The cover of Vanity Fair popped up on my Instagram feed, and I was pleasantly surprised to see Janice Dickinson gracing the cover. A timeless beauty who has been hailed as the first super model in the 1970s, Dickinson has remained in the limelight despite the fact that she is now 60 years old. Looking closer at the Vanity Fair picture, I realized that that wasn’t Janice Dickinson at all. It was a person formally known as Bruce Jenner, whom I have watched with guilty-pleasure frequency on the E! show Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Jenner, a world-record holding Olympic athlete and father to six adult children, has now decided to be identified as a woman, Caitlyn, and the reaction among all sides of the religious and political spectrum have been extreme, to say the least. Whether it be to further an agenda or to condemn a person, it appears as if no one is lukewarm about this. What many people forget, however, is that, disordered or not, Jenner is a human being, and the degrading commentary being made by those on both sides is shameful.
One of the sections of the Vanity Fair article is entitled, “Nature made a mistake” that cited the 1952 words of a World War II male veteran who underwent sexual reassignment surgery. The article chronicles Jenner’s constant struggle with gender dysphoria, an empirically-based psychological diagnosis, which was largely the reason for his three divorces. Jenner claims to have desired to wear woman’s’ clothing since he was a child, when he was dealing with feeling ostracized for a dyslexia diagnosis, and would often secretly wear his wives’ clothes during his marriages. He also admitted to having worn a bra and pantyhose under his clothing during his Olympic-era speeches. In the 1980s, Jenner underwent hormone therapy in order to change from a man to a woman, a process which he abandoned shortly before meeting, and later marrying, Kris Kardashian, whom he was married to for 23 years. This latest attempt at sexual reassignment has included a trachea shaving, breast augmentation, and “facial feminization” surgery, the latter of which sparked Jenner’s first-ever panic attack.
When it comes to Jenner’s gender expression, everyone seems to have an opinion. Lena Dunham, an actress and prominent advocate for seemingly everything left of the political spectrum from abortion rights to tree hugging, posted on Instagram, along with a photo of the newly-debuted Caitlyn Jenner, “The best thing about being a woman is the prerogative to have a little fun,” quoting a Shania Twain tune. Similarly, model Gigi Hadid posted, “Hi, Caitlyn, you are beautiful” on her Instagram feed. Just as Jenner has been applauded by those on one side of the political spectrum, including President Obama, Jenner has been attacked mercilessly by those on the other. One blogger wrote, “Instinctively, when it comes down to it, where your life and love are concerned, you recognize the difference between a biological woman in all her glory, and a castrated man in all his derangement.”
What we are dealing with in this particular situation is a living, breathing, person made in the Image and Likeness of God. We are not primarily dealing with an idea or an agenda. We are dealing with a person who has feelings, thoughts, desires, dreams, and aspirations just like the rest of us.
In contrast to those who emphatically praised or condemned Jenner, another blogger posted on his Facebook page, “… Bruce knows deep down that the two personas [or Caitlyn and Bruce] are distinct. Will you join me in praying for him? He needs mercy, not applause.” Vanity Fair journalist, Buzz Bissinger wrote, “My heart bled for Caitlyn. She was so earnest, trying so hard; you could feel the essential goodness in Caitlyn, and Bruce Jenner before her.” These words of observation from those on both sides have one major thing in common: they dignify Jenner’s humanity.
Is the answer to life’s problems simply an altering surgery? Of course not. Just like any disordered desire, it is a cross to bear and an offering to make. Many Catholics also take for granted what we know. Being a millennial, many have accused me of being relativistic when it comes to morality. On the contrary, I strongly believe in certain truths, but also acknowledge that the convictions I hold are a gift, brought forth from strong formation and education. Not everyone has had what I have. People who become frustrated with people like Jenner must also take in to account that perhaps Jenner wasn’t taught the way we were, which may make Jenner less culpable for decisions made. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states,
Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct. If—on the contrary—the ignorance is invincible, or the moral subject is not responsible for his erroneous judgment, the evil committed by the person cannot be imputed to him. It remains no less an evil, a privation, a disorder. One must therefore work to correct the errors of moral conscience (no. 1792-1793).
So, is Jenner culpable for the actions taken? How about we allow God to make that decision?
Jenner is a human being who should not be ostracized, nor should any questionable life choices be lauded. What needs to be constantly recalled is that Jenner is a human being, not a cartoon character. He, therefore, should not be subject to public ridicule, or be used to further one’s agenda. Many may argue that people who put themselves in the public eye are simply “asking” for people to critique their lives. I disagree. Every person needs to make a living, and those in the entertainment business are no different. Just because a hazard of their trade is being subject to the public does not mean that they are any less human than you and me. Msgr. Luigi Giussani said, “Judgment is the beginning of liberation.” While many of the decisions made by those in Hollywood are more than slightly questionable, and we may rightly make judgments on these actions, we may not condemn those who take these actions as people, nor may we profane them as human beings. What Jenner has is a disordered desire, but he is also an Olympic athlete, father, public speaker, and, most importantly a beloved child of God. He must not be reduced to the one characteristic. He is much more than that.
While the decision made by Jenner is more than slightly controversial, may we all as Catholics understand the issue with love, and speak in a manner Christ would. While I certainly question the decisions made by many people in Hollywood and out, I love the humanity that Jenner and I share.