by Emmett Michael Claren
I have been transitioning for over a year now. Gosh, if I had heard myself say that in May of 2015, I would have started crying. I never would have believed it.
My transition has saved my life, and I mean that in a very literal sense. I remember when I woke up from surgery on April 7th, 2016. The breasts on my chest were finally gone. I looked down as the nurse was adjusting the bandages and saw part of my now flat chest. A view I’d wished for since I was a child. Immediately, tears came flowing down my cheeks as I cried tears of pure joy and gratitude. “I’m flat. I’m flat. There’s no more lumps. I’m flat.”
That moment was recorded on camera and any time I feel down, I watch it and remember how blessed I am to be where I am in my transition. No longer do I have to hide. No longer do I have to cover my chest with folded arms. I am finally seeing my true self in the mirror and I am beyond happy.
Remarks shared by Emmett at the 2016 International Affirmation Conference during the Sunday morning Devotional. To view a video of the event, visit this page.
About 5 months ago, Wendy Montgomery – beautiful, sweet Wendy – contacted me and asked if I would be willing to speak at this Affirmation Conference, and I can’t tell you how humbling and terrifying that was. I attended my very first Affirmation Conference just last year. So the feelings of inadequacy are strong with this one. However, I feel so privileged to be able to speak to you today. I’m going to speak from my heart, and I know that there are many whose hearts will be touched. Not because I’m a great speaker or anything, but because I have felt the Spirit here with us this weekend, and I know that the Spirit will speak to you if your hearts and minds are open to it.
I was asked to talk about Finding Spiritual Peace Through Transition. If you know anything about me and my background, you know I was not always at peace. I’ll go back in time for ya. Halloween has always been one of my favorite times of the year, because I could wear my brother’s clothes and draw a mustache on my face and no one would think twice. The first year I did that was when I was 5 or 6. But I started weirding people out when I wanted to do that every year, so I made up for it later by being Miss Piggy, and then a witch, and then I said enough is enough and I went to school the next year as a pumpkin. Very androgynous pumpkin.
As I got older, puberty hit hard. My body was changing in ways that felt so wrong to me. Now, I love going on walks and I like to put in my music and daydream while I’m walking. I started doing this when I was about 12. And where I grew up, I grew up in Wisconsin, there was a football field behind my house. And I went there almost every day. I’d lay down in the middle of the football field, look up at the sky, and beg God to strike me with a lightning bolt or something. And just change me. Change my body. Every day I did this. And then every night for months, I sat or knelt by my bedroom window. It would be wide open, and I’d be freezing cold, but I’d stare up at the moon and I would plead with God. “Please, when I wake up in the morning, change me into a boy. I have faith. I believe in you and I know You can do all things. I will keep all of your commandments. I will try my very best to live a good life. I will stop stealing candy from the kitchen and hiding the evidence in my brother’s closet.” I tried to make these deals with God. Because I knew who I was. So, I would say these prayers and stay up until 3 in the morning at times, just sobbing. Then I’d go to sleep. And I would wake up excited and anticipating this transformation to have occurred and… nothing had changed. Years went by and I still prayed that I could be transformed. I was depressed and tried to end my life when I was 14 years old. 3 years later, when I was 17, I came out to my parents as gay. I didn’t know I was transgender at the time. I knew I was attracted to women. But I also knew that I felt like a boy trapped in a girl’s body, but I didn’t hear the word “transgender” until a year later. I had a friend who was transitioning to female and when she explained to me how she felt like a girl trapped in a boy’s body, it just clicked. It made sense. As I was coming to the realization that I was transgender, I was also preparing to leave on a full-time mission for the Lord and the Church. A few months before I left, I brought it up briefly to my parents and it wasn’t received very well, as you can imagine. So, I kind of boxed it up and pushed it away. We kind of pretended that that conversation never happened. And then I left for my mission. And I went to one of the most exotic places you can serve. Salt Lake City, Utah. But to be fair, I was living in Nebraska when I received my call and when you’ve grown up a Mormon in the Midwest, Utah is considered a foreign country. But I loved my mission. And the person I became because of it. And it’s because of the mission that I have the testimony I have today and also the relationship I have with my Heavenly Father. Which is something I cherish deeply.
But it was hard. And if you’ve served a mission, you know it’s hard to teach and stay focused when all you’re thinking about during comp study is how cute your companion is. Add to that, feeling uncomfortable every day because you have to wear a dress, instead of a suit. And a badge that says “Sister.” And I prayed so much. I think I kind of hoped that by serving faithfully, my feelings would go away. That I’d feel comfortable in my body. About halfway through my mission, I told my mission president about my attraction to women. I also told a few of my companions. But I still kept my feelings of being a male spirit in a female body to myself. My last 6 weeks, I met with a counselor. The mission president’s wife suggested it. And we talked about my feelings and the next step for me when I returned home from my mission, which was marriage to a man in the temple. I was mortified to say the least.
