Connor Smith* spends many mornings praying in his car, putting his head on the steering wheel, looking up at God and just talking to him. Connor describes his relationship with God as very close. He enjoys telling Heavenly Father about his day, and talking to Heavenly Father like his old friend.
Currently, Connor is in his second year at UVU. He’s studying family science and planning on going into marriage and family therapy. He has a strong faith in God, and describes his gender as a core part of his identity. He identifies as a bisexual genderfluid transgender man.
“Basically, it’s like you take all the genders and various gender identities and expressions and you shred them up in little pieces of paper and you put them in a bowl. Then you just draw one out. My brain draws things out at random as to what we should experience towards our gender and our body. Except it all has like a masculine, it’s like a masculine bowl. The bowl is man. Or like I say that I view my gender with a masculine lens. So even if I’m feeling feminine, it’s like a masculine feminine, no matter how freely and sexually feminine it is.”
Connor describes Provo, Utah as his home. He was born and raised there, and would like to stay there.
“I can’t imagine my life without these mountains and I can’t imagine my life, like, looking into the Valley and not seeing Utah Lake and not seeing the city that I’ve grown up with for so long. I live here. I don’t want to live anywhere else. It’s what you call home,” he said.
Connor was raised LDS, with family that were both liberal and conservative politically. He says that his mom raised him and his siblings to love everyone, regardless of who they are, where they come from and who they love. Connor is grateful for that influence he had in his life.
Coming more from the conservative side of his upbringing, Connor was taught that being LGBTQ+ was something wrong. These teachings made it difficult when Connor began to learn about sexuality and gender, and that what he felt didn’t line up with what he was taught was right.
While Connor grew up, he tried to “fit in”. When he was around 10 years old, it was time to start thinking about going into young women’s and young men’s, which are classes the youth are divided into when they reach the age of 12 in the LDS church. At this time, gender became more important and he tried to pass as a girl.
Despite his efforts to act more “girly” and behave the way others expected him to, he realized in seventh grade that he still identified as a male.
“That [LGBTQ+] terminology started coming into my life. So that’s about the time when I started being like, well maybe it’s not bad to be gay and maybe we were wrong about that,” he said.
That realization created a cognitive dissonance for Connor. He tried to act differently than how he identified. Around age 14, he attempted suicide. Connor realized shortly after that attempt that trying to behave like a girl —— something he wasn’t — was unhealthy.
At first, when he came to terms with being transgender, Connor prayed to change.
“I’ve always been fairly close to God, or at least that’s what I believe that I am. And I did that Mormon thing. I’m praying the ‘gay away’ and I often asked God, ‘don’t make me do this. Don’t make me this. Tell me this is going to go away. All of these feelings are kind of going away. This isn’t me.’ And it was like radio silence. And for me that was so unusual because the Mormon church often says that the spirit talks in a still small voice and that has never been true for me. God has always talked to me in clear commands,” he said.
Connor didn’t usually experience silence from God, so not receiving an answer on something so important to him was upsetting. But, it was when he changed the question from asking to be changed to “Did you make me this way on purpose?” that God spoke clearly to him. Connor received a resounding “yes”.
“The loving God that we believe in wouldn’t make an entire subset of his children just to damn, just to maybe make broken and you know, stripped from finding love, stripped from being comfortable in their own body. I can’t believe that God would do that. And then say, this is bad and you’re going to hell. That wasn’t really connecting to me. If God wanted me to not be trans, he wouldn’t have told me as a 15-year-old that I made you this way on purpose. He wouldn’t have told me in such a powerful way that he existed and he loved me,” Connor said.
Following that experience, Connor came out officially midway through his freshman year of high school at 15 years old. Over time, he kept slowly coming out to more and more in different people. When he came to UVU, he decided to be openly out on campus.
With his family, he describes that he’s “kind of” out.
“I came out with them in 2016 but I am 70% sure they forgot because they never mentioned it ever. My dad refuses to use my chosen name. My mom is the fun case because sometimes she will use Connor and sometimes she won’t and I can’t tell what her standards are. ‘Cause for a while there, she was using it consistently and then she threw my birth name and then she’s switching back again.”
One thing that really helped him in high school was a club called the Gay Straight Alliance.
“[High school] is such an important time to have something like that because that’s when people are starting to realize their gender and sexuality. So it’s nice to know where to go. The way we stop our queer kids from killing themselves is all through support. Maybe their parents are still going to be weird about it and iffy about it. But if you can have support at school, that’s gonna make a tremendous difference. So even if they have no support at home, it’s better than nothing. And then if we can get support at home that’s even better. So it’s got to start young for sure. Absolutely. As much as possible,” Connor said.
Currently Connor is a teacher in his ward’s primary, which are the classes that young children from the ages of 18 months through 11-years-old have during church.
“I love teaching primary. It’s fun. I teach the five and six year olds and I really love it,” Connor said.
In his lessons, Connor focuses on making sure the children learn that God and Jesus Christ love them, and to be kind to others.
