“Are you a woman?” Diane Sawyer asks.
“Yes, yes I am–for all intents and purposes.”
Ever since the Diane Sawyer interview aired, my mind has kept returning over and over to this situation, wrestling with it and analyzing it and wondering what it all means.
There have been many helpful and many unhelpful things written about this from a Christian perspective, so at first I was hesitant to add another voice. But I think this is a conversation worth having (actually, one that must be had as people of Jesus living in 21st century America), so in no particular order, here are 14 thoughts about Caitlyn Jenner. (Warning: this is LONG, but I don’t know how for it not to be and didn’t want to break it up into multiple posts.)
1. My heart breaks every time I think about this situation.
There is so much pain and confusion. Real people are hurting, and not just the one on the news.
One quote from the Diane Sawyer interview struck me particularly hard: “Bruce is a lie, she is not a lie. I can’t do it anymore.”
Regardless of where you land on this issue, you have to start there in order to have a compassionate response. There are people who believe, like “the Earth is round” believe, that they were born in the wrong body, that their very self is a lie, a mistake. That is devastating.
2. Ungracious responses are the opposite of helpful.
I’ve read many perspectives, and they of course run a wide gamut. Some of them are insightful and I agree with many of their points, but they sound like a clanging gong (1 Cor 13:1). I’d love to see Christians speaking thoughtfully, humbly and graciously to this and not banging cymbals together by sharing aggressively harsh or mocking things on Facebook.
Our response as Christians to this issue should be compassion, not disgust. Love, not outrage. A desire to understand, not mock.
Christians, if you are sneering down your nose at transgender people, reacting with mockery or disgust or inflammatory rhetoric and memes, you are contributing to the problem, not the solution. Please stop it. Do you think you are morally superior to someone struggling with this? The cross says you are not, so act like it.
3. When I think about how to respond to this as a Christian, it gets sticky at the very beginning.
When I speak of this situation, do I say Bruce or Caitlyn? Do I say him or her? Those questions feel like brain busters. On the one hand, I don’t want to sound like an insensitive Christian and lose people before we even get to the actual content of the conversation (plus I want people to like me to a sinful degree). But I also don’t want to contribute to the massive amounts of confusion.
This morning on my way into work, I happened to look to my left and see a squirrel booking it through the 4 lane highway, straight in my direction. He barely escaped the opposing car, the wind whiffing his tail to the side. We locked eyes for a brief second and I felt for him, hoping I’d pass before he got to my rear wheel.
In all this, I kind of feel like that squirrel.
Here’s the very unscientific way I have thought through this, and I’m holding this with an open hand and could change my mind tomorrow. I’ve tried to make it personal and think through what I would do if one of my best friends came to me with the same issue. And what I’ve decided (for the time being) is that I would oblige their request to call them a different name, simply because I’d do that for any friend, even if I thought it really strange.
But I don’t think I could in good conscience call a male friend “her” or a female “he” because that feels like it contributes to the confusion and reinforces gender as something that is malleable. I may do it for a short while to keep someone’s ear, but I would not do it indefinitely.
This is a mind-bending thing for me and I’m still processing how to think through it, but that’s where I’m at for now so in this article I’ll use the name Caitlyn but the pronoun “he,” because I believe that’s what Caitlyn is and will always be. That may seem like a lame cop out (and it may be) but it’s the best I’ve got right now.
4. There is a MUCH deeper issue than gender.
On the surface, this all seems like it is about the nature and definition of gender. But make no mistake—this is not about gender, it’s about the extent of our personal sovereignty. This issue is answering this question for our culture: “What do I get to be God over?” There are certain aspects of what it means to be human that force us to acknowledge our createdness and simply be. Your height? You were born with that and there’s nothing you can do to change it. Your skin color? Same. (Well at least as of now it seems.)
Gender used to fall squarely and very importantly in this category, and now our society has pulled it out and placed it into the category of things that can be re-assigned.
I read this article by a non-Christian discussing the public response to Caitlyn, and he very insightfully noted that much of it seemed to border on actual worship. This bit was particularly sharp:
The worship of Caitlyn, and the hectoring of anyone who refuses to scrape before her icon, has graphically exposed the intolerant edge to trans thinking. The insistence that we not only refer to Bruce/Caitlyn as ‘she’ but also project this backwards – recognising, in the words of the Guardian, that she has ‘always been a woman’ – is borderline Orwellian. It’s a rewriting of history, a memory-holing of old inconvenient facts. Strikingly, the Guardian writer says people like Bruce/Caitlyn have ‘always been women… even when they were “fathering” children’. Notice it’s the ‘fathering’ bit that is in scare quotes, suggesting it wasn’t real, while the description of Bruce as a woman is treated as an incontestable truth…activists want us to chant: ‘Bruce Jenner is a woman and has always been a woman, even when she was producing sperm, impregnating women, and winning gold medals in men’s sports.’ And the small matter of Bruce’s birth certificate, his proven paternity of children? Forget all that; shove it down the memory hole.
