I recently watched the musical "Billy Elliot", based on the movie of the same name. It deals with a lot of themes you might find strike close to home these days. Probably the main theme of the story is that Billy should strive to be who he really wants to be. He gets this from his late mother, who left a message for him to always be true to himself. [footnote 1]
In the story and throughout much of modern culture this sentiment is widely expressed as the ultimate goal for any person. It is supposed to bring ultimate joy, self-fulfillment, and inner peace. Today it is considered fashionable to "express yourself" however you see fit, with the implicit corollary that any type of self-expression is "good" as long as it's "from the heart", or is just "being yourself". It is also a crock.
This notion is one of the worst ideas to afflict mankind in modern history. Not that it's a brand-new philosophy or idea..... quite the contrary (in fact, you'll find that virtually no philosophy or abstract thought is truly original, no matter what the dispenser claims). It's just that for some reason, it has really taken hold in modern "Western" culture. Perhaps it is because it aligns nicely with the words of old Polonius, a character from Shakespeare's "Hamlet". He tells his son, as a matter of sage advice, "This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man."[footnote 2]
But this letter isn't a commentary on Shakespeare. It's about this widespread notion that "being true to yourself" is both good and equivalent to indulging any and every whim your mind devises. It SOUNDS good, because it matches what we want to hear. I want to think that all my ideas are great. I want people to tell me that I can do whatever I want. I want people to like and appreciate anything I say or do. Put simply, this philosophy means that I am the most important person in the world. Surely, you can see how that can quickly go astray.
Taking this to its logical extreme to illustrate the absurdity is easy. What would we say if Charles Manson declared that encouraging his friends to kill some people was just him "expressing himself" as a murderer? Was Jeffrey Dahmer merely indulging his "inner cannibal"?
Now of course some readers may freak out at the ridiculous comparison here. And that is precisely my point. Yes there is of course a huge difference between serial murder and merely living a certain "lifestyle". But if the same philosophy justifies both, don't you have to consider that perhaps the philosophy is wrong? And make no mistake, that philosophy absolutely will take someone in that direction. After all, if A) I should be "true to myself", and B) "expressing myself" in any manner is always appropriate and helpful, then it logically follows that if at any time I feel like hurting somebody, I SHOULD hurt them. If we all lived by that creed, society would crumble in an instant.
So then, clearly this "Be true to yourself" philosophy must have limits. Many people might at this point argue that the philosophy is still perfectly valid, so long as you respect other people and their rights. That certainly eliminates the Manson and Dahmer connection, but it doesn't make the philosophy any better.
Consider the glutton. To a glutton, "being himself" means devouring everything in sight, and at least all the foods he enjoys. His body tells him that he wants food (a very natural desire), and he wants to be true to himself so he obtains and eats the food. And this can certainly be done without inconveniencing anyone else. There is plenty of food that goes to waste in many places of the world, and it may well be that the glutton is also a great worker who absolutely earns his keep and helps others in the process.
If the philosophy is really valid, then the glutton will find that his indulgences bring joy, contentment, and good health. Is that the case? Not likely. In fact, it seems more the case that gluttons are always despairing, impatient, and in poor health as a result of their indulgence. Many turn to surgery for help, and sometimes it does help. But any doctor will tell you that regardless of the surgery, the glutton must learn some self-control or the whole thing will be for naught. [footnote 3]
And so we now arrive at your situation, which is publicly obvious. You are convinced, despite all evidence to the contrary, that you need to live as a woman. And like the gluttons, you've even turned to medical science for assistance. I fear that like with them, in the end it gets back to you. The doctors can pump you full of hormones. They can alter your appearance. They can physically alter you in all kinds of ways. But they can't alter reality. When they're done, you'll still be Bruce Jenner, with an xy chromosome, and you'll have to live with yourself.
Lest you think this is a brutally harsh assessment, and lest you think that I am merely some kind of "hater" for even bringing up this (rather obvious) truth, consider a recent example from my own life:
I have a son. He's very young. He has days when he wants to pretend to be something else. One day he'll tell me that he's a dog, and then he'll do nothing but bark for the next few minutes while scampering about the floor. Another day he's adamant that he is "Jason", the red Power Ranger. As a father, I laugh at his imagination and give leave to it.... to a point. Real dogs pee on fire hydrants, sniff poo, and do many other things that would be both ridiculous and potentially harmful for my son to try. Therefore, out of love, I can't let him indulge his "dog fantasy" too much. "Jason the Power Ranger" is a fictional character in an absurd tv show. It would be both ridiculous and potentially harmful for my son to be "Jason" in his preschool classes, or to attack people with a sword because he thought they were alien invaders. Therefore, out of love, I can't let him indulge his "Jason fantasy" too much.
