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Questioning Caitlyn?

CaitlynEverybody’s talkin’ at me; I don’t hear a word they’re sayin’. Just driving around in Jon Voigt’s car. ~ George Costanza (paraphrased)

The internet is now aflutter. Caitlyn Jenner, looking suspiciously like Jessica Lange, hit the cover of Vanity Fair, and the public just can’t seem to get enough. Many fans of Jenner, fans of the Kardashians, and folks who are fans of neither think this is awesome and praise her for her bravery. Many activists think this is a train wreck, and many others are simply tired of hearing about it already. I’m not a fan of Jenner, the Kardashians, and while not so much an activist as an educator, I think this is a pistachio hot fudge sundae with whipped cream and a cherry. Kool Whip, not that homemade crap. Surprised? Let’s talk about that for a minute.

To give my activist friends their due, I freely admit that the whole rigmarole is exploitative, an exercise in showmanship, and carries forward the archetypal pervasive myth of the boy who gets wheeled through the swinging door of the OR and emerges hours later a stunning woman. It’s true, this is exactly what happened here. Last we saw Caitlyn she was sitting with Diane Sawyer still looking kind of butch, and now just over a month later, which is hardly anything in real life transition time, she’s outshining the spotlights on the magazine rack. With her magazine cover caliber rack nonetheless.

She’s making something often monstrously hard, prohibitively expensive, and soul crushingly depressing look fresh and easy as a summer’s eve. I can see why many who have worked, sacrificed, and made so many tiny forward steps while drowning in a sea of failure and regret might hate her, maybe just a tiny little bit. She’s privileged. She’s white. She’s rich. She’s famous. I don’t care. That’s her life, not mine, not that of anyone I know, so I leave her to it. What I do care about is that people are talking. More importantly, people are asking questions.

Just yesterday a friend asked me, “Is it OK to start calling her ‘she’ now? Is that right?” Some of you reading this just face-palmed. The woman who asked, however, is both big hearted and brilliant. I’m also the first trans person she met, and has treated me from the get go with great respect and genuine interest in my life, non-trans elements included. I was thrilled she asked so I could tell her. I did a Trans 101 seminar about a month back, and during my Q&A, the organizer who contacted me and put the whole thing together admitted, “When I wrote you I wasn’t sure whether to address you as Ms. or Mr.” I was ecstatic that she said something.

Questions and statements like these are gifts I receive nearly every day. I call them gifts because it means the people asking are genuinely interested. People sitting in a seminar are generally being talked at. I know when I’m being talked at I’m usually either a million miles away, or I’ve taken umbrage and tuning them out while I craft my devastatingly clever response. I think it’s the same for everyone. When I ask a question, it’s because I really want to know. I think that is the same for everyone as well. It’s also because I, and I assume we, don’t know. It could be plastered on a billboard in front of my eyes, but it’s still entirely possible, or even probable, that I don’t know anyway. If it’s not a part of my direct experience, my interest is low, and my eyes glaze over as I concentrate on things that are relevant to me.

It doesn’t matter that I’m not a super fan of the Kardashians or Caitlyn. Frankly I wasn’t completely sure who they were, why they are famous, or even that Jenner was a part of their whole shtick. Millions, however, are. Millions invite Caitlyn into their living rooms and bedrooms every week on the tube or in the gossip rags. Caitlyn is part of their cultural experience. They care if she gets into a car accident. They care if she’s spotted getting a Venti Chowdertino from Starbucks. They care if she undergoes gender transition. They are paying attention, and they will ask questions. Startling obvious questions sometimes, but so telling about how far the trans experience has permeated or failed to seep to the core of our cultural consciousness. How sweet it is.

At the heart of it, it doesn’t matter that she’s white, privileged, wealthy, famous, has it comparatively easy in respect to the rest of us, and might even be coming out in this way for all the wrong reasons. It does matter that people are talking about it, asking those questions, broadening their awareness, and gaining the ability to identify with her as a person. I work very hard to achieve that same thing every day; people in my life, people who come to my seminars, anyone who reads my words. In one swoop, flashy, gaudy, and misleading as it may be, she captured the interest of millions, and the questions are flowing. Every one of them is gold, and represents one less person I and every other trans have to talk at.

About michellelianna

I'm a transgender woman now in the maintenance stages of transition having all the electrolysis and surgery one can reasonably be expected to undertake. While busy exploring my new world, I took to blogging about it with dubiously popular results. I don't have quite as much to say as I used to, but I'm not quite done yet either.

10 responses »

  1. Pasted below is a quick survey designed to evaluate how generational factors affect the name choices of transpeople, created out of general curiosity. If you can take the survey and spread the word, I would appreciate it. But you’re certainly not obligated to.

