Unless you live under a rock you are surely aware that Bruce Jenner, the Olympic gold medalist from the 1970s and reality TV star from present day, now identifies as a woman named Caitlyn. This news did not come as a shock of course, as there have been rumors of the ongoing transition for years. But seeing her on the cover of a magazine all decked out in her makeup and provocative, revealing outfit was still a bit of a shock to me.
Caitlyn’s family, friends and even ex-wives have all been supportive of her transition, but the opinions of people I know are decidedly more mixed. There are those who lump gender switching with homosexuality as grievous sexual sins of the type that caused God to smite Sodom and Gomorrah. They worry that our country might be headed toward a similar fate if we continue to display such a tolerance for “perversity.”
The level of animosity some people display about things like this surprises me. There are a lot of things that outrage me like murder, rape, child abuse, people getting persecuted because of their religious beliefs -- those are the things that keep me up at night. But some man decides he really feels like he’s a woman and decides to start living as one? It just doesn’t make my blood boil.
I guess I find the subject of gender switching more interesting than infuriating. Jenner lived as a man for 65 years, having had only relationships with women and fathering a number of children. And then he announces to the world that he’s always felt like he was really a woman and wants to make the change in order to be true to himself.
How does that happen, exactly? Is it really just a lifestyle choice? It’s hard to imagine anyone would just decide one day that they want to switch genders. There has to be more to it than that.
Although there is still much we don’t understand about our own brains and what shapes our view of ourselves and our sexuality, there is evidence there may be biological factors involved for people who feel they are a woman trapped in a man’s body, or vice versa.
Medical researchers have studied the brain structure and genetic sequencing of transsexuals and have discovered some interesting patterns. Gender switching is far more common for twins than it is for regular siblings, suggesting that genetics and/or conditions in the womb during pregnancy could play a significant role in shaping gender identity. Studies of the physical structure of the brain have also suggested that people who identify as transsexual often have structural and white matter pattern similarities usually associated with the gender they identify with.
Of course such studies don’t hold water with people who see transsexuals as “abominations.” God made us all either male or female, they assert, and God does not make mistakes. It’s true that God doesn’t make mistakes, but we should probably be careful assuming we always know what his plans are for other people who may be going through things that we don’t understand and can’t relate to.
There are, for example, people who are born with both male and female chromosomes and genitalia. The old term was hermaphrodite (a mash-up of the male and female Greek gods of love -- Hermes and Aphrodite) but the more common term now is “intersex.” These people exist, and they cannot be defined as either male or female. Are intersex people mistakes? Are they abominations? No, they aren’t. They’re people, and I think God loves them just the same as he does those of us who are decidedly of one gender, even if they don’t fit into any neat, well-defined category.
Life is complicated, and we all have our own unique battles to fight that no one else really understands. Just something to keep in mind next time you feel like passing judgment on your fellow man (or woman, or whatever.)
Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.