, often trumps unconditional love.
I believe that the institutional Church generally operates with a stake only in the Male/Female paradigm, and considers any variation to be a form of deviance, and perhaps even a spiritual threat. Instead of saying, “We claim to be the ONE TRUE CHURCH, so we have a responsibility to receive revelation addressing the concerns and needs of ALL Children of God,” we usually say, “There is only one paradigm,” and ignore those real, true, souls who don’t experience two-size-fits-all sexuality.
A codified justification that Mormons have for doing this is the relatively recent (and need I remind us, uncanonized) document called The Family: A Proclamation To The World. I see members carry it around in their scriptures, and it is prolifically quoted when any question about sex/gender comes up.
“Sex” and “Gender”
In polite company, the word “sex” is treated as a distasteful term because it most often means “intercourse” in vernacular everyday use. So instead of printing the word “sex” in the Proclamation, it is not surprising that Church leaders would choose the word “gender” as a synonym. This creates confusion because the language is opaque. Let’s clarify it. These are the definitions of the words sex and gender as used by multiple scientific disciplines:
-The word “gender” refers to the social constructions, expectations, roles, and behaviors associated with a person’s physical sex.
I totally recognize that the word “gender” in the Proclamation is used to actually mean “sex” (male/female).
But the Proclamation also arguably discusses “gender” in the form of “gender roles”. Next week I will address what the Proclamation actually says about gender.
Not many patriarchal societies are willing to recognize, let alone adopt the paradigm, of the difference between sex and gender. However, the value of using this academic vocabulary of sex and gender is that we can start to really parse out the nuances between biology, social influence, and actual revelation-based doctrine – without conflating the three.
The Definition of “Sex”
When most Mormons read the Proclamation’s statement about “gender”, they usually interpret it to mean that: “Sex (maleness/femaleness) is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” That is, many believe this statement means that a person’s genitalia-determined sexual identity is eternal.
The problem with this approach is that we know that one’s embodied sex is the result of a process that changes over time…it is not eternal.
The Mortal Body
Maleness, femaleness, tissue construction, tissue function, and behavior are highly dependent on physical factors of embryonic development and hormone function. That is, for physical bodies time is a factor, and sexual characteristics are altered over time in processes of embryology, peuberty, menopause and fertility changes, etc., which makes the meaning of the “eternalness” of “sex” unclear.
The Spirit Body
Some may argue that “sex” is eternal in that a spirit may have a specific sex, which is then supposed to be reflected in the physical body. But spirits had a beginning, and are not eternal. Mormonism teaches that the spirit body became a part of ourselves in the premortal life when it was created by our Heavenly Parents…so our actual existence predates our spirit bodies by a lot. That is, for spirit bodies time is also a factor, and all our doctrine would point to the idea that spirit bodies develop in an embryological process just like physical bodies do, which also makes the meaning of “eternalness” of “sex” unclear.
If the spirit body does not emerge through a developmental process that mirrors embryology, then why would we put so much weight behind the idea that a divine couple must be male and female to procreate spirits? Brigham Young taught that spirits are made the same way bodies are. So if spirit creation needs a womb, it must be accomplished through something akin to an embryological process. In mortality, this process creates enormous sexual variation. Perhaps the spiritual creation, like the mortal creation, also reflects a huge amount of variety in the bodies it produces.
The only eternal aspect of ourselves, doctrinally speaking, is the “intelligence.”
The intelligence is uncreated, eternal, and…unembodied. Without a body, it is not clear what “sex” of an intelligence would mean. By definition, an intelligence is uncreated – it does not have Parents. Without the need to reproduce, why would there be different sexes? Apparently, in the mortal, premortal, and postmortal worlds, beings need to procreate in order to organize matter, as required by natural laws. Intelligences don’t procreate or have matter… This suggests to me that either intelligences have no “sex” or that, if they do, then “sex” can mean something beyond reproductive capability. If the first is true, then how is “sex” eternal? If the second is true, and an intelligence does have a “sex” that means something beyond reproductive capability, then why would we assert that only couples who can reproduce are valid “eternal companions?”
