Caitlyn Jenner and the Case for "Siya"
The internet is exhausting these days, isn’t it? All of these extreme controversies and passionate tirades sandwiched between the adorable pictures of your former coworker’s niece, you cousin’s paleo lunch creation, and some hilarious cat memes.
The other day, I got sucked into one of those debates in the comment section of a Facebook post. You know, the kind where you find yourself arguing with strangers, and/or people you haven’t seen since that one hairstyle you’re now embarrassed about. And you end up hating yourself afterwards, because that's what you did instead of what you meant to do, which was be a responsible, productive human being for the day.
It was good, though! It was a conversation about Caitlyn Jenner. Even though I had been a quiet observer about the issue until that point, that didn’t mean I wasn’t thinking about it, and trying to process the story along with everyone else. So the time had finally come for me to start articulating how I feel about h…
As I started writing about h… Jenner… I found myself pausing at several H’s, having minor panic attacks trying to decide which gender-specific pronoun to use. Him? Her? H-h-h-h…
Yes, I know which one I am supposed to use for the sake of political correctness and not sounding ignorant. But I also know the one I want to use—the one my gut tells me is more correct—and it is not the same one.
Then, there’s my experience working in the professional news industry where I learned how much it really doesn’t matter which one you use. Someone is going to get offended, and tell you in a very condescending way that you’re doing it wrong. That’s often when the conversation derails, becoming a conflict about the words we use rather than whatever story it was that happened to have a transgender or transexual person in it.
But, trust me, this is not the first time the use of gender-specific pronouns has caused minor delays in my conversations.
Ask my mom.
My mother is from the Philippines—a far off, tropical island country with rice patties, beaches, volcanos and a national language that contains zero gender-specific pronouns. They just don’t exist in Tagalog the same way they do in English. There is no “he” or “she”. Everyone is “siya” (pronounced "sha"). That’s why, even after nearly 40 years of speaking English in the States, sometimes my mom still gets confused, and refers to me as “he” or “him”, and I'm like, "Mom, sheeeee! I'm a girl!"
And she’s all, “Oh! Yeah, sorry! Hahaha!”
Okay, I know that is a completely different situation, but there’s a point here. The words we use are subjective. They’re symbols. We make them up, and assign them meaning in effort to describe reality to each other, and make life a shared experience.
For example, the word gay is a symbol that used to mean happy, right? Then it became slang for homosexual, and now it’s an official term. A rainbow meant God wouldn't flood the earth anymore, and Love Wins was a phrase more associated with Rob Bell than SCOTUS. But now, these symbols have other meanings assigned to them as well. And they only work—communication is only possible—if the speaker and the listener are on the same page about what the symbols mean.
The Emperor is Naked
So now, our popular culture wants to change the meaning of the words man, woman, he, she, him and her. Well… Okay, then. Let’s just get on same page about our terms, so we can start communicating again.
But just so you know, changing the words we use to describe reality will not actually change the objective Truth we’re attempting to describe in this situation. Whatever the word woman means doesn't change the fact that there is a fundamental difference between my organic female anatomy and biology, and Caitlyn's "female" anatomy and biology.
Yes. This successful male Olympian who regained the spotlight on a reality TV show about a privileged American family decided he wanted to become his true self by becoming a herself. So he started the synthetic hormones, got chest implants to resemble mammaries, and (I don’t know, but I’m guessing) had his genitals inverted into the shape of a vagina? Oh, and by the way, also has great stylists and make-up artists that make him look like a retired super model fighting the cruel hands of time.
Fascinating! The things science can accomplish these days, no? I’m curious... Were they able to fit him with a fully functional uterus and ovaries as well? Does he release an egg each month, and have two X chromosomes in every strand of DNA in his body? Could we chat over a glass of wine, and maybe bond in reminiscing about our first periods?
Sometimes the whole thing makes me feel like that little kid standing in the crowd, watching that naked Emperor ride down the street, hearing everyone comment on how fine the Emperor’s new clothes are. I just have to tell you; I don’t see what you’re seeing. Maybe I am the one missing something, but I really think it’s the Emperor that’s missing something.
Photo courtesy whatsthepont.com.
Does anyone else see this? How are we not all seeing this?
We’re losing ourselves in agreeing that Bruce has found himself as a woman.
If we're still hoping, at all, that the way we understand and describe reality is actually in line with the reality our Creator designed for us, then I think we're getting off track by requiring that everyone call transgender and transexual individuals by the sex they believe they are, rather than the sex that observable evidence proves they are.
I'd rather just take a cue from the Filipinos and do away with gender-specific pronouns all together. That way, I wouldn’t feel obligated to call someone a she when the person fathered children. Hello?! I’d rather just say siya with a sense of integrity, and move on with my life having fewer conversations derailed by gender pronoun chaos.
Truth Is Not A Dodo Bird
For those of us who find the Theology of the Body breath-taking—and ultimately true—and who may be concerned that wisdom is threatening to become extinct in all of this... Fear not. Truth is not a dodo bird. Sure, it’s current habitat may be threatened, but real Truth learns to thrive in any condition. Sometimes it even thrives better in the dark.
We know that the reality of our human sexuality is written in the very structure of our beings. It is, literally, how life continues to move forward. Surgery and semantics cannot even touch it. Not really.
So when we are compelled to speak about it, even if we are considered archaic and closed-minded, may our voices be neither shaky nor shouting. May we continue to learn what it means to speak—live—the Truth in Love, remembering that God is both of these things, and we can’t have one without the other. After all, most of the people we know who are fiercely defending Jenner are actually just trying to be compassionate, which is something that God is. I do believe their compassion is at the misguided expense of sound reason, but no one is better off for having sound reason at the expense of compassion.
Of Reptiles and Men
Our 8-month-old son is in that constant babbling stage of learning to talk. For the past several days, he’s been fixated on saying “butt” over and over again. He has no idea what it means, of course, he just loves making the sound. This phase has been particularly interesting during the silent pauses of Sunday Mass. Sometimes, we help him out with some conversational context, just for fun.
Someday, he’ll learn the meanings assigned to that sound, and why mommy and daddy thought it was so funny at the time. He’ll probably think it’s funny too! He’ll also learn the meaning of other sounds, and maybe he’ll say, “Mommy! I’m a dinosaur!” And I’ll say, “Oh yeah? Well, I’m a bigger dinosaur!” And I’ll roar at him, and chase him around the house as he screams.
At some point, I’ll probably notice he’s doing the pee pee dance. So I’ll take him to the potty, and teach him to aim his little male organ at the toilet water, because in reality, he’s a human boy. We’ll teach him that’s what he is. And just maybe, I’ll pray to God that he doesn’t someday get very confused, and end-up looking like this guy who, by the way, is also not a real reptile (unless we want to change the meaning of the word “reptile” as well. Just let me know).
Reptile Man. Photo courtesy Pinterest.com.
We will eventually tell our son that we don’t create reality; we just try our best to understand it, interpret it, and participate in it. That’s what words and symbols are for. And sometimes the meaning of our symbols change, but Truth does not. That’s because God is Truth’s Author and Creator. God even created us, and teaches us who we are, and I hope you spend your life seeking Siya.