I curled up in a fetal position on my worn yoga mat, paralyzed in the cold December afternoon just outside my office window.
Summoning what little strength I had left, I turned to God.
“How is this possible?” I prayed, wrestling with each word, unsure what might come next.
At the time, I was the “perfect husband” living a dream that my wife had planted in her heart when she was thirteen. I was also the proud father to four resilient, smart, bilingual boys and the owner of a 13-year old puppy now blissfully living out his retirement in the French countryside.
I had served as a longtime ecclesiastical leader in my Church, was a regular volunteer in our temple, an Executive MBA student, a global marketing director, an aspiring writer, and half an Iron Man.
“How, Father?” I questioned.
“How can I be who I am and do what I do?”
Less than 24 hours prior, I had once again fallen headfirst into a fog of gender dysphoria; the mirage of being beautifully feminine surging forward and taking me captive.
Infuriated by the persistence of my other half and my inability to exterminate her, I stormed out of my office to go for a run in the afternoon drizzle.
It was in the middle of the muddy, sleeping vineyards that I decided that something had to change. This cycle of repression, shame and rejection could go on no longer.
What change, I had no idea. I just knew I couldn’t go on any longer like this; we could no longer go on like this. The idea of “her” in me was too strong and there was nowhere left to run and hide.
I walked back into my house that afternoon a cold, wet, and broken man. I told my beautiful wife of seventeen years that we needed to talk, and then, in the quiet of our bedroom, I shattered my golden facade into a thousand pieces.
As I confessed, I saw overwhelming kindness and compassion in my wife’s expression, a tribute to the amazing woman that married me. But I also saw confusion, hurt, sadness, and a look that I had tried my best to escape since my early days of Jr. High, repulsion.
Sitting on the edge of our bed and talking to my wife about my gender dysphoria was a soul-crushing 30 minutes; a self-made tornado in our companionship that threatened to wipe away everything that we had built to this point and everything that could come after.
Fearing I had just ruined the most perfect thing in my life, I woke that next morning while my world was still sleeping, retreated to my home office, and crumpled onto my yoga mat in an act of absolute submission.
“How can this be?”
“How can I be who I am and do what I do?”
God’s answer, kind and clear, mercifully came immediately.
“I don’t care how you express yourself,” he began. “All of that is unique to the mortal experience, as fleeting and changeable as a gust of wind.”
He then continued,
“What I care about is that you keep the commitments you’ve made as a husband, a father, and as my son. This is what matters most to me.”
The truth of this divine reminder radiated in my bones.
For the first time in my adult life, tears of acceptance flowed freely through me, hydrating every inch of my dry splintered soul before pit-pattering onto the yoga mat below.
Suddenly released from the shackles of unattainable perfectionism, I was free: free to be broken, free to be queer, and free to know that God’s love was richer and deeper in the acceptance of that truth.
A week ago I published my first-ever article on my personal struggles with gender identity:
We Are All Queer Disciples of Christ
How my struggles with gender have brought me closer to God
Over the course of the past week, I’ve been inspired and humbled by the number of loving, thoughtful responses.
It has reconfirmed for me the truth that inspired the sharing of my story: we are all divine beings, struggling under the weight of what mortality tells us we should be.
God, on the other hand, could care less about who we think we are or who the world says we should become.
Instead, he is keenly focused on what he knows we can overcome, as part of this divine internship program known as mortality.
This was beautifully reinforced to me yesterday in a comment from Tyler Moulton, in reference to the Apostle Peter’s teaching found in Acts 10: 34:
“Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons”
Tyler mentioned how the etymology of the word “person,” can be traced back to the Greek word prósōpa, a term used in reference to the huge masks actors would wear on stage:
Tyler went on to say the following:
“When Peter said God is no respecter of ‘persons,’ he was likely preaching that God pays no attention to the “masks” we create for ourselves.
