Adventures in Academia: The Specialness of Identity Politics and Self-Identifying

Dear Readers: This post contains information and observations regarding college students who self identify through gender fluidity, sexuality, and ethnicity. I write carefully and prayerfully in a context of humility and sensitivity. If you decide to read this post, please consider the words written in the Book of Jacob, Chapter Two: Jacob uses terms such as "boldness of speech," "delicate hearts," and "daggers placed to pierce their souls and wound their delicate minds." I echo Jacob's anxiety in approaching these sensitive topics when he says, "And not withstanding the greatness of the task, I must do accordingly... And I was told... to get thou up... I must tell you...according to the plainness..." and so forth. As an LDS woman, I too, must speak and write.

Let me be very clear: I am NOT criticizing the decision of a student or person to "self-identify." Due to this growing trend, however, our children and our LDS culture will increasingly feel its impact. To this end, I have felt much prompting in the last six months to write about this issue from my perspective as a college instructor.




 


Adventures in Academia #1


I was grading a student's critical thinking paper. This assignment requires students' individual definitions and notions of critical thinking. The student wrote, "I pride myself in being very tolerant and non-judgmental." (Most, if not all my students wear the "tolerant and non-judgmental" label as the supreme badge of a critical thinker.) She further explained, "I self-identify as pansexual." (I admit; I had to look that one up in the dictionary.)






My student continued, "I'm so open-minded that I don't even judge people who enjoy the new idea of having sex with animals." Carefully and cautiously, I wrote on her paper that this type of sexual activity, called "bestiality," is nothing new and has probably been around since shepherds began herding sheep. Furthermore, I told her how the sex could never be consensual (an animal is incapable of reasoned consent) and could be categorized as animal abuse.

Last week, another student asked me to approve the following proposition for a class debate: "Resolved: Sexual activity with animals is a legitimate form of sexual expression." I gently declined the topic and asked her to find another one. If this form of sexual expression grows more acceptable in society (which I predict it will), more students will want to discuss and debate it. 





My student's sexual proclivities didn't surprise me. We've all observed society's legitimization of various forms of sexual expression for 50 years. Indeed, the Baby Boomer's sexual revolution of the 1960's has become the Millennial generation's prime method for "self-identifying." (I'll define this term in a moment.) Academia continues to be one of the driving forces for social change. As I mentioned in my earlier posts, academia promotes and politicizes social justice, egalitarianism, and totalitarianism on college campuses to motivate students in making societal changes. We also know that social evolution is often painful because it advocates advantages for some and disadvantages for others. And social conflict is always the byproduct. 






Now that the United States government legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, transgender rights have advanced to the forefront in the LGBTQ's fight for equality and social acceptance. I don't pretend to know nor understand the complex nuances and dimensions of transgender identity. And, admittedly, I'm not fully educated pertaining to the intersectionality of transgenderism, gender fluidity, and self identifying. (Please also know: I'm not suggesting that transgender people manufacture their trans identities.) Regardless, social justice for transgenderism and gender fluidity is gaining traction---especially in academia.  






Recently, UC Colleges changed student application forms concerning gender identity. Students are now offered six different gender-identity boxes on applications. Applicants can choose "male, female, trans male/trans man, trans female/trans woman, gender queer/gender non-conforming, and different identity” to describe their gender identity.





For further details see the link below:

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/07/28/university-california-offers-six-choices-for-gender-identity.html






Subsequently, the pronouns "he" and "she" are quickly becoming antiquated on California college campuses and will soon be considered bigoted. I predict universities will soon expect professors to learn and use a variety of pronouns. The links below provide additional information:

http://bigstory.ap.org/article/48c986c722ba4e5bb8a5a4c1f1d31df1/he-she-ze-universities-add-gender-pronouns-alter-policy

http://geneq.berkeley.edu/lgbt_resources_definiton_of_terms









Additionally, GLAAD has also launched a list of microaggressions against transgender individuals. The link below provides GLAAD's recommendations endorsed by most universities and colleges:

http://www.glaad.org/blog/glaad-launches-trans-microaggressions-photo-project-transwk





As a college instructor in California, I'm expected to set an example for students to follow and to promote a "safe" and "inclusive" classroom environment. (I've written in previous posts how a "safe" learning environment---sanitized of any potential offense---is impossibly unworkable and undesirable.) Nevertheless, in an effort to help transgender students feel welcome in my classes, I (and other professors in my department) now make inquiries on the first day of school. I encourage individuals to talk to me privately should they feel the need. When meeting transgender students, I inquire regarding preferred gender pronouns. 







