A letter to my daughter
As you know, my views on gender differ radically from Mormon orthodoxy, and I don’t make an effort to hide that from you and your brother. I think it’s important to be honest with you. I hope I’m giving you an example of intellectual and spiritual integrity that will serve you much better than pretending to be OK with things I am not OK with. I do worry about the beauty of Jesus’ gospel of love getting lost in the noise of all that is wrong with the Church, so I hope I focus on the good, too, so that you have positive associations with religion.
You’ve already noticed some of the Church’s sexism, which makes me sad. Not sad that you’ve noticed, sad that it exists. Yesterday at bedtime you suddenly announced that it was better to be a boy, and that you wanted to be a boy for two reasons. Your first reason was basically curiosity about having a penis. I reminded you that it’s normal to be curious about the differences between girls and boys, and that your body is perfect the way it is. Your second reason was so you could be like your brother and be baptized. I reminded you that both boys and girls are baptized; it’s later when kids turn 12 that boys are ordained and girls are not. I said that this is unfair and wrong. And then explained that even though this is a crappy thing about our church, no church is perfect and there are good things about our church that we can appreciate. I have no idea if this line of reasoning will hold water for you in the long run. Frankly, I’ll be surprised if it does.
You said you wanted to be like your older brother and do the same things he does. And of course you do! So far you and he have done all the same activities. You went to the same preschool, the same elementary schools, you’ve both done Tae Kwan Do and soccer, you both play a string instrument and the piano. You both love stuffed animals and Legos. Putting aside the pay gap and all the ways in which our culture demeans women, as you grow up the opportunities available to you will be no less than your brother. That’s as it should be (thank you, feminist foremothers and fathers). The only place you’ll encounter sexism in this particular, ossified, patriarchal form will be at church. Why should you tolerate that? You won’t need my permission to decide Mormonism isn’t for you. And if it isn’t, you’ll have my full support, like you will in everything. I hope the decision to leave isn’t too painful, but I also hope you’ll choose a spiritual path of some kind, a struggle to see beyond objective, quotidian realities and to let faith be an expansive force in your life.
Your wish to be a boy surprised me. I guess it could be an early sign of gender identity questions, but I really don’t think that’s what this is about. It’s an equity question. You’re a very observant and bright little girl, and no doubt have picked up on many silent messages of male dominance at church (and there’s so much more that you can’t have noticed yet). Inequity bothers you because it offends the truth of fundamental human equality; truth that you’re already aware of. And being a boy appeals to the all-too-human appetite for superiority. Who’s never felt tempted by the allure of being just a little more special than someone else? Your preference for being a boy clearly shows where the specialness lies.
In a more-perfect world the Church would catch up with the 21st century before it loses a generation of kids like you and your brother. It probably won’t. It will be the Church’s loss.