Bemused and Befuddled
I’ve spent a few days trying to decide if I am more bemused or befuddled by the consecutive stories of Bruce Jenner’s transformation into Caitlyn Jenner and the revelation that Rachel Dolezal, an NAACP officer, was outed as being white. Since I can’t come to any conclusion, that probably points to me being befuddled but there is always the grace of God for the befuddled so I am not too upset.
As I always do, in both of these cases I took some time to grasp some of the evangelical reactions to the story and also some of the culture at large reactions. For Jenner, the evangelical reaction was, predictably, quite negative. I saw many articles, blogs and comments that they didn’t “approve of” or “accept” Jenner’s transformation. While I can’t recall any comment that made me think Jenner was looking for either approval or acceptance from us, I wasn’t surprised by the overall reaction.
The media and the wider culture also reacted as expected, calling the decision courageous and cheering for Caitlyn in every respect. So, nothing new here either.
The Dolezal reaction was interesting. The secular media/commentators, for the first few days, were highly negative, even outraged. In the last day or so that trend seems to be reversing. More and more commentators are accepting, albeit with some confusion or qualifications, that a white Dolezal has as much right to identify as black and Jenner had to identify as a woman. You have to admire, with a degree of bemusement, their alacrity in recognizing that to not accept this switch ran the risk of appearing hypocritical.
As near as I can tell, the evangelical reaction to Dolezal has been near total silence. (There are always a few of us who are mad about everything so you can find them if you want.) But my question is – why does one switch in self-identification bother us so much while the other leaves us silent?
If our fundamental reason for objection was that God decides who and what we are and that we have no right to say otherwise, which was repeated over and over in the Jenner story, you would think that both a man deciding to identify as a woman and a white deciding to identify as a black were equally wrong. So why are not the same people who condemned Jenner condemning Dolezal?
It is possible that white evangelicals are so petrified of speaking into any issue concerning race that we fell silent, but I doubt it. Evangelical commentators had no problem talking about Ferguson and other racially charged stories.
I can’t help but think that these two different reactions illuminates a truth we’d rather not face. We are not truly bothered by people choosing to self-identify differently than the way they were born. What really bothers us is sex, and any deviation from our sexual norms. I can’t help but wonder if, with our obsession with purity culture, and the inverse obsession with gay marriage, that perhaps we have sex on the brain more often than we want to admit.
P.S. The trolls of Twitter are, of course, never silent on either of these issues. I don’t mention them as I don’t see them representing either evangelicals or movers in the wider culture. Plus, you can get angry reactions on Twitter if you say the sky is blue.