We are also seeing divisions among society, and particularly women, concerning definitions of womanhood. As we know, Caitlyn Jenner (formerly known as Bruce Jenner) has generated a national dialogue around this issue. Many are asking, "Can Caitlyn Jenner truly know what it's like to be a woman when she has lived much of her life as a man?"  Now, women's colleges are asking the same question.








Adventure #2

"Professor, what they're saying is really offensive," whispered a student who sat next to me. She was referring to her fellow debaters who were speaking in front of the class. In the back of the room, I observed and graded the debates. I nodded in agreement that some students might find the topic offensive. (My syllabi contain "trigger warnings" concerning potential offenses.) Still, I allowed the debate to continue. This particular assignment focused on the Lincoln-Douglas debate style. This form of argument frames propositions, claims, and reasoning around value propositions.

I must digress, dear readers, to fully illustrate the difference between propositions of fact and propositions of value when engaging in various forms of argument. (I will finish the discussion of Adventure #2 later in this post.):

Propositions of Fact:
  • Propose whether some phenomenon exists or does not exist
  • If the phenomenon does exist then how significant is its impact
  • Propose whether some phenomenon is true or false--it can't be both
  • Frequently empirically verifiable
  • Take a more objective approach
  • Use objective claims
  • Draw on logical inferences

Propositions of Value:
  • Take a more evaluative and subjective position
  • Are the eye glasses or lens through which individuals and/or groups, interpret facts
  • Their truth value depends upon the moral proclivities of individuals and/or groups
  • Are frequently non-empirical
  • Are often more qualitative than quantitative
  • Judge the worth of someone or something
  • Judge whether something or someone is: good or bad, right or wrong, just or unjust, moral or immoral, ethical or unethical

Additionally, there are thorny variables when arguing value propositions:
  • What are the definitions and topicality?
  • What is the value standard or criterion on which to judge the issue?
  • How and when do we conclude when the value is met?
  • How do the proposed standards apply to the subject?
  • How do we as a culture/society agree and thus define words like "equality," "justice," "ethics," and "judgment?"






Identity politics deal almost exclusively in value propositions; thus feelings tend to override facts. In our contemporary times, "truth" has become more subjective, and has also been wrapped in subjective forms of self-identity. Former Communist and Jewish scholar David Horowitz has written prolifically about this topic:


Side by side with American consensus---and reflecting its values---there has been until recently a common understanding of the function of education in a democracy. This has included respect for intellectual disagreement as the necessary condition for the development of independent minds. In the modern era it embraces the idea that research and teaching are professional disciplines, which observe the scientific method and require intellectual objectivity and restraint; it insists on a perspective that is expert, skeptical and dispassionate; and it respects the uncertainty of human knowledge and the pluralism of views on which a democracy is based. It is consequently a consensus that opposes the imposition of ideological orthodoxies and sectarian agendas in the classroom. The new political orthodoxies insinuated into our universities by the left are quite different. They do not derive from the traditions of a shared American heritage and culture, but are sectarian attempts to subvert both---by deconstructing the nation's identity and by dividing its communities into warring classes, genders and races---into victims and oppressors. For academic radicals who hope to 'change the world,' teaching is not a disinterested intellectual inquiry but a form of political combat. The banner of this combat is 'social justice,' the emblem that signifies to the post-Communist left the triumph of the oppressed over the oppressors. The radical attempt to turn schools into agencies for social change is a recent (Note: this book was published in 2007.) that coincides with the emergence of 'political correctness' as the signature feature of a radicalized academic culture. Ideas that oppose left-wing orthodoxy---opposition to racial preferences (and cultures), belief in innate differences between men and women are regarded as morally unacceptable or simply indecent. The proponents of such ideas are regarded as deviants from the academic norm, to be marginalized and shunned" (Indoctrination U: The Left's War Against Academic Freedom, 2007, Preface).