And these people who are hailing the image of Caitlyn as something worth bowing to–are they worshipping Caitlyn Jenner? No, they are worshipping what Caitlyn unknowingly stands for—that you can be your own God, create your own reality, defy your human limitations. That is what people love. Self-determination—becoming little deities—that is what we all truly worship in our fallen state.
Caitlyn Jenner has become a symbol of self-worship and doesn’t even know it.
This is about who gets to determine reality: me, or something outside of me. And I genuinely believe that even if you take the spiritual stuff out of this discussion, learning to accept reality and the things you can’t change about your life is absolutely essential to psychological and mental health. Our culture is having a giant discussion about reality and they don’t even realize it.
5. This is ultimately a spiritual issue.
When I heard the Diane Sawyer interview and Bruce talking about how he had never felt at home in his own body, that he’d felt like an impostor, it did not surprise me in the least.
Because we all, to some degree, feel the same thing. But it’s not because God made a mistake making us as he suggested on the interview, it’s because our first human parents (along with every one of us) made a huge, tragic, history-altering mistake: we chose to live independently of God’s authority and rule over creation.
So we feel this deep ache that things are not what they are supposed to be. The theological term for it, which I find insightful, is “estrangement.” We feel estranged from our created design. Estranged from our purpose and from feeling at home with ourselves and others and especially with God. There is a seismic internal crack that makes us never feel quite right, the manifestation of being cut off from God. As Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
As Christians, gender dysphoria should not surprise us in the least, because it is a tragic implication of a created being feeling completely estranged from their Creator and His unique design and purpose for their life. We should display an aggressive compassion and patience, because while it may be a more focused and concentrated feeling of estrangement, it’s the same estrangement that we all share.
We should expect people to feel these chasms and disconnects because of how sin has devastated our world. It should be no surprise when someone says “If _________ was different about me, then I would feel at home with myself and at peace” because they have the right problem but the wrong solution.
Gender dysphoria is a spiritual issue that only a chasm-crossing God can fix through the healing power of the gospel. Gender re-assignment surgery is nothing but a bandaid and can do nothing for the root issue of spiritual estrangement.
6. Our culture is massively confused about gender.
Caitlyn Jenner says that though he is biologically male, he is actually a female, and we heap on praise and admiration. Caitlyn is fully and immediately accepted as a female. A few weeks later, Rachael Dolezal claims that although she is biologically white, she is actually black, and no one gives her the time of day. I have not read a single thing (other than a few random tweets) praising her for her bravery or courage to finally be who she IS. People have been furious, stating how unfair and unreasonable it is for someone to claim a history, biology, and even the oppression of another race that is not theirs simply because they self-identify as that race.
There has been a large, wagging “no-no” finger from even the liberal camp.
And no one seems to notice the absolute, jarring inconsistency between the two. Note how this journalist for the Washington Post responds to this tweet:
In case you don’t know, “FTLOG” means “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!…” Somehow, very very quickly, culture at large has solidly, confidently and aggressively put gender entirely in the category of personal preference. Social construct. Changeable minor feature.
And the part that shocks me is the utter certainty with which it is claimed as such. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard, “But Caitlyn IS a female.” This truth claim rests solely on the personal, highly subjective and un-provable claim that Caitlyn FEELS like a female. That’s it. There is nothing else. No science, no objective proof, no evidence.
But when a white person feels like a black person?
When a skinny person feels like a fat person?
When a healthy person feels like a disabled person?
People are quick to confidently say that although nothing else works this way, biology is simply not decisive when it comes to someone’s gender. What they believe about themselves is sovereign over the biological makeup of their physical body. In this one area, psychology trumps biology definitively and without question and if you don’t believe so you must be living under a rock. FOR THE LOVE…
We gauge someone’s mental health based off of how well their perceptions are in line with reality. When someone believes they are 5 people, that’s classified as a disorder. When a severely underweight girl believes she’s obese, that’s a mental health issue. But with gender, this return to reality has been forsaken, and that makes me nervous about what is next. There is already a fringe movement stating that having multiple personalities is not a disorder but a different way of arranging the mind.
