Oct 29 2020 | From Rya Bunker to Tyler Lefevor
I will be emailing my unfinished analysis to you and the USU IRB committee before monday. Working on the analysis has been exacerbating the distress this survey put me in, hence the slowness of the work
I do not see this advocacy work as a consistent burden that I feel to educate others, I see it as protecting my community from a harmful survey that should never have passed Institutional Review with exclusive framing, such dysphoria-inducing phrasing, and response options limited to “men” and “women.”
I am not doing this to educate you or anyone else, I am doing this to protect myself and my community from the harms of your research. It has been very difficult for me (nay, impossible) to avoid cutting or using other self harm mechanisms in the weeks since I first reached out to you, because I knew this survey was live and being administered to other respondents and could cause them similar harm. The only reason I didn’t attempt suicide after taking your survey was because I knew that it shouldn’t have passed an IRB, and felt compelled to use that knowledge to advocate for the safety of my community. Not all transgender, intersex, or non-binary respondents may have known that the survey was in the wrong, and their feelings of distress were a natural reaction to the ill designed survey. No doubt some respondents interpreted this survey as prominent queer Mormons invalidating their existence.
I have no interest in educating you. You are an assistant professor and fully capable on educating yourself about the transgender, intersex, and non-binary communities as well as how to write survey research that doesn’t make us want to harm ourselves.
Clearly you are somewhat educated on the transgender community, as the gender identity question encompassed non-cis gender identities. However, it is evident that you think all transgender people should repress our true selves and to conform to our gender assigned at birth, because the survey let me articulate that I was non-binary on the gender question but then consistently gaslit me and denied my existence throughout the rest of the survey by limiting the frame of analysis and response options to “men” and “women” only. If you thought trans, intersex, and non-binary gender identity was valid, you would have been interested in gathering accurate data on our experiences. Clearly, that is not the case.
I doubt anything I have to say will alter your preconceived notions about my gender identity, but since you seem to believe I am doing this out of a “consistent burden to educate” you may consider the following your education:
In many cases, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has perpetuated genocidal harm against transgender, intersex, and non-binary communities because of the church’s history as a colonizing force. Two spirit people lived in the Salt Lake Valley before Brigham Young came in and decided their gender identity was a sin, and the mormons owned all the land. By denying the validity of non-binary gender identity, you’re literally perpetuating the racist colonialist ideals that colonized this land, and characterized indigenous (and other non-white) populations as less civilized because they accepted, celebrated, and integrated two spirit people and gender variant people into their societies. This survey’s denial of the validity of transgender, intersex, and two-spirit identity is based in racist ideologies. Congrats, your team wrote a racist survey.
My gender identity is not a sin. My use of they/them/theirs pronouns is not a sin, despite “social transition” being grounds for excommunication in the Mormon Church. Trans, intersex, and non-binary people were sacred for much of human history. My peculiar people have been around since the dawn of our species, if not before. My gender identity is not a fad, nor some newfangled mental illness. It is not a temptation of the adversary I must overcome in order to receive celestial glory. The human species invented hormone replacement therapy before we invented smelting iron. In the bronze age, gender-bending Scythian Shamans invented hormone replacement therapy by drinking the urine of their horses. These people were called enaree. They were not men or women, they were enaree. Herodutus wrote about them. Google it if you don’t believe me, but I’m not making this up, this is fact. People like me have existed longer than organized religion, longer than the language we are using to have this conversation. There’s more archeological and scientific evidence to support the truth and validity of my gender identity than there is archeological or scientific evidence to support the truth of the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham, or the broader truth claims of the Mormon Church. Our species invented hormone replacement therapy before we invented smelting iron, electricity, or psychology, and your survey made it seem like my gender identity is a mental illness or worse, a sin. You have a degree in psychology, why don’t you use it and guess how that might have affected me psychologically.
I’ll give you a hint, it made me seriously consider throwing myself headfirst off the roof of my four story apartment complex. It reminded me that I was systematically abused into suppressing my non-binary gender identity because the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints told my parents that me not identifying with my gender assigned at birth was a sin. It reminded me that used to pray to Heavenly Father every day and beg that he would just kill me, because I hated having to “be a girl” but knew that committing suicide was a sin too. When I was four years old I asked my mom “why did God make me into a girl” because I was confused as to why I was being forced into femininity, since it brought me such distress. As a child, I tricked my family into affirming my identity by calling me “Sir Rya the Knight” instead of “sariah” which was my birth name and is still legally my name, because I do not have the money to legally transition right now. My father’s mother discovered that I was “gender confused” and used it to bully and demean me my entire life. She didn’t let her husband, my grandfather, tell me I was beautiful. She got angry at him whenever he did it. My grandmother didn’t want people to tell me I was beautiful because I did not feel like my gender assigned at birth. Your survey reminded me of all that trauma and much more.
