Bruce Jenner: What Does Love Demand?–Part 2

transgenderIn Part 1, we talked about how a person knows he’s transgendered. This is important, because we must ask ourselves if as a society we’re going to accept and accommodate individuals’ subjective realities, as we’re increasingly being asked to do with the transgendered.

Bruce Jenner says he’s a woman named Caitlyn. Are we required to accept him as such? And what do we do about transgender people–pre-op and post-op–using bathrooms, living in dormitories, and competing in athletic competitions? As Catholics, we need to wrestle with these questions, because transgenderism is a thorny issue that will have far reaching legal and social consequences.

In trying to influence the culture, however, we must never lose sight of the fact that at the heart of the transgender issue are men and women who are children of God. While lawyers and politicians duke out whether a trangendered man can compete with natural-born women in the Olympics, we need to consider the very real people who identify as transgendered. What is the most loving way to respond to transgenderism when we encounter it in our brothers and sisters?

Reading the stories of transgendered people, I’m convinced that the core issue for transgendered people is acceptance. In reading the 1,200-page journal of Melanie Phillips, who transitioned from a man to a woman, I noticed that every time a friend, coworker, or even stranger accepted him as a woman, his self-esteem soared; he describes feeling emotionally high for days whenever a colleague called him by his chosen female name or a stranger believed him to be a woman. Phillips reveled in being “one of the girls” when in a group of women, and even felt “honored” when asked to do traditionally feminine tasks like making coffee for male coworkers. He even enjoyed sexism, because it meant he was “really” a woman.

Why would encounters like this mean so much to Phillips? Because they came after a lifetime of feeling inadequate and rejected as a man.

Transgender people often describe feeling “different” from their peers from a young age. And most of them really are different, in that they possess traits atypical for their sex. Phillips was an emotionally-sensitive and naturally empathetic little boy who preferred “gentler” pursuits, which stood in stark contrast to the rough-and-tumble masculinity he saw in his male peers. He gravitated toward and identified more with girls. Transgender women-to-men often describe a similar if opposite experience as children; as little girls, they never felt “feminine” or enjoyed the activities most other girls did.

Phillips and others’ descriptions reminded me of my son’s 11-year-old friend, Noah, who has Down’s Syndrome. A few weeks ago while we were visiting Noah’s family, the father said to me, “Other kids sense that something’s different about Noah, but they don’t quite know what that is. So they avoid him. Noah senses he’s being avoided–even if it’s subtle–and that makes him act out and do something obnoxious to get their attention. Which only confirms for the boys that he’s to be avoided.”

Transgendered people often experience a similar scenario. The boy isn’t masculine (as society defines it); the girl isn’t feminine. Other boys instinctively feel something is different about the effeminate little boy, so they either openly or subtly ostracize him, as they do to Noah. The boy may even be harassed for being a “sissy,” as Phillips was. Gender norms for girls tend to be more flexible, but the tomboyish girl still isn’t likely to be included in female conversations and rites of passage. By the time these “different” children reach adolescence, then, they’ve endured a thousand subtle and not-so-subtle peer rejections.

In story after story written by transgendered people, I saw no evidence that they were objectively the opposite sex trapped in the wrong body. But I did see an almost universal experience of being rejected as children, either by their same-sex peers or adults, which had understandably led them to reject themselves and gravitate toward the opposite sex.

As a boy, Phillips was much like my friend, Kevin: his smaller frame, emotional sensitivity, and effeminate gestures led other boys to avoid or bully him. He describes being forced to wear a dress for Halloween by his mother, his initial shame giving way to happiness as strangers opened the door and pronounced him an adorable little girl. His insecurity about his manhood followed him into adulthood:

“As an adult, when crossing the street, I would never know what to do with my hands or arms. I was always afraid I would be laughed at for being skinny or not ‘male’ enough. I would pretend to scratch an itch on my face so I could hold up my wedding ring as proof that someone thought I was worthwhile enough to marry.”

