What About Bruce Jenner?

I’m a logician. No matter how wrong I am, I can always convince myself I am right.Bruce Jenner
Jarod Kintz



Last night’s interview between Diane Sawyer and Bruce Jenner didn’t include too many surprises. After all, his “transition” to a female persona has been well publicized (any trip to the grocery store these past few months will confirm that) as has the support his family feels and expresses for him.

So you’d pretty much have to have been hiding under a rock not to know that the former Olympic champion has been undergoing hormone therapy, dressing as a female, and becoming more distinctly feminine in his appearance and mannerisms. Last night’s interview, then, was the official “coming out” of a man whose process has been well known but unconfirmed.

If you were holding onto any Say-It-Ain’t-So hopes, they died last night. Jenner confirmed that yes, he is transsexual, has always felt he was a woman in a man’s body, has been secretly expressing that belief periodically over the years, and is now publically embracing it.

It Seems We’ve Stood and Talked like This Before

Those of us who’ve been around for a while can’t help feeling a distinct Deja-vu because, well, we’ve been here before.

Like in 1985, when Rock Hudson, handsome leading man and man’s man to boot, announced his HIV status and long term homosexuality. Or in 2008, when Portia De Rossi, gorgeous and feminine by any standards, married Ellen DeGeneres.  Or last year, when defensive lineman Michael Sam became the first openly gay NFL player.  After the initial shock of learning that someone you’d never have suspected is something you’d never have guessed, the second thing to process is the message that the “Yes, I really am” announcements seem to carry: If this person is that way, then that way must be OK. Therefore take notice and be educated.

Jenner is Exhibit A for this line of thought. And why not? Looking a clips during the interview of his 1976 Olympian victories, I was reminded again what a likeable, sterling hero he was. With American good looks and Greek god physique, he was the guy you wanted your son to become or your daughter to marry. For years the likeability factor played in his favor as he sprang from athlete to motivational speaker to a face on the Wheaties box every mother could point to and say, “Don’t you want to be like him when you grow up?”

And all those years we admired him, he wrestled with a profoundly deep conviction that he was a woman trapped inside a man’s body.

When someone we think highly of has such a secret, we’re often asked by the media, the professionals, and usually the person himself, to consider three things: Causation, Character, and Compassion.

These are the points usually exploited in hopes of persuading us to re-assess what we consider to be right or wrong, normal or abnormal. They’ve been used for decades as reasons we should reconsider our stance on homosexuality; now they’re being trotted out again to inspire a revision of our take on transsexualism. That being the case, let’s look at each, in light of what we heard in last night’s interview, and in light of what both Scripture and common sense have to say.

Causation: “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It, and If It’s Inborn, It Ain’t Broke!”

Jenner was clear about the longevity of his feelings, saying they went back to childhood. Sawyer cited research indicating genes or brain structures contribute to the “I’m in the wrong body” mentality. And if you’ll Google the internet, you’ll find that plenty of professionals consider Jenner’s condition to be inborn and, therefore, perfectly normal and acceptable.

The condition itself is Gender Dysphoria, a prevailing and strong sense of anxiety or restlessness about the body you live in versus the person you feel you are. It’s still diagnosable under the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental and Emotional Disorders (DSM IV) as Gender Identity Disorder  , and in the recently revised DSM v as Gender Dysphoria.  (Although, as I’ve written in previous articles, considerable efforts are being made to have it removed from the list, no longer to be viewed as a disorder.

No one’s arguing over how deeply ingrained and early in life this condition shows up. It’s common knowledge that some transsexuals express their conflict while they’re still toddlers! The arguing starts when we ask whether the condition itself is abnormal and needs correcting, or whether the body, not the condition, is the problem to be solved.

Or to put it more plainly: If I feel and think I am a woman trapped inside a man’s body, should I alter my feelings and thoughts to match my body, or my body, to match my feelings and thoughts?

And that’s where the “born this way” idea gets pushed.

Doctor Knows Best

We’ve seen this one before, too. In 1991, a few scientists claimed they may have found differences in brain structure between homosexuals and heterosexuals. The INAH3 in particular (the third interstitial nucleus of the anterior hypothalamus) came into question, and if you just said, “What the?” then you just made my point. It’s awfully hard understanding, much less challenging, doctors and scientists when they talk about their field in their terms.

But I did give it a try. At that time, I wrote a cover story  for Christianity Today magazine arguing two points: First, the studies were inconclusive, and second, even if something is inborn, that alone cannot normalize it. (It’s worth noting that 24 years later, conclusive evidence that homosexuality is inborn is still lacking.)

