The world took notice when Bruce Jenner graced the cover of Vanity Fair magazine wearing a white corset, with a voluptuous bosom, flowing hair extensions and glossy lips. The cover title read, ‘Call Me Caitlyn’. As the cover began to gain traction, a new Twitter account was released under the name Caitlyn Jenner. In 4 hours Caitlyn's Twitter account had over 1 million followers, breaking Barak Obama's record as the fastest person to gain a million followers in the shortest time period. From the looks of social media Caitlyn was quickly consuming the attention of the nation.
When I took time to scroll through my Facebook feed I saw a number of comments about Caitlyn. Most of all the remarks I saw where congratulatory, many with the same sentiments that Caitlyn was beautiful, brave and inspiring. As I read articles I saw even more praise. Some were calling Caitlyn their heroine, declaring that Caitlyn has made America a better place.
I can't say I was shocked by all the adoration. Over the last few years I've noticed confessions of sexual preference and gender identity have elevated athletes and actors to cultural icons overnight. However in the midst of the praise, I also saw disgust, frustration and anger towards those who didn't readily accept the new Bruce. Actor Drake Bell tweeted, 'still calling you Bruce' and to date there are over 3,000 articles talking about how arrogant and transphobic his comment was. One can only imagine that Drake has gotten a number of death threats from a society that values tolerance while simultaneously crushing those who defy popular opinion. In my online circle I noticed that a woman posted on FB that she couldn't truly believe everyone was falling over themselves to call Caitlyn beautiful. This friend also qualified her statement by declaring her love for all people, lest her followers assumed disagreement with his lifestyle choices caused her to hate.
As I did laundry I thought about that girl's post and wondered to myself. With so much pressure to proclaim an opinion that pleases the majority, were some people afraid to share how they really felt? Or, did millions of people worldwide simply all agree that this man who now identifies as a woman was stunning and flawless? As I washed my clothes I talked to God, asking the Holy Spirit if people were being honest in their approval. Into my mind came this sentence, "It's like the Emperor's New Clothes." Suddenly a children's story I hadn't thought about since 4th grade popped into my head.
"The Emperor's New Clothes? What exactly was that story about, I wondered?" All I could recall from memory was a picture book I had in which a large Emperor was parading around wearing nothing. As I thought about it, I recalled that the people around him were telling him he looked wonderful in his new clothes when in reality he was naked.
I hurried to my computer to look up the story online. I reread the fairytale and found it to be a remarkable parable with a powerful message. In the story by Hans Christian Andersen we read about a vain, rich Emperor who was so fond of clothes he spent all his money on them. The Emperor had a different suit for each hour of the day. When most kings were found in their council the Emperor was found in his wardrobe.
One day two weavers came to the Emperors town. These weavers told the people they could weave the most beautiful and elaborate clothes full of vibrant colors and detailed patterns. The weavers claimed to have a special cloth that would be invisible to everyone who was foolish or unfit for the job they held. This intrigued the Emperor who wanted a suit made out of this cloth so he could use it to find out which men in his kingdom were unfit for their positions. In his vanity and pride the Emperor hired the weavers to work their magic.
What the Emperor didn't know was that the two men were wicked swindlers. They pretended to work at their looms until night, while taking the finest silk and golden thread and storing it in their knapsacks. When the Emperor became curious about his new clothing he sent an old wise man to look at the cloth and tell him of the progress. Since the man was wise, the Emperor knew he would be able to see the cloth. When the old man went to the looms, he saw they were empty. In fear that he would be proclaimed unwise for his position he kept silent. The weavers asked the old man what he thought and out of fear he proclaimed the clothes were very beautiful.
Soon the entire city was buzzing with news of the beautiful clothes that were being prepared for the Emperor. Eventually the Emperor was brought to see his new clothes. To his dismay like the wise man he too could see nothing. In fear the Emperor hid this reality to not appear foolish or unfit. Then his advisors exclaimed his clothes were beautiful and planned a parade for him to show them off. The weavers and the Emperor's men went through an ordeal pretending to place the clothes on the Emperor. Soon the Emperor began his procession through the streets. All the townspeople cried out, "Oh! How beautiful are our Emperor's new clothes, how grand, how magnificent!'. All praised and adored his attire except for a single little child. "But the Emperor has nothing at all on!" said the child. Soon what the child said was whispered through the crowds. The child's father said, "Listen to the voice of the child!' In a moment it became clear that the child was right and the Emperor had nothing on at all. The masquerade was over and the Emperor was mortified. The honesty of a child brought truth to a kingdom of people who were proclaiming false praise in fear of looking foolish or loosing their livelihood.
Could their be a lesson in this fairytale for our world today? I believe so. The lesson is found in speaking truth even when it's considered unwise to do so. In a world where others say what they must to keep what they have, it's hard to voice a different opinion. Yet sometimes, as in the case of this little boy, the world around us needs to hear our voice. In a society were truth and absolutes are frowned upon, it can be rather challenging to stay strong in your convictions. Nevertheless those who love truth have an opportunity to honor it by choosing it when it's hard, inconvenient and costly.
The world is proclaiming a man who underwent intensive surgery to emulate a woman is the most beautiful current it girl. Yet is that adoration and praise justified? Are you a brave hero when you make a decision that brings with it greater fame, public recognition and adoring fans? Are you a coward when you say you don't agree with the life choices of another yet still respect their right to make those choices? Is it wrong to say lovingly that a man may feel like a woman look like a woman and dress like a woman but still be a man? Is it horrible to refuse to use a female pronoun when discussing a person whose gender is male? These are the questions you may be asking yourself. You might be standing in the crowds of exuberant cheerleaders, shaking your head cause you just don't get it it. Maybe you have compassion in your heart for this person, yet can't allow yourself to call a man anything but just that. Maybe you are struggling to be emphatic towards others while holding fast to your beliefs.
Perhaps you find yourself seemingly at odds with an ever changing world that heads in an opposite direction of the path you are following. If you feel this way or are having these thoughts, it's okay. I am having them too. The question is, what do we do in times like these? I believe we think deeply about what we value and belief is true. Then we do what the world claims to celebrate and be faithful to that truth. Don't hide your opinion, don't be pressured into silence and don't speak out of raw emotion. Pray, process and like that little boy speak the truth in simplicity and kindness. You may not get millions of Twitter followers in a record fast time but you will get the satisfaction of knowing you were honest. Bruce Jenner claims that appearing on the cover of Vanity Fair, revealing his true self has made him finally free. I believe the words in John Chapter 8:36, 'So if the Son sets you free you are truly free'. True freedom, joy and happiness can be found in one source, the love of Christ that liberates men and women. My prayer is that a world wanting for a beauty and a hero, would set their eyes on the only man deserving of unceasing praise and adoration.