Thursday, August 24, 2017

Queer, Mormon, and Transhuman: Part III

(Artist: Kwangho Shin)

Two of the most attractive aspects of Transhumanism to me are morphological freedom and cognitive liberty. Morphological freedom refers to the civil rights each person has—to maintain or modify their own body according to their autonomy by the use or refusal of medical technologies. Cognitive liberty is the freedom to have control over their own cognition and consciousness.  I think of this pairing as freedom of body and mind. These concepts have a profound impact on how we view and adapt our bodies.

While topics related to transhumanism, religion, gender, and human sexuality tend to be controversial, there is a case to be made that if you are a Transhumanist, even a Mormon Transhumanist, you should be supportive of the LGBTQ community.

Morphological Freedom

One aspect of morphological freedom is how we perceive and interact with gender identities, performances, and sexual orientations. While many debates have been had over binary notions of gender and sexuality, mainly cisnormativity and monosexuality, I want to challenge these ideas further by illuminating the complexities of plural genders and sexual orientation, including fluidity. Gender and sexuality are not static or binary. All is in flux, even if personal labels don’t fluctuate.

Some may advocate for a postgender society composed of homogenization, but that hardly seems like a product of evolution, when evolution generally favors increased diversification. Gender, when deconstructed of its binary notions, is as unique as each individual. I’m in favor of a future that understands, embraces, and celebrates the uniqueness and diversity of gender. Postgenderism should be about diversity, not homogeny or conformity. I’ve touched on the diversity of gender in Queer, Mormon, and Transhuman: Part I, and Queer, Mormon, and Transhuman: Part II.  

Not only is Transhumanism compatible with queer sexualities and diverse gender identities, it also favors embracing diversity. The eighth point of the Transhumanist Declaration states, “We favour allowing individuals wide personal choice over how they enable their lives” including “human modification and enhancement technologies.”

This indicates that diversity of morphological freedom, to the extent that it’s not oppressive, is valued among transhumanists. Technologies are already changing how we present our bodies, whether that’s minor cosmetic enhancements, practical reconstructions, or gender confirmation surgery.

More dramatic changes, like gender confirmation surgery, are challenging notions of morphological freedom. Does morphological freedom include freedom over gender identity and expression? Nick Bostrom, one of the authors of the Transhumanist Declaration, commented in his essay In Defense of Posthuman Dignity, “One example of how contemporary technology can change important aspects of someone’s identity is sex reassignment [gender confirmation surgery]. The experiences of transsexuals [trans and non-binary identities] show that Western culture still has work to do in becoming more accepting of diversity. This is a task that we can begin to tackle today by fostering a climate of tolerance and acceptance toward those who are different from ourselves. Painting alarmist pictures of the threat from the future technologically modified people, or hurling preemptive condemnations of their necessarily debased nature, is not the best way to go about it.” He continues, “Our role in this process need not be that of passive bystanders. We can work to create more inclusive social structures that accord appropriate moral recognition and legal rights to all who need them, be they male or female, black or white, flesh or silicon.”

The third point of the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation states, “We seek the spiritual and physical exaltation of individuals and their anatomies, as well as communities and their environments, according to their wills, desires, and laws, to the extent they are not oppressive.”

One oppressive form of morphology is non-consensual esthetic changes to the intersex population. Intersex infants are often hormonally and surgically altered to conform to socially accepted “norms” to perpetuate the gender binary. These non-consensual, “normalizing,” esthetical interventions have little to no evidence that treatment offers medical benefits other than perpetuation of social gender constructs. The Council of Europe became the first institution to state that intersex people have the right to not undergo sex affirmation interventions. Other governments are following suit by suspending non-consensual medical interventions.

I agree with Bostrom, we need to “create more inclusive social structures” which includes accepting diverse and fluid genders, and a person’s right to accept or refuse individual morphology. Under the Transhumanist Declaration and Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation, the adaptation of a person’s gender identity, performance, and physiology is a part of respecting morphological autonomy.