He's pretty harsh in his assessments but his predictions have basically come to fruition. These "radical" notions are no longer radical. They have become academia's (and rapidly becoming society's) status quo. Due to our societal conflicts involving propositions of value, we see a greater tug-of-war between the feelings of those who live in society's mainstream vs. the feelings of marginalized groups. "Whose feelings matter most and whose feelings receive the most media and political attention?" we endlessly argue. Everyone and every group wants "their fair share" and to be heard and validated---politically and socially. Simultaneously, America has always loved the underdog, the loner, the marginalized, or the anti-hero or heroine. Movies and media ascribe to this narrative while invoking empathy, compassion, and concern for the "victim" from the threatening masses. Don't we all cheer and champion the victim and/or "the little guy" while watching movies? The news media also loves these kinds of human interest stories. We come to view these storied characters through a sentimental lens. We decide that their qualities of uniqueness, courage, bravery, and transcendence make them "special." And we want to emulate them. Indeed, this perception and attention helped to motivate the ascension of civil rights. Unfortunately, our society continues to struggle in its creation and maintenance of a more pluralistic and peaceful co-existence. And meanwhile, the growing verbal and political combat over cultural value propositions grows ever more vicious.  





There's another downside in the battle over the hearts and minds of the American people. The inevitable collateral damage in the "us vs. them" mindset. Thus, the Left often accuses those who disagree or are less than supportive of sexual identity politics as bigoted, hateful, and ignorant. (The green poster used as my second visual in this post insinuates this idea with the phrase "stripping back prejudice.") And the verbal attacks from many conservatives are as mean and hurtful. Undoubtedly, these accusations of racism, bigotry, and character attacks work because they effectively shut down discussion and debate. Furthermore, no one wants to be labeled as such---even if a person is genuinely hateful and bigoted. There's enormous power in value propositions and "feelings" anchored in identity politics! 

On many university campuses, non-compliance is greeted with this type of response:


Also recently, the student government at The George Washington University approved a measure requiring student leaders to attend LGBT sensitivity training regarding, inter alia, 'using proper gender pronouns.' A conservative student group, the Young America’s Foundation chapter at GW, declined to go along. 'YAF treats everyone with respect,' said representative Amanda Robbins, 'and doesn’t need to be lectured on how to do so.' You can imagine how well that went over. The campus LGBT group, Allied in Pride, responded  that YAF’s 'refusal to use preferred gender pronouns should be considered an act of violence.' The comment calls to mind the Social Justice Kittens calendar, which features adorable kittens saying things such as 'this conversation doesn’t make me feel safe' and 'you are jeopardizing my well-being with your violent refusal to agree'" (Barton Hinkle, "The Death of Free Speech on College Campuses," March 18, 2015, Reason.com).


Debating These Issues in a Public Policy Context

Now, having prefaced these issues, I'll direct the discussion back to Adventure #2: 

The Lincoln-Douglas style debate centered around the question: 

Do transgendered high school students have a moral right to use P.E. locker rooms (not just bathrooms) of the gender with whom they identify? 

In other words, does a 17-year-old previously gendered male (meaning born with male genitalia of which he may or may not have had surgically altered) have the right to use the girls' P.E. locker room? In this particular case, the transgender student, Lila Perry, still had her male genitalia and presently identifies as a transgender female.

My students' argument was based upon the Missouri high school transgender student, Lila Perry, who, despite being offered her own gender neutral bathroom and dressing area, still felt marginalized. Lila wanted to dress "with all the other girls." But many of "the other girls" felt uncomfortable dressing and undressing in front of Lila. In protest, 200 female students walked out of P.E. classes arguing that they had rights too---and one of their rights included the right to privacy from "boys." Many parents of these high schoolers agreed.