Today we’re back to discussions about the brain, an area mysterious to most of us, and, just as was done with homosexuals, differences between the brains of transsexuals versus the brains of non-transsexuals are being discussed. And if you feel up for such a discussion, try responding to these remarks from doctors who promote the “inborn therefore normal” theory:

“A crucial question resulting from a previous brain study in male-to-female transsexuals was whether the reported difference according to gender identity in the central part of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BSTc) was based on a neuronal difference in the BSTc itself or just a reflection of a difference in vasoactive intestinal polypeptide innervation from the amygdala, which was used as a marker.”

Right. OK, in fairness, all these observations may be accurate, and there’s surely nothing wrong with experts using appropriate terms. But that’s where many Christians get befuddled. Because even without the MD’s or PhD’s our common sense, plus a firm conviction that our Creator knew us before we were formed in the womb (Jeremiah 1:5) leave us certain that our male or female status is not only planned, but is also a non-negotiable, God-ordained fact. But when approaching the complications (not to mention the language!) surrounding brain structures and genes, it’s easy to be intimidated. We can’t play too well on the expert’s field; our “visiting team” disadvantage is clear.

Or is it? No matter how complex the subject of brain wiring or genetic coding may be, the fact remains that when someone is transsexual, there’s either something wrong with their brain or the body they’re born with. So if people with gender dysphoria do have brain structural differences, could we not consider those to be the abnormality, rather than the body the brain is housed in?

I do not argue that this condition, like homosexuality, could be inborn. I doubt it, but I also recognize its possibility. Yet if my brain, and therefore my deepest feelings and thoughts, tells me something that is verifiably untrue, I have to admit the problem is my thoughts and feelings, both of which need to be resisted, not indulged. To this non-PhD, that seems self-evident,
reasonable, final.

Character and Compassion

But if the person who has a condition is essentially a respectable, healthy individual, does that alone not normalize the condition? And doesn’t compassion therefore dictate that we support that person in his condition, considering how much he wants our support and approval? Well, if character determines normality, then Jenner wins, hands down. Or so it seems to me, because despite my misgivings about what he’s doing, I see plainly that the guy has a lot going for him.

So do plenty of other people, with any number of conditions, for that matter. Likeable, respectable, and competent folks can and do have various sexual and emotional preferences, preferences that aren’t normal no matter how normal the rest of the person’s life may be. The mind bender for many people lies in the fact that the one does not cancel out the other.

Which raises the compassion question. As I write this, I’m thinking of the number of parents I work with who have sons or daughters who have informed them that they are transsexual, and are, like Jenner, transitioning. More often than not, these sons and daughters are also telling their parents that they need their support, and that to deny it is to show lack of compassion, love, or both. “I’m still the same person,” they argue, “so why can’t you see my good qualities no matter what gender I choose?”

But that’s a false either/or perspective. Because it’s entirely possible to remember a person’s good qualities while still believing certain things about them are just plain wrong. So King David, a man after God’s own heart, was capable of adultery and murder. Peter, zealous and passionate about Christ, could also betray him. And Abraham, the epitome of faith, could have such a severe lapse of trust in God that he felt the need to pass his wife off as his sister. People of good character can also show lack of character; people who are essentially good can also be awfully bad. The one hardly cancels out the other.

Besides which, compassion and agreement shouldn’t be confused. Who among us cannot feel compassion for anyone so tormented by discomfort with their own body that they will make extraordinary attempts to modify it? Yet the depth of my compassion cannot erase my convictions. And my convictions remind me that not only is it impossible to create a female out of a male, nor a male out of a female, but that the attempt itself may have consequences that shouldn’t be overlooked.

For example, a study by Swedish researches reviewing the long term effects of sex-reassignment surgery found that the mortality rates, suicide rates, and rates of psychological conflict were significantly higher among people who transitioned, presuming that living as the opposite sex would solve their problems.

One can only imagine the despair of going to such extremes, only to find they didn’t deliver what they promised. Is it really compassionate, then, to offer approval for something which may in the long run prove disastrous?

We Still Love Bruce

Having said all that, my admiration for Jenner is solidly intact. His accomplishments are incredible; his persona, from all I can see, is quite likeable. But liking and admiring cannot cancel out believing that he was fearfully and wonderfully made, with a plan, and that his sex is hardly an accident, much less a reversible one. He’s as deeply loved by the God who made him a man as he ever was, and the One who fashioned Him is the one who is, I’m convinced, weeping over Jenner’s choice to nullify what God Himself said is Good.

If only I had the opportunity and the influence, I’d tell him so. After watching him last night, I hold onto the hope that someone will.



  2. Curtis Nabors says:

    Joe- as always, excellent writing and research! And I love how you always remember to talk about the heart of God. I can’t imagine what Bruce must be going through. But as fallen people, we all have things that we struggle with. Just because we have an urge or inclination doesn’t mean it’s right. Only the redemptive power of God can transform us into what we were created to be before the fall.

  3. Fascinating coverage, Joe. I’m curious to know more about what can/has been done to change the mental state (versus physicality) of people with gender dysphoria, and what the success rate is.

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