Bruce Jenner and the Elephant Man

If there were ever a cultural icon for discontentment, in the past few months Bruce Jenner has become one. So how could a blog about contentment avoid discussing him?

I’d really had no idea who he was, having been without TV since 1980, but I kept seeing his name and face on magazine covers so I picked up a magazine. I read that now, at 65 years of age, he would finally be able to be himself; that he would finally be happy. The article I read, and others like it, praised Jenner as “courageous” for his considerable efforts to change the unchangeable , yet held his wife in contempt for her failure to be happy with the change. Imagine.

There’s a children’s song that numbers ten unchangeables that are essential for a healthy, contented life. “And seven is the perfect plan for me as a B-O-Y or a G-I-R-L…” How odd that in order to “be himself” and be happy, so much had to be changed and the happiness of so many others had to be set aside.

By the end of the article, I was nearly as confused as Mr. Jenner himself. It quoted him saying despite this outward change he still planned to date women.

As a former news reporter, I particularly found fascinating the public discussion about him, heightened to a media frenzy when the Vanity Fair cover came out. I was reminded of another media sensation of nearly 130 years ago.

First paraded as a freak show, he was taunted and ridiculed just as today, advocates claim transgendered individuals have been. In the mid-1880s, Joseph Carey Merrick, the severely deformed “Elephant Man”, was discovered by Dr. Frederick Treves of London Hospital.

In the movie about his life, as Dr. Treves has begun successfully introducing him into Victorian society, another doctor warns Treves of the danger of using Merrick for his own purposes to gain notoriety. Someone so unusual inevitably draws attention to himself and those around him whether they condone or condemn.

Though he seems to be a willing participant, I believe Bruce Jenner has been used.  The mainstream media have fallen all over themselves fawning over him. The coverage has been monolithic in its approval. Which is strange. My college journalism classes stressed the importance of asking tough, opposing view questions. In this case, the obvious questions have not been asked: When a man tries to become a woman, what are the long-term effects on him, his family or society? After all, no man is an island. But there’s been barely a dissenting voice. Yet Dr. Paul R. McHugh, the former psychiatrist-in-chief for Johns Hopkins Hospital and its current Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry, says transgenderism is a “mental disorder” that merits treatment, that sex change is “biologically impossible,” and that people who promote sexual reassignment surgery are collaborating with and promoting a mental disorder.

And what happens to a person who is thus used? They inevitably become depleted and useless to the media or lobby group that exploit them. They’re then discarded and left to pick up the pieces. Or not. Follow-up of transgendered individuals reveals a tormented trail of misery and horror at what they’ve done and a suicide rate that is far too high. Meanwhile the media races on in the cycle of trends and causes, rarely caring about the fallout of their exploitation of troubled folks. Some, at least, are calling them out in their propagation of mass delusion and announcing that the Emperor has no clothes!

But everyone has a soul hunger — a deep need for identity, belonging, love and acceptance. Bruce Jenner does and so did Joseph Merrick. Ultimately, Jesus is the only answer to those deepest of needs. He finds the wanderer, forgives the repentant rebel and makes the lonely one a contented child of God. Joseph Merrick came to know Him and enjoy the comfort only Jesus can give a lonely sufferer. May Bruce Jenner come to know the Rescuer too.


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