08 June, 2015

"Call Me Caitlyn"

Late to this party, but I have had a lot to sort out.

Whenever I am confronted with something completely outside my experience--and it's both exhilarating and sobering to realize how many things still are--I try to look at how other people are reacting. In high school I did this to try and follow the crowd. Much later, when I pulled my head out of my navel, I noticed the world had become polarized and no matter what the issue, there were always (at least) two crowds pulling with all their might in opposite directions. That struck me as needlessly destructive: the world needs more consensus, or, failing that, at least understanding.

And so now I figure out which crowd I'm in...and then spend some time in the other crowd(s).

This doesn't always work to temper my opinion. On marriage equality for gays and lesbians, for example, you can't move me. But even now I'm still seeking someone from the other side who can articulate their opposition to it in a more coherent, sophisticated way than EWWWW GAYS ARE EVIL.

Transsexuals, transgendered people and their issues are waaaay outside my realm of experience. To my knowledge, I've never even met a transsexual or transgendered person. And so once again I surveyed the field of reaction. It took a week or so before I found somebody sharing my little patch of field. Unsurprisingly, it was Tabatha Southey, who is probably my favourite columnist.

Our patch of field is...no field at all. I've watched in puzzlement as people have either leapt on the Caitlyn bandwagon or tried to ram it off the road, all the while thinking whether you think she's Caitlyn and beautiful or Bruce and a freak, just leave her alone.

One of my closest friends happens to be gay. That's the least remarkable fact about him, something he chooses to minimize in any interaction. Not because he "isn't really gay", not because he's ashamed of himself, but because it doesn't matter.  Tabatha would note that he's also tall...and then engage him as a person.

That's what I think we should be doing with Caitlyn. If we're seeking understanding on what it means to be transgendered, we'll go a long way towards doing that just by talking to her as if -- gasp! -- she's a human being. Doing this will convince us that she is, in fact, a human being.

The haters--I'm not sure where the hate even comes from, to be honest.  I think it's probably a variant of homophobia: I've noticed that just as with gay-hatred, men are much more likely to feel it. I think a man presenting as a woman really fouls up these men's  sense of the world. Pardon the dip into crudity, but their mindset is crude: people are divided into those with holes and those with poles. A hole where a pole once stood is unthinkable to many men whose poles are basically the essence of their being. They're dicks, to be blunt.

This, needless to say, really bothers me.

Like Caitlyn, my wife. Eva, has undergone a fundamental transformation in how she presents to the world. In Eva's case, she lost about two hundred pounds and is still losing. Does that sound trivial by comparison? It shouldn't. Just ask a fat woman about how people look at, and treat her. Just ask a fat woman about how much her weight defines her.

Now every time Eva posts a picture of herself--she is justifiably proud of what she has accomplished--people say she is beautiful. And she is.


I actually have this perverse urge to stem the flood of compliments she gets, as richly as she deserves them, because damnit she always was beautiful and it shouldn't take her being thin for people to suddenly see it.

Yes, it took a great deal of courage for Caitlyn to do what she did. But as fundamental as her transformation is, she is only conforming to what she was all along. And what she was all along is a beautiful human being.

Now, it's clearly too much to ask, but what would really make me stand up and take notice of Caitlyn Jenner is if she dared to present not as a woman, but as a 65 YEAR OLD WOMAN. A senior citizen. Which is what she is, by her biological age. You'd never know it from that Vanity Fair cover: she looks to be in her thirties.

She isn't. She's 65. She has wrinkles. Whatever colour her hair is, it isn't the colour it looks in photo shoots.

We're willing to concede that women that old might be beautiful people...so long as they don't look anywhere near that old. Isn't that sad? Whether we're born into the right body or not, we all get old. Where is the acknowledgement--no, the celebration of that fact?


karen said...

I grew up in a homophobic environment. I spent my childhood in a funny little "Stepford" world. The people were more or less kind and well meaning, but I felt early on like I didn't belong. I attempted suicide for the first time at 10. High school brought me into contact with the real world and I learned that sexuality was not a fixed point. Over the next 30 years I began to see sexuality as a fluid spectrum, and to feel that it encompassed more than sex. Now that transgender individuals are educating us, I wonder if gender might also be kind of fluid.

I am fascinated to learn that people don't fully identify with their bodies and I look forward to learning more.

However, I tend not to be star struck. In another time, Bruce Jenner was a great, accomplished athlete. Then he was a bit of a doofus who is partly responsible for the Kardashians. Caitlyn Jenner may have a thing or two to teach society about acceptance of gender variation, but I don't see that, in and of itself, as a reason to pay any more attention to her.

Ken Breadner said...

karen: I have less than zero interest in celebrity culture. I pride myself in being totally unable to recognize a Kardashian. In point of thought, as far as I'm concerned, that's a race on STAR TREK for all the relevance it has to my world. Your last sentence perfectly encapsulates my thoughts on the matter.