Keep in mind that he really could, if he were old enough and rich enough, indulge those fantasies to an extreme [footnote 4]. He could ask scientists to give him floppy ears and a wet nose. He could live (for a time) on dog treats and meats. Similarly, he could toke up on steroids and become a strong athlete, run around with a sword, and threaten "evil-doers". But would that bring him joy? Would that really lead to "fulfillment"? No. It's insane. He would be living a lie.
Which brings us full circle. Being true to yourself is NOT a matter of indulging every whim, or blindly following whatever your "inner self" tries to tell you. In fact, that philosophy only leads eventually to leading a life of delusion, ignoring the reality around you (and within you) to the detriment of both yourself and those around you. And confronting that truth is not being hateful, bigoted, or mean. It's being caring.
Lest anyone object that indulging in sex-change fantasies and all the other related whims (setting aside people with chromosomal issues, and the like, which deserve their own separate consideration) are not at all like pretending to be a dog or a sword-wielding superhero, I must respectfully disagree. I'll grant you that there's a lot less difference between a human male and female than there is between a human and a dog, but the comparison still stands. If it takes surgery, massive does of chemicals, and even then is still not quite physically the same, then it is little different than trying to be a dog. And while there may be that one story about that one person for whom a sex change operation seemed to bring some level of peace, I can assure you that there are far more examples of it merely causing more strife. And lest you think that the strife was a result of people who acted selfishly or who rudely wouldn't "accept" the change, and are therefore to blame, consider basic math. If 1 person demands to be treated in a certain manner contrary to basic reality, and 50 others have to comply appropriately, who is the one "forcing" his or her beliefs onto others? Hmmm? Who is acting selfishly?
One absolute last note, and it is certainly not least. I merely saved it for last because to even mention Jesus, God, or the Bible leads some people to dismiss you as some kind of ancient wacko before they even hear you out. There is one very important person who absolutely can't stand the "just be true to your own self" philosophy, at least in the modern sense where it means to indulge whatever you want: Jesus Christ. In Matthew 16, Mark 8, and Luke 9, He is quoted as saying something along the lines of (depending on your translation), "If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me." The world would have you believe that joy, peace, and fulfillment come from "being true to yourself." Jesus would have you believe that joy, peace, and fulfillment come from "denying yourself" and following Him. That's the choice. It's certainly not easy, and we all need to be better at it. If you find yourself espousing the "just be yourself" philosophy as an excuse for any manner of behavior, know that you are giving the opposite advice to what Jesus would give. [footnote 5]
In Christian Love,
- This is not meant to imply that Billy Elliot is a horrible show and has nothing to contribute to society. I don't have any problem with a British boy wanting to dance, nor do I think that non-conformity is some type of inherent evil. I DO, however, have a problem with the underlying premise the show espouses, and that is expounded upon in this letter.
- But that reference bears inspection. What is Polonius really saying there? The "modern" interpretation is that he's imploring his son to "be himself" at all times. The modern interpretation would say that Polonius is telling his son to know his inner self, to follow its direction, and that honesty and frankness will happen as a matter of course. If so, old Polonius is either a horrible hypocrite or a fool. After all, he is helping the false king Claudius spy on Hamlet. That hardly smacks of honesty and frankness. So either he's not actually living his own advice, or the advice itself is false, in that "Being true to yourself" in the modern sense does not bring about honesty and frankness between men. There is another way to read that passage that make more sense in the context of events. What if Polonius is telling his son to always look out for himself first? In that sense, Polonius is telling his son that he should act like Polonius acts: Always looking out for #1. As to his duplicity regarding Hamlet, Polonius could merely reason that Hamlet ought to know that everyone is looking out for #1, and if you know someone is a sneak and a liar, then they can't really fool you, can they? And if they do, it's your own fault.
- Corresponding with the earlier statement that virtually no philosophy is really new, arguments over philosophy are also ancient. This particular argument and example is a direct take from the apostle Paul who tells the Corinthian church that "food is for the stomach, and the stomach for food, but God will do away with both of them." As here, the admonishment is that even if something is "natural", it doesn't mean anything goes.
- Think I'm nuts? Well, then read this article http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/becoming-disabled-by-choice-not-chance-transabled-people-feel-like-impostors-in-their-fully-working-bodies and tell me who the crazy person is.
- And no, I don't think to "deny yourself" means that you have to completely ignore any and all desires. Nor do I think that "being yourself" is inherently bad. Being yourself is perfectly fine if you're talking about your favorite foods, or colors, or football team. But when "being yourself" is an excuse for delusional or sinful behavior, you're on the wrong path.