For further information regarding this issue see the links below:

http://www.people.com/article/lila-perry-transgender-hate-high-school-protest

http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/03/living/missouri-transgender-teen-feat/

http://www.advocate.com/commentary/2015/9/14/classmates-trans-teen-lila-perry-should-be-ashamed

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3219186/Almost-200-Missouri-students-walk-class-protest-transgender-high-school-senior-allowed-use-girls-bathroom.html







Think for a moment, dear readers, about Lila's newfound "specialness." Again, I'm not here to cast judgment on Lila as a person. But the facts are worth examining and discussion and debate regarding this issue is necessary and healthy. (For this reason, I allowed my class's Lincoln-Douglas style of debate to continue---despite my offended student's misgivings.)






Let's examine some propositions of fact. Remember, these facts are objective and verifiable. Their truth value does not depend on a person's subjective feelings or interpretation. 


  • Lila received a lot of attention from her peers, her school, and the nation. 
  • Much of the attention came from bullying because as a "boy," Lila is dressing like a "girl" and advocating transgender rights. 
  • A lot of the attention comes from allies who support Lila's desires.
  • Lila enjoys compassion and support from the LGBTQ community, civil rights groups, many on social media, and media outlets.
  • Lila has made many media appearances and has been interviewed by major news networks.
  • Many people admire Lila's courage.
  • Many people call Lila a role model.
  • Lila's "specialness" as an individual has been hugely magnified when she came out as a transgendered girl. 
  • Lila receives much more attention as a transgender female than she ever had as a boy.

Now, let's examine a few propositions of value (some in the form of visuals) below. Remember, their truth value is subjective because they depend on what a person or group thinks and feels:




Here's an opposing viewpoint. Lila is the person on the left:





The man pictured below is a father to one of the heterosexual high school girls who felt uncomfortable sharing a locker room with Lila.






Below are some of Lila's supporters.


 











The photo below shows protesting heterosexual students who claim their own rights in demanding the right to privacy in high school locker rooms. 




I mentioned earlier how social change brings advantages to some and disadvantages to others. The obvious upside to this issue means a pluralistic society that advocates the civil rights and equal protection of the law for all groups. This social and governmental acceptance means less bullying, stigmatization, ignorance, and fear. The downside is government forced compliance and acceptance regarding individual right to privacy issues. 











In the rest of this post, I'll discuss concepts and perceptions relating to self-identifying through sexuality and even ethnicity.


The Power and Specialness in "Self-Identifying" 






In the last three years, I've noticed an increasing number of students (so far, exclusively white students) who use sexual and gender fluidity as a means in self-identification and definition. I have no obvious empirical evidence, but this trend is clear. Gender fluid as a gender identity refers to a gender which varies over time. A gender fluid person may (at any time) identify as male, female, neutrois, or any other non-binary identity, or a combination of identities. 
  
As you can see from the visuals, dear readers, fluidity has also become an effective tool in aiding individuals in their desire to differentiate. Simultaneously and paradoxically, sexual and gender fluidity also serves to create, bond, and support individuals as a "marginalized group/s." 






I believe that self-identifying encourages a feeling of "specialness" through marginalization. (Again, I don't fault anyone for this. Don't we all want to feel special?) As mentioned previously, many individuals use their "difference" as social and political capital; our society's celebration of anti-heroes and anti-heroines in the entertainment industry helps to create and generate compassion and empathy (deserved or not) for those who are or live "differently." 






Let me remind you, dear readers, that societal celebration of the anti-hero with its accompanying compassion and empathy provides fertile soil for sowing and incubating a variety of "specialness" seeds and needs. Again, I support the right to individuality. However, our society must be much more willing to analyze and discuss the positive and negative outcomes concerning identity politics and its potential impact upon our youth and young adults inside and outside of Mormonism.






