“The photo is indeed iconic. And not just in the shallow celeb meaning of that word. It’s iconic in the traditional sense, too, in that it’s being venerated as an actual icon, a devotional image of an apparently holy human. It’s an image we’re all expected to bow down to, whose essential truth we must imbibe; an image you question or ridicule at your peril, with those who refuse to genuflect before it facing excommunication from polite society. Yesterday’s Jennermania confirms how weirdly authoritarian, even idolatrous, trans politics has become.”
I am late to the party commenting on the odyssey of Caitlyn Jenner, and that is by design. I wanted to wait until the media noise died down a bit to allow some quiet contemplation of what the fracas around Bruce Jenner’s gender reassignment means at a higher level. In that process I have kept coming back to Brendan O’Neil’s article at The Spectator (linked above) as the best encapsulation of my thoughts, but that his prose came across as rather more adrenal that I would have liked. To that end, I combine my thinking with O’Neil’s and offer the following set of propositions that I feel should guide our national discussion on the issue.
1. Transsexuality is nothing new. Look up Quentin Crisp, James Pritzker, Chaz Bono, and Renee Richards. Jenner’s experience is not a breakthrough, it is simply higher profile because he/she served as paterfamilias to a brood of unrepentant media sumps.
2. Jenner’s choices are Jenner’s choices. What you think about them doesn’t matter. Jenner needs neither your approval nor mine to enjoy his/her rights as a human being and a citizen of our country.
3. At the same time, one’s reaction to Jenner’s choices does not determine one’s character. Supporting Jenner’s choices does not necessarily make you a good person. Questioning them does not necessarily make you a bad person.
4. Someone who questions Jenner’s choices is not necessarily being hateful. On the contrary, most of us have found our choices questioned most directly in our lives by those who care about us the most, and they question those choices out of concern for us or a desire to understand why we choose as we do.
5. By undertaking his/her lifestyle change in public, Jenner may offer solace to many transgendered people. But in doing so, Jenner fundamentally invites the nation to have a debate about the nature of gender reassignment, and where it belongs in the greater debate around identity politics.
6. Provided that debate remains civil, sincere, and does not seek to do gratuitous harm, the debate about gender reassignment is a healthy process. You do not create widespread acceptance of a new and controversial phenomenon by declaring the debate over and silencing those who disagree. All you do is undermine any arguments as to the “rightness” of that phenomenon, drive the discussion underground, and foment both division and mistrust.
I wish Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner much health and happiness, and hope that as we continue our debate that he/she will never find reason to take personal offense. From this quarter at least it is entirely unintended.