the freedom to be confused

I woke up from my nap and did what I normally do after I wake up from a nap… I went to the bathroom, ate a fig and checked Facebook. As I was finishing off my fig and scrolling through the Facebook feed, my only source of news these days, I noticed an odd looking picture of who I thought was Tina Fey. “Well she looks different,” I thought to myself as I looked at her slung across a couch in a navy blue dress. I looked closer… “is that her?” I squinted and decided someone photoshopped her. “Why are people always photoshopping people!? And why would anyone photoshop Tina Fey!? People are crazy!” And then I asked God to give photo-shoppers something else to photoshop other than people.

But then I read the title above the picture of the photoshopped Tina Fey and I realized it wasn’t an altered Tina Fey but an altered someone named Caitlyn Jenner. “My bad, Tina,” I said, “I didn’t know there was a Caitlyn in the family.” I knew enough news to know the name and assume it was someone related to Bruce Jenner, but clearly not enough news to realize it was not someone related to Bruce Jenner, but Bruce himself. “Wait,” I said as I looked closer, a little confused and unsure if I was seeing things right. I don’t really know what rock I’ve been under but this was the first time I had heard of Bruce Jenner becoming a woman, so I was shocked, because that’s what shock is, a sudden (or violent) disturbance of the mind, emotions or sensibilities (according to the dictionary). And so when I say I was shocked, I don’t mean it in a judgmental or appalled kind of way, I just mean I had no idea all of this was going on, leading to a sudden disturbance of what I thought I knew to be true in my mind… that Bruce was a man, then suddenly (to me), he wasn’t.

And so, if I can be allowed the time and space to be honest about my initial reaction to Caitlyn Jenner, it was neither love nor hate, which seemed to be the only options in regards to a response, it was just shock. I didn’t have words of praise or slurs of hate, I had questions. I want to clarify that they are questions because I’m curious, not judgements because I’m disagreeing or failing to celebrate with everyone else. Call me the party pooper, but it’s hard for me to party when I don’t understand what is going on.

I think people are afraid of asking why. I am. From a young age we are sort of taught not to ask why, even if not directly. When a kid asks why to everything, they simply want to know something, but all too often it is found annoying or to be a silly question, and even if disregarded nicely, a kid can easily pick up on when they are being a nuisance. Asking why is a nuisance. “Why?” you hear a kid ask. “Because I said so,” you hear a parent respond. I don’t have kids and so I don’t want to turn this into a parenting post, I just want to address the fact that it would seem many of us learn at a young age to stop asking why. But if we stop asking why then we stop thinking for ourselves. I think. Even If I don’t get an answer, I would like the freedom to at least attempt to understand why people do what they do, in part to understand humanity, because I’m human and I’m trying to understand my own self. And in part to understand God, for as much as one can, as I’m beginning to think I’ve had Him or Her all wrong for a really long time… at least the part about Him hating the people I hate.

At first I felt bad for having questions. I felt bad that my initial response was to ask why Caitlyn did it, as if asking why implied that I was judging her for doing it. But I took a step back before shaming myself for not jumping on the band wagon of political correctness and social acceptance, and I treated myself as if I was still that little girl who always asked why in response to any and everything. Instead of responding to that little girl in me with “because I said so,” or “because they said so,” I treated that little girl as if her question mattered and I allowed her the time and the space to be confused about something. After all, the whole reason that little girl always asked “why” in the first place was because she wanted to understand, not because she hated.

This is why I think it is dangerous for us to stop asking why, because it means we’ve stopped trying to understand, and trying to understand someone is a way of loving them, or at the very least doing well by them even when it’s hard to love them. I might not have wanted to praise Caitlyn Jenner right off the bat, but it doesn’t make me a bigot or judgmental… it makes me a girl who wants to understand where another girl is coming from.

As I processed all of the information I read, and all of the responses to the information I read, I found layer upon layer of things that I had a hard time with, and none of them had to do with the Bible. In any shocking news event you’ll find three types of people; the loving liberals who love everybody but hate the Christians, the Christians who hate everybody but love God, and the Christians who hate those Christians. Basically, it seems like you need to figure out if you love or hate the person or topic at hand and pick a side. But as I watched people take swings at each other and at God, I realized that regardless of who you are and what you believe, we’re all capable of love and guilty of hate, and I think many of us have lived out of our guilt more than our capabilities. 

