Call Me Caitlyn?

I was invited to guest post on the subject of Caitlyn Jenner over on Threads.

[S]eeing Jenner in the ill-fitting accoutrements of his Caitlyn persona we should recognize the sad futility of the transition he is trying to accomplish. Carefully chosen camera angles and poses may disguise his broad shoulders and 6’2” frame, a tracheal shave and other extensive facial surgery may de-masculinise his facial features, hormone replacement therapy may produce feminising effects, and breast augmentation and possible sex reassignment surgery in the future may further simulate a woman’s bodily appearance. However, this is but a façade or hollow parody of womanhood, rightly challenged by many feminists and others who recognize in transgender ideology a challenge to and reduction of women’s identity and a denial of its unavoidable relation to the particular realities of their mode of embodiment. Turning a man’s genitals inside-out, giving him some fake breasts, and altering his facial appearance does not a woman make. Jenner’s Caitlyn persona will never be more than a veneer over or defacing of his more fundamental identity as a man. Forgetfulness of this fact diminishes us all, undermining or rejecting the deep humanizing reality of sexual difference.

Read the whole post here.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Controversies, Culture, Ethics, Guest Post, In the News, Sex and Sexuality, Society, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Call Me Caitlyn?

  1. William Fehringer says:

    Thanks for this article. I see they are already calling for your head in the comments.

    • No surprises there; I expected they would be. It’s the usual suspects too.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        I’ve read the comments and I’ve thought long and hard about responding to them, but I have not thought of a response that is likely, in my opinion, to bear good fruit. However, I would like to comment here about the link given by Mark Hewardine : ‘God calls Caitlyn by name.’
        I know of no instances in the Scriptures where a change of name is accompanied by a change of gender and I really think that this is a misapplication of the scriptures. The author of the linked piece believes that he/she is loved by God, and that may be true, but the suggestion that God authorises gender changes and the accompanying name-changes is, in my opinion, (for want of a better expression at the moment), off the wall.

      • I agree. I also think that it would be a waste of time to engage with the commenters on the post. There is no real conversation to be had there.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        I have now discovered that Mark Hewerdyne is a priest, so I have now posted a reply to him on Threads, in which I have said what I would say to him if I were one of his ‘flock.’

      • I find it interesting and disturbing that a number of the people kicking up most of the fuss about this have doctorates or are ordained.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        PS I don’t expect a sensible response to my comment on Threads, but I really wanted to stand up and be counted about this!

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Yes, I find that disturbing, too. I would even go further and use a word they seem to like using – I find it disgusting. I’m also concerned about those who follow their disgusting lead.

  2. whitefrozen says:

    If you weren’t such a horrific hateful cruel disgusting sickening evil spawn of satan white straight male, they wouldn’t want your head so badly.

  3. quinnjones2 says:

    I don’t know how old the offspring of Caitlyn/Bruce are, or how they feel and what they think about what has happened, but I can say that in my younger days, I would, to put it very mildly, have been embarrassed if either of my parents had gone to such lengths to achieve such an appearance. Caitlyn/Bruce does not look much like most 65 year-old women I know – life seems to have left its footprints on the faces of most of them in a way that is not apparent to me as I look at the photo of Caitlyn.

  4. I thought your piece was quite measured. Once again many of the comments show that nothing short of affirmation will be welcomed.

  5. One of the issues you mention in your post is the role of compassion in how one should respond to this subject.

    Of the coverage I have read, what I have often appreciated the most is the satirising and lampooning of Jenner and the industry around celebrating his actions.

    It has been said that the best satire is aimed at the powerful. It functions best when it knocks someone off their high horse. Whereas satire aimed at the suffering is distasteful.

    If ‘suffering’ is to feature in how we think (or, ought to think) about gender dysphoria in general, and the Jenner case in particular, do you think there is a place for responses which are not compassionate (at least not obviously, or straightforwardly, so) and further, responses that actually mock or poke fun?

    • Yes, I do think that there is a place for such responses. I also think that such responses are important, because we are dealing with something that is genuinely ridiculous. I don’t feel comfortable ridiculing Jenner, though. The ridicule should be directed at the people who genuinely believe that Jenner is a woman, rather than recognizing that he is suffering from a difficult delusion.

    • Cal says:

      It should be noted that only the wealthy and influential are capable of this kind of “shift”. There is no one I know who, even if they were gender confused, could do anything like this (let alone the photo-shoot on Vanity Fair!). They’d (and in some degree, have) probably resort to whigs/hair-shaves and wear opposite sex clothing.

      Caitlyn Jenner is an abomination, not because he became a she, but because Jenner has squandered the wealth that God has permitted Jenner to have. Jenner is a template of the end of the American Dream: it is an emptiness coated on emptiness that goads us to existentially depart for the hope of some better future.

      Caitlyn Jenner is a reverse-Pygmalia, being transformed from a living soul into a deaf and dumb statue before the camera’s eye, able to be chizzeled by the best surgeons Mammon can buy.

      May God have mercy on us all. Especially for all the Jenner family who are consumed in a maw of confusion.


