What is a “True Self,” Anyway?


Caitlyn Jenner looked amazing for her big reveal on the cover of ‘Vanity Fair,’ posing in a $200, size 36D corset from West Hollywood’s Trashy Lingerie!”

The breathless announcement from the Hollywood Life website really captured the spirit of the day yesterday, when the media threw fits of glee to see former Olympic decathlete Bruce Jenner debut on a magazine cover as a plastic-surgeried-up, breast-implanted man with long, flowing hair, a tight corset and a newly announced name: Caitlyn. So ecstatic was the outpouring of support that a Twitter bot called @she_not_he even was established to “correct” people on the social media site who “misgender Caitlyn Jenner in their tweets.”

This all derived from the cover and from the public statement made by Bruce Jenner (do your worst, Twitter bot) himself: “I’m so happy after such a long struggle to be living my true self.”

That’s an interesting phrase: “True self.” And I have a few questions about it.

Question 1: If your self-proclaimed “true self” can only be embraced through extensive plastic surgery, the adding on (or, potentially, the taking off) of body parts and the casting aside of your very outward being since the moment you were born, in what sense is your self “true” anymore? It’s as if the only biological reality in this scenario is the brain’s impressions, but the biological reality of the rest of the body must be wholly discarded.

Question 2: If there is such a thing as a “true self,” then what exactly is a “false self?” And how can the perceived “false self” actually be false if it is underscored by an objective, biological reality, observable to anybody and everybody outside that self?

Question 3:: How can there be such a thing a “true self” anymore, or a “true” anything anymore, if objective truth isn’t the standard?

Were he living today, I imagine that C.S. Lewis would not be the least bit surprised at the rise of the “transgendered” movement and the world’s delight at the sight of a 65-year-old man proudly displaying his newly-added-on assets in a tight corset on a magazine cover. Lewis saw clearly, many decades ago, that man’s doing away with objective truth and natural law has consequences.

As he stated in his essay, “The Poison of Subjectivism:”

“Until modern times no thinker of the first rank ever doubted that our judgments of value were rational judgments or that what they discovered was objective. It was taken for granted that in temptation passion was opposed, not to some sentiment, but to reason. Thus Plato thought, thus Aristotle, thus Hooker, Butler and Doctor Johnson. The modern view is very different. It does not believe that value judgments are really judgments at all. They are sentiments, or complexes, or attitudes, produced in a community by the pressure of its environment and its traditions, and differing from one community to another. To say that a thing is good is merely to express our feeling about it; and our feeling about it is the feeling we have been socially conditioned to have.

“But if this is so, then we might have been conditioned to feel otherwise. ‘Perhaps,’ thinks the reformer or the educational expert, ‘it would be better if we were. Let us improve our morality.’ Out of this apparently innocent idea comes the disease that will certainly end our species (and, in my view, damn our souls) if it is not crushed; the fatal superstition that men can create values, that a community can choose its ‘ideology’ as men choose their clothes. … Unless the measuring rod is independent of the things measured, we can do no measuring.”

And to borrow a phrase, the fatal superstition that man can objectively create a new sex for himself, merely through surgery and proclamation, is not just to keep objective truth “personal.” It’s to jettison objective truth altogether.

It’s important to remember, though, that we’re all affected by this same impulse. For in the end, all men’s self-definitions tend to be hopelessly flawed. This is rooted in our fall in Adam. It’s like the guy who keeps telling you the same dumb joke every time you see him and laughs hysterically every single time. He sees his “true self” as clever, witty, original and the life of the party. But it’s the people around him – and ultimately, His Creator — who see him as he really is.

For the Christian, the Jenner Moment should not merely be about sexuality, proper treatment of gender dysphoria or the modern American impulse to deny the very nature of God’s image in the two-sex distinction. This moment should wake us up to the fact that our culture desperately needs schooling, not only in the biblical understanding of God and the nature of man, but in the nature of objective reality itself.