But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7
I honestly wasn’t going to talk about Bruce becoming Caitlyn because of all the accoutrements and accessories that come along with engaging in thorny topics such as these. If you find you are not on the side of rabid celebration of an unorthodox decision these days, suddenly you’re branded as an x-phobe or anti-y. (Insert your own term for any of these variables.) I wouldn’t have broached the event it at all on MOM, but several people have asked how my chat with Nadjah about Ms. Jenner went and MX5 is constantly reminding me that it is my duty to “give the people want they want!!” So here it is.
Yahoo! News released images of Vanity Fair’s cover featuring Caitlyn Jenner two weeks ago. In the social media world, this is ancient history but I remember the events surrounding it clearly. People were in an uproar, both in celebration and confusion. Someone on my social network left a comment on the Yahoo! page asking “how he was supposed to explain this to his 14 year old son?”
I snickered at his question. I was a loooong way away from that. My eldest is only 10, and topics about sex, sexuality, gender reassignment and thermal expansion were way down the line of our list of things to tackle in conversation. Poor sod, I thought. I rolled over and continued scrolling through the news. Oh, look! Old Navy was having a sale on flip flops. I have to get some for the whole family…
It was Nadjah. Her forehead was wrinkled. She leaned against my bedroom door and mumbled something I didn’t catch. Surely I had misunderstood her.
“I said ‘Would you ever dress up to look like a man?’”, she repeated.
“I guess if my life depended on it,” I mused. “You know, Harriet Tubman sometimes had to disguise herself as a man to help slaves get to freedom…”
“Yes. I know that,” she snapped. “I’m talking about would you change who you are to become a man?”
Her question came 3 days after the Caitlyn Jenner story broke. I peered at her sideways. How did she…?
“No, I wouldn’t,” I answered. “But why do you ask?”
“I saw this story on the news at Ms. Babette’s house about a guy who became a girl and now he…I mean she…has long hair – but I forgot her name.”
We stared at each other for a moment. Finally, my first born loin fruit asked me the question that no one but Almighty God truly knows that answer to. She wanted to know why he had changed. I sighed. What was the best way to approach this? I tapped into the ancient African mother in me. I answered her question by not addressing it at all.
“People have always changed their outward appearance. We’ve been using surgery to do it for thousands of years. During the Greco-Roman period, battle scars on the back were removed since they were a sign of shame. It meant you were running away from you enemy and not facing him. Overweight men with ‘moobs’ also had them removed. They were considered shameful. The first nose jobs and facial reconstructive surgeries were done in ancient India using Ayurveda.”
(Fortunately, I had stumbled across all this information when I watched something on the History Channel one evening when I had the chance to close my bedroom door for once. I knew it would come in handy one day.)
“Okay…but WHY did he do it?” she quizzed.
“I don’t know why anyone does what they do,” I answered honestly. “All I know is this is one of those things that have always existed as long as people have been curious about who or what they are. There are some people who feel like they were born in the wrong bodies. I can’t explain how they feel. Like I can’t explain how Dippin’ Dots or Wormholes are made – I just know they either make a delicious treat or transport you through dimensions. The only person who knows what lies in the heart of a person is the one who created them. Get it?”
“Yeah…I think so. I guess I really need to check out the background of whoever I marry. I don’t know what I would do if my husband decided to be a woman 2 weeks after we were married!”
Herh. You are 10. What is this nonsensical talk of marriage? I advised her to scrutinize her future spouse’s background with caution and detail regardless.
“The fact is: You are who you are, down to the cellular structure. You can change your outward appearance, but your DNA is always going to tell another story. Bruce Jenner felt like he was supposed to be a woman.”
“She,” she corrected.
I grunted in retort.
Satisfied, she thanked me and left the room. Nadjah hasn’t brought it up since, but our conversations always lead me to ponder a little longer. And then before I could finish framing further thoughts on what it must be like to be a woman trapped in a man’s body, Rachel Dolezal took the internet by storm. If you don’t know who Rachel Dolezal is by now, you’re one of the lucky few people left on the planet. She is a woman of Czech, German and Swedish decent, masquerading as a Black woman. She is the current president of the NAACP’s Spokane, WA chapter and adamantly declares that she IS a Black woman.
I mean…how Sway?!? I’m pretty sure we’ve discussed the NAACP’s white roots here before, so we won’t have to readdress it. But basically, Rachel Dolezal could have taken office as the Spokane NAACP head as a white woman and been just fine. DuBois founded the organization with predominately white staff with an agenda to assimilate into American whiteness.
Both Jenner and Dolezal’s identity conundrums remind me of a clip I saw on the Tyra Banks show years ago. It was about a Black man named ‘Lawrence’ who believes he is a white man condemned in a Black man’s body. Tyra’s make up team makes him white for a day, and his whole perspective and attitude about life and himself is radically altered for 24 hours.
Lawrence talked about hating the look of himself in the mirror quite a bit. When Chaz (formerly Chastity) Bono was interviewed about transitioning, he talked about hating the sight of his womanly features as well. I can’t imagine what it’s like to hate the body you were born with so much that you would go to such lengths to radically alter it. I can sympathize, but I can’t truly empathize with these struggles.
For me, it all comes down to the heart. It’s not for me to judge another person’s heart. I don’t have that power. But I do know that Jenner, Bono, Dolezal, Lawrence, you and I are looking to be made whole to some capacity. What is lacking in each of these people and thousands of others is a sense of needing a completion…and a desire for power.
Look at the type of woman Caitlyn Jenner became. S/he didn’t transition into a tea-picking woman from India or a Pakistani woman covered in black, or even Hilary Clinton. S/he became a Kardashian remake; someone who can command dollars and elicit a sexual response. Sex is powerful.
Lawrence wants to be a white man because white male privilege is powerful. It runs global economies. It gives you access to any corner of the globe. No one interrogates white male presence in the way they do a Black man’s.
Dolezal on the other hand is a little tricky. The Black woman’s struggle isn’t easy to get down with. But even masquerading as a “Black woman”, she still enjoyed a certain measure of light skinned privilege. Damn you, Dolezal. You’ve just come and put sand in everyone’s gari! Now everybody is claiming to be trans-something. Trans-Black. Trans-Racial. Trans-Fat. Trans-Slender even!
In 40 years, when our grandkids look back on our generation, I wonder what they will say. Each decade is marked by some traits. The 1920’s was noted for excess. The 1960’s was noted for drugs and free love. Ours ostensibly will the era in which we redefined what it means to be human…or at least attempted to.