  6. Lee says:

    Many of my family and acquaintances have denounced me for being ‘unloving’ in not accepting everyone as they happen to present themselves. It is the perversion that I am not accepting. In across-the-board ‘acceptance’, the presenters are a graphic illustration of Romans 1:32…(those who approve these things)…and are contributing to the phenomenon of Romans 1:22-24. Children are being presented this lifestyle as an acceptable and natural option. “Professing to be wise, they became fools….”

    • Christianity recognizes that in the sense in which to love—to be fully human—is the point of praxis, it is possible only to symbolize love, to anticipate it in it’s absence, and it is ideological to claim any more for love in the conditions of a bourgeois society. [Or at any time in history.]

      ~Denys Turner Marxism and Christianity, p. 196.

  7. Nathan Barnes says:

    I find the comment that you claim to know more about Jenner than she does extremely interesting. Your post was about Jenner’s material history, her response shifted to her *idea* of herself—as if the ideal dominates over the material, and its significance can be detached from the significance of the material. That is, as far as I can tell, her comment is pure Capitalist ideology, in the Marxist sense. There are (historical) materialist responses to your post but, I’m struck by the idealism and Capitalism on display.

  8. Re-reading Steve Holmes’ latest post, ‘God, gender, and transsexuality’, this morning, it occurred to me again that transsexualism unsettles many widely held positions and throws up a number of questions that will make many feminists, social constructivists, and some other progressives feel uneasy. Here are a few examples that come to mind:

    1. Transsexualism routinely invokes concepts of a sort of gendered consciousness, concepts that are vigorously resisted in other contexts. Gender difference is more than skin deep and is to some degree ‘hardwired’.
    2. Transsexualism (like homosexuality) challenges extreme accounts of social constructivism. If human beings are highly plastic and cultural messages are so effective, why do they fail so completely in some such cases? The occasional extreme failures of social construction means that its successes can no longer just be taken for granted: it suggests that the forms of effective social construction may not be so arbitrary, free-floating, or amenable to re-engineering as often presumed. Perhaps biological factors make us more apt for or susceptible to particular messages.
    3. Read or listen to several accounts of transsexuals’ experiences of hormones and one of the most striking things to emerge is the power that hormones have in shaping personality, behaviour, and consciousness (here is one great example). For those who want to dislodge gender from biological factors, this can be another embarrassment, a reminder that sex hormones shape us and our society in ways that exceed social construction. Thinking seriously about the effect of testosterone, for instance, over the whole of the male sex makes the idea that nature is ambivalently related to social outcomes and that patriarchy is entirely historically contingent and quite avoidable much more difficult to hold.
    4. Transsexuals often tend to conform to extremely stereotyped versions of their chosen sex (Jenner is a great example here). The very gender stereotypes that are often strongly attacked by feminists have a profound existential significance for many transsexuals. Highly gendered things are a blessing not a curse for many transsexuals, as they are means of self-identification and affiliation. This suggests, at the very least, that a more positive account of gender stereotypes is open to us.
    5. Transsexuals unsettle the triumphalist ‘born this way’ narrative by the frequent claim that they were ‘born in the wrong body’.
    6. Transsexuals, even though they unsettle constructivist accounts in many ways, also appeal to the notion that human beings are, to a very large degree, open to re-construction at a biological and cultural assignment level. Faced with this claim, many feminists have realized how problematic the account of womanhood that emerges from it is and have reasserted the grounding of womanhood in the female body and biology.

  9. quinnjones2 says:

    ‘… the power that hormones have on in shaping personality, behaviour, and consciousness’
    The above is certainly true, along with mood changes, of the effects of hormones during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and the menopause, and when taking contraceptive pills / HRT.

  10. The biggest problem I had with the “God Calls Caitlyn By Name” piece was the changed tense. Isaiah 43:1 says “I have called you by name, you are mine”. With a past tense, we look back to the time we were called by name, specifically to Genesis 22:11, and likely (though “call” isn’t used) to Deuteronomy 6:4f “Hear O Israel, LORD your God, LORD is one. And thou shalt love…” These calls summoned Abraham and Israel (and similar calls summoned Moses and Samuel) to be something they were not: This is God speaking, calling that which is not, and so creating it. (Romans 4:17 uses the same word for “call” as the LXX for Genesis 22:11.) God summoned Abraham and Israel, and in His summons, he did not draw out what they already were, but called precisely what was not, and by that call, summoned them into being. And now, since God has called, God’s creative call to Abraham and to Israel is a memory and God can remind Israel that since they were called from nothing, they belong entirely to God, and can trust in His love–a love which is inexpressible as indicative, but only expressible as command, as call to love.

    But when the tense is changed “call” stops being “summon” but becomes “refers”–God refers to Caitlyn as Caitlyn–and so merely validates what we have made of ourselves, rather than calling–summoning–us from our non-existence and death into life. When God calls us by name, summoning what is not, as if it were, the only response is the one given by Abraham (Genesis 22:1), Moses (Exodus 3:4), “here I am”, or by Samuel “Speak, for your servant hears, as commanded in Deut 6”. This is *not* a validation of our current state but, like Isaiah’s call in Isaiah 6, a commissioning to a new, hitherto nonexistent person.

  11. Pingback: Call Me…Huh? | Pastoral Pensees

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