By Casey Chalk
Do you know those people who constantly demand special treatment? The ones who need all kinds of strange allowances, affirmation, appreciation, and recognition—all for just being them?
Maybe they’re hypochondriacs. Maybe they’re always shifting their dietary restrictions, despite not having any food allergies. Or maybe they’re old-fashioned compliment-fishers.
These people are drains on their families, their friends, and everyone they come in contact with. And as a recent Washington Post article about an exceptionally “transgressive” couple unfortunately indicates, we are a nation promoting these dangerous behaviors as acceptable. We’re becoming a nation of narcissists.
In this news story, the couple in question explodes traditional relational norms. One of the duo, Kate Murray, identifies as a lesbian; the other, Andy Arnold, is a biological woman who now identifies as a man. When Andy “transitioned” two years ago, the couple felt like they “no longer belonged in the ‘women-centric’ spaces they were used to,” and began testing out a “new group of friends” where Andy could “blend in as a man.” But Kate felt uncomfortable with this arrangement, because she could no longer “express her queer identity.” Going out with someone who supposedly looked like a man caused her to appear straight.
This tension, WaPo tells us, “is a daily reality for many queer couples who feel that the way others perceive them is at odds with who they really are.”
❧This problem—of gay people not appearing sufficiently gay—is a serious issue confronting contemporary American society… at least, according to the Jeff Bezos-owned rag.
“Now it’s a lot more difficult to know, or assume to know, what category [people] belong to,” says Carla A. Pfeffer, a sociology professor at the University of South Carolina. “People are feeling more like they have a right to their identity… and to be recognized in accordance with their identity.” But how, one might ask, are such persons suffering because of a lack of recognition of their true sexual/gender identity?
In Andy’s case, identifying as a man means that she risks having her sexuality “just entirely erased,” and being seen as a heterosexual person who goes about “unremarkably in the world.” We don’t want the transition to be too convincing—lest the world mistake Andy for another regular, boring “Cishet” guy. What’s the fun in that? Kate, in turn, was frustrated during a birthday outing with her friends, because the bartender thought she was a “straight girl celebrating my birthday at a gay bar.”
Being a lesbian/transgender couple preparing to “marry” compounds this tension, WaPo tells us. “Now that [Kate]’s no longer dating a woman,” the article continues, “it bothers her when she ‘passes’ as straight.” The couple was also “taken aback” by the disparate themes of their two bridal showers: Andy’s was all rainbows, while Kate’s “felt more like a traditional, feminine bridal shower.” Says Kate: “We also want our underlying identities to be acknowledged in some way. My queerness can exist in my attraction to Andy, and his [sic] transness can exist. I think that kind of fluidity is hard to grasp.”
❧“Hard to grasp” is one way to put it. Stupefyingly ridiculous might be another.
Let us set aside for the moment any critique of Andy and Kate’s sexual relationship on moral or theological grounds. Even if a person were to declare that they respect and even approve of this couple’s gender and sexual decisions, Andy and Kate have cooked up quite a bewildering morass for sympathetic parties to navigate. Based solely on the WaPo’s presentation of their story, the two seem dissatisfied with just about every social gathering, because someone, somewhere might fail to appreciate the boundary-shattering, norm-demolishing nature of their sexuality and gender identity. Andy and Kate are clearly obsessed with how other people perceive them.
But, really, who cares how a bartender might perceive us? Most of them are busy enough without playing guessing games as to one’s gender/sexual identity. Even if you bother to walk them through the numbers, most don’t have a firm enough grasp of gender theory to understand why a woman dating a post-op trans man is still a lesbian. But have we become so self-conscious that this is worthy of any consideration?
Andy and Kate merely represent an extreme example of this narcissistic need for attention and affirmation. Inasmuch as we cultivate our carefully curated social media personalities—obsessing over how family, friends, acquaintances, and even total strangers perceive us—we’re all guilty of this. If we aren’t stressing over own image, we’re obsessing over those of of celebrities, politicians, bishops, and the like.
It’s true that in the case of Andy and Kate, a small, vocal minority of misfits now demand the entire culture cater to them and their ever-shifting self-defined identities. But we are all moving in the same direction whenever we express dissatisfaction or offense because someone has failed to appreciate our snowflake specialness.
❧In the case of this odd couple, Andy lets the cat out of the bag when she expresses his fear that transitioning to a man risks making her “unremarkable.” It’s obvious that Andy has fixed her identity—the entire meaning of his existence—on finding some way to be “remarkable,” even if it means surgically mutilating her own genitalia. Now, the risk of being perceived by others as a straight male erodes that obsessively curated status. Andy fears she may be viewed as just a normal guy.
Oh, the tragedy of being average and unremarkable! So it is, quite often, with all of us.
“Our hearts are restless until they rest in You,” says the Doctor of Grace. We are children of our Lord through baptism; to define ourselves against any lesser truth will always leave us unfulfilled. We may become addicted to validation, as Mses. Arnold and Murray clearly have. Such validation, as this couple’s story portrays, is fleeting and vacuous. In the eternal sense, it matters not at all what people think of us.
As with so many of the saints, we may spend our lives misunderstood and marginalized. So be it. To borrow loosely from Billy Joel, I’d rather be in the company of the saints than narcissists.