I'd like to now discuss the negative attributes stemming from identity politics. Forced conformity for those who hold opposing values inevitably leads to another brand of oppression, repression, stigmatization, and tyranny. (I've written extensively about this in my previous posts concerning academia.) Often times, conforming to the expectations of social justice advocates means a forced feeding into everyone's individual realities in how they define themselves---and how they want others to define them. Therefore, governmentally codified identity politics potentially requires conservatives, traditionalists, and many liberals to deny their own reality in order to feed any potential pretense of those who self-identify. Regrettably and potentially, narcissism and identity politics may go hand-in-hand. Many social and political objectives and statements which appear---on face value regarding one issue---are actually about oneself and perceived offenses. The offense needn't be real because the hurt feelings are real---and that's all that matters. What's more, the hurt feelings of any one person becomes more important than any form of discussion or political debate by the greater society. Thus, opposing and/or conservative reasoning holds validity when it states:

Reasonable people know that the sky is blue on a clear day. The sky might be various shades of blue, but it's still blue. Self-identity politics have the potential to stretch this reality into a pretentious and narcissistic self-reality.





Again, I refer to scholar David Horowitz's insight:


'All men are created equal' is the creed that makes a diverse nation possible. But a flaw was built into the original construction, which is open to multiple interpretations, including destructive ones. The most destructive of these is the idea that government can and should 'level the playing field.' Obviously, all people are not created equal but are born with disparate abilities and characteristics. People are clearly unequal in beauty, intelligence, character, upbringing, and other vital aspects of personhood that lead directly to inequalities of celebrity, power, wealth and social standing. Because these inequalities are rooted in human nature, there can never be a level playing field. Moreover, the efforts to produce on must lead (and historically have led) led to the loss of individual freedom. This is because the field can only be made equal---and then only superficially---by governmental force as an all-powerful state takes the earned fruits of one person's labor, intelligence and talent and distributes it to those it prefers, and does so in the name of 'social justice.' The American Founders understood that there is an irreconcilable conflict between freedom and equality, between individual liberty and equal results. They understood that 'social justice' in practice is just a rationale for the taking of one person's achievements, and giving them to others who are favored by the party in power. What is justice to some is necessarily theft to others. It is an 'injustice justice' system.' In order to block such levelers, the founders created a Constitution that guaranteed property rights and instituted a system of checks and balances to frustrate their designs. In a free society composed of unequal individuals, the drive to level the playing field is a totalitarian desire and threat to freedom because it empowers government to confiscate the talents and earnings of some for the benefits of those it favors. The expansion of governmental power into every individual sphere whatever its justification entails a loss of freedom for all. In a free society, composed of individuals who are unequal by nature, the highest government good is neutrality in the treatment of its citizens before the law. One standard and one justice for all. This is the only equality that is not at odds with individual freedom. It is the only equality that can make a diverse community one. A nation that respects individual rights and protects individual freedom cannot be sustained if there is one standard for [one group over another] one for rich and one for poor. It can only be sustained by a single standard---one law and one justice for all (Black Skin Privilege and the American Dream, 2015, p. 9).







As I've detailed in my previous posts, this repressive environment already exists in academia. Indeed, professor Edward Schlosser's experiences reflect Horowitz's views in addition to my own teaching experiences:


I'm a professor at a midsize state school. I have been teaching college classes for nine years now. I have won teaching awards, studied pedagogy extensively, and almost always score highly on my student evaluations. I am not a world-class teacher by any means, but I am conscientious; I attempt to put teaching ahead of research, and I take a healthy emotional stake in the well-being and growth of my students. Things have changed since I started teaching. The vibe is different. My students sometimes scare me---particularly the liberal ones. The student-teacher dynamic has been re-envisioned along a line that's simultaneously consumerist and hyper-protective, giving each student the ability to claim Grevious Harm in nearly any circumstance, after any affront, and a teacher's formal ability to respond to these claims is limited at best. [The complaints would not be accusations of ideological extremes] but of not being sensitive enough toward [the student's] feelings, of some simple act of indelicacy that's considered tantamount to physical assault. The adoption of a totalizing, simplistic, unworkable and ultimately stifling conception of social justice [and cultural studies] creates a climate of fear, a heavily policed discourse of semantic sensitivity in which safety and comfort have become the ends AND the means of the college experience" ("I'm a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me," June 3, 2015, VOX, para. 13).


This form of subversive hostility and repression in terms of free speech embedded itself in European culture years ago and continues to abound. And it's rapidly solidifying itself in America. Surely, we can all see how quickly American culture is changing; and let me repeat: Many of these changes are born and nurtured in academia. 






