Ontological Confusion & Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner

There’s a lot of talk about Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner lately, what with the gender reassignment surgery and marketing campaign media exposure. Personally, I had never even heard of the individual until all this happened. I think something that’s missing from the talking points is any discussion about ontology. Though, honestly, I would never expect the media to talk about ontology!

Without getting too technical, you can think of ontology as the study of being. As it relates to humans, this would be questions like “who am I” , and you can see how that’s entirely what any discussion of sexuality/orientation/identity falls under. John Piper tweeted the following question: “Is Caitlyn Jenner the father of Bruce Jenner’s children?” and in so doing, put his finger on some of the ontological problems that the sexual revolution has brought about. Is that a question that can be answered? Some of the current cultural norms are that sexual orientation is fluid, and it is also a different thing from gender identity. You see where these ideas and more, ultimately relating to ontology, hit the real world in the following interview at the Washington Post.

For example, one of the Jenner children asked what she should call Bruce, after he completes the transition, and he says “I’m dad, you can call me dad,” Jenner said. “I will always be your dad.” but how can that be? Is it possible that he views his role as father as being above and beyond his new feminine name and sexual identity as a woman? How does he work that out, I wonder.

Another interesting thing is the following quote:

Jenner said that at one time, he was sure he would have sexual reassignment surgery. Now? Nothing is certain. He’s been on female hormones for about a year and a half, but hasn’t made up his mind about the medical procedure. But when and if he does, he said, it will be so quiet that no one will know.

The article is from April, and here we are in June with the story being the most publicized one out there. The juxtaposition is almost laughable, and one wonders what happened to make him change his mind.

More to the point, there are several times in this article and in interviews elsewhere that he says that he will (future) no longer identify as Bruce or that she will (present) identify as Caitlyn. Why are these things important? Because it’s an identification of a “me” identity that is completely detached from gender. While this makes for good, emotional media when uttering phrases like “I never identified as a man” and “I was always a woman”, you need to realize that it cuts both ways. If the “I” is detached from the male sex, it is also detached from the female sex. Interestingly, Jenner realizes this, and tries to ground it in the soul.

Jenner said he explained his transition this way to his kids: He feels he was created by God who said, “Hey, let’s give him the soul of a female and let’s see how he deals with that.”

This is a statement that is completely untenable, but it does represent his attempt at grounding the moral confusion he’s going through. Even though he uses the term “soul” what he really means is that his “inner self” deeply feels one way. In Freudian psychological terms, what he’s referring to is the “id” , dispensing with both the “ego” and the “super-ego” (though my psychologist friends will likely correct me). Essentially, this is the same thing different aspects of culture tells us. Just look deep inside yourself, and you’ll find the real you, and that place can save you, give you purpose, and make you happy. Granted, there are plenty of things that are still looked down on by even secular society that can come from that place. Even more importantly, there really is no way of telling almost anything about that place. How do you know when you’ve “hit bottom”, so to speak? Could it be that Bruce has dug down and found Caitlyn, but that a couple years from now she will be able to dig down even deeper and find Bruce again? Or how does one know that the inner self won’t shift? In fact, that is what culture tells us tends to happen, right? After all, things like sexuality are fluid, and so people can go all over the spectrum. On what grounds are we supposed to believe that sexuality is fluid, but gender identity is grounded and unmoving, provided that you can only find out what your true gender identity is? We’re not told.

If you’ve made it this far in the article, and are #teamjenner, as it were, I would be curious to know how you answer some of these ontological questions. Around the same time as all this, I found an article regarding people known as Transabled people. If gender identity works the way we’re told that it is, are there other things that work that way? If not, then how do you know? The arguments, it seems to me, are identical.

If you’re on the other side, how do you respond, particularly from a Christian viewpoint? With truth and love. Here are a few article which give better advice than I could.

Al Mohler

Russell Moore

Jon Bloom


p.s. I’ve been doing weekly blogs on apologetics at my church’s website, here, which is a excuse large reason why this blog has been quiet lately.

Update: Here is an excellent article whose author is far more articulate than I am, and comes at it from a different perspective.


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