I grew up in the 70s, and like any good, old American household, our pantry was stocked with the typical food staples found in American households: Kraft macaroni and cheese, Campbell’s soup, Wonder bread, and other items. When it came to breakfast, especially in the year when the United States of America celebrated its bicentennial, the only choice that was both American and remotely healthy was Wheaties.
Back then, when there were special offers on the side, back, or bottom of cereal boxes, they were usually worthwhile. Sure, there were still those crummy, cheap plastic toys at the bottom that you ended up tearing open the box to find, but there were also the forms that you had to fill out. If you filled out the form, sent some postage and handling money, and were willing to wait eight to ten weeks, you would have a nice surprise waiting for you in the mailbox one day when you came home from school.
My reward came in a long cardboard cylinder. Feeling like Ralphie from “A Christmas Story,” I would rush home after school every day to find out whether or not that cylinder had arrived that day. They claimed it would only take eight to ten weeks, but in the mind of a young child, that seems like an eternity. But the day finally came, and it arrived!
When I opened it, there stood the picture of physique and fitness, the Adonis of America, the Champion: Bruce Jenner. There on a poster about 18 by 24 inches was this athlete poised with his javelin, not only making his mark on athletic history and in the process making a mark on the minds of every aspiring young athlete who dreamed of some day being an Olympian, just like Bruce.
Fast forward nearly forty years and that same Adonis is no longer gracing the cover of a box of Wheaties. Instead, he’s now on the cover of Vanity Fair. His name is no longer Bruce and, in fact, he is no longer a he but now a she. In this issue of the publication, she has announced that she will now be referred to as Caitlyn. It’s not the attire and outfit of an Olympian that he dons but rather a minimal corset which accentuates part of his body that didn’t look that way all those years ago.
Leave it to Diane Sawyer to provide us with the answers in an exclusive interview. And answers were just what she was seeking to find when her exclusive interview aired on ABC on Friday, April 24th.
I missed the interview when it originally aired. I caught bits and pieces on the evening and morning news that weekend. It wasn’t until much later that I watched it. In fact, I thought that the hype that the media had made of Bruce Jenner and his gender transition had mostly blown over until I saw the cover of Vanity Fair and the Annie Leibovitz picture that graced its cover.
To be honest, I was hoping that it would all blow over. I still struggle with the fact that our country has such a warped sense of importance in that we make a bigger deal over celebrities and their personal lives than we do about the injustices that are happening around the world. I find myself caught up in this ALL. THE. TIME. I want to care more about stuff that’s important but I get sucked into reading the gossip rags while waiting in line at the grocery store.
But this wasn’t blowing over and in some ways, I felt like in much the same way that Jenner had been lauded as a hero back in the 1970s because of his Olympic feats, he was now being lauded as a hero once again because of the decision that he was making after what he described to Sawyer as a lifelong struggle. According to Jenner, he had been hiding what he was really feeling inside for the majority of his life.
Jenner’s story is moving. Regardless of your viewpoint, it’s hard to hear someone talk about the struggles and discomfort that they’ve had for their lives. It’s hard to hear about the loneliness, the confusion, the brokenness, the struggle, and the general feeling that he was living a lie. No matter what you think about the issue, I don’t think anyone ever wants to hear someone talking about a point that they had come to when they thought that the best thing to do would be to walk into a room, grab a gun, and end the misery that they had been experiencing for a long time.
As one interviewee during the program said, “It’s impossible to hate anyone whose story you know.”
We are storied people and when we hear the stories of others, they move from being anonymous characters in a drama played out before us. They are no longer nameless, they are no longer faceless, they are no longer generic. When we know their story, we can’t so easily disassociate ourselves from them. No, we can’t hate anyone whose story we know, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that we will always agree with them simply because we’ve heard their stories. We might understand them better, we might know their hearts and their passions, but understanding and agreeing are not the same.
In the midst of hearing Jenner’s story, I have more questions than answers. I wonder what distinguishes an issue that if confronted and faced becomes a courageous act from an issue that if confronted and faced simply becomes just another issue. What is the determining factor for us in deciding where we draw the line on issues? How do we know whether we are being courageous or if we’re just going through the motions of following our heart? What determines when our response to an issue makes us pioneers and spokesmen for “millions living in the shadows” versus simply just standing up for what we believe?
I honestly struggle with the fact that the words of the Declaration of Independence have become distorted to us. The inalienable rights that we speak of, that the founding fathers wrote about, those rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, they have been skewed. Is it possible that the order in which they are named were in order of importance as seen by our founding fathers? Somehow, it seems, we have elevated the pursuit of happiness to the highest order of the land and we are willing to sacrifice anything and everything in order that we can pursue that happiness. Jenner’s kids just want their father to be happy.
Jenner’s words seemed to parallel Lady Gaga’s when he said, “I was made this way.” At the heart of who he is, in his soul, as he states, he is a woman. Forget the fact that he has lived his life as a man, as an impostor of sorts. He even goes so far as saying that this is how God made him and that, “God put me on this earth to deal with this issue.” Jenner believes that God made him to have the body of a man and the soul of a woman.
Jenner said, “this is not an issue that you can just walk away from.” I agree with him. The world is changing and there is no longer an option of doing nothing, of sticking our heads in the sand and wishing that everything would go away. As those who follow Christ, we can no longer simply spout out rules and regulations, carefully choosing the ones that conveniently fit our comfortable ideologies and casting away the ones that don’t. We need consistency.
In the midst of it all, we can’t forget that things are not the way that they were intended to be. Yes, we may have been born this way, but the way that we have been born is not necessarily the way that God intended us to be. When Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, their decision was more far-reaching than they ever could have imagined.
Is it possible that our feelings can betray us and that our pursuit of happiness can actually run contrary to our pursuit of what God really wants for us? Is it possible that the idea of taking up our cross daily really means sacrificing our wills for the sake of following Christ? Is it possible that, like Paul, we all may have been born with a thorn in the flesh, something that we constantly struggle with that can never be quenched, with which we can never feel fully comfortable in our own skin?
My heart breaks for Bruce Jenner. He hopes that his transition will bring him peace. Some hope that his transition brings him happiness. But that peace and that happiness will never be fully realized, will never be fully felt unless it comes from an indestructible source, unless it’s a peace that surpasses all of our understanding. I hope that Jenner can find that peace, and more importantly, know the One who provides it.