Cognitive Liberty

Deconstruction of the gender binary is also important as it relates to sexual orientation. When gender is seen as something more diverse than simply being binary and more fluid than being stagnant, issues related to heterosexuality and homosexuality tend to become less relevant.

For example, if two people are in a relationship and one or both partners is capable of changing their gender identity, performance, or physiology, the sexual orientation of the couple cannot be defined as heterosexual, homosexual, or even bisexual. Gender identity highlights the core issue of sexual orientation and its fluidity.

If my husband were to change his gender identity and physiology to socially ascribed femaleness, would our marriage now be immoral? No. I can see no reason why his gender identity is the determining factor of whether our marriage is moral or immoral. In fact, to suggest otherwise is oppress to his right to morphological freedom, my right to love him, and continue our marriage independent of his gender identity. Whether I agree or disagree with his physical changes, we should recognize the value of commitment, or in this case, marriage. Promises and commitments made between loving, committed persons should not be carelessly thought as immoral on account of morphological and/or cognitive changes. Some changes may be difficult to process. Our partner(s) change in ways we prefer and don’t prefer. But commitment is also one small aspect of cognitive liberty—to love radically, thoughtfully, freely, and consensually—which includes staying committed during times of change.

It is immoral to limit the consensual love of humanity by gender. It is both sexist and oppressive.  I can find no reason why love should be suppressed on account of gender. That’s not to say that everyone needs to identify as pansexual. Quite the contrary, we all have preferences and desires that should be respected, including monosexual labels. However, morphological freedom illustrates that sexual orientation and gender identity is also a matter cognitive liberty. We should be free to love beyond gendered borders. As stated above, transhumanists “favour allowing individuals wide personal choice over how they enable their lives.” I think this includes the freedom to be with the informed, consenting adult(s) they love.

Again, the third point of the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation states, “We seek the spiritual and physical exaltation of individuals and their anatomies, as well as communities and their environments, according to their wills, desires, and laws, to the extent they are not oppressive.”

People tend to focus on oppression as a means of justifying morality. One group may claim that one is oppressing the other, but in reality, a homosexual marriage and relationship is no more inherently oppressive than a heterosexual marriage. Just as a plural marriage is no more inherently oppressive that a monogamous marriage. Oppression is a state of unjust treatment and control, in this case, to thwart a person’s cognitive liberty to love and enter into a relationship(s) with the person(s) they love. Oppression, in this case, is pressing one person’s values onto another without accepting diversity of values as a viable option. Diversity of thought and love is at the root of cognitive liberty.

Alleviation of Grave Suffering

The fifth point of the Transhumanist Declaration states, “Reduction of existential risks, and development of means for the preservation of life and health, the alleviation of grave suffering, and the improvement of human foresight and wisdom should be pursued as urgent priorities, and heavily funded.” I’d like to focus briefly on the “preservation of life and health, the alleviation of grave suffering.”

The LGBTQ community as a whole has higher levels of suicide attempts and self-harm than the non-queer population, also confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Of all gender identities, the transgender community has the highest levels of suicide attempts with over 40 percent of the transgender community attempting suicide. That rate is nearly nine times higher than the cisgender population in America. Transgender mental health issues are likely caused by stigmatization, shame, distress, social rejection, isolation, trauma, and discrimination. Deprivation of “self” can also lead to a sense of meaninglessness.

Of all sexual orientations, the bisexual population experiences the highest rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Bisexual females exhibit the highest suicide scores. The Pew Research Center also shows that bisexuals are also significantly less likely to disclose their sexual orientation than monosexuals. Much of this is due to victimization, peer judgments, and family rejection. Bisexual individuals also reported higher rates of mental illness and substance abuse.

