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Sunday, June 7, 2015

Athletes just don't change teams that way




When I was a boy, Christine Jorgensen (1926-1989) was America's freak.

After undergoing gender reassignment surgery in Denmark, Jorgensen was a regular on some of the late night talk shows of the day, and a feature of magazines of many sorts.

And everyone thought she was a freak. She was denied a marriage license: after all, she was a man- no matter what she looked like- and a man couldn't marry another man.

I've been thinking about Ms. Jorgensen amid all the fuss about the transition of athlete Bruce Jenner to celebrity Caitlyn Jenner. While it is never fun to make a priori judgments, I was spot-on pigeonholing the theopolitical right in their reactions.

Transgender issues are a mind-bender for people across the spectrum of goodwill, from the well-wishing and well-meaning to the across-the-board haters. For one thing, sexual orientation and gender expression are not tied in a three-legged race. I have known men who transitioned to women; some felt drawn to men; others, to women. Some are happy to remain married to their one-time opposite-gender spouse. Others feel the need to launch anew life altogether. 

Nor does genetics always help. I have hired a clerk I didn't realize was born female; I had a willowy, dazzlingly beautiful client who was born a man. I had another clerk who will always look like a burly mechanic, just one with long hair and breasts. We have been trained to think in binary, zero-sum terms, but there are ways to work past that. Forty years ago, when one heard of a gay couple, the instant first question was, "Who's the woman?" Not so much today.

Things that make your head hurt thinking about them are usually things you just reject out of hand, and that is pretty much what the theopolitans have done.

What's surprising- if only in a high minded, better angels of our nature way- is how Christian leaders- who enjoy a special, if not always well-placed, status as authorities on meeting and dealing with moral conundrums- have largely joined the baying villagers in the town square, torches lit.

The Franklin Graham Tendency-the ministers without portfolio, the fringe-dwellers in converted shopping malls- just mocks and denounces Jenner.She is a Christine Jorgensen- a freak, a sham. She has shown herself an interloper in the hypermasculine world of elite athletics. High divers and figure skaters are one thing, but Jenner was the guy who was the best at every sport that counted. Like Michael Sam and Jason Collins, a Bruce Jenner in the lock room calls into question every crotch adjustment on television, every butt pat: what did he mean by that? And what will people think about me, wondering why he picked me to pat on the butt? It gives people unaccustomed to the closet a taste of that life, and they tend not to like the glimpses.

The more institutional sort- like Richard Land and Russell Moore, are, in their invocation of variant of their "love the sinner, hate the sin" formulation for gays, making clearer than ever how threadbare and devoid of meaning their "tolerance" is:
After Jenner revealed her struggle with gender identity in an interview with Diane Sawyer, the head of the ethics organization of the Southern Baptist Convention, Russell Moore, wrote, “We do not see our transgendered neighbors as freaks to be despised. They feel alienated from their identities as men or women … In a fallen universe, all of us are alienated, in some way, from who we were designed to be.” But this empathy was accompanied by a statement of belief: Rejecting your gender, and particularly taking hormones or undergoing sex-change surgeries, does not fit with the Southern Baptist understanding of theology. 
Moore framed his position with the rhetoric of the culture war. “The cultural narrative behind the transgender turn … is rooted in the ancient heresy of Gnosticism, with the idea that the ‘real’ self is separate from who one is as an embodied, material being,” he wrote. “Our transgender neighbors experience real suffering … the answers the culture and the Sexual Revolution-Industrial Complex offer can’t relieve that suffering.” 
Setting the initial-capped “Sexual Revolution-Industrial Complex” aside, this is a straightforward claim about the nature of existence: Individuals can’t define the nature of their “self”; only God can. Feeling discomfort with yourself and alienated from the world is a normal part of being human, Moore is saying, but living as a Christian means accepting that Jesus, and not alterations of the body, is the salve to that feeling of alienation.
The rest of this article is well worth a read. And some serious discussion.

If you can find anyone who can engage in that.

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