I’m just going to go ahead and say it. I’m tired of the Caitlyn Jenner story. It’s not that I don’t support her or see the courage that it took to share her story with the world but I am having a hard time embracing the enthusiasm everyone else has for her. Like, I don’t think she looks “gorgeous” or “stunning”, words that are often generously sprinkled around her. In fact, I think she looks just like every other woman who’s had massive plastic surgery. Unfortunate. But mostly, it’s the focus on her becoming a woman through sexual reassignment surgery.
What does that really mean? What is a woman in the first place? Is a woman her vagina? Or her uterus? Breasts? Or wearing dresses and make-up? Can you really become a woman physically? Or is it implying that he thinks like a woman? That raises a million other questions.
My point is that through cutting, tucking, shaving and plumping she now feels her external body matches her internal gender but this route doesn’t seem like something to celebrate. Yes, we should celebrate her ability to become open about who she is. Yes, we should congratulate her on her bravery and recognize her by whatever name she chooses, and accept her in whatever clothes she wears. But I just can’t celebrate the surgical part. To me, it’s counterproductive.
I support the transgendered community. I understand they face something beyond ridicule. I know that they have high suicide rates because they are at a loss as to how to live in this world. And I see that those who step forward and transition publicly are humanizing a community relegated to the shadows. But I can’t help but think that stories like Caitlyn Jenner’s are making the problem worse.
Sex is defined as the physical parts you are born with, in other words, your genitals. Gender is, according to the American Psychological Association, “the attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that a given culture associates with a person’s biological sex.” The advocates of transgender rights also make this distinction. That a person, regardless of sexual organs, can feel and therefore be the opposite gender.
I have no problem with this. It seems like a completely natural human variation. Where I lose them is why a person would choose to surgically alter their SEXUAL organs to fit the other GENDER box. Aren’t the two separate things? Isn’t that the whole argument? Sex is not gender and gender is not sex.
Does a person who identifies outside of their gender have to change their sex?
Can you not be a man who loves make-up and manicures, or a woman who shuns all things deemed “female”?
What I’m saying is that I see the culture of sexual reassignment to be problematic, even dangerous. By removing yourself from the gender (or sex?!) box you were born in and resettling yourself in the other box are you not just reaffirming the boxes themselves?
The problem is how restrictive gender descriptions are. You are either female-like or male-like. By having high profile transgender or gender fluid individuals so praised for being sexually reassigned (which would presumably have no bearing on their gender feelings considering that sex and gender are not the same things) we are creating an environment where we proudly declare “The system works!! Clearly, you can only be either a man or a woman. There is no in between.” But there is an in between and many people fall into that unrecognized category.
It seems to me that instead of applauding only those who decide to alter their genitals or take hormone therapy, we should also be applauding gender fluid people who choose to break away completely from the boxes and live, exactly as they are. Completely unashamed.
People who, regardless of sexual organs, live whatever life, in whatever way suits them, cultural norms be damned. But I think this is harder for the general public because humanity likes categories and those people defy our cultural boundaries.
Andrej Pejic before gender reassignment
There was a “male” Australian model, Andrej Pejic, whose story I stumbled upon a few months ago, that completely floored me. The existence of this person broke so many mental boundaries for me that I was almost giddy at his existence. Here was a completely natural person who was born with a penis but was able to move seamlessly in the world as either male or female at any given moment. He modeled and walked the catwalk in both men’s and women’s clothing. Incredible…and beautiful, because this is exactly how he was born.
Exactly how this person should exist.
So, I was saddened at the news that Andrej has chosen to have sexual reassignment surgery. She is now Andreja and is a transgendered woman.
This is what I mean. Why couldn’t this person exist just as he was born? Why couldn’t he be a glorious example of the spectrum of gender? Why? Because of the vocabulary. There is no vocabulary to express who he was. He either had to be a He or a She and most likely he felt more like a she.
Of course, there is nuance to each persons story. Of course, there will be people for whom sexual reassignment is the best option. But for every one of those there are many who fall somewhere in between. And currently we have no language for them. No context for them exists in our culture, rendering them invisible.
This can go as far as even the recent trend of men (and boys) who love My Little Pony. I’ll tell you first hand, it’s controversial. I know because my son in many ways, falls outside of what is considered “normal” (or I should say accepted) for boys. He loves My Little Pony, wants to wear sparkly dresses with fairy wings and would love if Santa brought him a doll for Christmas. But as his mother, nothing about his preferences strikes me as weird. He also expresses many stereotypical “male” qualities like he loves all vehicles, bugs, getting dirty and anything that shoots. Yet, I dread the reaction he faces as he gets older and is confronted by those who cannot understand that boys can like pink or that an adventure show about female characters could appeal to anyone other than little girls. And I do think the gender stereotypes are harder on boys. My daughter can “be anything she wants to be” (although really she can’t but this is the rhetoric fed to girls) but my son must like vehicles, play rough and never EVER wear a dress.
The older my kids get the more I’m confounded by the issues of gender. And try as I might, I find that I’m still stuck in the binary of male or female too. But this could be largely an issue of vocabulary. If we had the words to describe the gender spectrum and consciously created the framework within gender identity politics to house the many human genders then they may be more easily assimilated into the overall culture.
If we could only focus more on the conversation of unfolding the binary gender culture, rather than parading sexual reassignment as the primary option, then I think the transgender community, and all of us, would be far better served.