We humans constantly mold and remold masks in an effort to first understand or define ourselves, and then to present an acceptable image of ourselves to one another. …Much of the human race goes about our lives from day to day holding up a mask while we cower behind it believing: ‘If you knew who I really am, the REAL me, you would be shocked. You would be ashamed of me. You would hate me…’
[These] masks… might represent concepts like ‘I’m a Democrat’, or ‘I’m a stay-at-home Mom,’ or ‘I’m a hard worker,’ or ‘I’m overweight,’ or ‘I’m an athlete,’ or… ‘I’m an alcoholic,’ or ‘I’m a cancer survivor.’ There are limitless varieties.
These masks — by which we each define our identity — might be helpful or harmful, but either way they are powerful. They impact how we live because we assume at some level they are true... they help shape who we are and determine what we become.
But here’s the point: in the end, God does not care at all about the masks we’ve created. He cares only about what’s behind the mask. What is real? Who am I? And He can see that far more clearly than we can.”
Tyler’s words were a powerful reminder of a similar principle I had learned through my struggles with gender identity; something I shared only a few days prior to a small group of my closest friends and family:
Our struggles do not define us. Our struggles refine us.
One of the most common responses I’ve received from you all is ‘this changes nothing for me.’ Many of you have even said that you love me more for what I have shared with you.
These outpourings of love and support, in addition to divine responses through prayer, have reminded me that my life struggles are not ‘me.’
We are all beautifully complex human beings comprised of a million intricate strands of life that weave together to form a singular life experience. To pull out one single thread at the expense of the rest of the tapestry would be the greatest travesty of our life, but it’s precisely what the world pushes us toward.
I am not wholly ‘transgender’ any more than you are wholly ‘homosexual,’ ‘heterosexual,’ ‘an addict,’ ‘divorcee,’ ‘49ers fan,’ or ‘dog lover.’
My name is David James Smurthwaite. I am a husband, father, son, uncle, cousin, writer, priesthood holder, potter, and a million other things in addition to being someone who struggles with my personal interpretation of gender.
Perhaps, this is also why Christ taught that “He that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me… He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”
The reality is we each have crosses in life; crosses that, as hard as we try, we cannot truly put down. We might try and hide them for a season, we may try to bury them in remote fields in the French countryside, but they will always reappear.
In our limited perspective and understanding, we begin by cursing the cross, focusing solely on the pressure it places on our shoulders, the pain on our spine, or burning in our lungs.
Being only human, we try and distract ourselves from the cross, focusing our time and energy on new masks that might redefine, or at very least numb, the sensation of who we are.
But we cannot exchange the cross for something lighter or more polished and more than we can change who is behind the mask. To try and find another cross or another person in ourselves is, as Christ puts it, wasted time.
However, the beauty of crosses is that they all have their divine purpose. Such was the case with the Savior of mankind and so too it is with us.
Once we’ve carried our crosses long enough, we begin to forget about the pressure and pain. In their retreating absence seeps in the greatest of God’s gifts: understanding, patience, empathy, and love.
There is no other way around it. To become who God knows we are, we must forget how the world is defining our cross, our life.
That is what we must lose and, in that void, we will gain sight of true self, our divine self, the self that God has been molding and refining all our lives.
Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear from you.
My name is David Smurthwaite. I’m a husband to one of the most amazing women in the world and father to four boys that inspire me daily. I’m also a former bishop and a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, often known as The Mormons.
I recognize that my struggles with gender and views on faith are unique to me. I believe there are as many versions of faith-based living as there are souls on the earth, regardless of the faith.
Point being, I would love to hear about your heartfelt struggles of the soul (feel free to comment below or email me directly). I take courage and inspiration from the counsel offered by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints:
“If you decide to share your experiences… you should be supported and treated with kindness and respect, both at home and in church… As Church members, we all have a responsibility to create a supportive and loving environment for all our brothers and sisters. Such a support network makes it much easier to live the gospel and to seek the Spirit while navigating any aspect of mortality.”