Many transgendered people describe desiring to be the opposite sex even as a child and I’m sure they’re being truthful. But is it likely those feelings and desires stemmed from the objective reality that they are the opposite sex trapped in the wrong body? Or is it more reasonable that having experienced profound rejection for not meeting societal gender norms, they sought emotional comfort and social acceptance by embracing the other sex?

In reading transgender stories, I couldn’t shake the sense that becoming the opposite sex gave these wounded people a social “do over.” Having always felt like a rejected failure as their natural-born sex, they finally received the affirmation they desperately craved as the opposite sex. This is no doubt why transgendered people describe feeling “happy” and “free” once they’ve transitioned. When living as your biological sex is emotionally and psychologically torturous, I imagine it is a profound relief to be free of that particular burden. (Perhaps, too, this is why so many of the transgendered I read about described feeling the greatest peace when alone in nature–unlike society, the natural world places no masculine or feminine demands upon them.)

I’m genuinely baffled that doctors, psychiatrists, and the people closest to the transgendered are hearing their stories and NOT seeing the connection between the rejection they experienced specifically through their masculinity/femininity, and their desire to be the opposite sex. Why can no one see that transgendered people are deeply wounded souls whose perception of themselves has become pathologically distorted? These are people in so much emotional pain that they’re often willing to do violence to themselves to find relief–and the compassionate response is to encourage them in that course? Especially when transitioning to the other sex in no way resolves the person’s underlying psychological torment (see this article and this study for more).

“What I love about your son,” Noah’s father continued, “is that he treats Noah like a completely normal kid…they just play together and he accepts him just because he’s Noah.” Would the outcome be different if we embraced and accepted people as children of God regardless of what their masculinity or femininity looks like? Of course. Why, then, aren’t we treating transgenderism as a tragic mental illness, and encouraging treatment so these individuals can heal from their devastating wounds? Surely it’s healthier–and more compassionate–to teach a person to fully accept himself as God made him to attain peace than to help him destroy his very self in that quest.

For every one hater who calls Bruce Jenner a freak, there are three others offering him the false compassion of support as a woman. I doubt anyone will consider that both responses just confirm for Bruce that he was never adequate or truly lovable as a man. Surely, Jesus calls us to something more authentically loving. For only when we teach our children to accept others as God made them, and teach the deeply wounded to accept themselves, will we be able to truly love our transgendered brothers and sisters.

  • MistyJune 4, 2015 - 3:34 pm

    Emily, I’m not saying that we ought to accept Caitlyn Jenner, but that we should accept Bruce Jenner. Personally, I don’t accept that I have to call Jenner or any transgender person by their chosen name/sex over their actual name/sex. They have a right to believe whatever they want about themselves, but I’m not obligated to cooperate with what is obviously a mental illness.

    I don’t believe we have to embrace a transgender person as the opposite sex to love them. If Jenner and I were friends and he asked me to call him Caitlyn or support his transition, I’d simply say, “No. I can’t support this, because I love Bruce too much to help you destroy him.”

    I’m advocating acceptance of individuals who don’t meet common societal gender norms, and that we teach our children to accept their peers whose masculinity or femininity aren’t typical. It’s doubtful – we’d see so many terribly wounded adults whose pain have led them to conclude that if they’re a rejected failure as their natural sex, then they can find acceptance and success as the opposite sex.ReplyCancel

    • EmilyJune 4, 2015 - 5:50 pm

      THANK YOU Misty. You clarified it perfectly.
      I can get behind all of what you say. I wanted to make sure I understood because I believe it is important.


  • StanJune 4, 2015 - 5:19 pm

    The above link is an attempt by a Catholic apologist to explain some points regarding this issue. It may be useful in sorting out some things rather than just dealing with the high octane emotion surrounding it. Please take a look.

