BRUCE JENNER AND RACHEL DOLEZAL
RAISE MANY UNANSWERED QUESTIONS
We’ve recently been treated to two very engaging little dramas about personal identity.
The first, of course, was Bruce Jenner’s introduction of “Caitlyn,” the much anticipated expression of his inner “identity” as a woman. Second was the revelation that Rachel Dolezal, president of the Spokane, Washington, chapter of the NAACP, is a white person who, by her own claim, “identifies” as black.
Many observers have drawn parallels between these two individuals who, for whatever deep personal reasons, find themselves in conflict with the physical realities of their being. What can certainly be said of both is that theirs are the faces that launched a thousand jokes.
An old high school chum named Rick posted on Facebook that Dolezal has been living “incog-negro.” I don’t know if that line is original with Rick (might be, he’s a clever guy), but it is very funny in its political incorrectness.
In contrast, comedian Jon Steward hewed closely to the PC line in observing about Jenner…
“It’s really heartening to see that everyone is willing to not only accept Caitlyn Jenner as a woman, but to waste no time in treating her like a woman.
“Caitlyn, when you were a man, we could talk about your athleticism, your business acumen, but now you’re a woman, and your looks are really the only thing we care about.”
Well, that line too was funny, even if slightly pretentious in a typically lefty way.
Now that the great wave of media hoopla over “Caitlyn” has subsided, perhaps we can reflect with some degree of rationality on this peculiar incident.
Those who identify as transgendered insist that no one who hasn’t experienced gender dysphoria (the psychiatric term for extreme discontentedness) can fully appreciate the pain of feeling trapped in the wrong body. And they’re undoubtedely right about that. All suffering is uniquely personal. I suffer my pain, you suffer yours. There’s no way to really judge how similar or different they might be.
Nevertheless, everyone does know what it’s like to long for something that’s always beyond reach. Indeed, this is as close to a universal human experience as you’re likely to find.
So with that commonality, I think we can all recognize that Bruce Jenner has been carrying a heavy cross. And in his gender “transition” he has paid a great price. As attorney and writer Tom Zampino points out at the Patheos Catholic blog portal, some people…
“willingly pay that great price because they are compelled to find some way to quell the physical and mental torture that plagues them.
“That torture is genuine, and it is real, and it is painful. It should evoke our great compassion and our prayers for all meaningful assistance, counsel and love.”
At the moment, Jenner is probably feeling very gratified. While there’s some question about whether he has actually completed sex-reassignment surgery, he’s undergone hormonal treatment and apparently had breast implants. In other words, his face and body have been brought to a closer approximation of how he imagined himself. And his new “Caitlyn” persona has been greeted with accolades.
But his journey isn’t over. One can only wonder how he’ll feel a year from now. Or five years. Or whenever the euphoria wears off.
Will he be confirmed in his decision to change? Will he be adjusted to living as a woman?
Of course, one could ask if he’ll ever even have to be. Given his particular circumstances, I doubt that the way he lives could ever be like the experiences of any woman I’ve known. Celebrity will always be the salient point of his life.
There probably are some people who undergo “sex-reassignment” and then live discreetly in their chosen gender role — that is, without marching in LGBT Pride parades or presenting themselves as shock troops of the New Age. Not so Jenner in any event. He’ll never be just the odd lady with the deep voice.
But will the novelty of his situation be enough to sustain him through the remainder of his earthly trek? It seems to have been so for Christine Jorgensen, the first American man to gain fame for “becoming a woman.”
A World War II Army veteran, Jorgensen (born George William Jorgensen, Jr.) underwent surgery in Sweden in 1951. The act generated enormous publicity (including a New York Daily News page-one story headlined, “Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Bombshell”), launching an erratic and largely curiosity-fueled career as an “actress” and nightclub singer.
There were two attempts at marriage, but both engagements fell apart and were probably sources of great disappointment. Still, in 1981, shortly before dying of cancer, Jorgensen exhibited a certain braggadocio about having given the sexual revolution a “good swift kick in the pants.”
Of course, that may have been bluster. We don’t know how Jorgensen really felt as the end approached. Was there regret? Did he mourn the loss of his male identity and capacities?
Walt Heyer thinks he will.
Heyer is a man who suffered with gender dysphoria, “transitioned” into a “woman,” having his genitalia surgically removed, and later regretting it profoundly. As Breitbart News reports, Heyer observed in a CNN interview about Jenner that…
“‘this is really the most exciting time in a transgender’s life.’ It is, he said, ‘the debut,’ when ‘all the things that you had hoped and thought about are coming about’….
“In an essay earlier this year, Heyer offered a chilling autobiographical account of abuse and gender confusion, sexual reassignment surgery, a short reprieve from anxiety and eventually deep regret at his decision….
“‘Changing genders is short-term gain with long-term pain,’ writes Heyer. ‘Its consequences include early mortality, regret, mental illness, and suicide.’”
His prognosis for Jenner contrasts with all the “Caitlyn” hopefulness. He told CNN…
“As long as the television lights are on and the cameras are rolling, being in the spotlight he enjoys, Jenner will be fine. But when the lights go dim and the cameras are no longer rolling, he will face the most difficult time of his life. His celebrated change of gender could turn on him and become the cause of deep depression, which, left untreated, according to those who study the causes of suicide, is the number one cause for suicide.”