There should not be one model of reality imposed upon everyone.
-Anthony Temple (taken from the previous link)
This conclusion about gender fluidity has been reached at an alarming rate, without a ton of research or patience or thoughtfulness about when biology gets to be decisive and when it does not. We are making decisions, encouraging hormone therapies instead of psychotherapy, scheduling irreversible gender re-assignment surgeries with the noble goal of reducing suicides, when the limited research in this field suggests there is no conclusive evidence that gender re-assignment surgeries improve the lives of transgendered people and that suicide rates after gender re-assignment surgery are not improved.
I do believe that the people pushing the gender re-assignment agenda do so with a desire to alleviate suffering and prevent tragedies, and that desire I certainly commend. But in what other field of medicine would it be considered appropriate to do massive, irreversible surgeries without any clear evidence of therapeutic benefit?
Here is how Paul McHugh, a former chief psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins puts it:
We at Johns Hopkins University—which in the 1960s was the first American medical center to venture into “sex-reassignment surgery”—launched a study in the 1970s comparing the outcomes of transgendered people who had the surgery with the outcomes of those who did not. Most of the surgically treated patients described themselves as “satisfied” by the results, but their subsequent psycho-social adjustments were no better than those who didn’t have the surgery. And so at Hopkins we stopped doing sex-reassignment surgery, since producing a “satisfied” but still troubled patient seemed an inadequate reason for surgically amputating normal organs…. Claiming that this is civil-rights matter and encouraging surgical intervention is in reality to collaborate with and promote a mental disorder.
One of the most prominent arguments you will hear for gender being a malleable social construct is that because a minuscule percentage of people are born with both sex organs, the gender of all people is totally up for grabs. That is how weak the logical argument for gender fluidity is.
I know of no other realm where that logic would hold up, because something happening approximately 0.018% of the time proves that it is the exception, not the norm–it establishes the rule, it does not tear it down.
The rare exception of intersex individuals proves the rule that humans are born either male or female, not that gender is now a choice. If 0.018% of babies were born with only 1 leg, no one would claim that the fact that human beings have 2 legs is now questionable and that people are free to choose whether they want one leg or two. If a baby is born without two legs, it means something has gone wrong, not that the biological characteristics of a human should change.
7. Gender roles need to be separated from gender.
One profoundly confusing and harmful part of all this is that gender roles have been unhelpfully equated with gender. They have been mixed, inter-mingled and confused beyond description.
And while gender is a biological construct just like skin color or height, gender roles ARE primarily a social construct.
If you are a male, does that mean you have to like sports and go hunting and know how to change a tire? NO. Are you any less of a man if you do not enjoy stereotypically manly things? NO. Just like a female who does not enjoy wearing dresses and putting on makeup is any less female.
These boxes that we try to push people into are SO UNHELPFUL. This is why many feminists are upset at the idea of Caitlyn Jenner, because one magazine cover seemingly unwound decades of fighting against crude and over-sexualized stereotypes of femininity.
A boy who likes to play with dolls does not a female make (or vice versa with a girl who likes trucks), and reducing the beautiful tapestry of personality differences to stereotypical gender roles is damaging.
I wonder how much gender confusion, deep down under the surface, is partly a desire to belong. If I’m biologically male but I don’t feel like other males accept me, it would be easy to self-identify as female and want to make a physical change. Feeling alienated and excluded sucks.
And church–we have not done a good job of realizing that stereotypical gender roles are unhelpful and alienating to many. Ask yourself–how comfortable would a non-stereotypical male feel in your church? How comfortable would a non-stereotypical female feel? Would they feel radically accepted and included–like they belong no matter their personality differences or interests–or would they feel “other than” and alienated? Because if the gospel is true, belonging is not based on shared interests or common stereotypes–it’s based on the blood of Jesus and our new identities in Christ.
8. Happiness is not God.
The root reason why our culture has wholeheartedly swallowed the idea that gender is a personal decision is because of a much deeper rooted belief: that personal happiness is God. Everything else in the universe must bow to my right to self-determine and chase after what I think will make me happy. This bedrock belief is the only way an idea like gender being a social construct can fly.
When responding to another person’s life choices, you will hear this response without pause: “I just want you to be happy.” This well-intentioned mantra might as well be cemented as the bedrock of our psyches because it is the core of what we think and believe.