I allowed myself to sit in the tension of asking why. If given the chance to sit with Caitlyn, instead of telling her what I think of her, I would want to ask her why she did it. Why did she feel the need to change who she was? How could she trust her feelings to make such a decision? What was she so unhappy with before that becoming a woman would solve? Was becoming a woman the ultimate fulfillment to whatever emptiness she felt in being a man? What did it mean to her to be a woman? What did it mean to her to be a man?

It was when I got to these last two questions that I started to feel more uncomfortable with my feelings because I realized I was starting to feel a little angry and I wasn’t sure why. I didn’t want to feel angry. We have enough angry Christians and I don’t want to be one of them. I want to love people, not hate them, but feeling angry wasn’t hating, right? And what does it mean to love people, what does that look like? Does it mean to not ask questions? I think if you love someone, you do ask questions, you get to know them. Okay, I assured myself again that asking questions was okay, but what happens when you start to feel angry in response to some of your questions; perhaps this is why people avoid asking questions, they want to “keep the peace” by not stirring any uncomfortable emotions or prolonged uncomfortable conversations. But instead of avoiding my anger, I paid attention to it. Why? Why is it there? Why do I feel angry? It can’t be for no reason, it can’t be personal to Caitlyn, I don’t even know her. She is clearly stirring something that is already there, but it’s not about her, it’s about me. Or is it about her? I couldn’t tell.

I went back to look at the pictures of her and I felt angry. But I didn’t feel angry because she used to be a man. I felt angry because she changed everything about herself in order to be okay with herself. She manipulated every part of her body in order to be “free” and she got a Vanity Fair cover for it and over 2 million followers in about four hours. And why did she get such praise for all the plastic surgery and body manipulation? Because she used to be a man. Not only was it okay for her to change her body, but it was considered brave. It was brave because she used to be a man. I’m just trying to compute all of this.

Growing up as the runt of the litter, insecure and depressed, sometimes still hoping to hit puberty so I can fill out a bra, I tried to change my body so many times it eventually landed me in treatment. I’ve been hospitalized on more than one occasion for the things I did to my body all because I didn’t like it, and never once did the word brave come up. I was put on all sorts of medication and processed every hurt imaginable that could have possibly led me to such a violent eating disorder. Wanting to change everything about me meant something was wrong with me, not that I was brave. I’ve never liked my body. That is so hard for me to admit. I still don’t like my body. That is even harder for me to admit. Millions of women don’t like their bodies, resulting in eating disorders and plastic surgery of all kinds, and yet we rip them apart for being so shallow. So I started to feel angry.

Why is it that a guy who gets plastic surgery is considered brave, but a girl who gets plastic surgery needs to learn how to love herself? I feel like I’m back in high school… the guy who slept around was cool, but the girl who slept around was a slut. There’s a double standard going on that is being missed because everyone is so caught up in either being politically correct or religious. Plastic surgery is brave so long as being male is involved in the equation, be it that you started as a male or are changing into one, but getting plastic surgery makes you the brunt of every joke if you are a female remaining a female. I can’t help but wonder if people realize that they are only enabling gender inequality in their praises of a man becoming the same type of woman that millions of other women try to become but get made fun of for it. If Caitlyn Jenner had already been a woman and just gotten plastic surgery, I don’t think she would have been considered brave and on the cover of Vanity Fair. And I’m not saying that against her, I’m saying that against the media. And as a woman, this bothers me.

I called my best friend, Anna, to talk it through with her because I had so many feelings about Caitlyn. I felt so personally affected and I didn’t understand why. Anna had said when all the hype wears off and the party winds down, Caitlyn is still going to have to face Caitlyn and whatever it was that she was so unhappy with to begin with. “No matter how hard we try,” Anna said, “we can’t get rid of ourselves.” “I know,” I said, “I’ve tried, maybe that’s why I’m so upset, because I’ve tried to change what I’m unhappy about with myself, but it was considered unhealthy instead of brave.”