And so — we shall see.
Meanwhile, what’s ahead for Rachel Dolezal now that she’s been outed as white?
Black people I’ve encountered have shown great capacity for kindness, as well as what I would call a certain ethnic generosity. An anecdote…
Back in the early ’70s when I was trying to hustle my songs to record producers, I performed several times in showcase nights at small New York clubs with a friend named Mike. He was a fellow reporter at the newspaper where I worked at the time, a wiry little Irish guy who had great wit and prodigious talent as a comedian-mimic.
One of the characters he created was a little black guy agitating for “Black Power.” The incongruity of diminutive, red-headed, freckle-faced Mike shouting “Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud!” never failed to delight black people in our audiences. They were always tickled at the silliness of the whole situation.
(Unfortunately, Mike’s promising comic career was cut short by a case of terminal stage fright. He was a wreck before every performance, and finally gave up accompanying me on my forays into New York. Too bad, because he had a talent agency interested in him. You probably couldn’t do an act like Mike’s in today’s ideologically stilted environment.)
With my little reminiscence as background — will Rachel Dolezal continue to find welcome in African American circles? According to the Associated Press, the NAACP has stated that…
“leadership jobs don’t require a person to be black.”
Nonetheless, you’ll note that…
“She resigned Monday as president of the Spokane, Washington, branch of the NAACP, lost her position as a part-time African studies instructor at a local university, was fired as a freelance newspaper columnist, and is being investigated by city Ethics Commission over whether she lied about her race on her application when she landed an appointment to Spokane’s police oversight board.”
All of which may reflect on her personal integrity (she even claims to have been the victim of race-based hate crimes). But it also isn’t what you’d call evidence of a broad commitment to equal opportunity on the part of those various bodies.
So Rachel may identify as black, but it looks like she’s having trouble selling that identity to others.
And is that a surprise? It’s one thing to do a cross-racial comedy act, like my friend, Mike. Rachel Dolezal attempted something rather more audacious.
It seems to me that a lot of black people who tried identifying as white over the years — or who at least tried to fit in — found their efforts weren’t always appreciated. That was the point of the Civil Rights Movement, after all.
And something more recent than that: Nobody talks about it anymore, but I recall back in 2008 how certain black “leaders” questioned whether Barack Obama was “black enough” — he being multi-ethnic and having lived a distinctive cosmopolitan life that was quite outside the “black experience.” (Those “leaders” dropped that line when it began to look like Obama was the winning horse and they figured they’d better start hanging around the stable.)
This whole racial thing does involve certain sensitivities. And it may be that Rachel Dolezal is seen by black people as the ultimate proof of what’s termed “White Privilege.” What could be more privileged than the ability to declare yourself of a different race?
The real question, however, in both the Jenner and Dolezal cases, is: WHY?
Why did Bruce Jenner become fixated on the idea that he was really female? What’s his family background? Did it feature the imbalances in parental relationships that are common predictors of gender identity conflict?
Why did Rachel Dolezal decide that she was really black? In a way, that’s even more of a mystery.
What kinds of experiences or relationships or disappointments would impel her to reject her own ethnic heritage? Are we dealing with some kind of overwhelming ideological absorption? An extreme form of Liberal White Guilt? Simple opportunism? Mental disease?
Here we are left standing before the great darkness that’s at the heart of human experience. For all of our ability to empathize, we really can’t see into somebody else’s soul.
Only God can do that.
Only God understands the whole story.
Pray for these two conflicted people.
A lot of commentators are exploring the Jenner/ Dolezal nexis. Sean Davis of The Federalist surveys the discussion and finds it ideologically mixed. But he raises a provocative question…
“Rachel Dolezal changing her wardrobe, her makeup, and her hair do not make her black. Pretty much everyone seems to agree on that, for obvious reasons….
“And yet, the Left and the media would have us believe that Bruce Jenner can become a woman by…changing his name, his wardrobe, his makeup, and his hair. How can you logically square the belief that Jenner is a hero while Dolezal is a mental case?”
Elizabeth Scalia, who blogs as “The Anchoress” and runs the Catholic portal over at Patheos, maintains that we are living in “transient times” where many people feel free to assume that reality can be whatever they want it to be. She pins this situation not only on a loss of faith in religion but in science and anything else that has to do with what simply is…
“The most interesting and ironic thing about the End of Objective Truth is that it has been brought about (and celebrated) largely by people who have proudly, for some decades, eschewed the idea of faith and “bronze age oogedy boogedy”, for the world of hard facts and science. Often they will tell you that they do not believe in God because they live in a world buttressed by the … Scientific Method, and full of measurable, verifiable and quantitative data.”
As usual, she makes a good case. Read it at…
Godfrey Elfwick is a student from Sheffield, England, whose Twitter spoofs are gaining him recognition as a satirist. He recently distributed an online graphic that claims as many as ten percent of people identify as being in the “wrong skin.” With a name that sounds like something out of Tolkein and a gift for classic dry British humor, this prankster is somebody to keep an eye on…