In the land of “Personal Happiness is God,” you get to set your own standards. Determine what is right for you. Do what makes you happy and nothing else. There are a couple of big problems with this, even speaking from a non-spiritual perspective:
One, it doesn’t pass the Hitler Test. This life philosophy, taken to the extreme, would mean that Hitler would go un-confronted. He was just chasing his own happiness, after all. “Ahh,” but you say. “You forgot the clause. You can chase your own happiness as long as it doesn’t hurt others. There, that passes the Hitler Test.”
But my question is, who gets to define hurt? Does hurt only mean physical pain? If a dad abandons his family to pursue another life that he thinks will make him happier, can I call that hurt? What about the hurt that comes later, the butterfly effects, the things that are harder to see?
Two, it assumes that I and I alone know what will make me happy. Which on one hand makes a ton of sense. Who else would know better than me? On the other hand, it is not an assumption I am comfortable making. Because I often decide to do things I am sure will bring happiness that end up bringing misery.
Addicts chase their substances to the ruin of their families and lives. People murder and embezzle and lie and all sorts of other things in pursuit of their happiness. I don’t trust myself nearly as much as our culture encourages us to do so, and I feel like I have a lot of evidence to back that distrust up (mainly the brokenness of myself and everyone I know–not to mention the news.)
We all naturally believe that life is best lived when I am god and get to determine my reality and what makes me happy, but that is a recipe for mental instability because we are not capable of determining reality. It’s much too heavy for us.
Even if personal, self-determined happiness was the only goal with the transgender discussion, the evidence is suggesting that pursuing that path is not likely to get you there and that should at least be considered.
People that believe in God and claim Christianity will even extend this philosophy to include, “Well God wants me to be happy, so I’ll disobey Him and reject His authority to be happy.” But you’ll never find that verse in the Bible, so please don’t call that Christianity because it’s not. You can say that all you want, but just know you made it up entirely.
Here’s the conclusion I think is most helpful: If God doesn’t exist, He cannot give you happiness so don’t worry about it. If He does exist, He created you and is the only place you’ll find happiness, so it would be unwise to chase after it anywhere else.
9. Putting gender in the category of personal decision will cause destruction for so many.
I hurt for Caitlyn and for all the future hurt that is coming for him when all the lights and cameras and news stories go away, and he realizes that all these steps didn’t fix the brokenness inside of him.
The celebration of gender re-assignment in our media is going to influence others to follow in the same footsteps that will end up in pain and regret. Our medical professionals will offer life-altering procedures instead of appropriate psychotherapy, likely at the threat of losing their jobs. I’m sure that science books in public schools will soon espouse gender as a personal choice and not a biological reality, causing many kids who would have never walked that path to wonder if maybe that is the ache they feel deep inside. This will be tragic and heartbreaking for many who are sure it will be their savior. (Update: I just read this article about a teenager named Kat Boone that is absolutely heartbreaking. Quote from the article: “But is the culture even “nudging” anymore? Or is it perhaps now shoving?”)
This story of a former transgendered man and the pain that it brought him will not be liked or heeded because it is anti the direction culture wants to go with this, but I pray that many will find it and at least consider it.
10. This reeks of spiritual warfare.
In the Diane Sawyer interview, it was made a point that the belief that he was a woman came to him when he was a young child. And while gender re-assignment proponents would have you believe that that voice is Caitlyn’s “authentic self,” I have reason to believe it was another voice altogether. A voice that would lead him to believe the only way to arrive at his authentic self is through plastic surgery and hormone therapy and Photoshopped bathing suits.
As a Christian, I believe that Satan and demons exist and that their entire goal is to derail God’s good intentions for the world. They lie, steal, kill and destroy. They do whatever they possibly can to get someone’s attention off of God.
C.S. Lewis, speaking of the activity of demons in The Screwtape Letters, said “Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick.” His point was, demons do not need to get someone to go around murdering people to keep their hearts from turning to God if they can accomplish that in some other easier or more socially acceptable way.
I think if C.S. Lewis was alive today, he might say “Murder is no better than identity confusion if identity confusion can do the trick.”
I do not believe the voice that whispered “You are a girl” in little Bruce’s ear was his authentic self. I believe it was a demon bent on destroying little Bruce’s life, keeping his attention from God, and harming a lot of other people in the process. Satan will do anything he can to redirect and redefine our spiritual estrangement and provide a counterfeit solution for us to chase after.
11. “What business of this is mine?” is a lacking Christian response.
This is the easy way out, to not have to think about this or develop a thoughtful response. To live and let live. The thing about that is, everyone else is talking about it, and that means this issue is shaping the way that millions upon millions think (about God, reality, etc.).
