by Hope Ferguson
The other day, my hairdresser and I were discussing the respective men in our lives. We talked about communication styles and the methods we use to diffuse arguments when the men start getting hot under the collar. And how they can spend long phone conversations talking to loved ones, but neglect to find out the important things: is a sick relative feeling better, or a friend’s marriage on the mend? They don’t know the answers, because they were talking about cars.
We agreed that, even women who are childless usually are naturally nurturing: to nieces and nephews, to the children they teach in Sunday school, to people who are weaker (nursing used to be a traditionally female career), to pets and others. How being a female is about more than high heels and makeup; even though all those things may be fun. There’s PMS, childbearing, menopause and night sweats.
Many young moms barely have time to apply lipstick regularly; and most women, after 40, struggle with 5- or 6- inch heels, learning to prefer comfort over style.
These musings were brought about by the recent media hoopla about the Olympic Gold Medalist Bruce Jenner’s stunning transformation, after three marriages and five children, to “Caitlyn,” a surgically enhanced, satin corset-wearing 65-year-old bombshell.
As the laudatory celebrity tweets rolled in; and dissenting voices were silenced, I don’t think I was alone in being disturbed by this news. Comments in center-left newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post, revealed that commentators, who are able to post anonymously, were, by a margin of about 3 to 1, critical of Bruce’s “new look.”
Jenner has claimed that he has always had a female soul. But can a human soul be misplaced? Can God, our Creator, accidentally plant a female soul in a male body? Is there even such a thing as a “male” or “female” soul? We know the male and female psyches differ. Despite early feminist efforts to say there were no differences, or that those differences don’t matter, most people by common observation (which is backed by science) can see that generally speaking, men and women have definite differences in behavior and the way we interact with the world. On a light note, we women sometimes wonder why our mates can be glued to ESPN or Monday night football or never tire of watching the Fast and Furious franchise over and over, when a good rom-com or drama would be so much more interesting. And I am amused when my brother-in-law and nephew’s conversations on Facebook revolve around bikes and the cars and trucks my nephew seems to trade as if they were baseball cards.
On a more serious note, we wonder, why, when we ask our partners about a dear friend’s well-being when they get off the phone or home from a visit, they may reply, “We didn’t go into all that.” Whereas when two women get together, even in a new friendship, by the time an hour is over, we know the basic contours of one another’s lives
We, as Christians, can definitely feel isolated in from our culture’s views of human sexuality, marriage, and gender identification. Sometimes we learn to keep our views to ourselves for fear of offending others, or just because we don’t want to argue or seem intolerant. But when I heard about Jenner, all I could think of was how sad he must be. Like the writer of Ecclesiastes, he has lived a life of wealth, notoriety and material blessings; with all the houses, cars and toys many Americans only can enjoy vicariously. Yet, there apparently was still a void in his life that riches and fame could not fill.
As the Bible succinctly notes at the end of Judges: “Israel had no king so everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”
Our times are similar. Many Americans have not submitted to the King of kings and Lord of lords, so all we can muster is doing what seems right for us: reveling in “our own truth.”
I like the opening line from a favorite poem, “Otherwise” by Jane Kenyon. She begins the poem with, “I woke up in a body.”
Didn’t we all? We “woke up” and were here. We did not choose our parents. We did not choose where to be born. We did not choose our race or ethnicity nor the socio-economic group we were born into. And we did not choose whether we were male or female.
But God works through our particular circumstances: we can feel secure in the fact that he has appointed the time and the place where we are born; it was not a cosmic accident. And if we draw near to him, he will surely show us how our individual circumstances can be used for his purpose and for the purposes he has chosen for us to serve.
But we are mysteries to ourselves. Psalm 64:6-7 notes: “The inner man and the heart are mysterious; but God will shoot them with arrows; suddenly they will be struck down.”
The letter from James further says. “The heart is deceitful beyond all things; who can understand it?”
It is only through our relationship with God, and our daily communion with him, that we will ever understand our true natures and selves.
A prestigious hospital that pioneered so-called sex re-assignment surgery no longer performs these operations, after findings showed that many people were just as troubled after as they were before surgery. After a decade, the suicide rate for transgendered surgically altered people was 20 times higher than for those who did not have the surgery.
As Christians, we should have empathy for Jenner; although I don’t believe we can applaud his choice. Better, as the former head of surgery for Johns Hopkins said, is to steer these people into therapy, where they can explore why they don’t feel comfortable in their skin.
Every one of us has “issues,” areas that we struggle with daily; sins that we mightily strive to overcome. Failings and shortcomings and even physical and mental illnesses that we, however difficult it is, must deal with and run to God with every day.
It wasn’t for nothing that Jesus commanded his followers to “Take up your cross daily.” Because it was on one particular cross of suffering that death was overcome and new life given to all who come. Our crosses are often the very things God uses to purify us and make us suitable instruments for, and eventual inhabitants of, his Kingdom.
(This article originally appeared on The Christian Post on 6/8/15)
Hope E. Ferguson is senior writer for the State University of New York’s Empire State College in Saratoga Springs, New York. The great-granddaughter and granddaughter of African Methodist Episcopal (AME) ministers, she grew up hearing about social justice issues from her father, a human rights attorney, and mother, an artist, who were active in the civil rights movement. She blogs about faith, culture and politics at Morning Joy.