Adventures in Academia #3


Another one of my class discussions centered around self-identifying. The topic of argument was this: 

If an individual can self-identify in terms of gender and transgender, then can a person self-identify in terms of ethnicity and race? 

The argument's framework was based upon a particular woman, Rachel Dolezal, who claimed to be "trans-racial." She was born white but "identified" with African culture. She applied to Howard University (a college for African-Americans), but her application was denied due to Ms. Dolezal's race. (She sued the university for discrimination but lost the case.) Shortly thereafter, she darkened her skin, permed her hair, and "self-identified" as an African-American. Accepted into Howard as such, Ms. Dolezal graduated and taught African-American Studies. She also became head of a local NCAAP chapter in Washington. Years later, her white parents "outed" her which caused a huge negative backlash. 





For details see the links below:

http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2015/07/rachel-dolezal-new-interview-pictures-exclusive

http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/dec/13/rachel-dolezal-i-wasnt-identifying-as-black-to-upset-people-i-was-being-me

http://www.today.com/news/rachel-dolezal-speaks-today-show-matt-lauer-after-naacp-resignation-t26371
Interestingly, none of my students expressed indignation when changing one's gender identity. Changing one's race, however, they felt was impossible and immoral. "Why?" I asked. "Michael Jackson bleached his skin to look more 'white,' so can't a person self-identify in whatever way he, she, (or "ze" or "cis") desires?"





My students didn't have an answer. Non-white students expressed particular dismay at Rachel Dolezal's deception. "Can you tell me why her deception bothers you?" I asked. An African-American student replied, "Because racism doesn't exist for white people. That only happens to us." (I wanted, but was too afraid to ask my students if perhaps Ms. Dolezal darkened her skin in order to feel "special" in belonging to a marginalized group.) Either way, I once again witnessed the power, the divisiveness, and the specialness of identity politics.






Huffington Post writer, Athul Archarya, gives further insight:


Many on the right have seized upon l'affaire Dolezal to accuse the left of hypocrisy. Within the narrow context of the immediate controversy, it is not difficult to think of good rebuttal arguments. But the debate over Dolezal's identity is a good opportunity for American liberals to consider our modern politics of social justice more broadly, and in a critical light. The lesson of the Dolezal affair is that tolerance, diversity, and autonomy are not always a positive-sum game. Three sites of contested meaning over these values demonstrate amply that, as one piece in The New Yorker put it 'the politics of tolerance, diversity, and autonomy are distributive politics, with winners and losers.' Which brings us, finally, back to the conundrum presented by Ms. Dolezal. On the one hand, she has as much right to buck her biology and define her own identity as did Caitlyn, née Bruce Jenner. On the other hand, to some black people -- including her adoptive brother---her claim to black identity is a highly offensive farce, recalling the age-old bigotry of blackface and minstrelsy. To many, Dolezal's autonomy is incompatible with black dignity. There are no easy answers to these conundrums. The modern politics of identity demands equal and full respect for everyone's self-definition---but respect is a limited resource. One principled response is to prioritize those subject to historical and ongoing oppression---to privilege the claims of the underprivileged. But comparing relative oppressedness may be a cure worse than the disease. Consider, once more, the contested space between radical feminists and trans women. The consensus in social justice circles is that the trans movement has the better of the argument and that the TERFs are misguided or worse. And the radical feminists, for their part, can credibly claim that they continue to be oppressed--- to suffer injustice in the name of social justice. The upshot is that there is no single maximally socially just world. Sometimes, social justice will be a zero-sum game, a choice in which justice for one group necessarily means injustice for another. Sometimes, the most just outcome will be a triumph of practicality over principle---a compromise. Sometimes, social justice must mean rough justice ("Rachel Dolezal, Caitlyn Jenner, and the Limits of Social Justice," June 15, 2015, Huff Post Politics).


