You’d have to be on a deserted island not to know that Bruce Jenner is now presenting himself to the world as a woman named Caitlyn. The media, of course, are touting his “transformation” as something bold and heroic, holding him up as a model of great courage.
In no way do I wish to make light of this situation. I can’t imagine the interior pain that would lead a man to mutilate his body in an attempt to “become a woman.” My heart goes out to him in all sincerity and I’m filled with compassion. What I wish to reflect on here is the Cartesian roots of a statement he made in a recent interview: “Gender identity,” he said, “has to do with who you are as a person and your soul, and who you identify with inside.” This is a death-dealing statement. Why? Because it separates body and soul. And that is exactly what death is.
This dissonant view of existence is a direct descendant of Rene Descartes’ famous dictum: “I think, therefore, I am.” When human identity is posited in “thought,” the human being becomes a “mind” divorced from his body. In turn, the body comes to be seen as a “thing” to be dominated and manipulated at will. The body doesn’t say anything about reality. Rather, the “mind” sets itself up as the determinant of reality – “I think, therefore I am.” Subjective thoughts are no longer answerable to objective reality. “Reality” is reduced to what I think and feel about it.
Listen again to the ringing “Cartesian-ness” of this statement: “Gender identity has to do with who you are as a person and your soul, and who you identify with inside.” In other words, Bruce Jenner feels like a woman, therefore he believes he is a woman. Having fallen prey to the Cartesian split between body and soul, Bruce Jenner has reduced his God-given sex to something merely bodily – as if his body and its sex were merely a shell that his “female mind” inhabited. But the human being is not a spirit or mind housed in arbitrarily sexed-flesh. Because of the profound unity of body and soul in God’s design, the human being is a “sexed being” through and through, physically and spiritually.
[tweetthis]When human identity is posited in “thought,” the human being becomes a “mind” divorced from his body. – @cwestTOB[/tweetthis]
“Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul,” observes the Catechism (CCC 2332). It “is by no means something purely biological,” Saint John Paul II affirmed. Rather, sexuality “concerns the inner-most being of the human person” (Familiaris Consortio 11). And this means that the body reveals the deepest truth of the person. “It is, thus, in all its materiality … penetrable and transparent,” wrote John Paul II, “in such a way as to make it clear who man is (and who he ought to be)” (TOB 7:2).
Who is Bruce Jenner and who ought he to be? When asked why he did it, Jenner responded: “Bruce lives a lie. She [Caitlyn] is not a lie.” Wow. Again, I don’t mean to make light of the profundity of his interior struggle – it would certainly be agonizing to “feel” like a woman when you’re not. But, in all charity, it must be said: Bruce is calling a lie the truth and the truth a lie. He’s flipping reality on its head and, more scary than that – the world is going along with it!
Is there anyone on the planet who would not feel deceived if a person he had been dating for some time suddenly revealed that she (actually he) had undergone “gender re-assignment surgery”? That person would feel deceived because it is a deception. Here feelings are in touch with reality.
What, then, is the charitable response to Bruce Jenner and others like him? We cannot separate charity from truth. “Truth is the light that gives meaning and value to charity,” wrote Pope Benedict XVI. “Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way” (Caritas in Veritate 3).
Those who go along with the deception that Bruce Jenner is now a woman are not loving him. Rather, they are fostering an incredibly harmful illusion and foisting it on the world. To love him demands truth. Of course, that truth must be presented in love. Love without truth does not do justice to the person, but nor does truth without love.
So, in love, it must be acknowledged that Bruce Jenner is not a woman and never will be. He is a man tragically cut off from his true sexual identity. The solution is not for him to mutilate his body. The solution is for him to experience the healing of his soul. This is a healing that, in the final analysis, only the Savior of the world can offer. This, indeed, is why He died and rose again – so we could know who we truly are. If we are to love Bruce truly, this must be our desire for him – that he would know who he truly is.
Image made from Creative Commons photos.