The Humanity That Jenner And I Share

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.

bruce_jenner_long_hairWhen 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.

Brittany Higdon is a native of Ohio and has been residing in the Washington, DC area for the past six years.  She holds a B.A. from Franciscan University of Steubenville and an M.Ed from the University of Virginia. She is a Reading Specialist and is passionate about Catholic education. When she is not teaching or writing, she is exploring the Smithsonian Museums, traveling, and playing with her ferocious Dachshund/Yorkie cross named Cannoli.
Articles by Brittany Higdon:

  • 12Maria34

    “I love the humanity that Jenner and I share.” — our humanity is directed in glorifying God. By altering our own natural existence, either man or woman, we just declared that God is NOT all-knowing and NOT all-good because this is in contradiction of what He said: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you (Jer 1:5). Humanity as an excuse, society have accepted deviant behaviors for the reason of sympathy and care. This is all right but is this what really God wants (Ga 1:10 – Am I now carrying favor with human beings or God? Or am I seeking to please people?)? We have also justified our acceptance because we know that God is merciful but we are forgetting that God is God of justice (Jude 1:7 – Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.)

    • http://badly.productions/ Andy Frogman

      This assumes that God does not give us trials to over come.

      Just because God knows us in the womb, does not in the slightest suggest that how we are in the womb is how he intends us to remain. Born as tadpoles, they morph through their lives into frogs, distinctive, and different from how they started. Maybe this is Jenners path. As you say, God is omniscient, and you are not. Do not be so arrogant to claim to know what God is thinking in these situations.

      • 12Maria34

        “This assumes that God does not give us trials to over come.” — God knows us before we know ourselves. He gives us all the graces to overcome all trials. We just need to depend on Him. “God is omniscient, and you are not. Do not be so arrogant to claim to know what God is thinking in these situations.” — He is God. He will not give us trials we can not overcome and I do claim, that God as omniscient, knows everything before I can know anything. If you think it is arrogance for me to claim it, so be it. I claim it as what I believe that God is omniscient. I believe that He is All-Good, All-Loving, All-knowing — I just need to believe it and trust that He will be in our journeys. He is with us through our joys, pains, laughters, sufferings and trials. My sins are my sins and I will not find excuses for it but I will try not to do it again and pray for grace to overcome it.

        • http://badly.productions/ Andy Frogman

          I didn’t say God being omniscient was arrogance, I said claiming to understand the complexities of an infinite God is beyond the capabilities of mortal man. We can barely keep track of our car keys. So yes, I do think it’s arrogance to assume to understand the absolute will of God.

          Still, God knowing us before we know ourselves, is not proof that God does not create challenges for us to over come.

          He made us male and female, I agree, I subscribe to the binary, Transgender is not the same as gender fluidity, it is instead transitioning from one to another. Why do you think it is beyond Gods trials for us to overcome gender issues?

          • 12Maria34

            “I do think it’s arrogance to assume to understand the absolute will of God.” — I did not assume. It is taught to us and handed down from generation to generation. “I do think it’s arrogance to assume to understand the absolute will of God.” — I did not assume to understand God. It is written in the gospel what He wants for us. “Why do you think it is beyond Gods trials for us to overcome gender issues?” — yes! He will not give us we can not overcome.

  • 12Maria34

    “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.” — The Catholic Church is the fullness of Truth, not certain truths and yes, you have confirmed what they thought about you.

    • http://badly.productions/ Andy Frogman

      The Catholic Church is one of many denominations who follow the teaching of the Bible, not THE demonination, and frankly, it does so quite poorly. Just to catch you up though, the Bible tells a wonderful story, and the moral of that story is forgiveness. You have no idea what Jenner or Brittany, here, have whispered to God in the darkness of the night. If God has given forgiveness, who are you to take that away? Maybe you should keep your judgmental attitude to yourself, lest ye be judged.

      God bless.

      • 12Maria34

        The Catholic Church is NOT one of the many denominations. It s the only church established by Christ. To be called judgmental, bigot or hater and forgiveness is a standard response of those who find excuses for the actions that is not the Will of the Creator. As Christian we are all called to be perfect and to be holy as the Father is perfect and holy. I am great sinner and always trying to be good and trying to conform to God’s divine will.

        • http://badly.productions/ Andy Frogman

          The Catholic Church was established by Roman Emperor Constantine in 300AD. Actually do research into to the religion you clearly blindly follow.

          • 12Maria34

            Wrong … Check your history …

          • http://badly.productions/ Andy Frogman

            I have a University degree in Christian Ministry, a large part of that course was Church History, which was my best subject. I know my History.

            After the resurrection, Christ sent out his apostles to spread the Gospel. They established many Churches around the land, WELL before a Church was established in Rome. The closest link to these early churches are the Messianic Hebrew Synagogues, who retained their Jewish traditions, while incorporating the teachings of Christ and his Gospel.

            When Christian teaching got to Rome originally it was illegal. none the less a number of small Churches congregated up to around 250AD where a strcuture of heirarchy was determined amongst the Roman priesthood. In 315AD, Emperor Constantine converted, and so made Christianity legal and the primary religion of the empire, officiated the smaller churches and their heirarchy. Effectively creating the Catholic Church.

            Good luck with your denial though…

          • 12Maria34

            Just dig deeper …

      • 12Maria34
        • http://badly.productions/ Andy Frogman


          • 12Maria34

            If you listened to it. It is the point …

      • 12Maria34
        • http://badly.productions/ Andy Frogman

          Quoting a website that espouses the word “militant”. Not great for your case.

          • 12Maria34

            It is just good enough for me if you read it. I do not have to expound further.

      • 12Maria34
  • Paul Francis

    Ms Higdon overlooks the fact that the public’s having been deluged ad nauseam by this publicity stunt continues as a grave attack on the modesty particularly of young families attempting to model all the virtues pertinent to chaste living to their own children. It is rather disturbing that HLI has seen fit to give her rather myopic and Pollyanish reduction of the situation a platform. Though a language specialist, she can’t even rid her copy of solecism; what surprise comes it that her aspirations to theological discourse prove less than astute, let alone compelling?

    On this upcoming Sacred Heart solemnity, we have occasion to pray for children –including Jenner’s grown ones — whose lives have been dealt a blow by such public capitulation to narcissism and greed (Jenner’s appearance on Vanity Fair could not have been a “gratis” affair), and to make reparation to that Heart for continued contempt for His myriad gifts and refusal to bear the crosses He permits us.

  • tom faranda

    Lovely article, I couldn’t agree more.

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  • DLink

    I am quite willng to leave judgement of Jenner to the Deity, in fact, I prefer it. Howver, as to his (the pronoun is appropriate) actions, that is another matter. We make judgements about actions and things every day. This is no different. I see no reason to gratuitously bring up the subject but if it arises, I also see no reson to run from it. As for Buzz Bissinger, a reminder that schizophenia can be treated.