Thursday, June 4, 2015

Jenner and the Image Crisis

As the Bruce Jenner saga continues, one recurring theme from the Vanity Fair piece and discussions about the situation is the idea of identity crisis.

Jenner's story includes long feeling that something was wrong with his identity--at an early age, his image of himself did not match what he saw, and he identified the solution as the feeling of being a woman trapped in a man's body. As a result, the idea came up in the 1960s and 1970s to use modern medical techniques to change the sex of the person to match the gender which they felt.

Now let's stop for a minute and admit that this is logical. If it is possible that a person is born a gender and born a biological sex and that the two can get mixed up somehow, then it is logical this could lead to confusion and psychological flaws; therefore, to realign sex and gender would be logical.

However, there are two monster-sized assumptions which underlie the idea of transgender:

  1. Gender identity is separate from sexual identity
  2. Gender identity is a 'given', not a choice--you are born a certain way 

If either of these is untrue, no reasonable physician would approve surgery as an option. Why?

If the first is not true, and gender cannot be separated from biological sex, then someone who feels they are different is actually undergoing a serious psychological issue and this is a symptom, not the cause; thus, the surgery will not actually solve the problem.

If the second is not true, then you would not undergo such a major and radical surgery when the person might have regrets later and wish to change their mind; yet sex change operations are not reversible.

The difficulty for the medical community is that gender is not a physical thing you can measure and therefore it is not easy to decide what to do.

However, now that this has been done thousands of times historically, we have strong evidence: evidence strong enough that it led Johns Hopkins to stop offering the surgery. After transgenders have sex-change operations, they report high satisfaction, removal of the problem, etc.; however, every single study ever done later shows that they continue to express serious psychological concerns at later dates. 

In fact, post-op transgenders, far from being removed of their demons, seem to be far worse: the suicide rate raises at shocking levels. 

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 4.6% of the general population have attempted suicide at some point. The number increases to 10-15% among those who are LGBT but not transsexual (no sex change operation). After sex change operations, the suicide attempt rate is an astonishing 41%.

Yes, that is correct: 2 of every 5 post-op transsexuals who state that their burdens were lifted, later changed their minds. Unable to deal with their other psychological issues, they attempted to commit suicide--many, tragically, were successful. The only group which comes close to reaching these rates are cross-dressing men, who didn't take the step to get the surgery but did begin to alter their appearance.

Now, the doctors looking at this data must draw one of two conclusions, as must we. 

If the assumptions listed above are correct, then there must be something else causing this huge spike--either a very unfortunate and persistent coincidence or our society somehow manages to punish them so much more after surgery than before that two of every five just decide they'd rather die--and this punishment somehow is never noticed by the psychologists, for none of those post-op studies revealed such a situation. 

The other potential conclusion is that there was some psychological underlying issue--the true root cause--which led to  the feeling of gender disorder and which therefore was unaddressed by the sex change operation. In this case, the surgeries actually helped cause the suicidal spike, because once this issue was removed the person remains in despair, and yet has thrown their life into upheaval in the process. Bruce Jenner admitted to such a second thought when waking up the next day after the surgery, thinking he had made a huge mistake. It is unfortunately an all-too-common mistake.

As a result, Johns Hopkins concluded that this elective surgery was not worth the risks of mortality post-op--both due to suicide and natural complications.

So what is the root cause?

I actually think that Jenner and the transgenders are right--there is an identity problem. The image they have of themselves does not match their physical reality. I think they have nailed that on the head.

However, I think where they have gone wrong is in trying to assign the cause of that dissonance. They have assigned the cause to a feeling of gender. 

I would argue that this is not the root cause at all--that the image problem they have is significantly different, and is one that we all have.

I am currently preparing a sermon on Genesis 1 which I will teach later this summer. In it, I will give what I believe to be the proper exegesis of the passage, tying Genesis 1 to ancient temple texts and showing that it aligns perfectly and, therefore, if read in its context contains much that we miss.