Seeking Validation and Specialness


Listed below are some additional universal and empirically verifiable facts:

  • Every individual wants to feel special in some way.
  • At some point in life, every individual longs for acceptance.
  • Every individual engages in attention seeking behaviors.
  • Every individual uses various methodologies in seeking attention.
  • Some methods are physically and emotionally healthy.
  • Some methods are not.
  • Some individuals seek attention to benefit others.
  • Some individuals seek attention as a means for self-promotion.
  • Every individual wants to be loved unconditionally.

Based on these facts, I propose my own proposition of value:

In some way and in some form, every one of us is a Lila Perry and a Rachel Dolezal.

As mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, and mentors, we need to realize and understand the potential attraction of self-identifying in our LDS youth and young adults. Many are and will be drawn to marginalized groups because they seek individuality, empathy, compassion, sensitivity, acceptance, and most of all, love. In 1995, when the Church issued "The Family Proclamation" in which it specifically defined gender, I was taken aback. (I even "rolled my eyes" a little.) Didn't we already know and understand the nature of male and female genders? Wasn't the First Presidency overstating the already obvious? Now, 20 years later, I more fully understand the proclamation as inspired prophetic counsel concerning gender fluidity and self-identifying. Again, I don't intend to sound insensitive to those who self-identify. Yet, by the same token, contemporary gender options and their accompanying confusion must be daunting for many of today's youth. 

So, how can we help ourselves, our children, and young adults feel special and validated in their own right? 

The Power of the Atonement

Our Savior, Jesus Christ, is the keystone of my website. I cannot emphasize enough how my personal relationship with Christ has given me emotional and spiritual empowerment because of His atonement. Christ's atoning sacrifice is not only about sin. His atonement is about gaining strength, confidence, and self-esteem through His grace and unconditional love. When we, as women, earnestly work and seek to develop a personal relationship with Christ, we will be more influential in teaching and exemplifying this principle to our children and to those around us.

I've already written much about gaining and feeling validated and special when we allow Jesus Christ to identify and define us. He is our ultimate source of empowerment---not the government, not social groups, not ethnic groups, not wealth, not status, not friends, not sexuality, not attention, not fame, not protests. No. Not one single thing has the power and ability that Christ has. And all of it is available to every individual who seeks it.

Elder Jeffrey Holland observes:


It seems clear that the essence of our duty and the fundamental requirement of our mortal life is captured in these brief phrases from any number of scenes in the Savior's mortal ministry. He is saying to us, 'Trust me, learn of me, do what I do. Then, when you walk where I am going," He says, 'we can talk about where you are going, and the problems you face and the troubles you have. If you will follow me, I will lead you out of darkness,' He promises, 'I will give you answers to your prayers. I will give you rest to your souls.' My beloved friends, I know of no other way for us to succeed or to be safe amid life's many pitfalls and problems. I know of no other way for us to carry our burdens... So how does one 'come unto Christ' in response to this constant invitation? The scriptures give scores of examples and avenues. The easiest and the earliest comes simply with the desire of our heart, the most basic form of faith that we know. 'If ye can no more than desire to believe,' Alma says, exercising just 'a particle of faith,' giving even a small place for the promises of God to find a home---that is enough to begin. Just believing, just having a 'molecule' of faith---simply hoping for things which are not yet seen our lives, but which are nevertheless truly there to be bestowed---that simple step, when focused on the Lord Jesus Christ, has ever been and always will be the first principle of His eternal gospel, the first step out of despair. Are you battling a demon of addiction---tobacco or drugs or gambling, or the pernicious contemporary plague of pornography? Is your marriage in trouble or your child in danger? Are you confused with gender identity or searching for self-esteem? Do you, or someone you love, face disease or depression or death? Whatever other steps you may need to take to resolve these concerns, come first to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Trust in heaven's promises. In that regard Alma's testimony is my testimony: 'I do know,' he says, 'that whatsoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions.' This reliance upon the merciful nature of God is the very center of the gospel Christ taught. I testify that the Savior's Atonement lifts from us not only the burden of our sins but also the burden of our disappointments and sorrows, our heartaches and our despair. From the beginning, trust in such help was to give us both a reason and a way to improve, an incentive to lay down our burdens and take up our salvation. There can and will be plenty of difficulties in life. Nevertheless, the soul that comes unto Christ, who knows His voice and strives to do as He did, finds a strength...beyond his [or her or "ze"] own. When he says to the poor in spirit, 'Come unto me,' He means He knows the way out and He knows the way up. He knows it because He has walked it. He knows the way because He is the way" ("Broken Things to Mend," April 2006, General Conference).