    I’m old enough to remember when this “condition” was considered aberrant and deviant behavior and was psychiatric (as homosexuality was prior to the late 1980’s and 90’s) in pathology. Now it has “evolved” into an herculian and olympian virtue to be wildly applauded and embraced so that we don’t appear intolerant. Certainly, every human being is created in the image of God and is worthy of esteem based on that very fact. HOWEVER, that does not mean we esteem every choice or action that person makes.

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks much to the issue of the unity of body and soul in relation to identity (see the link). I am an orthodox Catholic who believes in Tradition, Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church. I care not for “speculative theology or wishful conjecture.” I spent 33 years outside the Church so I know how chase that wind, if you will. Bottom line: a bishop once said that it was not “pastoral, compassionate or merciful to affirm, confirm or condone anyone in mortal sin” – I believe it is also not pastoral, compassionate or merciful to affirm, confirm or condone anyone in dysfunctionality. Bruce Jenner has exploded into dysfunctionality. I pray for him as a fellow human being in need of a Savior (like me). I also pray for a culture and time that would elevate his choice to heroics. It reallys says more about us and the meteor-like devolution of our civilization than it does about Bruce Jenner.ReplyCancel

  • Mark ConnollyJune 4, 2015 - 7:44 pm

    Very real and loving hard look at a tough situation. I think you are exactly right when you talk about embracing and accepting people as Children of God. For that, in the end, is our actual and true identity, trumping all else.ReplyCancel

  • Emily DavisJune 4, 2015 - 8:14 pm

    I am asking this question charitably. Are you saying we should accept transgenders because God would? Because I am not sure He would. I think He is ultimately sad that a person he created as a man would change himself into a woman because he feels so poorly about himself. Same for a woman who would change themselves into a man. I would never purpose to be rude or ugly and I don’t go around making awful comments. I just try to avoid it all (which is probably not great). But I feel Our Lord weeps for this issue. I don’t get it. I really am trying to understand.ReplyCancel

  • MistyJune 4, 2015 - 9:20 pm

    Fantastic resource, Stan. Thanks for posting! I completely agree that we must not support the idea that there’s a dual nature. What troubles me even more than the adults who believe they’re the opposite sex in the wrong body are the increasing numbers of parents who are demanding accommodation for their transgender children. Instead of realizing that something has gone terribly wrong with their child psychologically and getting treatment for the child, these parents excitedly embrace the new gender and further wound the child. And likely doom their child to a lifetime of emotional, spiritual, and psychological misery. I don’t understand why this isn’t child abuse. I keep thinking about what Jesus said to those who would lead the little ones to sin…ReplyCancel

    • DaveJune 5, 2015 - 9:33 pm

      For a person who proudly proclaims your transition from Atheist to Catholic, one would think you could identify with the value of subjective experience in forming one’s identity.
      Other’s telling you who you are does not certainly make you who you are. We each come to make sense of our own identities from our lived experiences and how they align with our physiological and psychological make-up.
      You make some troubling suggestions that trans-gender people have a psychological issue that should be treated, akin to the ways many homosexuals have been forced into “treatment” programs over time. But what if this isn’t a “treatable” issue? What if this is at the core of a person’s identity, and lived experience? What if the only way for this person to love himself/herself and his/her life is to be allowed to transition? Would it not behoove any good person to allow and respect his/her desires and treat him/her with love and respect at all stages of this transition? Should we not allow people the freedom to come to love themselves?
      Let’s let God talk to them about his wishes and desires for them at his own time. Right now, everyone on Earth needs our love respect, Caitlyn Jenner included.ReplyCancel

      • MistyJune 12, 2015 - 12:02 am

        I apologize for the delay in approving your comment. I haven’t been back on the computer until now.

