It’s the image that has done more than anything else to make gender transition mainstream and attractive.
Back in 2015 Bruce Jenner—an Olympic champion, American hero, and stepfather to the famous Kardashians—was interviewed by the journalist Diane Sawyer about his experience as a man who had long lived with a deep secret. All his life, though revered as a model of athleticism and masculinity, Jenner believed he was really a woman. If you’ve seen the interview, you see someone deeply hurt, wounded, and unable to find peace—someone still seeking self-acceptance despite possessing enormous wealth and celebrity.
Fast-forward a few months later and Bruce Jenner made a surprise appearance on the front cover of Vanity Fair magazine. Wearing lingerie and posing provocatively on a barstool, hands tucked behind back, Jenner copied the hyper-femininity and exaggerated sex appeal we’re used to seeing on the covers of magazines at the grocery store checkout. The cover was an act of self-revelation: Jenner’s appearance signaled a transition to fully identifying and living as a woman. “Call Me Caitlyn,” the cover proclaimed. The photo is now world famous.
A super-celebrity and cultural icon—Caitlyn Jenner—was born. And the topic of “transgender” was catapulted into cultural prominence.
In all the media noise surrounding the Vanity Fair release, one photographer’s blog post pointed out a curious detail:
One of my mentors has always said, a good photograph should stand on its own, meaning it alone tells its story and the backstory is irrelevant. If you accept this, what I see when I look at this image is a badly posed person looking awkwardly at the camera. . . . I am confused—why are the hands hidden? The very masculine shoulders, arms, and legs suggest to me that this is a drag queen—notwithstanding the breasts, a flare to the hips, and a lack of an Adam’s apple, as I know all of that can be achieved through Photoshop—and that the photographer just did not know what to do with large, mannish hands. And so [he] told the subject to hide them.
Look at your hands right now. If you’re a man, it’s likely your hands are longer and thicker than a woman’s. If you’re a woman, it’s likely your hands are smaller than a man’s. A woman’s hands are more delicate. The bones are smaller. The knuckles don’t protrude quite like a man’s. They’re not as strong or hairy as a man’s.
Why is this significant? Because the lack of hands on the cover of Vanity Fair tells us a great deal about Jenner’s struggles for self-acceptance and the nature of the transgender debate.
The fact is that in the photo shoot, Jenner went to every possible effort to demonstrate femininity, and took every possible step to assert sex appeal as a woman—eyelashes, breasts, facial work. But the hands did not, could not, follow. And that tells us something: our existence simply can’t be remade or recast without remnants of our true self remaining behind.
Our existence simply can’t be remade or recast without remnants of our true self remaining behind.
We can try to tamper with God’s design, but how he crafted us continues to shine through, even when it goes against our will. Our hands don’t tell us nearly everything about who we are, but they do remind us about how we’ve been made.
All of us try to hide parts of our existence—whether physical or emotional. All of us feel shame about some of the realities of who we are. We humans have been hiding since the garden of Eden. And since that moment, we’ve been craving a stable sense of identity and a deep knowledge of acceptance.
Which takes us to another pair of hands.
Eight days later [after he had risen from the dead], his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:24–28)
Jesus proved his resurrection to his doubting disciples by holding out his hands—real, resurrected hands with real, nail-caused scars.
Jesus’s hands were, and are, scarred from the cross, where he took the brokenness of the world upon himself in order to redeem his creation. His hands were, and are, a reminder that he was broken so that you and I can be restored—mind, heart, and body. We have a God with scars, who knows what brokenness feels like and who offers a future of real and lasting wholeness, beyond all the frustration and pain.
The holding out of Jesus’s scarred hands shows there’s a different way through all our struggles and brokenness.
And Jesus did not, and does not, hide those hands behind his back.
He held them out to Thomas to prove who he was—the loving, suffering Savior. And he holds them out to people still today. He has nothing to hide and everything to give.
The hiding of Caitlyn Jenner’s masculine hands show that the way through gender dysphoria cannot be to transition our gender. The holding out of Jesus’s scarred hands shows there’s a different way through all our struggles and brokenness. It’s to come to him, and to find forgiveness and transformation. The King’s words in Matthew 11:28 are addressed to us, whomever we are. He invites us to come, and beckons as we follow:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Editors’ note: This is an adapted excerpt from Andrew Walker’s new book, God and the Transgender Debate: What Does the Bible Actually Say About Gender Identity? (The Good Book Company, 2017).