Hurting to be whole: the cultural obsession with self harm
June 2, 2015
A 65-year old man undergoes a reportedly excruciating 10-hour procedure to feminize his facial features and appears in a lacy state of partial undress on the cover of Vanity Fair as the world watches on in delighted – or horrified – fascination.
A million Twitter followers in under 4 hours on Caitlyn’s new account. A social media world record even Barack Obama can’t touch.
But for what reason?
When the story of Caitlyn first broke, I was making glacial progress on a two-mile walk on the treadmill, so I had the dueling coverage of talking heads from CNN and Fox News at my fingertips. CNN’s anchor was emoting more along the lines of unbridled glee, while Fox’s Megan Kelley and Bill O’Reilly’s banter had a defiant undertone of compassion and perhaps a touch of admiration for the strength of such a bold move. O’Reilly, at least, gave a kind of “atta boy” and said Jenner should be free to do “whatever he wanted in his private life.” Because, ‘Murica.
It reminded me a little bit of the coverage surrounding Robin Williams’ suicide last year. At least the public spectacle part of it did. And it also reminded me of another widely publicized and divisive story of human pain and suffering, of desperately-sought redemption and relief: Brittany Maynard.
Her story, too, was almost instantaneously viral, and much of the public response to her medically-assisted suicide was overwhelmingly “either/or,” at least it seemed. Either Brittany was a hero and a champion for human rights on a brave new frontier, or she was a sinful, troubled woman who took her own life and represented a catastrophic failure in both mental health care and evangelization.
But perhaps there is a third option.
Maybe when something so painful, so unchangeable as surgery or suicide seems to be the only answer, and when a suffering, sinful, struggling human being – the same as all the rest of us – steps out and publicly commits to a bold and tragically irrevocable course of action, maybe the only right reaction can be compassion.
Because whatever Caitlyn Jenner’s reasoning for attempting to migrate genders might be, the outcome will never be satisfactory.
No amount of skillful work with a scalpel or hormone injections and therapies can remove the billions of Y-chromosomes from every cell in Jenner’s body, undoing the biological foundation upon which his entire person is constructed.
But what about hermaphrodites? What about sufferers of Turner’s Syndrome? What about gender dysphoria following abuse or trauma?
All valid questions. And all incidences of disease or violence being visited upon the human person.
We live in a fallen world, and that includes the natural world. Redeemed, yes, but not yet fully restored. Things don’t work as they were intended to. People hurt. Death exists. There is so much pain and so much unintended suffering still embedded in our earthly journey.
And to deny the suffering, to stand in the teeth of suffering and shout – especial in the case of suicide – a fatalistically defiant “I will not,” cannot alleviate the pain.
Only He can do that.
The only answer to the brokenness and the pain of the human condition is the One who took it upon Himself and bore it for us.
Not so that we would never feel the sting of disappointment or the crushing weight of depression or disease, but so that we could bear it, with His grace.
Caitlyn Jenner is not going to find peace or fulfillment in a new life bolstered by cleavage and black leather corsets. And the excruciating public spotlight cast on this person – this human person, equal in dignity and worth to any other human person on the planet – will be crushing.
Jenner cannot, will not be allowed to fail, not now that the public declaration of intention has been made. There will be no room for backpedaling or reconsidering. And those who’ve thrown in their support alongside Caitlyn’s “bold, brave choice” will not allow for any waffling or wavering.
That’s the pernicious nature of a culture sickened as ours is by a fascination with death, unwilling to allow room for conversion or repentance or rehabilitation. Jenner has become a figurehead now, a spokesperson for a cause célèbre, and, like Brittany Maynard, Caitlyn has publicly committed to a course of action from which there will be no turning back.
At least not without dramatic consequences and stratospheric fallout. The media scrutiny is too intense. The public fascination – whether earnest or morbid in nature – is too great.
May God continue to have mercy on Caitlyn Jenner, and on all of us who consume the story of the other as if we were somehow not dealing in human persons but in characters and publicity stunts.
Remember that the choice made was admittedly made from a place of deep pain, and that the real failure won’t be whether Caitlyn can achieve a “realistically” feminine physique through medical manipulation, but that the message wasn’t properly transmitted to begin with: you are enough. Who you are, how you were made, is enough. And you don’t have to hurt yourself to feel complete. You can’t mutilate your way to wholeness.