The queer community is in a state of “grave suffering.” As Transhumanists, it is part of our declaration to work toward the “preservation of life and health, and the alleviation of grave suffering.” It sufficeth to say, the health and well-being of the queer community falls under the fifth point of the Transhumanist Declaration. Not only does the declaration state these are important matters, but also “should be pursued as urgent priorities, and heavily funded.”

According to the CDC, suicide prevention of the queer community is heavily influenced by parental, family, and community support and acceptance. One study showed that family acceptance of gender identity leads to lower levels of anxiety and depression. Groups, such as the Family Acceptance Project (FAP), are seeking constructive ways to improve the health and well-being of the queer community.

Morphological freedom and cognitive liberty are not simply desires, they are necessary in the pursuit of happiness. In this context, a person who struggles with severe, chronic gender dysphoria has no hope of alleviation or happiness without the consent of the existing community. A homosexual woman may perceive life as meaningless without the hope of being with the woman who loves her. A monogamous person may feel trapped in a monogamous marriage not because they don’t love their current spouse, but because they have more love to give, yet society disallows the expression of that love. Without our compassion, we have condemned these individuals to a life of oppression and possible misery—a lifetime of gender dysphoria, repression, or social condemnation. If there is any value in life, love must be the highest value. To thwart love is to enable death.

Humans are communal, no matter how highly we value our individuality. We are at each other’s mercy. However, prosociality is not simply a matter of conforming to the majority, but also accepting the legitimacy of the minority. Prosociality cannot occur without freedom of diversity, because we have different values, desires, and experiences. However, there isn’t much point to freedom if there is no hope of happiness, or the potential of happiness. Morphological freedom and cognitive liberty are necessary for individuals to pursue different approaches to happiness and meaning.

Mormon Transhumanists

Some readers may be concerned the LDS Church has placed restriction on LGBTQ participation, including their offspring. While I, too, am concerned and saddened by various LDS policies, I still maintain there is nothing inherently anti-queer about Mormon theology, which is different than LDS policy.

The first point of the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation states, “We are disciples of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” when we “fully immerse our bodies and minds in the role of Christ, to become compassionate creators as exemplified and invited by Jesus.” As members of the body of Christ, it is our responsibility to heal, console, and comfort those in need. As illustrated above, the LGBTQ community is in need. We should be “compassionate creators” in finding thoughtful solutions to diverse desires.

Illustrated in the sixth point of the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation, “We practice our discipleship when we offer friendship, that all may be many in one; when we receive truth, let it come from whence it may; and when we send relief, consolation and healing, that raises each other together.” Raising each other up includes admittance of all genders as worthy participants in religious rituals, not just cisgender identities. Raising each other includes temple sealings of all loving, committed marriages whether they be heterosexual, homosexual, or plural. Raising each other up does not include rejecting LBGTQ and polygamous marriages from temple blessings. I understand that some would see these relationships as “sin,” but interracial marriages were once disallowed, reject, illegal, and considered “sin”—until they weren’t. If all you can offer is love and friendship, do it. Love is one form of “relief and consolation” that is not in LDS dispute.


The third point of the Transhumanist Declaration states, “We recognize that humanity faces serious risks, especially from the misuse of new technologies. There are possible realistic scenarios that lead to the loss of most, or even all, of what we hold valuable. Some of these scenarios are drastic, others are subtle. Although all progress is change, not all change is progress.

I agree “not all change is progress.” The question is, what is it we hold valuable? What makes us human? Patriarchy? Monogamy? Heteronormativity? Binary divisions? Diversity? Plurality? Homogeny? Change? Evolution? The answers will be as diverse as each person. This means humanity will ceaselessly debate what we hold as valuable, and though I am only one voice in the matter, I will voice my values.

The sixth point of the Transhumanist Declaration states “respecting autonomy and individual rights, and showing solidarity with and concern for the interests and dignity of all people around the globe.” To me, this includes respecting the right to love and engage committed relationship(s) with a consenting adult(s) independent of their gender identity or physiology. I don’t see how one could ascribe to the Transhumanist Declaration or the principles of morphological freedom and cognitive liberty without the acceptance of the queer community. It is possible to support these communities, yet still live differently.