One such thing that we miss--which I have alluded to but never fully detailed (one of these days, I will)--is the idea that we are the Image Deo, the image of God.

Many teach about this but miss the main point.

If Genesis 1 identifies earth as God's temple (and it does, as many other texts support; again, I will detail all this one day later), then we must read it as an ancient would read it. In the center of each temple was the sanctuary, and Genesis 2 presents Eden as God's sacred place in the Temple. 

Inside this sacred place was the Image of the god in ancient temples. The Image was something--usually a statue--which was meant to appear like the god. After the temple is dedicated, the god's ba, or presence, animates the statue. It is this image that the god uses to rule creation, to deliver his oracles, and to receive the sacrifices which lead others into his presence.

Knowing this, we see the importance of Genesis 1:26-27...we are the Image of God. We are the 'statue' in His temple, filled with His Spirit. We are supposed to lead others to Him in worship, to share His wisdom/oracles, and to represent Him physically to the world.

However, the first image-bearers, Adam and Eve, did not want to only be the image of God, they wanted to be God. They did not want to merely receive wisdom and pass it along, they wanted to own the wisdom--and hence they ate of the tree of knowledge. They became broken images and God cast them out of the sanctuary, like a cracked statue.

(PS--This explains a lot of the Gospel, by the way. This is why Jesus had to come--the proper High Priest to re-enter the Temple sanctuary, and the proper Image who shared God's good news and did His will without fail. Jesus promises those of us who want it that we will be "conformed to His Image" and made like Christ; thus, those who desire to be the Image of God again can, by following Jesus and His leadership, receive the presence of God (the Spirit) in their lives and begin the process of being remade to be like Jesus. It also explains how in Revelation some are mislead by the image of the beast, and it also explains what the Bible means when it says that we will co-rule with Jesus in heaven.)

At any rate, the point is that we ALL have an image problem. We all have an identity crisis. We were shaped and molded to be the image of God and stand with Him in His sanctuary; instead, we are cracked and broken and our image is destroyed.

The problem arises when we try to diagnose the problem. 

Some realize the problem is spiritual and seek out religion to correct their image -- other religions generally speaking try to correct the image through works, while Christianity says that Jesus will correct it for you if you will serve Him.

Some think the problem is about fame, or money, or power, and seek it by chasing those things in this world.

Some think the problem is sexual, that if they can find the right partner or situation that they will feel whole again.

Some think the problem is about their literal, physical image--that if they can control their appearance through makeup or dieting or breast implants or rock-hard abs, then they can somehow fix the broken image.

And some--like Jenner--think that the issue is gender-based and that if they can only swap genders, all will be right with the world.

The reality is that nothing in this world can fix the brokenness that is our lives. We all, deep down, feel it--have always felt it. But the thing is, our broken image is not physical matter, and thus no change in physical matter will fix it--neither money nor sex nor power nor adoring fans nor changes to our bodies (surgical or otherwise) will address it. It is like drinking wine to combat cancer--it might make you feel better for a few minutes, but it's not going to fix the problem.

I do believe that Bruce Jenner had a serious image problem. Unfortunately, what he needed was a good Christian counselor or pastor...not new breasts.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if part of the problem is too much rigidity regarding gender roles, in both the churches and society. I, for example, have many traits that are supposedly "feminine," such as empathy and willingness to disregard my own wishes for a greater good; yet I am comfortable with being a man--but perhaps a man who does not fit the gender role of a decisive leader.

    However, I have not had the issues that Caitlyn Jenner has. (I use that name and the feminine pronoun merely because that's what she has requested.) If I had felt consistently and for most of my life that I was a woman trapped in a man's body, I don't know what I would have done. And whatever we may think about her reasonings, the operation is done now, and as you point out, it's irreversible. To blame her now for her choices would only drive her farther away from the Truth. So for now, I feel the best thing to do is to accept her on her terms. For now.

    --Hello, Caitlyn. May God bless you and lead you into His Kingdom.