Trans Jenner — discontent in a culture of self-creation

It’s amazing how quickly the culture shapers have embraced gender change.

Jenner won the courage award on the ESPYS and anyone who disagreed was shamed.

Siri refuses to use the name Bruce Jenner, always changing it to Caitlyn Jenner. If you’ve got an iDevice, give it a try.

The Amazon show Transparent, about a transgendered father, was nominated for 11 Emmys.

All of this feels like it’s happened quickly. But it hasn’t. I attended two colleges before graduating about 25 years ago and the largest student group at both of them were non-hetero groups. Back then, they were still considered alternative sexualities. But they were well on their way to becoming accepted sexualities, simply based on the size and influence on campus of the groups.

This was no overnight sea change. This was the result of decades of change. And it has less to do with sexuality than it has to do with how we view what it means to be human and how we live in the world (of which sexuality is a significant expression).

Ever since the end of WWII, the dominant theme of most movies coming out of Hollywood has been along the lines of “follow your heart” or “follow your dreams” or “don’t let anyone tell you what to do or whom to love.”

The Jenner transformation from man to woman is just one such expression of this. But so, too, is the rampant tattooing that people are decorating themselves with. This has become so mainstream that even I have thought at length about what kinds of tattoos I’d have done.

Add to this a friend of mine who traveled to another country to move hair from his back to fill in his balding head. Then there are women who have boob jobs and other people who have liposuction, cosmetic surgery, hair coloring, or crazy body piercings.

Back in 2011, Lady Gaga showed up on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar with bizarre facial and shoulder bone protrusions, claiming, “They’ve always been inside of me, but I have been waiting for the right time to reveal to the universe who I truly am.”

A story that broke not long after the Jenner one pushes this self-creation in a direction we hadn’t expected: a white woman becoming a black woman.

Rachel Dolezal was born into and raised by a white family, but says, “I identify as black.” And she’s changed her appearance and social groups accordingly, even becoming the head of the Spokane, Washington, chapter of the NAACP.

Sexuality, body shape, and even ethnicity have become fluid.

Our bodies have become canvases for self-expression and identity-creation.

In one regard, this is fine. We are creative beings and self-expression can be a good thing. Can be a good thing. It’s not necessarily so, as an internet full of images of bad tattoos proves.

And the same goes with sex change operations. But what’s so amazing about their growing acceptance is the science that speaks against them.

Johns Hopkins, arguably the leading research hospital in the United States, doesn’t do sex change operations anymore. Why? Not because of moral prudishness. They did the procedures for many years before stopping. It was research headed up by their chief psychologist, Dr. Paul McHugh, which led to their conclusion that to continue doing the operations would be to aid those with a mental disorder in harming their bodies. He writes about the research and conclusions here.

But, again, this isn’t about sexuality. The same dissatisfaction with self that leads to sex changes is what also leads to hair transplants and boob jobs, to fad dieting and eating disorders. We simply don’t like who we are.

Will Bruce Jenner find peace by becoming Caitlyn Jenner? I doubt it. Because, really, is any of us ever satisfied with what we’ve done or bought or become?

In a world of self-creation, who can ever be satisfied?

Recently, I was talking with someone who had got her first tattoo just a few weeks before. Was she satisfied? No. She was already planning the next two, even though the first one was going to be her only one when she got it.

Toward the end of his letter to the Phillipians, Paul wrote these words: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation” (Phil. 4:11-12).

Satisfied? No. Paul had unmet desires. Content? Yes. He was able to do everything he was called to do by the strength of Christ with him (Phil. 4:13). He could say this, even though he was chained in house arrest at the time. There was so much that wasn’t ideal about his circumstances, but he was content because he was doing what he’d been called by God to do. His life was thick with purpose.

You see, he wasn’t just chained to his guards, they were chained to him. That meant he had a captive audience, even though he was supposed to be the captive. And guards were becoming followers of Jesus as a result — the very thing Paul was called to.

When we spend our lives in the pursuit of happiness, when we chase our dreams, we are setting ourselves up for deep disappointment. We know this by looking at the depressing lives of the rich and famous, the athletes and stars who supposedly have achieved their dreams. We know this from the first chapter of the biblical book of Ecclesiastes. And I know this personally, because I have an endless supply of dreams. My dreams are fun but ridiculously beyond achievement. Chasing them would be an endless, expensive, and ultimately futile experience.

By encouraging us to create ourselves and seek our dreams of personal fulfillment, we have made a society of malcontents.

Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to be like Paul in house arrest and simply get on with what God created for and gave us gifts to do?