By Bobbie Jo Allen
I came into the world as a male 65 years ago, named after my father Robert, born and raised in Cache Valley, Utah, the third of nine children. I was raised to respect my mother and sisters, work hard, and fulfill my potential. I had seven sisters who were all brilliant and smart, excelling in school, and the only expectation was that I should be able to do the same.
The world was much different 50-60 years ago for someone whose identity didn’t match their biological body. There was no such thing as “gender identity” and acceptance for LGBTQ people was hard to be found. My mother and father knew about my occasional cross-dressing, but it was always a point of “You shouldn’t do that” or “You’ll grow out of it” or “Once you get married you won’t have these sinful desires anymore.” From early grade school all the way through high school, most of my friends were female because they were the ones I related to and felt one of.
In high school, during occasional meetings with my church leader, I always ended up confessing my proclivity to sometimes wearing women’s clothing and was told to repent of my evil ways. As I was preparing to leave for a two-year church service mission, I felt particularly filled with that same cyclic pattern of guilt, shame, resolve, and repentance. I honestly felt that I could put this weighty issue behind me, or fully repent, if my testimony and faith in Christ was strong enough.
Many of our faith proclaim that a mission experience is the hardest two years of their lives. Missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) are expected to devote all their time and efforts to finding and bringing others unto Christ and into our religion. Well, it certainly was a challenging time for me. However, being called to teach the gospel in Japan, I gave it my all – hoping, deep down that perhaps God would recognize my efforts and take my gender dysphoria and inner anguish from me. God doesn’t give us any challenge/temptation more than we are able to bear, right? We can do anything the Lord asks us to do if we have enough faith, right? God gives us weaknesses that we may become strong, right? If we fully repent, God remembers our sins no more, right?
Upon returning from my mission I began to do what returned missionaries are expected to do: finish an education, become involved socially with other LDS youth, date, and ultimately, find someone to take to the temple to be married with for eternity.
I did find a special woman and we got married in an LDS temple. I had a good job and soon enough she and I welcomed the birth of our beautiful son. However, just as before my mission, I found myself in that same torturous cycle of: being found out, experiencing shame, feeling guilt and remorse, repenting, succeeding for a while, and failing yet again. I just couldn’t seem to simply erase my longing to get in touch with my deep femininity and, sadly, I lost both my wife and my son through divorce.
After my divorce, I threw myself into what I thought I should be doing – and fell in love again, marrying her in an LDS temple and welcoming two more beautiful children into the world. I held many respectable and highly visible leader positions in my church: Scoutmaster, Young Men’s President, Elders Quorum President, member of a Bishopric, Ward Mission Leader, Branch President, and member of a Stake Mission Presidency. I was respected and trusted in many ways, yet no one could understand that deep and intrinsic part of my being that I was always trying to hide and stuff down, and the inner anguish I felt as a result.
Career opportunities came and I was able to flourish in my job, moving twice across the country, first to the deep South, and then to the Midwest. I was succeeding in my career, and admired and looked up to for the knowledge and skills I’d acquired in both my job and in working with my associates. Still, I was constantly and desperately hiding the secret of my heart… and so the cycle continued.
I began to research and learn what I could about gender dysphoria, which I discovered I’d had my entire life. It was empowering to understand my experiences better and to know I wasn’t alone! Then, while living in Iowa, the law was changed, in that trans individuals became a protected class from discrimination at their employment. This change gave me the hope and strength I needed to come out of the closet and to begin to publicly express who I’d always felt I was inside. The vicious and damaging cycle of guilt and shame began to fade as I started to really accept and embrace who I was. As healing and important as it was for me to start becoming who I was, my wife of more than 25 years said that she didn’t know or understand the new me – and left. My children also struggled greatly and denied me any relationship with them or my grandkids.
Although I found myself alone, I took the time to try and heal and love myself more fully, letting go of the hiding and secrets I’d dealt with for so long. And I began the process of transitioning. My church held a disciplinary council because of my transitioning, which some call a council of love. I was told that I must repent of my evil ways to regain full privileges within the church. In my heart the only thing that I felt I needed to repent of was more than 40 years of lying to myself and to God.
So I began to experience a more startling period of isolation, still inside of the church. I have still never missed a Sunday meeting unless I was on my deathbed, sick. I have always tried to serve whenever the opportunity came up to volunteer. But yet in my church, because I am openly trans, I am unable to pray publicly, teach, accept any assignment, or even serve as a greeter at the door. I find myself even more isolated, but know the Savior loves me and still has a place for me.
Around this same time of my becoming an openly trans woman, I was forced to retire from my career of nearly 30 years, due partly in fact, to my transition.
I found part-time work at the Home Depot, where there is a public policy of acceptance of LGBTQ individuals, and thankfully I was able to find some friends and connections through my work associates.
In the spring of 2019, my isolation and loneliness was taking a toll on me, and I knew that if anyone was going to change anything about the quality of my life, it had to be me. I started to recognize the power that I had in making daily positive choices. I began to realize my life experiences, as painful as they’ve been, have given me a greater compassion and understanding toward other trans people and what they may be experiencing. I decided to join a trans support group where I’ve become a friend to other trans people who are in desperate need of friendship. I’ve begun to celebrate and to voice who I am, sharing my positive attitude, spiritual testimony and faith through social media. And even though now I continue to live alone, and wish to find a caring woman of similar faith, honesty, and truth to be my companion, my loneliness will not stop my advocacy for the understanding, acceptance and love of other trans people.
As mothers, fathers and church leaders of many faiths, we cannot allow our young people to feel shame, guilt, and worst of all, isolation – for being who they were born to be. We must show them love and support, to help them grow and thrive. I know this is the aim of Mama Dragons, and I applaud you for it. I wish Mama Dragons had existed when I was a young person, trying to find my way through lonely and frightening times. I tell young trans people all the time that they are going through a transition and it will take some years to go through that process not only physically, but emotionally and socially. It takes their loved ones and family time to adjust, too. Let’s all be patient and encouraging with changes and transitions. Let’s listen to understand. Let’s love better. I hope my story can help someone feel less alone and more loved, just as they are.