When I am most honest, the girl in me still wants to lose 15 pounds, at least, which is ridiculous. But there is a lie I believe that if I lost 15 pounds I would feel more like a girl and I think I would be a little more happy with my body. And if I’m stepping out further into the truth, if I could afford plastic surgery, I’d get a boob job, but I can’t, so I opt for weight loss, because desirable girls are either stick thin or incredibly curvy. I am neither. I’m a pear, small up top, bigger on the bottom, stuck in the middle between not too thin and not too thick. I am what I’ve always been afraid of being… average. And as I’ve tried to be the girl who I feel like I am inside, the one I’ve seen pictures of all my life that tell me what it means to be a girl, as I attempt to step out and not be average, I’m not considered brave, I’m considered shallow and in need of a therapist. Why? Because I’m just a girl who wants to be a different girl.

“I have to be honest,” I said to Anna, who knows my struggles and my recovery stories, “I still hate so much of my body,” and before I said anything else I started crying. In my tears, the revelation hit me. “Oh my God, I think that’s why I’m so upset.” What I saw today wasn’t someone being brave for being their true self, what I saw was another depiction of what it means to be a woman and what it is men desire... a busty, full-figured woman, popping out of her corset, posing in her underwear. Brave? That picture and the praise for that picture fed into every lie that I believe about myself as a woman, that I’ll never be desirable because I don’t have a perfect body and I can’t afford one, and clearly that’s what men want… either to have for themselves or become themselves.

“That’s not what it means to be a woman,” Anna said in regards to the Vanity Fair cover. “I feel objectified that that is how she represented her womanhood. If that’s what it means to turn into a woman, I have no place in that,” Anna said as she told me about her love for tools and building furniture, which didn’t make her any less of a woman. Caitlyn is a reflection of Bruce’s view of womanhood, and honestly, I wasn’t okay with portraying womanhood in a corset and underwear, nipped and tucked, primped to perfection and photoshopped… all of this done so that a woman could be true to herself. It’s all so very confusing, which isn’t a judgment call, just a fact.. confusing. And honestly, heart breaking. Even as a female, I looked at the former Bruce Jenner and thought to myself, “I’ll never be able to be a woman, I just don’t have the body for it.” And I cried. 

My beef is not with Caitlyn or Bruce or the liberals or the Christians, my beef is with myself and the role I have played in believing the lie that being a woman is about having big boobs and a small waist, posing in my underwear, wearing high heels and red lipstick. My beef is mostly with the media, but also with myself for the ways in which I have treated myself and own body because of what I believed it meant to be a woman. My beef is with myself for thinking changing my body is going to change the condition of my heart. It’s not. I can’t get rid of me, so how do I learn to love me without having to change everything about myself in order to love myself? Perhaps this is why I would want to talk to Caitlyn, I want to ask her why she did it. Did she not love herself? Did she not love her body? And if she didn’t love her body, did changing it fix what she thought it would? And does she think “change your outsides to match your insides” is a good message? Was she given room in a safe place to talk about how she felt inside before thinking she had to change the outside? What would she say to a girl with an eating disorder who hated her body? Why is body mutilation okay if you are transgender but not if you are solely male or solely female? Again, not judgements, just questions, because I’m curious, and yes, I’m upset, but I also want to understand. Attempting to understand Caitlyn, or anyone transgender, would seem to be the most loving response possible, much more loving than disregarding them, right?

I want to understand, like my friend Anna said, “why as a Christian is it not okay to stand up for the sacredness of your body?” And I don’t even think you have to be Christian to consider your body an epic vessel. Our bodies are miracles, but rarely do we treat them as such, we usually find what is wrong with them and adjust accordingly. Which is perhaps what furthered my tears… I get why celebrating the emancipation of Caitlyn is a big deal, but I think it’s also a big deal that Bruce had to be killed off in order for Caitlyn to be set free. If every body matters, then Bruce mattered/matters too. Why was Bruce not okay with himself? In the process of all of this, wasn’t Bruce hating himself? Why do people seem okay with that? Why does it seem like people are quick to either praise another objectification of women or condemn a man for not being himself, but no one is really taking the time to make note of that fact that in that person on the cover of that magazine is a very hurt person trying desperately hard to fix something that a gold medal couldn’t fix and neither will the nip and tuck of a sex change. Becoming Caitlyn won’t fix Bruce’s brokenness anymore than getting a boob job will fix mine. I might feel better for a few days, maybe even take a selfie just to finally give my ex something to look at, but when the hype wears off and I’m left with myself, there I still am. And I feel crazy, I feel crazy because I feel alone in how I feel. I feel like I’m just supposed to accept things so as not to offend anyone. I feel like I’m not allowed to ask questions or express my opinion, unless my opinion agrees with the masses. And for as brave as she may be, I think Caitlyn is still confused as to what it means to be a woman. A woman doesn’t need to reveal her body to be a woman.