Your survey made me feel like a quivering child, helpless to stop the physical, emotional, and psychological abuse being perpetrated by people who claimed to love me, who told me they were helping me by teaching me how to avoid sin. When I resigned from the church in 2015, on my 18th birthday, my mother said I could no longer live in her house if I wasn’t a Mormon. I resigned my membership because being forced to participate was exacerbating my mental illness. I attempted suicide more times than I could count that year, especially because I was unable to secure housing in Provo Utah because of the rules forcing people to sign the honor code, which I was unwilling to do considering the fact that I was fighting for my life, and the thing trying to kill me was my religion. So I moved back in with my parents and tried to survive until I could escape to my freshman year of college at NYU. At NYU, my peers were surprised to hear that I had ever been a mormon. Within the first week, I had this conversation: One peer told me “I didn’t think the church let non-binary people be mormon” and I said “What’s a non-binary person” and they looked at me like I was absolutely bonkers. “Aren’t you a non-binary person?” they asked, as the rest of my peers howled with laughter. “I don’t know what that is, I know I don’t really conform to gender norms, but I’ve never heard the term non-binary before, what does it mean?” I asked again. “It means that someone’s gender identity lies outside the binary of man or woman.” With those words, my entire life started to make real sense, for the first time. I was not a girl who needed to overcome the temptations of the adversary, I was just a non-binary person raised in a religion which saw my gender as a sin. I needed to overcome the trauma that had been done to me in the name of a cruel God. I needed to heal. I needed to learn that it was ok to love myself and love my non-binary gender. I needed to un-learn all the feminizing behaviors I had developed in order to make myself appear more cisgender than I was. I needed to learn to be ok with myself, because so many people had taught me that it wasn’t ok for me to be ok with who I was, they taught me my gender identity was a sin. I was taught to hate and despise myself because I was raised in the Mormon faith and am not cisgender.
This survey could have been a wonderful and affirming experience for me and other transgender, intersex, and non-binary respondents. It could have made my community feel loved and safe and cared for, and understood by the people creating knowledge about us. Instead, it harmed us. It perpetuated racist notions of gender, it made it seem like there was no validity in identifying as something other than “man” or “woman.” My gender is divine. It is sacred. It is not a sin. Intersex people exist. We are here, we are queer, and we are not going to let you exclude us from our own knowledge production because our identifies don’t fit within your preconceived notions or frame of analysis. If my queer identity doesn’t fit within your survey, your survey is not a good enough survey. If an intersex person’s identity doesn’t fit within your survey (which it doesn’t) it’s not a good enough survey. If a two spirit person’s identity does not fit within your survey (which it doesn’t) it’s not a good enough survey.
This is not about your education Tyler, this is about how your work endangered people’s lives. I shouldn’t have to “educate” the Human Subjects research committee at two different state universities (ISU and USU) about how to protect my community. It’s literally their job to make sure survey research like this isn’t administered to respondents. I shouldn’t have to “educate” PIs with Phds on how to write a survey that won’t prompt transgender, intersex, and non-binary respondents to abandon the survey and self harm. You failed to do your job, and now an academic nobody with literally zero credentials is having to “educate” you all so that the survey doesn’t result in my community burying any more bodies than we already are.
I do not feel a consistent burden to educate others, I’m trying to stay alive and taking your survey made that more difficult. I am being forced to educate phd-having, research-doing people far more educated than myself about basic facts of trans, intersex and non-binary existence, and that is exhausting and triggering and frustrating to no end. Here I am, just trying to survive in the pandemic, pay my rent, and trying desperately to piece together an existence where my past doesn’t feel like a death sentence. Then I stumble upon this survey on r/exmormon and take it, and suddenly surviving is so much harder than it was before.
I’m not doing this to educate you, I’m doing this because I deserve to be alive, and so do my trans, intersex, and nonbinary siblings regardless of their affiliation with the mormon church. I deserve to participate fully in survey research about my community without being excluded from or harmed by the wording or structure of the survey. I have a right to gender self determination, a right which was denied to me because my parents were mormons and viewed my gender self determination as a sin because it did not align with the gender assigned to me at birth. I have a right to have my pronouns recognized and used, yet they/them/theirs pronouns are grounds for excommunication from the faith of my forefathers. I am a direct descendant of Parley P Pratt, and the handcart capitans D. Duncan MacArthur, and Edward Bunker. My bloodline built this church. My ancestors baptized thousands, and I was not allowed to fully participate in this religion unless I was willing and able to suppress my queer identity. I tried to do that, and it almost killed me, and gave me Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I took your survey, and doing so me wish I had been successful in my previous suicide attempts. My right to religious freedom was infringed upon because I am trans Non-Binary.
This is about the life and health of my community. You can educate yourself, I am too busy trying to stay alive. The only reason I’m bothering to “educate” you is because your work got in the way of my safety and I am forced to “educate” you in order to cease the perpetration of that harm. I am being forced to educate you so I can feed myself, bathe myself, earn a living, and avoid self harming. I am being forced to educate you so that harmful pseudoscientific research isn’t administered to my community. This is not about a consistent need to educate. It’s about survival.
The distress this survey put me in is exacerbated when you contact me directly. You have harmed me enough by writing this survey and telling me that my experience was not the “first” or “primary” subject of interest because I am trans non-binary and not cisgender. I am conversing with the IRB professionals who made the grave mistake of approving this research because they had a duty to protect me, and have failed to do so, and now much correct that. I do not wish to advocate for myself to someone who is willing to align his professional and academic career with Ty Mansfield, Ron Schow, and Marybeth Ranes, who use pathologizing terms such as “same sex attraction,” which make queer people feel like there is something wrong with them because they are queer. I find no value in attempting to educate you or your team, as I do not believe any accreddited academic institution should allow past advocates for conversion therapy to perform survey research on the queer community at their institution, as it harms their reputation as well as my community.
Please do not reach out to me again. I will express my concerns to the people whose duty it is to protect my community, and not to someone willing to align himself with those who have published books with the pathologizing term “same sex attraction” in the title. You can hear what I have to say from the Human Subjects Protections Committee, you lost the right to hear it from my mouth directly when you told me my experience was not the “first” or “primary” concern of the survey because I am a gender minority and a sexual minority instead of just a sexual minority. I’m done wasting my time trying to “educate” the transphobia out of you and your team, it’s only exacerbating the distress this survey has put me in.