While the Proclamation does mention the premortal existence (spirit world), there is nothing in the Proclamation that speaks to the PRE-pre-mortal existence (the intelligent existence?), except perhaps the word “eternal.” Perhaps the intelligence has a sex that is reflected in the spirit creation. Perhaps the spirit creation assigns a sex to the intelligence. These metaphysics aren’t really discussed anywhere.
In teachings on the plan of salvation, the uncreated intelligences are rarely discussed.
I can believe, in this mortal world, that sometimes the mortal body does not accurately reflect the sex of the spirit. In a similar way, perhaps in the spirit creation the spirit body may not always reflect the sex of the intelligence. Intelligences or even spirit bodies may exhibit far more sexual variation than our mortal physical bodies can accommodate.
All Human Beings
Regardless of how the spiritual sex of an intelligence is determined, there is something else missing from the Proclamation that is key. It does not stipulate, anywhere, that intelligences, spirits, or mortal bodies can ONLY be male, female, or heterosexual. The Proclamation does not refute the possibility that intelligences and spirit bodies could be intersex, asexual, bisexual, polygender, androgenous, or any other mix of the human sexual experience. Since it does not preclude these possibilities, there is nothing in the Proclamation to deny the existence of such individuals, to deny them blessings, or to judge them in any way. It does say that males and females are created in the image of God, and does not list the other sexes. BUT it also says that “All human beings” are made in the image of God, not JUST male and female human beings.
When the Proclamation states that gender/sex is an essential characteristic of eternal identity and purpose, “eternal identity” is placed after the progressive words “premortal” and “mortal,” suggesting that “eternal” refers not to just identity before and during life, but also to identity and purpose after death. That is, “sex” is something that will continue to be part of us in the afterlife. This means that one’s “sex” will be reflected in the resurrected body: apparently a mortal man will be resurrected as a glorified man, and a mortal woman will be resurrected as a glorified woman. How will individuals in the spectrum of sexual variation be resurrected?
While Mormons are probably inclined to believe that a person’s sexuality will be “fixed” in the next life to reflect adherence to the heterosexual male/female paradigm, that is NOT what the Proclamation says. It simply asserts that “sex” has always been part of us, and it always will be…not that the only eternal “sexes” are male or female.
The closest I’ve seen a church leader come to saying that sexual variation won’t exist in the afterlife was in the interview with Elder Wickman and Elder Oaks that was released during Prop 8. The Church PR interviewer asked “Is heterosexual marriage ever an option for those with homosexual feelings?”
Elder Wickman responds: ”One question that might be asked by somebody who is struggling with same-gender attraction is, “Is this something I’m stuck with forever? What bearing does this have on eternal life? If I can somehow make it through this life, when I appear on the other side, what will I be like?” Gratefully, the answer is that same-gender attraction did not exist in the pre-earth life and neither will it exist in the next life. It is a circumstance that for whatever reason or reasons seems to apply right now in mortality, in this nano-second of our eternal existence.”
This idea of homosexuality (and perhaps, by extension, any form of sexual variation?) as a “mortal affliction” seems to be the approach the Church has adopted of late, but…there is NO canonized revelation upon which it is based. Other than this one approach to discussing homosexuality, sexual variation in the pre- or post-mortal existence is not even considered in public Church teachings.
The Proclamation itself is carefully crafted with enormous amounts of plausible deniability, to avoid critics being able to point to hard doctrine that openly discriminates. That means that it is not so hardline a document on “sex” as many think. (Later in the Fembryology series I will discuss what the Proclamation has to say about marriage and intercourse – these are areas where it DOES draw a line in the sand.)
Despite All This….
As Mormons we act like we’re pretty confident that we can explain the answer to how sex is eternal. But let’s just make a big fat list of THE THINGS WE DON’T KNOW:
-Do intelligences have a sexual identity, orientation, structures, behaviors, etc? How is the sex of the spirit body determined?