        It’s clear that you believe gender dysmorphia is a healthy psychological state and that transitioning to the opposite sex is a legitimate response to that. I disagree. I DO believe that this is a psychological pathology, sometimes (often?) rooted in trauma, that ought to be treated by professionals who can help the person learn to accept himself or herself as they’re made. It seems far more psychologically healthy to deal with the underlying feelings of gender discordance and working toward healing of wounds and self-acceptance, than to cover all that over with a transition.

        I noticed on one transgender site that there was an article espousing complete moral relativism when it came to sexual responses. The author said that any and all sexual responses are normal; only society’s rules decide whether you getting turned on by X or Y are “normal” or “perverted.” All I could think about is that this is “experience as evidence” gone mad. Because child molesters and rapists respond sexually to specific situations/stimuli and those responses are WRONG. They’re depraved distortions of the sexual drive, which ought to be about offering the full gift of yourself to a person and receiving the full gift of him/her in return. But then I realized that this mentality is at the heart of the trangender issue and it’s basically what you said: that because it’s someone’s experience, you can’t say whether it’s right or wrong, healthy or unhealthy.

        Dave, sometimes the way we think and act are simply wrong. Even if they’re not objectively immoral, they can still be UNHEALTHY and distorted. It’s clear that transgender people want the fact that they’ve found peace by transitioning to be all the proof necessary for their actions to be considered healthy, but I don’t think that necessarily follows. As I said, after spending dozens upon dozens of hours reading the autobiographies of transgender people, I could completely see how it’s a tremendous relief to be free of the psychological and emotional torment of never feeling like you measure up to society’s standard of a man or a woman. I also don’t think that the feeling of not being comfortable in your own skin is uniquely transgender; I have discussed with a dear friend our frequent feeling that we truly don’t belong here, that there’s something deeply WRONG inside and in our lived experiences. As a Catholic, I believe there’s a good reason why we feel that way, but that’s another post. Suffice to say that while I do have tremendous compassion for the suffering of transgendered people, I just can’t agree with you that transitioning to the opposite sex can ever be the healthiest way to “love yourself.” I see people willing to do literal violence to their bodies to escape what they describe as an emotionally agonizing discomfort in their own body; you and I will simply have to respectfully disagree that they’re pursuing authentic self-love by doing that or that, as someone who cares about a transgender person, that the most loving thing to do is support them in destroying themselves.

        I have 5 children and unless I saw evidence that they were intersex chromosomally or had both sex organs–i.e., had a clear, biological basis for gender dysphoria–then I could never support them transitioning to the opposite sex based on their subjective belief that they really ARE the opposite sex inside. Maybe it doesn’t make me sound like the most compassionate person in your eyes, but if I were Bruce Jenner’s mother, he would always be my son, Bruce. You could not convince me to call him Caitlyn for anything in this world. One day I have to stand before God and answer for whether I helped the people I live become the best versions of themselves. And I can’t imagine telling God that I encouraged them to mutilate the body that He gave them to become and live as the other sex; like the doctors at Johns Hopkins who now refuse to do sex change operations, I would consider that cooperating with their mental illness.

        Maybe God will tell me I’m wrong one day, but until you and I face Him personally, we can only treat others in the way that we believe is the most genuinely loving. And I don’t believe that supporting a person’s desire to become the opposite sex is the most loving way to deal with that desire.ReplyCancel

  • KatieJune 4, 2015 - 10:18 pm

    These two posts were handled beautifully. Fantastic reference articles I hadn’t seen- that really shed some light on the tragedy of losing Bruce.ReplyCancel

  • ElizabethJune 7, 2015 - 3:40 am

    Thankyou for a beautiful article. I wonder how so many people who identify as Christian can be so hateful, to oppose sin with love is the harder path (compared to either going along with the sin that makes them feel happy or rejecting the person along with the sin so you don’t have to deal with them) but Christianity is not supposed to be the easy path, we are called to take up our cross and follow Christ who is love.ReplyCancel

  • LRJune 8, 2015 - 1:31 pm

    Thank you for the loving and informed insight. Here’s another article that may prove helpful: