Why we need to pay attention to Caitlyn Jenner

So, for one of the first times in history transgender folk finally have a truly big-name champion, a mainstream voice to add to those more marginalized voices in the discussion of transgender issues – Laverne Cox, et al (let’s skip over the fact that the mainstream voice in question literally had to have won Olympic Gold medals in order to be respected). However, the response has not been entirely positive, with a significant amount of people making callous statements such as “BRUCE Jenner just wants attention.” In response to this I think it’s pretty clear that she doesn’t want attention, but, I believe we as a society do need to pay attention to her and her feelings, as they are the forefront to some big societal changes. Imagine, if you will, that there is a huge dam, with a dried-up river bed on one side, and a huge river on the other. In this metaphor the river bed shall stand for the old, dried up beliefs and policies of the past and to an extent, the modern day. The water on the other side shall stand for a pool of diversity, self expression and equality. This may seem irrelevant to what I’m saying, however, imagine now that cracks are forming in the dam, day by day. This is essentially what I believe is happening to society at the moment. Think about it. Gay rights – CRACK. Women’s liberation – CRACK. And now, more awareness of transgender issues – CRACK. What seems to be making these cracks is not so much actual acts of equality, but the opening of discussions about equality, which is a start. Eventually we’d love to bring this dam crashing down, flooding the valley below, but for now, at least, its façade is tarnished by one more crack. caitlyn-jenner.jpg-w=320&h=449.cf The public response has genuinely been very encouraging regarding Caitlyn Jenner’s decision and subsequent magazine cover appearance – however, as always the straight, white, old Republicans (in the US sense) must emerge from the shadows to give their two cents on the matter. What bothers me most is that their bizarre reaction is directed towards her name over and above anything else. The main response they seem to have is “I’m still calling him Bruce”, which pisses me off enormously. Many respond to this by saying “you wouldn’t call Marilyn Monroe by her (original name) of Norma, or Elton John by his, Reginald Dwight, so respect Caitlyn’s wishes.” Whilst this is a nice argument it shouldn’t really need to exist; why can’t these old, white, straight men just refer to someone by the mere words they want to be identified as? As Shakespeare once said – dons intellectual hat – “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.” This essentially means that to us, the passive observers, a name means the square root of Jack. However, for Caitlyn it is an integral part of her transition.  To rob her of the right to her own name to me just seems cruel and unnecessary, more than anything else. Why do these bigots in particular dislike ideas of transgenderism? Why are they so adverse to people challenging the ‘normal way’? Why are they once again concerned with matters that specifically don’t concern them? There is, I believe an answer. Most conservative people seem to have got the idea into their heads that transgender folk – and for that matter gay people, asexual people and women – are challenging their interpretation of the ‘natural’ way. They have fashioned the idea that what is natural is to have a straight, manly man as head of the house and as chief bread winner. To have a wife who is submissive and meek, who cleans the house, cooks the food and looks after the children. To have a son who has a future in the army and is a generally boisterous young lad. And finally to have a daughter who is quiet and ready to get married to another straight, white boy. To the bigots this is an example of what they perceive to be as ‘normal’, and in their defence this really has been the way for hundreds of years, but that of course doesn’t mean it’s the right way. As soon as a man says “I don’t like girls” or a woman says “I don’t want to do housework” or a man or woman says “I don’t want to be this gender anymore” the right wingers become terrified. They perceive it as a genuine threat to ‘traditional family values’, and you would not be wrong in thinking that it is indeed a threat – their ‘traditional family values’ to me at least have connotations of utter bigotry. drake-bell-bruce-caitlyn-jenner-tweet-2-15-billboard.png.cf Another aspect of Caitlyn’s decision that they seem to dislike is just the fact that she was a man in a very intrinsic sense (sporty and large), who wants to become a woman, (a symbol of weakness to them). They are disgusted at the thought that someone blessed with manhood could want to trade that out. I like to think also that that old enemy of liberals, ignorance, plays a part. I’m sure many may have been dismissive about the whole affair, considering it ‘a bit weird’. I was particularly annoyed when a childhood hero of mine, Drake Bell, stated in a tweet “Sorry… Still gonna call you Bruce”, which I think was incredibly insensitive. He subsequently deleted the tweet as the result of a huge backlash, but it’s a great example of how people seem to just not want to be tolerant and on nice on a really primitive level – or maybe just fail to understand. This even extends to the pronouns that people refer to her with. Fox News was incredible disrespectful on the day of the Vanity Fair interview, making callous, snide comments about her appearance, and refereeing to her constantly as ‘him’. It shows the upmost in bigotry and spite to refer to someone who has – or is in the process of – transitioning, with the pronouns of the birth-determined biological sex that they are rejecting because they know their gender is different from it. img-olympic-nostalgia-bruce-jenner_175202582322.jpg.cf I feel as though I must justify why this piece is even here, as it is not specifically politics-related (although, as the great feminist Carol Hanisch once famously said, “the personal is political”). Many people I know for example, have perceived the whole Caitlyn Jenner story as just another crazy Hollywood-style celebrity meltdown of the Spears/Sheen/Lohan/Bieber variety, this time regarding gender identity, and so have written it off as something not even worth thinking about. However, this story is truly a step in the right direction with regards to equality. Even if you don’t have gender-related issues yourself, this helps out everyone who suffers at the hands of inequality in the modern day, as it has made the world a slightly more open, tolerant and loving place – and there might well be more to follow.

– Bat


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