And while I’m sure it must have been hard for Caitlyn to feel like she was living a lie her whole live, I can’t imagine it not feeling at least a little hurtful for those closest to her to realize they’d been lied to their whole lives, even if not intentionally. The family seems to be responding very politically correct, and while I’m sure they do love Caitlyn and support her, it would also be okay for them to be hurt too, to be sad. To grieve the loss of Bruce wouldn’t make them unsupportive or unloving of Caitlyn, to grieve the loss of Bruce would make them human. Whether or not anyone wants to say it, the Jenner kids lost their dad. If in fact Caitlyn is solely a woman by association, she is not a father (by gender definition), and it would be okay if any of those kids were sad about losing their dad. And the same goes for Kris Jenner, Bruce’s ex-wife.  I hope Kris knows it is okay for her to be sad and confused and angry, just as any wife would be if they found out their husband had been lying to them their whole marriage. Kris’s sadness or confusion or anger wouldn’t make her a bigot, it would make her a human who’s been hurt by another human. I hope for the sake of her own healing, Kris is grieving the loss of Bruce. Bruce is worth grieving. We all are, because we’re all miracles whether we see it or not. Mostly, we don’t.

I don’t have any answers or solutions or advice. Mostly I just have questions. Maybe that is my advice, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Instead of jumping on one side or the other because it’s easy, start asking the really hard questions. Don’t be afraid to wait for the answers. Don’t be afraid of the silence or the awkward tension you might feel when you start asking tough questions. You’ll start to notice that people aren’t comfortable when you ask why and I think it’s because we’ve always settled for “because I said so.” Don’t settle for that anymore.

I know that we are all called to love people, but realistically, what does that look like? It’s cute to say, but what does that mean? Defending Caitlyn Jenner’s womanhood on Facebook while failing to acknowledge a homeless person’s personhood that you won’t make eye contact with doesn’t mean you love people. And likewise, feeding the homeless while condemning the transgender community as if it were your place to do so doesn’t mean you love people either. I don’t think any of us are good at loving all people, and I think that’s okay, we’re human. But our humanness doesn’t excuse us from trying to love them, or at least doing well by them even when we don’t understand them. Perhaps we could do well by people by trying to understand them and learning to love them when it doesn’t come easy.

Sometimes simply stepping outside of all the arguing is what is needed. When Christians say we need to love Caitlyn, I agree, but what does that look like practically since we don’t get to interact with her? I think it looks like interacting with and learning to love who she represents… not just the transgender community, but people in general. People represent the wide gamut of people in this world, and Caitlyn is a person. People of all shapes, all sizes, all backgrounds, all preferences, all religions… you can love Caitlyn by trying to understand someone you might not understand. Instead of trying to argue someone for the sake of being right, ask them questions. You might not only learn things about them, but about yourself, things that might make you uncomfortable, things you wish you had avoided asking because sometimes the truth hurts.

When I saw Caitlyn Jenner’s body it revealed the ugly truth that even after years of therapy and treatment and working with younger girls and teaching them to love themselves, I still hate my own body. Hating the transgender community won’t make me love my body more, and neither will hating women who have better bodies than me. I think when people hate people it is often because they hate something in themselves. It would be easy for me to say something is wrong with Caitlyn, but something is wrong with all of us. We all need to be saved, not from the devil, he’s already been defeated, but from our own selves. Jesus gets a really bad rap, but He offers to do just that, to save us from our own selves, but you have to find out for yourself and not believe me just because I said so. Start asking questions about who He is and why He did what He did. Don’t be afraid to sit in the silence or the awkward tension of feeling human and hearing from the Divine. If you asked Jesus what He thinks of Caitlyn, I bet He’d say He’s quite fond of her, just as He is of you… and me. I still find that hard to believe, that Jesus is fond of me.

For as silly as it sounds, I think this world could be a lot different if we all just started small by being nice to the people around us, including the person we see when we look in the mirror. That person matters, that body matters. Getting rid of that body won’t fix that person. Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself, not instead of yourself, and so loving your neighbor has to start with loving yourself. I know what it’s like to not feel at peace in your own body, and I know that changing your body will not bring you peace within. I honestly believe that having a sex change will not bring peace, but having a heart change will, which is not a judgement call, it is the opinion of  girl who tried to find peace by manipulating her own body only to come up short and unhappy and not at all considered brave. I might not understand being transgender, but I understand feeling trapped in a body you don’t like or feel like represents you, and yes, it’s miserable. I know what it’s like to be considered a woman but not really feel like a woman, mostly because I don’t look the way I’ve been shown I should look as a woman.

I wear overalls and can barely fill an A-cup. I don’t wear lip stick or shoes most of the time and I think Downtown Abby sucks (sorry, not sorry). I hate shopping and I am banking on there being one man left standing who is more into personality and the size of a girl’s heart than the size of her bra. And even if there isn’t one man left standing who’d be into a funny, small-chested, spit-fire and still-slightly-depressed-but-hopeful-enough-to-have-a-Savior type of girl like me, that’s okay.

I don’t need to be the object of a man’s desire, or the object of society’s desire to be a woman, I need to be me, the me who I was created to be, creative and curious, always looking for beauty in the brokenness.

I realize this post is all over the place and my thoughts are scattered, I wish it were more organized, and I wish my emotions were too, it’s awkward to feel upset and to care at the same time, but such is life, and the honest reaction of a confused girl who’s still trying to learn how to love herself and the people around her.

I’m going to allow myself the freedom to be confused, because you can be confused and nice at the same time. Caitlyn, I wish you the best and I hope you find a peace that passes all understanding, even your understanding of what it means to be a woman. 

Author: jenniejoybarrows

Artist. Author. Kinda Funny.

10 thoughts on “the freedom to be confused”

  1. You put into words what a bet a lot of women of faith are feeling. I
    love everything about this including you!

    Like

  2. You beautiful, darling girl…thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for this post. So many feelings–i can relate to so much of what you’ve written. Am grateful/thankful for your stark honesty, vulnerability, life. You inspire me in so many ways and i’m so proud of you. Plz keep doing what you’re doing ❤ ❤

    Date: Wed, 3 Jun 2015 18:29:24 +0000 To: nannersj@hotmail.com

    Like

  3. I like the transparency in your writing! Many of your thoughts have been what I’ve recently been struggling with myself. Thanks for posting! Please post more!

    Like

  4. I can’t remember how I stumbled on your blog but I’m glad I did, this post is brilliant! Thank you for being so honest and candid – without judgement but with valid questions. Your post made me think (even after having a very long day *wink*) I appreciate you – even though I don’t know you – way to ask the hard questions and get your thoughts out!!
    susan

    Like

  5. Well said. There was something comforting in this article that I haven’t found in any other. FYI everything said here rings true for the perspective of a male as well. Its not just women, or trans gender who experience this, but I suspect it would be fair to say that “people” feel this way.

    As a male who has never felt manly, I gave valiant effort to attempt to gain weight, yet having a high metabolism, I was never able to craft the body I wanted. I’ve been told my entire life how lucky I was to be able to eat anything I wanted and not gain weight, yet I’ve never felt lucky, I felt weak. I dislike my body, because it feels like that’s why I don’t fit in, and I feel the need to fit in because I don’t completely love myself yet.

    Thank you for sharing, you’ve shone a light on a part of me that’s been locked away in a dark room for a very long time.

    Like

    1. Wow, thank you, Chris. Thank you for your honest response. You are so right about it being a people thing, not just a certain type of people. Thank you for your perspective as a male, I know it makes one feel a little less crazy when they know they are not alone in their struggle.

      Like

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