The last few weeks, we have been asking questions about what it means to be a woman and meanwhile, Bruce Jenner has faded away and has transformed outwardly to have the shape of a woman…a woman named Caitlyn. And so we find ourselves, once again, navigating the borderlands. Once again we are being asked to step to one side or another of the line drawn in the sand.
There are articles every which way you turn. Many praising Caitlyn for her courage. Others demonizing Bruce for this decision. And still others just seeking to understand. But why must we always choose a side?
I don’t agree with the choice Bruce made but I can, on some level, relate. And, if you are honest with yourself, I believe you can as well.
See, Bruce was at odds with his own skin. His outsides did not match his insides. There was a disparity between who he felt he was at his very core and what people saw when they looked at him, even when he looked at himself. This disparity caused Bruce to feel disconnected from himself and at war with his life.
I too have felt as though the person others see does not seem to align with who I am certain I’ve been created to be. When your skin doesn’t seem to fit, it is an isolating experience. This distance between your soul and your skin seems to carve out a hollow space the size of the Grand Canyon within you and create a vastness that spans the universe between you and those with whom you share life. It seems as though no one really knows you, including, and perhaps especially, yourself.
I don’t claim to know the intricate and intimate aches of this journey that Bruce has walked in becoming Caitlyn. Gender identity has never been the hinge of the discomfort of my own skin. There is much I do not understand about this particular struggle but I can easily see the humanity of it. I can easily, if I stop demanding that people agree with me, see my where my own heartaches overlap with those Bruce must have been feeling for so long.
To not feel at home in your own skin…
That is to be human.
Not wholly human but to be a human in a world this side of Eden.
I believe at creation, before sin, we were wholly human. Rebellion broke that wholeness and ever since God has been working to restore us to the complete perfection of humanity in which he first breathed life. That first act of distrust, pride, and rebellion broke every relationship that ever will be. As broken humans, we cannot find perfect peace with God, nature, one another, or ourselves. There is no fix we can employ to bridge the gap between us and God, and there is no fix we can employ to bridge the gap between our soul and skin. However, while we cannot fix the destroyed, God can. And Jesus is that cure.
Now, before you run away because you fear I might get preachy, let me be clear. I’ve had a relationship with Jesus for the majority of my life and there are still many many days, months even, when I do not feel like one whole person, at home in my skin. If we were created for a perfect world, and Jesus is going to bring that perfection about, then we are not home yet so it stands to reason that we wouldn’t feel settled. Jesus had the same aches. The one He knew he was and the one people saw him as were not in sync. This skin we wear was created to hold a soul that was in perfect harmony with God and all of creation and until that is restored, we will always have moments when we feel like our flesh pinches and pulls.
As The Church, we are quick to show our disgust when people make choices that are contrary to The Truth we hold to. We roll our eyes and tell the world why Bruce will never be a woman and why he is destroying they lives of his family and why we just cannot understand why someone would do that to himself. But, be quiet for a moment. Put away your “righteous indignation” for a little while and examine your heart. If you cannot understand why someone would make these choices, perhaps you have not acknowledged some aches in your own life. Have you really never felt at odds with your own skin? Have you never made any choice to try to bridge the gap? Dyed your hair, changed your wardrobe, rearranged your surroundings?
I dyed a strip of my hair teal a little over a year ago. It was the first time, in a long time that I left the salon feeling a little more like myself. It’s silly but outwardly I don’t feel like there is anything particularly unique or striking about me. I blend in. On my worst days, I wallow in feeling forgettable. But inwardly, I believe God has created a spark in me. I feel like I have something to offer the world that is significant and special and anything but forgettable. I’m generally a rule follower outwardly but there is a rebellious streak internally that I don’t know how to release without it reeking havoc. So, I dyed my hair an unnatural color to try to lessen the distance between my soul and skin. And I still like my hair, but it no longer effectively fills the cavern. It was a short-term solution to an eternal problem. An eternal problem that we all carry in this skin.
So let’s take a break from drawing lines in the sand and choosing sides. Perhaps, rather that running from the transgendered community in fear or barreling toward them with “righteous anger”, we could come alongside them. Perhaps, we could put an arm around them and listen to their stories, hear their heartache. And perhaps, we could even honestly confess with them that we aren’t sure how to feel at home in this skin. Know what you believe, stand firm in it, but choose to find common ground. Choose to be kind. Choose to set down your stone, scribble in the sand, and speak peace like Jesus did when the religious mobs threw a sinner at His feet.
I don’t have to understand his choices to know that I can relate to Bruce. I’m certain you can too. And I fear, when the fan fare dies down, Caitlyn will find herself standing in this place once again.
Beautiful piece, Erin. I have ALWAYS wanted to have a strip of blue hair, but hair dressers have always told me it would be too hard with my naturally dark hair. I love the way you explained how it helped your outsides match your insides in some small way, if only temporary. I totally relate to this, coming from a family doused in tattoos and piercings, and taking it a step further to help understand, if just a little bit, what people like Bruce are walking through. Thanks!
Absolutely, Anna. I think the temporary is the difficult part. We want to fix it permanently but we can’t. I don’t think surgery can fix it either. It just seems like a more drastic attempt to find a solution. I fear for Caitlyn that she will find herself feeling just as lost as before after awhile. But, that is why we need to walk with each other. That is why compassion is essential to life. Thank you for joining the journey! (I have a tattoo as well and have considered piercing my nose and getting a second tattoo. )
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Also, I know someone who would love to achieve the blue strip of hair! My hair dressers would never let me do fire-engine red because they were afraid I’d be mad when it faded to orange. But my hair-magician now was so excited she I asked for blue. And it was awesome! Since then I’ve tried a few shades of blue and even purple. Next will be pink or green. I say, if you want to do it (and don’t mind a little maintenance) go for it!
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Hey Erin! I had to come back and tell you that I did it! Got my little strips of blue peeking out, ready to say hi to the FTLers this weekend! Waaahooo!
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Come along side them just like Jesus did on Earth…an articulate encouragement of grace here.
I have acted more like Pharisees than Jesus for much of my life. I’m learning to walk as He did more and more. It’s so good. Thanks for join the journey, Mindy!
Erin, this is a very articulate and grace-filled essay on a Christian’s response to the cultural shift in which we find ourselves. Judgement comes easy. Grace is a gift we give straight from the heart of God. Thank you for taking the time to share your heart.
Kelly, I was thinking about that this morning. We are most often called to the hard paths and like you say, it isn’t difficult to walk with judgment. It’s much more difficult to navigate the world with grace and compassion. Thank you for joining in the journey.
Thank you for trying to walk a mile in Caitlyn’s shoes even though you are conflicted about her choice. We can’t have compassion for someone until we suffer with them. You’re so right, Jesus want’s us to put our stone’s aside and take time to know what is really going on with a person so we can show them love and mercy.
It’s not easy territory to navigate. That’s for certain. But I believe there is a way to walk with people through pain even when we disagree. Thank you for joining in the journey.