Identity: What is Going On with People’s Thinking?

Three seemingly disparate stories from the headlines in the past few years and from mental health files, yet in some way they are all linked. Let’s use a little brain power to discover the ways in which these accounts are tied together.

Case Study #1

First, most prominent has been the transformation of Bruce Jenner into Caitlyn Jenner. He announced publicly in an interview with Diane Sawyer on April  25, 2015 that, “I have the soul of a woman.”  Jenner also added, “For all intents and purposes, I am a woman.” And to “clarify” for Sawyer his gender identity versus his sexual preferences, Jenner explained: “There’s two different things here. Sexuality is who you are personally attracted to — who turns you on — male or female. But gender identity has to do with who you are as a person and your soul, and who you identify with inside, okay?” Does that clarify things for everyone? The label applied to Jenner and others like him/her is transgendered.

Case Study #2

The second bizarre story, somewhat more recent, has to do with Rachel Dolezal claiming to be an African-American. Although here parents confirmed that she is indeed Caucasian, Dolezal herself stated on an MSNBC interview with Melissa Harris-Perry, that she felt spiritually connected with the idea of blackness and had always felt black even though she was white. Her upbringing and social conditioning suppressed her black identity, she said. So although she is biologically white, she self-identifies as black, because that is how she feels on the inside. She calls herself transracial. With NBC’s Matt Lauer she kept avoiding direct questions about her deception by claiming repeatedly that the situation was more complex than Lauer was allowing. Does this clarify things for everyone? Since when did subjective “reality” trump biological reality? When did we stop believing in what is actually real and begin to replace it with what we feel is real?

Case Study #3

The third case study is concerned with people who, although they have all their limbs, feel inside of themselves that they are amputees. Some go even so far as to have their limbs amputated because they do not regard their arm or their leg as their own. “It’s not my leg. I don’t know who it belongs to, but it does not belong to me!” When surgeons refuse to amputate a perfectly good limb, some of these folks injure themselves so severely that amputation becomes necessary in order to save their lives. Take the case of Karl, for instance. Karl is a double amputee, but not by accident, birth or disease. He is an amputee by choice. In 2000, Karl (who asked that his real name not be used) sat alone in a parked car with 100 pounds of dry ice and an obsession to destroy his legs.
“The first thing I did was I used a wooden flour scoop to scoop some granulated dry ice into the bucket. … It filled the wastebasket with carbon dioxide gas, which was 79 degrees below zero,” he said. Over the next 45 minutes, Karl put his legs in the wastebasket and then kept adding dry ice until it got to the top. “I spent the next six hours well-packed in the dry ice, and then I’d add more dry ice to keep it topped off,” he said. A chemistry major in college, Karl had done his research well.

After those six hours, Karl calmly drove himself to an emergency room, using the automatic hand controls he had installed in the car. Within days, his legs began to blacken as the frozen tissue died away, and within a month surgeons had no choice but to amputate both of Karl’s legs. Karl is not a one-of-a-kind medical mystery, however. There are others like him, who believe their bodies don’t match the picture of themselves they have in their minds. “I wasn’t born in the correct body,” said Lilly, who has twice tried to amputate her legs. “The mind doesn’t connect up to the body at all.” (ABC News, April 5, 2006). The psychological tag for this state of mind or condition is body integrity identity disorder (BIID), or as these people now like to refer to themselves, transabled. Indeed, people who have a limb amputated finally feel whole after their amputation. Does this sound reasonable to anyone?

Similar or Dissimilar?

Now, what do these three diverse examples of trans-ness have in common? Did you notice any similarities in the three examples? If you were paying attention one of the main similarities was in each case, people self-identified as something that they were biologically not: Jenner as a woman though he was biologically a man, Dolezal as a black person (the term she prefers over African-American) though she is biologically white, and Karl as not a physically whole person even though his legs were biologically healthy. The second thing they have in common — closely related to the first — these are all matters of identity. Something in each of these people’s lives caused them to question their own identity.

Now some might say in this politically correct and emotionally charged topic, that Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner is entitled to redefine himself as a woman if he feels like it. Rachel Dolezal, however, received a rougher ride by the media (and SNL comedians) after being exposed as a fraud. And people with BIID, well, they are just plain nuts, right? But wait just a minute. Why should being so-called transgendered be regarded differently from those who say they are transabled? Why indeed!

In Jenner’s case, there is now a huge social and political lobby behind the entire LGBTQ movement that has labeled any dissenters as bigots, homophobes and intolerant haters. So to even question the issue is to invite the wrath and censure of the so-called guardians of civil liberties and the new sexual orthodoxy. At the same time, we haven’t seen a case like Rachel Dolezal’s in the media before so there hasn’t been the necessary time to conform public opinion to the new reality. Even now people are already rethinking her case and pondering whether it might just be okay to claim to be black or blue or red or whatever, even though you’re not. If that’s how you feel, who’s to say it’s not okay? As for the amputation of healthy limbs because they seem foreign – well, that’s just plain crazy. I mean even the psychologists and psychiatrists have classified it as a disorder. Clearly that’s just insanity, right? Really? Who are we to judge?

Biblical Perspective

Let us be clear: A person’s biology does determine their identity in the physical sense and it is also inextricably linked to their inward identity. So what is it that has distorted people’s thinking so that they question and even deny their core identity? For the Apostle Paul the reason is clear. In 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 he states unequivocally,

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore, God sends them a a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (ESV)

People have been hoodwinked by their own suppression of the truth (cf. Romans 1:18 ff.). The enemy, Satan, has exploited people’s refusal to love the truth and has infiltrated their thinking processes, fooling and confusing them into thinking illogically and falsely about themselves (and others) so that they now believe that they are something they are not. To a large extent, this false identity crisis may be the result of personal relational trauma that has broken and twisted their hearts and minds. To some extent we all live with varying degrees of this relational brokenness. That is precisely why we must all seek the Creator’s perspective about our true identity. After all, the One who made us is also the One who knows us best. He is also the only one who can clear up confusion about our true identity and anchor our thinking in reality!


Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

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