Caitlyn Jenner: possibly the most talked about person on the planet in the last few days, in cyberspace at least.
The former Olympic athlete and reality star has certainly stirred up the most frantic media storm of the year so far. Even those unfamiliar with former Bruce and the Kardashian clan can’t have avoided the coverage of this major transgender story. A pretty average looking, older guy transforms himself into an attractive woman with perfectly formed plastic surgery-enabled breasts. Let’s face it – some of us women kind of like the thought of that, too. I wouldn’t say no to a total makeover if they had the spare cash to hand – targeting the ever lingering, post-baby tummy first.
As there have been so many posts circling with wild frenzy across the web, ranging from kind to critical, I’m going to refrain from adding a moral commentary regarding the transformation, and also avoid judging the predicament of trans-identifying people. At the end of the day, Jenner’s choice will no doubt spark a surge of subsequent interest and followers from those deeply ill at ease with their gender or considering taking the drastic step of gender reassignment surgery. Her emotive tweet: “I’m so happy after such a long struggle to be living my true self,” (via @Caitlyn_Jenner) is reflective of most people’s desires – to be happy in themselves.
The point I do want to make is that even if you’re totally happy and secure in your gender, the desire for reinvention in one way or another is likely to surface at some point in your life, whether that involves merely minor changes in appearance such as growing a beard or dying your hair, or whether that’s to do with a relationship, career change or even our attempts to shape our personality. Many of us are not happy in one or more areas and seek to reinvent ourselves, convinced that the measures we take will improve our lives. Essentially, there’s nothing wrong with this, but we kid ourselves if we think that making one or more significant changes will totally impact who we actually are.
Beneath all that hair, makeup and hormones, resides the original Bruce. The name and gender change won’t make a great change to Caitlyn’s character. She may feel better about herself, she may start to relate to others differently, but essentially her fears, her inadequacies, and her inner traits won’t automatically disappear or be reinvented overnight. If she was impatient and irritable before the sex change, she most likely will be afterwards. If she was kind before, she’ll likely be kind afterwards, too.
True transformation of an individual can never really occur at the superficial level; even subjecting sexual organs to the knife cannot truly reinvent who we are. Of course, it will make a massive difference to one’s life, but it can never really change what we’re made of: our spirit, our character, our identity. In the Old Testament, the prophet Samuel confirmed this when he said: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7.
For all the positive sentiments of support for Jenner’s new gender and new look, ultimately it’s what’s in an individual’s heart that counts for anything of value. I do wonder how the media and the populace would have reacted if Jenner had transformed herself into an average, typical woman of 65 years, with a less than great figure, sagging skin and not so immaculate hair.
Jenner has expressed happiness at the result she’s achieved, but what if her appearance were less than Vanity Fair-worthy? What if the internet had declared she looked terrible? Is her self-worth be entirely tied to the public’s perception of her? I hope not.
Whatever external changes Caitlyn Jenner has pulled off, she still has to live with herself. And what makes a person who they are is only in part their gender. Compassion, integrity, creativity, enthusiasm and friendliness are characteristics that are not, or at least should not, be determined by gender.
Although the world continually judges people by outward appearance, I’m thankful that God is not impressed by that; I’m thankful that He knows who I really am – the good, the bad and the ugly. I’m thankful that, as a Christian, my true identity is found in Christ. In essence, that means that I’ll only ever discover wholeness or my true self in Him. I may try to reinvent myself now and again to find acceptance or for fun, but there’s nothing I can do to change God’s love towards me or to score spiritual points. Grace redefines everything for a believer; it’s a win-win situation, even though we don’t deserve it. I’m beginning to wonder more and more now whether we also need to learn to extend grace to ourselves.
Caitlyn Jenner may well feel that she is now her true self, but I wouldn’t be surprised that after the furore has died down and the interviews stop, that she still finds herself dissatisfied – and also a bit fed up with her assumed vision of what femininity entails. I’d quite happily never don stiletto heels ever again…
*For the record, I’m totally aghast at suggestions that Caitlyn should be stripped of her Olympic Medals and similar vociferous attacks on her since she went public with the new identity. Whatever position one takes on this, let’s remember that we are talking about a human being.
For further reading about one man’s sad and confusing gender story, click here.