Jenner is not just talking about gender. He’s talking about God and what it means to be a human. Christians, we don’t have to be experts on this. But I think it wise for us to develop thoughtful Godward responses.
12. I can’t say any of this without being hated by many.
This makes me so sad, but it really is getting to the point where if you don’t bow down to the cultural tide you are going to get run over by the hate train. As Paul McHugh of John Hopkins said: “But gird your loins if you would confront this matter. Hell hath no fury like a vested interest masquerading as a moral principle.”
This makes me sad mostly (I won’t lie) because I want people to like me, and I know many won’t when I say these things. But it also makes me sad because I think we are quickly losing the ability to disagree as a society. It’s getting to the point where if you disagree with me I assume you are a bigot and you hate me. I am saying all of this because I love transgendered people and want what is best for them, not because I hate them and want to oppress them. But that will rarely be believed by someone who disagrees with me.
We are losing the distinction between hurt and harm. You can say something true and helpful and loving that hurts someone’s feelings, and it is assumed to be harmful–maybe even labeled as hate speech. When our personified society sees someone in pain, we jump to alleviate their pain as quickly and easily as possible because “I just want you to be happy.” We are losing sight of the fact that sometimes the best way to fight for someone’s happiness is to (out of love) say something that may hurt their feelings but will actually keep them from harming themselves.
13. Our culture has no solid foundation to think clearly about these issues, because in self-sovereignty all is fair.
Ah…but going back to the last sentence of #9, how do I know when it’s best to hurt someone’s feelings to fight for their happiness?
The short answer is, you don’t. At least not in a society of self-soveriegnty. Because each person alone has the ability to determine what makes them happy.
So what do you do when you have a family member severely addicted to drugs who insists that using is the only way they are happy? Who are you to tell them they are wrong?
What do you do when a perfectly healthy person wants to chop off their right arm because it’s never felt like a part of them anyway?
What about your friend who cuts? Do you tell them to cut away if it makes them happy?
Here’s a haunting line from an article I read: “When it comes to self-butchery, where’s the line between sanity and insanity?” Who gets to decide whether it’s mental illness or a perfectly normal expression of self?
There is no solid ground to stand on. No way to think clearly and objectively because there is no higher authority than yourself. Part of me actually hopes that it will get crazier even quicker (as it has gotten with the transabled and transracial discussion) so that people may stop for a moment and say “Wait a minute…”
14. Church, let’s be the church.
In the end, I don’t care if everyone just thinks the way I think about this. I have zero interest in converting liberals to become conservatives. It’s hard to even talk about this issue because it feels like you’re walking into a playroom and finding two kids fighting over a toy. And to speak to the issue makes you seem like you want the toy, like you are just grasping for political power.
So let me say this: I don’t want the toy. I am not interested in regaining lost political power for the Religious Right. Making people think like me or agree with my morals is not the ultimate win. I’m praying for the spiritual war going on for the souls of people I dearly love, not fighting for a culture war.
I want people to realize that the real issue is the spiritual chasm caused by our rebellion against our Creator, both for the openly transgendered person and for the self-righteous religious person who finds his worth in being morally superior to others.
I want others to walk in the amazing freedom that reality is much too big for them to be in charge of defining. That someone much bigger than us determines reality, and the fact that He sent His Son to die for them means that He is trustworthy, no matter how you feel.
I want people to throw off their culturally celebrated but misplaced identities and find a new identity in Christ. One where He calls you chosen, beloved, child, and friend.
I want people to realize that of course we feel estranged in this world, because we were not created for it, and that God is the only one who can (and is) making things right. He is making a home for His children, where there will be no more feeling like things are not the way they are supposed to be (Rev 21). No more chasms, no more confusion, no more distress.
I want the church to rise up and love people as people no matter where they are coming from, to speak the truth in confounding love and not disgust or fear. To be winsome, humble and compassionate like ones who’ve been rescued–like ones who realize that we are no better than anyone else because the gospel throws moral superiority out the window.
To be hope-filled, welcoming, courageous, accepting and truthful–a group of people who put flesh on the truth that in Jesus everyone is invited to belong. To invite our transgendered neighbors over for dinner often and buy good wine and listen to their stories and weep many tears with them before ever saying a word.
Church, let’s be the church–and if we’re not willing to do that we may as well keep our mouths shut, because what people need is not to have their thinking corrected, but their souls healed by a God who loves them deeply.