I'll end this post with some additional suggestions: 


  • Emphasize to our youth that conformity isn't inherently wrong or undesirable and that individuality isn't inherently right or desirable. And vice versa. 
  • Victimhood and marginalization do not equate to healthy specialness. 
  • An individual can be unique and authentic and still live within the mainstream or status quo.
  • Marginalized or formerly oppressed groups are not morally superior by default.
  • The majority is not morally superior by default.
  • Racial and ethnic groups are not morally superior to one another---including Caucasians.
  • Formerly oppressed and/or marginalized groups are just as capable of oppression and bullying as any other group. This truth also applies to every ethnic group and/or race.
  • Compassion (meaning non-judgmentalism) is not the supreme moral value or imperative. Love is. And sometimes, love hurts.
  • Professing weakness does not mean an individual or group is, in fact, weak.
  • Professed weakness is not authentic strength.
  • Professed strength is not authentic strength.
  • Professing weakness as a means to manipulate is unethical.
  • Professing strength as a means to manipulate is unethical.
  • The ends never justify the means.
  • Using immoral means to fight a moral cause is immoral.
  • Disagreement does not equate to racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.
  • Disagreement can be civil.
  • Disagreement is not hate.
  • Disagreement should not be character assassination.
  • Do not allow anyone---including an "oppressed" individual (or group) to stereotype you. And vice versa. No one has the right to stereotype another.
  • Religion is not all that's wrong in the world.
  • Secularism is not all that's wrong in the world. However, it can be just as tyrannical as religion. (Think Mao Ze-Dong [China], Ho Chi Min [Viet Nam], Pol-Pot [Cambodia], Stalin, Lenin (Russia/Soviet Union), etc.---just to name a few.)

Finally, I echo Elder Tad Callister in his book The Infinite Atonement:

Christ's Atonement is the answer. The only answer.

If this sounds simplistic that's because it is. Christ is the ultimate identifier. Here's to allowing Him to "self-identify" us in our individuality,

Julie



6 comments

  1. Very insightful and I love the ending - after such confusion, such simplicity.

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    1. I thought the same thing when I wrote those last three lines! I felt relief---and the peace that accompanies that simplicity. Thank you for reading. It was exhausting to write!

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  2. Shanno McSpud
    Sensitively written for a complex issue and posed some important questions. As a therapist who sometimes works with people struggling with their identity, the struggle my clients feel is real and not the pull to feel special and unique (anything but!). But I am not claiming that is everyone. I see people who struggle with their identity, not embrace it as you see in classes. Society's struggle seems to be how inclusive is inclusive enough? Your questions are a positive contribution to this very long discussion.
    Like · Reply · March 31 at 7:35pm

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  3. Linda Gilmore
    Julie, thank you for taking the time and energy to educate those like myself who 'don't know what they don't know'. Just when I assume my self-world box has expanded to exclude any naïveté, I am exposed to experience and knowledge that open my eyes to how isolated I am! I thoroughly enjoyed learning from you, and gaining insight on ways to apply this info in assisting our loved ones and those within our sphere of influence, to gain testimony; develop a strong sense of identity; and stand strong in a time of such fluidity.

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  4. Great post. Reality vs self reality really got me thinking.
    Like · Reply · March 31 at 9:12pm

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  5. Rami Jamar
    Sometimes I feel that there is too much political correctness and obsession with gender identifying in our society. It is becoming extremely complicated and will always be a controversial social issue. People should just be themselves and identify however they would like without feeling the need to defend themselves and alienate others. This constant debate over these issues also distracts us from other pressing issues in our society such as the trajectory of our presidential election cycle. College campuses should focus on the big picture and provided a good education instead of always focusing on distracting topics like gender-identifying.

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