Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Jenner, Affleck, USA: There is Little "I' in Identity

Living the American Dream (

One crucial tenet of the American Dream, and by extension our country’s political temperament, is the notion of “self-made man.” From the Puritanical and then Protestant Work Ethic, to Emerson’s featured essay “Self-Reliance”, to latent talent of young immigrants turning into wealth, fame, and influence now celebrated on “American Idol”, making something of ourselves is a theme as American as apple pie (and Johnny Appleseed, by extension).

If you were nothing, you could come to America and become something. Poor people became rich legacies: The First Families of Virginia, the Vanderbilts, the Rockefellers etc. Powerless families turned into powerful dynasties: Washington, Lincoln, Kennedy, Clinton.

Sadly, this American impulse of making something of yourself has taken on distorted extremes. Narcissistic preeminence crowds the Internet, from YouTube to Twitter. Now men and women believe that they can remake themselves into a different gender, too.
A blatant manifestation of this radical yet ridiculous self-transformation?  Bruce or “Caitlyn” Jenner. Bruce the Olympic Gold Medal winner graced the covers of Wheaties boxes in the early 1980’s. Disappearing for a few decades, he turned up on reality TV shows with the dysfunctional Kardashian family. Then he started looking more lady-like, strange, with controversies swirling around him, Kim, and their frustrating private life.

Then the secret came out: he really believes that he is a she, and was transforming himself.
The “Self-made man” has become a woman.

Bruce Jenner on Vanity Fair cover
(Truth Revolt)
Well, not really.
Let’s review some unchangeable facts. I cannot make myself a woman no more than an apple can unpeel itself into an orange, or the government create natural resources or wealth. Every human being born into this world carries distinct, determined, and essential different characteristics, genetic and ingrained. DNA is indubitable if inscrutable, XX or XY. All the cosmetic, plastic, or analgesic surgeries will not transform a male into a female. Hormones galore no more can undo the ribbons of genetic data.

Still, Bruce calls himself “Caitlyn”, and disgraces the covers of “Vanity Fair”. “Vanity” is an appropriate term for the magazine. It is vanity to believe that we can change so much about ourselves. “Caitlyn” is still a man, and he can’t change that. Another recovered transgender, Walt Heyer not only described the pain and horrors of sex-change surgery and back again, but the growing awareness that gender reassignment is really a mask for mental disturbances and  emotional imbalance.
A broader issue emerges. There is so much about our identities, about ourselves which fall outside of our power. Who we are depends on much more than “who we are”. 

Consider this stunning example. Hungarian Far right-wing politician Csanad Szegedi railed against Jews, while seeking the top post in his ideologically extremist Party. Driven to expelling foreigners and their reported criminality from his home country, he particularly targeted Jewish people.

Then he made a startling, identity-shaking discover.

As a rising star in Hungary's far-right Jobbik Party, Csanad Szegedi was notorious for his incendiary comments on Jews. . .Then came a revelation that knocked him off his perch as ultra-nationalist standard-bearer: Szegedi himself is a Jew.

Csanad Szegedi, now Dovid (

Grandmother survived Auschwitz, with the numbers still tattooed on her arm. His grandfather was a veteran of the harsh World War II labor camps all over Central Europe. Those are the facts, that is the history, and so they are Szegedi’s, too.  Despite his deeply-held beliefs, however offensive or immoral, however long he held them, the would-be leader of far-right  Hungarian politics found himself with an identity he would have never embraced. No matter what his deranged hatred of European Jewry, Szegedi was a Jew, losing his standing in his political party.

Now, he calls himself Dovid Szegedi, eats kosher, is learning Hebrew and goes to the Synagogue every Friday. "This is my true identity," says Szegedi, who is almost two meters (6" 6') tall. He wears an Italian designer suit, scruffy stubble and a black kippah.

“This is my true identity”, Dovid declares. A new name, from a profound understanding of his true, proper, fact-based identity. Revealed, not created. Our parents, our cultural heritage, but more important the brutal, honest facts determine who we are more, far more than our sentiments. The point? Identity at its core is not a finality determined by the individual.

Ben Affleck (Gene Bromberg)

More recently, Hollywood liberal Ben Affleck discovered his ancestors’ slave-holding past. He later apologized for attempting to suppress this information on the PBS program. Regardless of his feelings on the matter, Affleck has this history.

Now, how does the TransJenner controversy, plus misplaced attempts to change or cover up oneself connect larger political undercurrents roiling the United States?

From the selfie culture to the Obama Presidency -- “We are the Change we have been waiting for” and his frequent self-references -- the bankrupted argument is rising, one of self-definition and redefinition, as though we own nothing to past generations, or future considerations.

This country’s motto is “Out of Many, One”. This “One” is not a vacuous emergence ex nihilo. The Framers of our Constitution stood on the brilliant revelation of prior philosophers, who deduced republican principles of democratic participation based on Christian tolerance from successful, self-sustaining societies.

They did not make themselves, but responded with wise choices to what worked, and what was unworkable.
Hector St. John de Crevecoeur
Who can forget Hector St. Jean de Crevecoeur, who wrote “What is this American, this new man?”

The American is a new man;. . . .Here [in America] individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labours and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world. . . .
A new man, not self-made, but made from individuals from all over the world.

The truth is, there is very little “I” in Identity. “Self-made” becomes a misnomer, even misleading. Bruce will still be Bruce, Szegedi is a Jew. We are more than we think of ourselves. Our history defines who we are, and We the People must accept this.

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