In fact, I was telling Helen Keller jokes as I was wheeled in for my own eye surgery over 30 years ago. I figured that if I couldn't tell the jokes then, then I had no right to ever tell them at all.
But aside from the many Helen Keller and "Sheldon" jokes, one other joke stuck in my mind for years. It's the one about the preacher and the hunchback:
The Sunday gospel-shouter was in great form.In that joke is a bit of truth about how some (but not all) Christians look at certain types of deformities and abnormalities. Unable to reconcile their beliefs that everything God does is perfect with the obvious imperfections some people have, they come up with convoluted logic like that of the preacher in that joke.
"Everything God made is perfect," he preached.
A hunchback rose the rear of the auditorium. "What about me?"
"Why," said the preacher, "you're the most perfect hunchback I ever saw!"
And this brings me to "Terry."
Now, to be fair, most Christians do accept the fact that some people are born with deformities and abnormalities that need to be addressed. That's why there are so many church-related hospitals in this country, and why there are so many missionary hospitals in other countries. And had Terry been born with a cleft palate, a heart defect, or one leg shorter than the other, he could've not only found help at one of these hospitals, but support from the many congregations that support them. In those cases they could accept the fact that sometimes God would let mistakes happen. But that wasn't Terry's defect.
Terry said that he was born the wrong sex, and wanted to have surgery to become Terri.
From the time when he was a child Terry felt that something was wrong, and that he was supposed to be a girl. He sat on this and fought it for 30 or 40 years, and then decided to do something about it, to fix what to him seemed like obvious mistake. But even almost 50 years after George Jorgensen made news with the surgeries that turned him into Christine, there was still a lot of resistance to the idea of sex reassignment surgery, particularly among Christians.
People who would never have told someone with a heart defect that the problem was "all in their mind" and that they should get counseling and pray about it, were saying exactly that to Terry. Yet, what is easier to change, the function of a brain or the physical structure of the body? I'm no biologist, and I don't play one on TV either, but as we learn more about the effects of hormones on all parts of the developing fetus, including the brain, it becomes clear that sometimes things don't always go right, mismatching brain and physical sexual assignment.
Despite this, there are still people out there who are effectively saying that Terry is "the most perfect hunchback they've ever seen."
I haven't seen Terry in about 10 years, but I'm hoping - and praying - that she's not a hunchback any longer.