In our culture the common belief is that people can be whoever they want to be. We craft our own identity and what matters is our heart, not physical reality. Of course, as Christians, we reject this idea. It is not we who make our own identities, but we are given our identities by God. We see who we are in relation to him. And we believe that our physical bodies are part of who we are. If I am five feet tall, I am really five feet tall. If I have dark skin, I really do have dark skin.
This cultural belief has really been at the forefront of discussions in the news and social media. First, we had the big transformation of Bruce Jenner which most people seemed to celebrate. Although clearly and scientifically a man, he crafted his own new identity as a woman contrary to biological reality. Now we have the same thing happening with race. Some years ago, a white woman, Rachel Dolezal, leader of Spokane’s NAACP chapter, crafted her own identity as a black woman (or African-American depending on what term you prefer).
The two issues are not exactly the same. Rachel lied about her past, whereas Jenner has not. Though, I think we have to grapple with the reality that most transsexuals today do indeed lie about their pasts. They rewrite history, change birth certificates, and pretend their former lives do not exist. That does not show good integrity in my opinion.
But even if we grant that deception is part of the difference, the issues are otherwise very similar or the same. I remember writing a blog post a while back about what I would say if my child desperately told me he is black, or wanted to be black, even though he is not. And I said I would listen to him well, give him compassion, and give him counseling rather than surgery. And I said I’d do the same thing if my child said he was really a girl. I still hold to the same view. The two issues are worthwhile to compare. (It’s also similar to the issue of how some people long to be disabled).
In both cases, people are trying to forge identities for themselves, that to all appearances are completely illogical and contrary to reality, and contrary to everyone else’s common sense. Why is Jenner celebrated but Dolezal is not? This is hypocrisy, pure and simple. This Daily Mail article articulates the hypocrisy, “Why can Jenner — who hasn’t even had gender-altering surgery — say he’s a woman if she can’t say she’s black?” And from a CNN article –
Some referenced this vitriol in the context of Caitlyn Jenner, whose transition from Olympic champ Bruce Jenner to a woman was widely applauded. “So #CaitlynJenner is brave, but the Internet wants to burn #RachelDolezal at the stake,” one man wrote. “Are we bound by our bodies or not? #MakeUpYourMind!”
Of course, I would not be happy if people started celebrating Dolezal as well (of course neither do I want her burned at the stake!). I hope people are starting to realize we cannot change who we are by the flip of a switch or by a few cosmetic changes. Black people and white people and mixed race people and Asian people, and whatever ethnicity or race (whatever term you are comfortable using) are equal in worth and dignity and made in the image of God, and deserve equal rights, but they have bodily differences. We can celebrate those differences and learn from them. Men and women are equal in worth and dignity and made in the image of God, and deserve equal rights, but they are different, and have bodily differences. For us to pretend that you can change such things by cosmetic surgeries or by the feelings of your heart, shows just how confused and illogical our society has become.
Here are some of Dolezal’s statements here and here). What I think would be more authentic is for her to say something like: “I am clearly a white woman, that is my biological reality. But I fell in love with the beauty I saw in the community and culture of my friends who are African Americans.” Just like I would hope that those who struggle with gender dysphoria could one day say with freedom, joy, and confidence: “I am a man, but I also like beauty, I am sensitive, I like to cook, I like to make clothing, I love being with children, but that does not make me a woman. I am a man. Biologically this is clearly my reality, but maybe I’m a bit different from most other men and that is okay. But I’m not going to call myself a woman or a female, and not going to dress like one. I am a man and I’m going to live as a man following God’s commands about what it means to be a man, brother, father, and son.”