Watching the long marketing prologue to Bruce/Caitlin Jenner’s new reality show, I have marveled at what our culture now finds entertaining. I have no way of knowing what it is like to be a decathlon athlete who now believes his “brain is much more female than male.” I do try to be sympathetic to what must drive someone to crave such a radical solution to his unhappiness, for I know God still loves Jenner.
Yet no sooner have we turned the definitions of marriage and parenthood on their heads, but we are now redefining gender with scarcely a second thought.
Facebook says there are now 58 genders, or at least 58 ways of describing how you view your own gender. My favorite may be “two-spirit,” but the one that caught my eye is “cisgender.” This is the happy coincidence when the gender you were “assigned at birth” happens to agree with who you feel you are. I am a cis-man, for example.
The media’s rush to the transgender phenomenon is making the gay marriage phenomenon seem absolutely pokey. We already have whole television shows built around the “trans” experience, including a new series on ABC Family. We even had a trans-man who was still equipped with a uterus get pregnant, thus inaugurating a brief flurry of stories about the “first pregnant man.” With all this coverage, who would know we are heralding 0.2 to 0.3 percent of the population.
While we benighted traditionalists are treading carefully in this minefield of sensitivities, a recent feminist critique of the trans-female phenomenon caught my eye because it struck a rare note of skepticism from a secular perspective. Elinor Burkett, writing in The New York Times, bemoans the fact that Jenner describes himself having a female brain. As a feminist, she says she has tried to keep people from these “hoary stereotypes,” but that people like Jenner are now dragging them back to the Dark Ages.
“People who haven’t lived their whole lives as women ... shouldn’t get to define us,” she said. “Their truth is not my truth. Their female identities are not my female identity.”
For Burkett, people are shaped by their experiences, and she makes the common-sense observation that Jenner has been shaped by a primarily privileged male experience.
She also rejects the “I was born in the wrong body” argument, because it reduces “us to our collective breasts and vaginas.” A comparison she and other secular observers have made is that we would be less understanding if a white man insisted he was black inside and deserved to be treated as such, or a black woman was convinced she was really a white girl in a black girl’s body.
Burkett also chronicles the political correctness surrounding trans issues. It turns out that what may kill the infamous “Vagina Monologues” play is its now objectionable assumption that women must have such genitals. At Mount Holyoke women’s college, the play was canceled because of its “extremely narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman.” Even abortion supporters are changing their language because “abortion rights ... is not a women’s issue,” according to one trans-woman, but “a uterus owner’s issue” — the trans-man who hasn’t gotten rid of his uterus yet and still needs an abortion.
I think there will be, at some point, a backlash to all this among impatient secularists such as Burkett, as well as among doctors and scientists. But it will take a while.
As for Christians, we have seen this radical division between spirit and matter before. It is called gnosticism, a movement repelled by the idea of a God-man entering the material world, much less redeeming it. Today, of course, we’d call him a cis-messiah.
Greg Erlandson is OSV’s president and publisher.