Morphological freedom and cognitive liberty includes far more than matters related to gender and sexuality. I would like to see humanity evolve beyond current trends of discrimination by defending human and posthuman dignity in creating more inclusive and humane ethics. There are far more complex problems on the horizon than gender identities and sexual orientations. We must move forward with radical love at the core of our motives, desires, and ethics.

*This post is a personal commentary of my own desires and objectives, and I am speaking as an individual and not as a spokesperson for the many non-profits and advocacy groups that I lead and/or affiliate with.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Excommunication and Female Ordination

(Artist: Eric Lacombe)

My thoughts are with Elder Hamula and his family as they process his excommunication. This has brought back painful memories and I have cried over the news. Excommunication from the LDS Church is the most serious form of discipline.

As Elder Ballard described in A Chance to Start Over: Church Disciplinary Councils and the Restoration of Blessings, “Excommunicated persons are no longer members of the Church. Therefore, they are denied privileged of Church membership including wearing of the temple garments and the payment of tithes and offerings” . . . “they are not entitled to offer public prayers or give talks. They may not hold a Church position, take the sacrament, vote in the sustaining of Church officers, hold a temple recommend, or exercise the priesthood.”

It still surprises me that at the time a person needs community and the blessings of communal sacrament the most is when they are rejected and denied it. When a person is excommunicated, yet is still a believer, there are serious psychological consequences when a perceived eternal family member is removed from the family.

I know this, because I lived this. As I have mentioned before, my father was excommunicated on Easter Sunday when I was 14 years old. He was not fully reinstated into the Church until I was an adult and was already sealed to another priesthood holder, my husband. For an extended period our family did not have an ordained priesthood holder in our home; I had no brothers or close male family members that I could rely on for priesthood access. My mother, two sisters, and I learned to navigate LDS patriarchy without an ordained patriarch. There were many injuries along the way—stories that are not mine to share. However, I know what is feels like to be shunned, ignored, avoided, rejected, pitied, and patronized by my community for mistakes that had nothing to do with me.

I have written about my concerns of being a member of a patriarchal religious community herehere, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. I have written about it at Feminist Mormon Housewives, Ordain Women, Rational Faiths, and The Transfigurist. I have discussed it at A Thoughtful Faith Podcast, and the Mormon Transhumanist Association Conference. I will keep voicing this concern until this issue gets resolved. People, often women, are still unnecessarily suffering at the hands of patriarchy, especially in regard to excommunication.

It has been over 20 years since my father’s excommunication, and our family is still healing from the trauma. For me, part of that healing processes is ordaining women to the priesthood. Women cannot receive the fullness of the gospel and full participation of the LDS community without it. There is no other way. We are taught to be self-reliant, but are denied the tools to do it. We are taught we have priesthood authority, but are denied ordination. We are taught to give our time, talents, and service, but we are denied our fullest, sincerest participation. We are taught to nurture, care for, teach our children, but we are denied full participation in their priesthood ordinances.

My mother could not baptize us, confirm us members of the Church, give us blessings of healing, stand as a witness at my temple sealing, or fully participate in priesthood rituals with her six grandchildren. There is no reason why she shouldn’t be able to have the communal priesthood authority to bless the lives of her children and grandchildren. There is no reason she should have to ask another man to come into our home to bless her three daughters when she was a worthy and capable woman.