Well, I returned home in March of 2015, and in April I left for BYU-I Do. I mean Idaho. And I did everything that was expected of me. I was involved in the ward activities. I was performing musical numbers and bearing my testimony every Fast Sunday. I was called to be the First Counselor in the Relief Society Presidency. I went on a lot of dates. I started dating the mission prep teacher. I almost got engaged to the mission prep teacher…. I was doing everything right by the book. And I was dying inside. I started meeting with a therapist again and something just always felt off. Like something wasn’t quite matching up. And that’s when I really started to realize who I was. I began praying to know who I really was inside. I prayed like I had when I was a child. I was fasting and going to the temple multiple times a week. And I received the confirmation that my spirit is male. And that I am transgender. And it’s ok. I took this knowledge to my therapist and she said if that was the direction I wanted to go, she could no longer help me and I was dropped. I never really understood what it felt like to experience complete hopelessness and vulnerability until that day.
When I had started attending BYU-Idaho, I started going on walks every night. With my music in my ears, daydreaming. Praying. I’d walk to the Temple. I’d walk around campus. Around town. Then I started walking to the railroad tracks and the sketchy parts of Rexburg, not caring what happened to me. And I wanted it to just be over. I was extremely suicidal, but I felt very strongly that I was supposed to be true to myself. To my spirit. And that I needed to live.
And after much prayer, I went to my bishop. He knew about my depression. I told him about my attraction to women. And then I told him that I felt I was transgender. He read the handbook to me. And then he said, “Ok for the next week, I want you to just be yourself. Dress the way you feel comfortable. Wear makeup or don’t wear makeup. Come back and meet with me next week and we’ll talk about it and see how you feel.” My bishop was older, so I was not expecting that at all. But that next week I dressed more androgynous, and I didn’t wear any makeup. I didn’t do my hair. And I tried letting go of the learned mannerisms I had felt like I was forced to learn and I was just me. And I was so happy. For the first time since I could remember, I was truly happy. Went back to my bishop after that week, and told him how I felt and he said that this was between me and the Lord. Shortly after that meeting, both he and my Stake President gave me a blessing and basically said that I would be guided as to what I needed to do. I then became acquainted with other Transgender Mormons, specifically Grayson Moore, which was incredible to me because I literally thought I was the only one on the planet. I knew at that time that it was time for me to leave BYU-I, and it was just last August that I moved to Utah. And my life changed completely. Karen and Jeff Penman basically adopted me and took me in when I had nothing. Kathy Carlston and Berta Marquez took me shopping for my first ever boy clothes. I also had an extremely affirming bishop. I now live in Orem and it hasn’t been easy. My temple recommend was revoked by my Stake President before he had even met me. And after my top surgery, the status of my church membership was being discussed. But I have been blessed with a wonderful bishop who is kind and loving and who has welcomed me with open arms. We’ve agreed that it’s alright if I don’t attend 3rd hour currently. But I am as active as I can be right now in my ward. And in 11 days, I will be 1 year into my physical transition. And I am the happiest I have ever been in my entire life.
So, when I’m asked how I can feel peace when someone tries to bring me down, or I see rude comments on my YouTube channel or receive hateful messages, or even when I can feel judgment from members in my ward. My answer to that is simple. I know that I am right with God. He’s been by my side my whole life. He’s never let me down and He is still beside me. Every time I doubt the decision I made to transition, to match my mortal body as best I can to my spirit, every time I doubt myself, or who I am, I turn to my Father in Heaven. Who sees all things from the beginning to the end. The Gospel is true. God loves all of His children. He wants us to be happy. He knows things, we don’t. And we can’t know. And we may never know in this lifetime. We are all transitioning. Everyone here is transitioning in a sense. And as we transition from female to male, male to female, from critic to ally, from judgment to unconditional love, I know that peace will come. And it does come through trusting in God. Trusting that even though things don’t completely make sense right now, that God is in control and He is watching out for you.
I’m going to close with the 1st and last verses of a hymn that really started to have a deeper meaning to me on my mission. And even more so now. And I invite you to really think about what God has in store for you. Who He wants you to be. Who He’s always known who you were meant to be, because He truly does know each and every one of us. “It may not be on the mountain height or over the stormy sea. It may not be at the battle’s front. My Lord will have need of me. But if by a still small voice He calls to paths that I do not know, I’ll answer, dear Lord, with my hand in thine. I’ll go where You want me to go. There’s surely somewhere a lowly place in Earth’s harvest fields so wide where I may labor through life’s short day, for Jesus, the Crucified. So trusting my all to thy tender care, and knowing thou lovest me, I’ll do thy will with a heart sincere. I’ll be what You want me to be. I’ll go where You want me to go, dear Lord. Over mountain or plain or sea. I’ll say what you want me to say, dear Lord. I’ll be what You want me to be.” And I leave this with you in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.