-Do spirit bodies have a sex (male/female)? If our pre-embodied spirit bodies mirror our current genitalia, what are we to make of intersex individuals? Were they spiritually made with the gonads of one sex and genitalia of the other? When they get a resurrected body, will they be intersex too, or clearly one sex or another? Did God “make them” intersex on purpose?
-Do spirit bodies have hormones, genitalia, sex-related spirit behaviors, or spirit attraction? What determines how a spirit body functions? Behavior is largely based on physical structures and chemistry – how does the spirit body impact the behavior of the spirit?
-In premortality, before a spirit is born into a mortal body, what does it’s spirit body even look like? For example, the facial features? Before the spirit’s mortal parents have formed a genetic combination to determine that spirit’s mortal body, does the spirit body even look like the mortal body that it will eventually inherit? If not, then what does a premortal body look like? If a premortal spirit body DOES look like the body it will eventually inhabit, how is that possible since the genetic combination hasn’t even happened get? If a premortal spirit body looks like the mortal body it will eventually inhabit, what does this say about intersex bodies?
The Mortal Body and the Resurrected Body
-As far as I understand, we don’t expect that people who have mortal physical disabilities will retain “flawed” physical characteristics upon resurrection (ie. someone born with a deformity is not expected to be resurrected with that same deformity), so apparently there is some fluidity between our mortal and eternal structures. Will my resurrected body be a replica of my mortal body? If so, at what stage? My mortal body changes shape/size/age from one moment to the next, so will I be resurrected into the body I died in, or into an ideal representation of myself in the bloom of youth? Will there be changes/enhancements and how will that work on my behaviors, gonads, genitals, etc.? I am female – if I am to reproduce eternally, let’s face it, all my sexual parts are going to need some upgrades!
-On the other hand, if there is NO fluidity between our mortal and resurrected bodies, will we be resurrected into the bodies we were born with, even if they had deformities? Are deformities/disabilities a kind of natural variation and the whole idea of a “deformity” flawed as a social construct? Did God make these bodies the way they are (“deformed/disabled”) on purpose? If not, then how did their mortal bodies end up so differently than their spiritual bodies? If mortal creation is imperfect, why do we place such stock in it?
-If the present body does NOT necessarily reflect the resurrected body, what are the ramifications for the variations in sex and orientation that exist in mortal creation? Will the body of the transgendered, asexual, or intersex individual magically change upon resurrection or stay the same?
-That said, does a transgendered person expect to get a resurrected body that matches their mind, or are they to expect their mind to be “rewired” to become the brain that matches their body? Does the mind reflect the eternal sex of their spirit? If the spirit is female but the body is male, then perhaps great fluidity exists between how much mortal bodies look like spirit bodies?
-How will all this manifest in resurrected bodies, which are described as “restorations”, not “re-creations”?
So how is sex/gender eternal? In short, the words in the Proclamation on the Family are vague and leave us with more questions and fewer answers.
Proclamation As Revelation
Mormon doctrine has no official revelation addressing any of these questions. Even the Proclamation on the Family is not considered a revelation. In the October General Conference of 2010, Boyd K Packer’s now-famous talk was amended to read:
Fifteen years ago, with the world in turmoil, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles issued “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” the fifth proclamation in the history of the Church.
It qualifies according to the definition as a revelation and would do well that members of the church to read and follow it. It is a guide that members of the Church would do well to read and to follow.
None of us should pretend that we can answer any of the questions presented above, especially since acting as if the male/female binary is the order of the universe will inevitably, guaranteed, hurt a precious Child of God. Maybe we are sisters/brothers/others and it is supposed to be that way.
If I am to err in how I approach the human family, I want to err on the side of love, so I fully accept into communion all manifestations of God’s children as they are created.
If this gets me in trouble in the afterlife, I will be very, very surprised.
Next: A Feminist Critique of the Proclamation on the Family – “Gender”