  2. I like to focus on facts that others may elide over.
    Jenner was the worlds greatest athlete.. I am a fan of the summer and winter Olympics and the work and training that all of these athletes endure is amazing. Jenner fully earned the Olympic gold and fully merited the eclat that came with the crown.
    Jenner married several times and his three wives only speak highly of him. He has raised or help raise 10 childer, six of his own and four more. They all speak highly of him.
    He has indicated that he has been dealing with gender issues for over 5 decades. We all deal with these issues in our own ways, in our own time and based on the level and intensity of our gender issues and the other obligations that we face in life.
    I suspect that only Cate really knows all that she dealt with and I am optomistic that going forward Cate will do well for herself and for many others dealing with gender issues. I also would look back and acknowledge that Bruce made a lot of contributions to others during the first 65 years.

  3. Pingback: Has “Call Me Caitlyn” Cheapened The Transgender Experience? | A Spy in the Enemy Camp

  4. I don’t know if I’m the only one who wanted to cry when I saw that cover photograph of the newly minted Ms. Jenner and I don’t mean tears of joy or gratitude for all she has done to bring the transgender experience into the homes and hearts of millions of people. In some respects, I see her as a “Jenner-come-lately”.who has somehow cheapened the transgender experience for her own aggrandizement when there are so many of us that have entered into the process of transition with absolutely no idea if we would ever be able to complete it but yet we knew we had to do it for nobody else but ourselves. While I am one who by no means had to face the many challenges and barriers that many more will never have any hope of surmounting, I still feel somewhat all the media hype. Some might call me an ungrateful bitch if they like because I won’t take it personally. My feelings are just as valid as any other.

  5. themodernidiot

    A Chowdertino? Did you just make that up? If not, THAT has to win for the strangest crossover I’ve ever heard of.

    Thanks for the post, the knowledge, and the heart.

    And yeah, seriously with the rack. Good God.

  6. Spot on my friend!

  7. I’ve been a bit ambivalent about this affair, and the timing of things like hormones, facial surgery and presentation that seemed a bit out-of-sync with public identity, name and pronouns. I needed to remind myself that everyone’s transition is different, and that people could raise their eyebrows at my own (I didn’t change my name and gender marker until a couple years after I had blurred into being mostly recognized as female, and I’ve had my genital surgery merely days ago)…

    …BUT besides the whole “who am I to ‘judge’,” one day renently Caitlyn’s transition touched my life *personally:

    Some close friends of ours who are quite conservative in their Christian beliefs, have watched me gradually transition over the last six years, and I felt they *must* have issues with me (we were active in the same church that excommunicated me for being trans – years before I asserted myself as a woman – they led the youth ministry in face). Though our families are very closely connected, I had come to speak little myself and nothing at all about my transition beyond the difficult parting I had with our congregation. I had this feeling that I was simply being tolerated, and that they were only having me about because they like and support my spouse. Meanwhile I shape-shifted into a tall, graceful woman before their eyes…

    …Recently, my spouse got into a conversation with them about me, and seeing that I was effortlessly presenting myself as any ordinary woman, they asked what I would like to be called (they had always used my birth name and pronouns even with me presented unmistakably as a woman)…

    …They were were saddened when she told them that I felt like they were only tolerating me because they *must* have issues with my transition. They said that they didn’t really understand me, but they know and love the person I am and they *want* me in their life, and that it’s not their business to say whether or how I should transition, rather that was between God and me. They never said anything because they didn’t know how to open the subject…

    …They also said that they after they watched the Bruce Jenner interview, they came to understand a bit of how difficult this must have been for me and how courageous I was to deal with it as I have; and that they admire how my spouse and I have stayed together through all of the challenges and people opposed to us…

    …A few days later, they invited us to a family-only birthday celebration, and throughout that visit they used my proper name and pronouns, seemingly effortlessly. While I have always been myself around them, *this time* I felt comfortable, accepted, *wanted* around them.

    Just as there is no “right” way to transition, each of our lives, whether we are famous or not, touch the lives of others in ways that we cannot see and may not even imagine. It’s deeply humbling, and I want my life, lived “simply open” before others, to have a similar positive influence. I am a woman…yes…a woman of transgender experience.

    Blessings & Joy!!

  8. I agree that the increased attention that celebrity brings to subjects such as gender transition is generally a positive thing. I also welcome the opportunities it sometimes generates to offer education and explanation to those who genuinely want to understand. There is a caveat; I don’t feel comfortable with the thought that gender transition may be viewed by some as yet another “celebrity fad”, nor that media manipulated presentation of such stories doesn’t do anything to tell the true story of struggle, pain and disappointment many of us face. Unless something changes, I’ll just treat it as another facet of a world that I have no connection to nor interest in.

  9. Extreme Yes-ness! She is opening the channel, then others can send their messages. As far as the timeline, that Diane Sawyer interview must have been taped many weeks before it aired. And I think Jenner did butch up a bit for it. That gives maybe two months to recover and “evolve?” But that is why it is popular media and not a real documentary! It makes the reveal more dramatic if it seems like we had just seen the guy and then the fashion model is presented.


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