I wrote a post about Caitlyn Jenner. I even tried to clarify it, and while I haven’t had many (or ANY comments) on here about it, my Facebook friends have had plenty to say. Some have been concerned I don’t understand what the Trans Community is all about, and some have decided I’m a traitor to their cause, and some have been surprisingly supportive of what my intentions were.
It’s led to some interesting discussions, and maybe that’s the more important thing. Maybe it’s more important that we open up and share our opinions so we can truly figure out what we’re all trying to say. I know that even after three attempts, I still haven’t gotten it right.
I with all my skill with words, between my theatrical training and my literary work, my studies of writing and my teaching of the same, I have not been able to adequately express myself.
So let me try a different method. Let me share with you some of the things that have come up as part of my discussions about the Caitlyn Jenner coming out story.
As I’ve said before, I do not intend to offend anyone, and if you have been offended, or if you question my judgment, I invite you to post in the comments so that we can continue an honest discourse about a situation that, while at it’s core is very personal, has become a symbol of something that does in fact affect us all.
At first, I wasn’t too worried, because a dear friend of mine, one who is trans, told me she felt I had hit on some important topics, such as the idea of posthumanism, a time when people won’t be confined to one particular form. Her views, while a little more extreme than mine, are in line with what I originally wanted to get across when I discussed my dislike of labels: Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where we actually saw each other as who we really are?
While for me, this is an emphasis on the soul of a person, she is of the feeling that wouldn’t it be nice if we could transform our bodies to match our souls? Not just in gender, but in other ways as well. For example, for those who believe in spirit animals, imagine a world where they could change their form into such.
Again, this is something that gives me pause, but I understand her thought process. It is similar to how I felt when I first got onto the internet. Those of you young enough to not know a world before the internet will not understand what I’m talking about, but the rest of you might understand.
My first foray into a chat room, or more specifically, a virtual world of nothing but chat rooms, I remember thinking, “finally, here is a place where people will see me!” The internet chatroom was a place where I could express my true beliefs and not fear that people would see me as just an idealistic child, or, worse, just an ignorant woman of color. They would hear the words, the ideas, and would have no preconceived notions of who I was based on my appearance.
I came to a place where the truth was pure and my heart wept with gladness…
For my friend, a “Transhuman” or “posthuman” world would be one in which you could create your exterior so much so that either people could see exactly who you believed yourself to be, or they might realize that they would have to look deeper than the surface to truly see you.
My personal thought is that we have to live in a world in which people see the truth of one another’s souls before we’re mature enough to look past any exterior modification.
Hence my view that the spectacle surrounding Caitlyn Jenner does more harm than good.
Instead of discussing who Caitlyn is (and I don’t just mean that she’s one of the Kardashian/Jenner clan, but who she truly is), we’re focused on how successfully her feminizing surgery (which is elective and purely cosmetic) makes her look more like the cisnormative view of a woman. We’re curious about what dress she’s going to wear when she accepts her Espy Award (another topic worthy of some debate). We’re asking all the wrong questions, and she’s set a dangerous expectation.
The word “cisnormative” is new to me, and I learned it from another Transgender icon: Laverne Cox.
Now, we all know how I feel about labels, but here it is a necessary label. Cisnormative means the accepted norm of a cisgendered person. Thus, Caitlyn has made herself look more like the socially accepted ideal of what a woman should look like. All of the surgeries she underwent, and I stress that some of these were elective, made Caitlyn look a bit like Jessica Lange, and while I agree making the comparison isn’t fair, it helps to prove my point a bit.
Firstly, the fact that people see those similarities more than they see Caitlyn as a separate person is significant. People are more concerned with her physical appearance than her spiritual transformation.
Second of all, not all transgender people can afford to undergo surgery (nor do all of them want to undergo surgery) to look more like society’s ideal for their new gender. My aforementioned friend didn’t undergo all those surgeries, like the shaving of the Adam’s apple, and the restructuring of the jaw, and whatever else that Jenner underwent. She may have done some, but not all… we haven’t discussed it.
Admittedly, because I knew she hadn’t gone through all those surgeries, I was a little skeptical about what to expect when I met the new her. I was afraid that I wouldn’t see her new self, only the person she was before, but having met her and spent some time (not enough, to be honest) with her, I was pleasantly surprised that I never saw the old person she used to be. Her new identity shone through so well, there was no doubt of who she was. In fact I think that this was the first time I’d ever seen her true self, and she is beautiful!
She also spoke to me about some of her struggles with her therapist, prior to her transition. She spoke about how her therapist would ask what it meant to be a woman, and when she (who was still a “he” at the time) would say “it means to be me,” the therapist would say things like “no, does it mean dresses and skirts, or what?”
My friend, and this is one of the reasons I love her so much, told me that she would educate her therapist about how that was a stereotype, and so not accurate for who she was.
And THAT, that is my point!
We get so worked up in our stereotypes, our preconceived notions of what a person should be, that we miss the truth of who they are. Labels, stereotypes, societal ideals, they separate us, they keep us from seeing each other as we truly are, but instead we see only the label, and then we are disappointed when a person isn’t what we judgmentally decided they should be based on their label.
My fear with Caitlyn’s debut is that people will see her as a Kardashian, as a spectacle, and perhaps as someone to imitate, but for the wrong reasons. Transforming oneself is not something that some crazy fan should do to be closer to the object of their
obsession idolatry, or for a bored billionaire to do on a whim because it’s suddenly become the “cool” thing to do.
For people who undergo gender reassignment, it is a major process and something they do in order to help people see their true selves. I’m afraid that Caitlyn, as brave as she is for having gone through something so personal in such a public way, may also get lost behind the spectacle and the celebrity of it all.
Those who disagree with what she’s done will label her a freakshow.
And those who see her as a poster child for the Trans-movement will label her a hero.
Neither label allows her to truly be herself.
One of my former students argued that we need labels in order to express our pride. In his estimation, labels help us to keep our choices open. We somehow ended up with this weird chip analogy, my version of which I’ve decided to share with you here:
Labels aren’t what make us different. They force us to conform to the idea of what the label means. If you give me a blue bag of chips marked Lay’s, but inside are Doritos, I will be upset that I didn’t get what I was promised. I still got chips, but what I was expecting wasn’t what I actually received. Make all the bags just blue, and you’re right, you have to open them to find the brand or flavor you want.
Outside of the metaphor, you have to actually get to know a person based on who they really are instead of an arbitrary label. Isn’t who they are more important than if a person fits your preconceived notion of what their label implies?
Transgender is a perfect example. Here are people who are perceived incorrectly because their outside doesn’t match their true self. So then they change to make their outsides match what’s inside, and suddenly they have a new label: Trans, which to some suggests they aren’t “really” the new gender. The label creates a barrier for those who are close minded enough to see only the label, not the person.
Isn’t that the very thing they were trying to overcome?
I wish I had said it that well in my first post.
Instead, I opened myself up to a conversation, one that some of my friends needed to have with me, in order to understand who I truly am, and for me to really understand how I feel about it all.
So as mistakenly awkward as my first post was, it did help me to find and better illustrate my personal truth of the matter.