Caitlyn Jenner, Jon Stewart, and Society’s Game of Rhetorical Whack-a-Mole

caitlyn jenner

by John Ellis

This past week, among the media fed hoopla about Caitlyn Jenner, among the shrill cries of the sky is falling – God’s sovereignty doesn’t mean what it actually means!!! – and the equally shrill cries that tolerance WILL win out – so take that, bigots!!!, – Jon Stewart’s voice rose to the top. In a June 2 episode of The Daily Show, Stewart took the media, and us, to task for focusing on Caitlyn’s looks. In an oft shared quote, so oft shared that Stewart and his quote became a trending topic that out-trended the other conversations about Caitlyn Jenner, Stewart, wagging his verbal finger sarcastically, said, “When you were a man, we could talk about your athleticism, your business acumen. But now you’re a women, and your looks are really the only thing we care about.” Except Stewart, the self-appointed media schoolmarm armed with a self-constructed ruler fashioned out of the pretense of floating-above-the-fray objectivity[1], and his self-righteous gobbledygook demonstrates the nonsensical rhetorical pretzels our society has all of a sudden found itself in.

I mean, who is Stewart actually scolding? Caitlyn is the one who posed provocatively wearing a corset. I would imagine, based on the fact of how she posed and how she has chosen to frame her coming out as a woman that she wants us to think that she’s hot. She’s selling hot. She’s selling sexy. If we’re wrong for buying it, Caitlyn is just as wrong, if not more so, for selling it. Here’s the thing, this conversation can’t go both ways because it turns in on itself. I think Stewart and his illiberal disciples realize this, but they can’t articulate it or else the house of sexual freedom cards begins to topple. Instead, they blatantly defend Caitlyn against the very thing that she’s peddling in the hopes that their shrillness will drown out the beginning-to-be-obvious untenable nature of their conflicting positions.

What do I mean? Well, there are many articles and blog posts that have already begun to point this out[2]; I’m a slow writer, and, once again, I’m coming in on the tail wind of all this[3]. But when I refer to Caitlyn Jenner as “her,” and I’m willing to do so, I affirm the very gender stereotypes that the illiberal left has been trying to remove from my language, both internal and external. Gender differences are supposed to be ironed out, the power dynamic removed. But Caitlyn has chosen to define herself as a woman by using many of the same gender signifiers that are no longer palatable in a pluralistic, illiberal society. The fact that I refer to Caitlyn as “her” and “she,” you know, feminine pronouns, points out that there are abstract definitions of the female gender and the male gender, and that the two genders are innately different. It flat out denies gender egalitarianism[4]. Transgender people recognize this. That’s why Bruce insists that she is actually Caitlyn; otherwise it wouldn’t matter if I called her Bruce and used masculine pronouns when referring to her.

Towards the end of the segment, Stewart chided the talking head who commented about how Caitlyn’s “white, satin corset” is “very Playboy bunnyesque.” The thing is, Caitlyn’s white, satin corset IS very Playboy bunnyesque. And she and Annie Leibovitz, the photographer[5], know this. It’s an iconic image. Hugh Hefner was a darling of those who, during the sexual revolution of the 60s, desired sexual freedom. Our society’s definition of women and sexuality has been partially shaped by Playboy. Caitlyn has chosen to define herself as a woman by co-opting the sexually charged images that today’s enlightened now find oppressive. But they’re not going to take their new hero to task. They’re not going to demand that the fat-shaming photos of Caitlyn Jenner be removed from the public square[6]. They’re not going to point out the hypocrisy of calling an individual brave who is now defining herself as a woman by exhibiting the very external characteristics – clothing, make-up, sexualized breasts, et al. – that they have been railing against when anyone else uses those things to even partially define women. The only way to even began navigating the rhetorical maze that Stewart and his acolytes now find themselves in is to condemn those who respond to Caitlyn the way that Caitlyn apparently wants. If Caitlyn didn’t want us to think she’s a sexy woman, she would’ve found a different way to express herself than by using images that are the direct descendants of Playboy and the sexualization of certain female body types.

As a conservative Christian who affirms the historic and orthodox Christian belief about sexuality, I am appalled and saddened by the reductionist sexualization of those made in God’s image. And, for the record, my willingness to refer to Caitlyn by her preferred gender pronouns does not, by any means, indicate that I support any expression of sexuality that is outside of our Creator God’s parameters. I do not believe that transgenderism is an acceptable lifestyle before a holy God. But I also do not believe that Caitlyn and other transgender people should be mocked, shunned, or otherwise demeaned. Regardless of my beliefs about sexuality, Caitlyn Jenner is made in the Image of God and should be treated accordingly[7]. Part of that, and circling back to this paragraph’s opening sentence, is that I am saddened by the fact that Caitlyn has chosen to allow herself to be sexually objectified. However, I do not want to take away her civil freedom to do so. I will pray that the freeing light of the Gospel is shone into her life and that she will respond in Holy Spirit given faith and repentance. And, I will pray the same thing for those who view her as a sexual object. The reality is that the only way out of this hypocritical maze that we now find ourselves in is through the life, death, and resurrection of God come down to earth as Jesus Christ. Twisting ourselves into even more rhetorical tangles only serves to highlight the foolishness of humans and our need to submit to God.

[1] The rejoinder will be, of course, that he’s a comedian and that I’m taking him too seriously and, hence, being unfair. Except, my social media outlets are frequently filled with smug posts from illiberals using Jon Stewart as the authoritative scold to shut down anything that they feel is wrong – in other words, to put conservatives in their place.

[2] For the record, I have yet to find an illiberal rejoinder

[3] The one and only time my writing caught the top of the hype wave was when I wrote about zombie wasps.

[4] If there are innate differences between men and women, that means that there are certain things that women are made for and certain things that men are made for.

[5] Leibovitz has photographed sessions for Playboy.

[6] Like they did the Time’s Square billboard of the skinny swimsuit model.

[7] I know that that doesn’t explain why I’m willing to use feminine pronouns in reference to Caitlyn. I’m not in the mood to defend it.


7 thoughts on “Caitlyn Jenner, Jon Stewart, and Society’s Game of Rhetorical Whack-a-Mole

  1. This is a good post. I think it’s one of the best responses I’ve read from someone who is firmly planted in a conservative viewpoint (of biblical sexuality) and a gracious posture toward those who live outside that viewpoint, especially in the realm of civil law or public discourse.

    I have absolutely no idea how to think theologically about transgender issues. But I am convinced that all image-bearers deserve a gracious response. We are not the Holy Spirit. Our words (of condemnation or of encouragement) don’t redeem anyone from the bondage of sin. We don’t define righteousness, and we don’t help God out by trying to draw more lines for us. So while we try to sort out all these difficult questions, I wish more people took your approach.

    Liked by 1 person

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