This is not about shaming anyone, airing dirty laundry, or sharing intimate details about people’s personal lives, history, or mistakes. This is meant to illustrate there is real harm in the patriarchal governance of the LDS Church, especially in relation to excommunication. The same mistakes keep happening. Women are still hurting due to the faults of patriarchal priesthood holders. Women are still denied LDS autonomy and it won’t change until we confront these issues openly, honestly, and compassionately. Change happens when a person in the community is brave enough to raise their hand and say, “Something bad is happening to me and it’s not my fault. Please, let’s fix this.” Change doesn’t happen when the community responds by saying “Put your hand down. You’re being negative, when you should have more gratitude. Your experiences and concerns aren’t worthy of consideration or can be patronizingly placated.” Change happens when people acknowledge that real people in their community are silently suffering due to inequitable policies and power imbalances. I do not think female ordination will solve all our problems with regards to excommunication, but it’s a start.

As for Elder Hamula, the details of his or anyone else’s excommunication are none of our business (unless law enforcement is necessary). Being excommunicated from the LDS Church can bring a complete sense of loss and hopelessness. I’m not being melodramatic when I say the disillusionment of eternal family sealings can bring people to absolute meaninglessness and suicide. I hope the Hamula family will find healing and comfort with one another. My heart bleeds with them, especially his family members that will suffer from this through no fault of their own. Elder Hamula and his family have a long road ahead of them, and I offer my solidarity, love, and support.

*Published at Ordain Women on Sunday August 20, 2017

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Enemy

(Artist: Unknown)

We are culturally conditioned to be racist before we even know the word. We are culturally conditioned to be sexist regardless of gender identity. We are culturally conditioned to be heterosexist before we have a sexual identity. These ideas cannot be changed without first acknowledging we are living in a racist, sexist, heterosexist society born from the primitive shortcomings, ignorance, and hatred of our ancestors.

Racism is not a black vs. white issue.
Sexism is not a men vs. women issue.
Heterosexism is not a hetero vs. homo issue.

The enemy is not a person, nor does it have a face, other than the one you see in your reflection. The enemy is racism, sexism, and heterosexism. The enemy is unwittingly passed down from generation to generation. The enemy lurks within our minds, pervasively influencing the reality we create, and the enemy has manifested horrific acts of violence. The enemy has made drones of us.

The enemy would die one of two ways:

(1) The collective extinction of the human species.
(2) The collective transcendence of the human species.

I don't see another way out.

I believe we have the capacity to transcend our limitations, but we will be far more effective if we learn from our past and target ideas instead of people. This will be difficult because as mortal beings we can easily be killed with bombs, guns, cars, violence, or even apathy, while a hateful idea can live on like a parasite jumping from host to host. Killing a person is easier than killing the enemy. Insulting a person is easier than killing the enemy. Fearing a person is easier than killing the enemy. We must be reflective of our own faults and skeptical of our institutional affiliations. We must be cautious of the double-edged sword of identity politics. We need to be effective.

If we are going to improve our community, we must adjust our tactics. To defeat the enemy we'll need to work together, not as human vs. human, but as humans vs. hateful ideas.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Two Trees: a dream

(Artist: Laurence Winram)

Two trees grew on opposite sides of the meadow. Each was strong and beautiful, growing toward the same light. Their branches swayed in the wind, longing to touch the other, but the distance between them was too far, too wide. The only way for them to meet was to grow upward. Their branches would meet only if they crossed paths at the sun, their common destination. Minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, passed.

The two trees grew taller, but the sun would not be reached, nor would their branches touch. The intensity and heat was too great. They reached too high. The sun singed the trees’ leaves just before the trees' branches burst into flames. The trees heard the other’s cries as their bodies charred. Their roots cringed, grasping for safety, security, and hope in the meadow's soil. They burned until only blackened silhouettes remained. Minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, passed.

The two trees took refuge in the soil as they mourned. Fog shrouded the meadow until the trees could no longer see one another. They closed their eyes in defeat. Left with only what they could feel, the two trees took notice. Their roots met beneath the safety of the soil. Not one, two, or three times, but an entire network of roots grafted together over the years. The two trees took solace breathing in the soil together, though their branches never met. Minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, passed.