Overall, Connor describes his church experiences as positive. He mentioned a time that one of the members in his ward gave a very accepting talk about LGBTQ+ individuals. The speaker said there could be members of the LGBTQ+ community in the congregation, and that members need to be careful with what they say because it could hurt someone. He went on to say members should avoid saying anything harmful because hurting someone that deeply is not a very Christ-like thing. Connor said moments like that make him grateful.
He said that he doesn’t have negative experiences in his ward, but he does from the church at large.
“I really do believe that there is something very, very wrong within the church right now and people are blindly following the prophet and everything right now. Because what we’ve been told all our lives is to follow the prophet. And I don’t think they’re [members] taking the time to stop and ask God like, ‘is this right?’ We’ve been told if you read the scriptures, look at through other conference talks. Before you go forward, you need to talk to God first,” he said.
Connor said that he loves the people of the church and the gospel, but has a hard time with the individuals who view the LGBTQ+ community negatively. He said that Jesus gave people two rules — love God and love thy neighbor. He described that it’s important to read the scriptures and try to understand what Jesus was talking about. Connor said that Jesus emphasized the importance of loving everyone and that the church would be so much better off if it were to just focus on that.
That idea of focusing on the core of the religion, and studying for oneself, extends to Connor’s opinion on the policy that came out in 2015.
Connor said that as followers of Christ, no one is supposed to deny people. He explained that a policy like that goes against this teaching, and taught children that their parents were wrong.
He said that this policy is part of the reason that Connor strongly believes that people need to ask God before they trust anything and get confirmation for themselves.
He said that the reversal gave him a hope that things will change, but he understands why others felt hurt by it.
“Everything on my social media timelines was ‘the church still isn’t apologizing and the church is still doing this and the church is still doing that and like this isn’t like any good and we’re still mad’ and I’m just like I understand where you all are coming from. You have a right to be mad. You’re completely valid. But let me have this one thing, just this one. Can I have it please? I really do hope that it’s a sign for better things to come…Let’s never do it again and let’s take it as a step forward.”
Although he loves the LDS church, he hopes that the church overall will start being more accepting.
“I wish I could be a lot more out, or at least not have the fear that if I’m outed, then something will go wrong. I don’t really want to lose my position in primary. I love teaching these kids. I don’t really want to be ostracized because my ward is still in my family and I love the gospel and I love my God and I don’t want that to be seen as something wrong just because of how he made me. So I personally have hope that the church will see two ways and be there and with God’s LGBTQ+ children because he made them for a reason,” Connor said.
Going forward, Connor hopes there will be more support for LGBTQ+ LDS members. He described that it can be hard because a lot of LGBTQ+ teens feel like they can’t be true to themselves without receiving judgement.
Connor emphasized the importance of having supportive and accepting families, because it cause a lot of hurt for an individual if they don’t have that. He said that school and teacher support are also vital.
“If you have a teacher who is always on you and isn’t supporting you, and then you go home and you get the exact same thing from home, that’s a child that hurts. They’re not going to get out of that. So even the most resilient kid is not going to be able to survive an abusive family and a toxic teacher,” Connor said.
Connor hopes to help the LGBTQ+ community by being a family therapist. He wants to be able to help queer kids and their families reconcile.
Although there are things he hopes to see changed, Connor says he has found a home in the church and a love for God that make him stay. He says that the gospel has brought him peace and that he could never leave something that has saved him.
“I know there are other people who are like, wow, you’re so Mormon. And then they kind of treat me like some sort of traitor. And I’m just like, again, I don’t know how I can deny this God that has saved my life several times. I want them to know that not everyone in the church hates them because there are people in the church who are fighting and who are trying to get things changed and help things be more friendly,” he said.
Connor hopes that more people in the church will learn that being LGBTQ+ isn’t a choice.
“The whole message that being gay is a lifestyle makes me so mad and it’s part of the reason why I’m just like, that’s what this is why you need to check with God first. If it were a lifestyle, do you think any of us would want it? Do you really genuinely think that with all the oppression and pain we have to face just to openly exist in this society that if it were a lifestyle choice, I would have done this? No. I’m a lot more comfortable with my identity, but I went through years of suffering and hating myself because I thought it was bad and wrong and that it was just a choice,” he said.
Connor hopes that people will realize that LGBTQ+ members of the church are people who shouldn’t be seen or treated any differently. He wants them to know that he’s there for the same reason as everyone else; to learn about God and the gospel.
“Just remember that I am still God’s child. I’m just like you, God just made me differently and that’s okay. And I really want them to know that, um, if they are following without asking God they need to work on their relationship with God. It is not, you do not have a relationship with God through your prophet. You have a relationship with God through you. I think that some people are forgetting that. And also, I’m not going to turn your kids gay. I’m not going to try and preach the gay or whatever. I am here to learn and feel the spirit just like the rest of you. I have no ulterior motive. I want to be here for the same reason you are — to worship and get closer to my God. So honestly, don’t worry about my identity. Don’t worry about who I am. God is real and he knows who I am and he knows my name and he knows my struggles and he knows that I’m trans and that’s okay.”
*This source wishes to remain anonymous and the name has been changed to protect their identity.
Illustration by: Basil Baggerly
Read more Latter-day LGBTQ+ stories here: https://www.uvureview.com/front-page/recent/artsculture/latter-day-lgbtq/