Last year when Bruce Jenner’s image was splashed all over every visual medium, I was in the middle of my own experience with my spouse, who was also transitioning. The Kardashian show was not something I ever watched. To be honest, I always felt like they could never keep up with me! When Bruce came out I was initially confused. Was it possible that this inane show about some pretty rich girls was created while no one knew where the real story was? Apparently, yes. Was it possible that it was a coincidence? Again, apparently, yes. Real life often is more amazing than “reality” TV.
I don’t watch much “entertainment TV” or read “People,” etc. except when I am in a doctor’s office or getting a pedicure. And I was too overwhelmed with my own life to pay much attention. But it was impossible not to be aware that something was going on with Bruce Jenner. When I did pay attention I thought it was all mean rumor. A former Olympic athlete who dresses less than macho being made fun of. What else is new? I have to say I was very surprised when it tuned out that he really was trans. And he really was transitioning. In front of the whole world.
Needless to say, my spouse was not public about what he was feeling and doing. Even I had to guess. How Jenner had the guts to do this at all amazes me. I don’t buy the idea that he did for the publicity. The fact is that he is a celeb and the publicity was sure to happen. The only way he could have avoided the publicity was not to do it at all. (Was that really an option? See below.) I don’t buy the idea that he did it for the money, either. As far as I know, he had/has plenty.
When Bruce finally appeared on the cover of “Vanity Fair,” I heard all kinds of downright stupid comments:
1 “So he just woke up one morning and decided he wanted to be a woman. What bullshit.”
This was said by someone with a gay sibling. When I asked him if he thought his brother “just woke up one morning” and decided to be gay, he said no. Well, at least he got that far. But for some reason this was entirely different. Why? He couldn’t say.
I’m no expert on transsexuality but I know that identity is not something that forms “overnight!” I did not wake up “one morning” and decide I was a woman. I started out as a girl. I felt like a girl. I hit puberty and eventually felt like a woman. Like Jenner, my spouse did not wake up one morning and decide he wanted to be woman. My spouse work up every morning figuring out how not to be a woman. Do I wish I had known my spouse felt like this before I married him? You bet. But that’s another issue, entirely.
2 “So now everyone can just say they are whatever they want to be! What if I say I am a dog!”
At first I didn’t think this even deserved a response. But it was said with so much rancor that it made me wonder why this person had such a strong reaction. A person who thinks they are a dog is mentally ill. Ditto if they think they are Napoleon or Jesus Christ. But then I wondered, what is the difference?
Again, it points to the idea of “identity.” And again, I’m no expert. Here is how I think about it: a human being at a very young age (three or five or seven) might say, often adamantly, that they are a girl or boy even if they are biologically not. They are not looking for publicity or attention or money. They are just being themselves. They might play act being a dog but they don’t really believe it. (My own son dressed as a cat, on and off, until he was four. He wore a leotard with a black sock pinned to his butt and whiskers painted on his face. But he knew he was a human being. )
My spouse knew at a very young age that he was “different.” Unfortunately back then there was nothing/no one he could compare himself to. No language to describe what he felt. And no one he could tell. There was only confusion, shame, and secrecy.
I still don’t understand why the person who said this felt so strongly. Did they feel threatened? Was their sense of their own reality at stake?
3 “Jenner didn’t have to do this. Doesn’t he realize how ridiculous he looks?”
I cannot answer for why Jenner felt s/he “had” to do this. I don’t share those feelings. But I have a spouse who does share those feelings. And I have read and heard enough stories of others who also share those feelings. No, no one has to transition. Not like they have to eat and breathe. But for those of us who are not trans, let me offer a comparison: a black person who can pass as white and doesn’t. If you ask them why they choose to be who they really are, what do you think their answer would be?
A silly comparison, but one I experienced:
When I “transitioned” my career many years ago from writer to programmer, I felt very much an outsider. I was a “humanities” person in a technical position. I was a female in a very male profession. And, I was a working class “schlep” who counted her pennies. I got a gig at a white-shoe law firm and was associating with people very different from me. All gentile. All ivy league. I went out and bought grey flannel slacks, a white tailored shirt, and a blazer. I wanted to appear more “professional” and even a little masculine. (My black spandex mini skirt was not appropriate.) I even jokingly called myself “Chip” to create a fictional (male) persona who would not be intimidated. (Hey, I’m a writer!)
Over time, as I became more comfortable with this new world, these new people, I was able to be more myself: a female New York Jew who talked too much and found most things comical. And soon enough people accepted me as such. Whew. What a relief. (I still did not wear the spandex mini skirt, in case you were wondering.)
What I neglected to mention, because it’s embarrassing looking back, is that I also bought a grey flannel vest to match those grey flannel pants. Thankfully I had the good sense never to wear it. I realized it was a little “too much.” But it cost a small fortune and so I kept it. A few years ago I almost tossed it, but decided not to. Instead, I stitched a patch of a silly cartoon character on it and wore it. I was able to throw away that fictional self because it had served its purpose. I could look back and smile.
Now imagine you have thrown away your real self your entire life. You’re past sixty years old. It’s now or never.
As for whether Jenner realized he looked “ridiculous,” well, it’s in the eye of the beholder. Perhaps I looked ridiculous in my grey flannel slacks and crisp white shirt. (And how much more ridiculous if I had actually worn that vest!)