I have deliberated for a while as to whether I should write a blog post about Caitlyn Jenner. My initial instinct was to completely ignore the whole debacle. I deliberated whether writing a blog about it is giving more air and publicity to something that I’m not sure should be garnering so much attention. It is. I deliberated whether writing about it would alienate some of the good people who follow my blog. Probably. I deliberated whether there are things happening in the world that might be more important. Very likely.
But I’m writing about it anyway.
Primarily because Caitlyn Jenner is much more than Caitlyn Jenner. The varying responses to her coming out as a trans gender woman speak volumes to a world that is changing rapidly and to the perhaps deepening divide between traditional beliefs and a younger, seemingly more progressive generation. The last 10 years have raised big questions about sexual ethics, morality and its relativity.
According to Caitlyn Jenner, she struggled with gender dysphoria for many years, through 3 marriages, through children, through a stunning athletic career. I will start by saying that I will not ever understand the struggle of feeling like I am stuck inside a body that does not feel home. As such, I think it’s important to be mindful of that when I write.
With that said, I don’t believe that I cannot speak on the issues surrounding Caitlyn’s transgender identity simply because I don’t experience life as a transwoman. I have three main quibbles.
Firstly, specifically in relation to Caitlyn Jenner, there is blatant hypocrisy in the praise and adulation given to her as opposed to others. Caitlyn was someone who left a marriage and children, due to a truth that she discovered about herself that meant she could no longer sustain a marriage in honesty. She reports that she knew about her transgender identity for some time but did not feel able to come out as transgender. Undeniably, it’s no small thing to reveal yourself as transgender.
Equally undeniably in my opinion, it is selfish to enter not one, but three marriages and have children while knowing that you are transgender and not being open with your partners about this. I understand that there is incredible pressure to live a normal life, but I don’t understand why coming out as transgender and leaving your marriage because of it, is bravery, whereas leaving your marriage because you are in love with someone else, or polyamorous, or just not the ‘marrying type’ is cowardice. I find it hard to believe that if someone declared that they had known they were polyamorous for a long time, and could no longer live the lie of a monogamous marriage, that they would be congratulated for this. In contrast, anyone who reveals themselves to be transgender and leaves a marriage (I’m assuming at least partly because of this) is lauded as brave.
Secondly, the idea that sex is a social construct is frankly, manifest nonsense of the highest order. Sex and gender are seen to be two different things – gender is generally accepted to be socially constructed and I agree that it is at least partially constructed. Recently though, I’ve been hearing more and more that sex is also socially constructed. That sex is what doctors ‘assign’ at birth – evidence of this being intersex individuals. Someone will be born with both reproductive organs and the doctors and parents will decide that it looks more male/female..and that’s how sex is determined. So therefore sex is also socially constructed.
The majority of the people making these claims (on the internet at least) have no scientific or medical background. Try telling a urologist that they’re performing a radical prostatectomy on a ‘social construct’ and they will just look at you like you’re a purple egg. More obviously, intersex is generally the result of some sort of congenital abnormality. There’s a reason why they’re termed ‘disorders of sex development’ – because if things develop as they should, intersex is not the result. The sex definitions of male and female are seen throughout the animal kingdom with a few exceptions. Scientists across the world categorise creatures into male and female precisely because it is scientifically obvious that they are completely different. The liberal agenda to change what is blatantly obvious to any thinking individual is complete insanity.
I should briefly state why I don’t believe that gender is wholly socially constructed. I believe that gender norms are a result of social construction, but that these are actually rooted in very obvious biological differences. We’ve tended to exaggerate the extent of the biological differences, or namely the extent to which these biological differences affect abilities to perform day to day tasks . We’ve also tended to play down the distribution curve within genders that means that the biological differences we observe have less effect than we might think. This doesn’t mean though, that gender has no biological basis whatsoever. And if in fact, gender is wholly socially constructed, why is a change of biological features a necessity in changing gender?
Thirdly, the majority of people who insist that Caitlyn Jenner is a woman and should be treated as such are completely disingenuous to the point of it being laughable. They are quick to correct everyone on Twitter who uses the wrong pronoun to describe anyone who is transgender …“It’s SHE not HE!!”.. they exclaim loudly. And I agree with them that deliberately calling a transgender person by a different pronoun to which they prefer in order to prove a point is unnecessarily alienating and passive aggressive. It’s quite obvious though, that these same people who insist that Caitlyn is a woman don’t ACTUALLY believe that she is. Why would I say that? Because ask most of these men whether they’d be willing to date or marry a transwoman (not necessarily Caitlyn specifically), regardless of how pretty she was, the answer would be no. An uncomfortable, standing in the light of their own hypocrisy, no.
I absolutely believe that gender dysphoria exists. I absolutely believe that those who experience it almost all experience tremendous distress as they grapple with it, and are deserving of compassion.
I’m not sure how much of it is a genetic abnormality or rooted in any biochemical or structural change or simply a result of nurture. We don’t have strong evidence of that at present.
I am however, utterly unconvinced that the solution to this is to actively encourage firstly, the idea that gender and sex are identities that we can choose as and when we like, and secondly, that the solution to this cognitive dissonance is to undergo radical surgery and hormone treatment.
“The review of more than 100 international medical studies of post-operative transsexuals by the University of Birmingham’s aggressive research intelligence facility (Arif) found no robust scientific evidence that gender reassignment surgery is clinically effective.” http://www.theguardian.com/society/2004/jul/30/health.mentalhealth
Many are moving for gender dysphoria to be removed from the psychiatric handbook (the DSM) as a disorder. I think in doing this we actually do a great disservice to people who need professional help. Caitlyn Jenner is very wealthy, white and privileged, unlike the majority of transgendered people. The media notoriety may last for quite sometime and she exists in a Hollywood community where her identity is accepted, even congratulated. When the public becomes bored though, when the novelty of her newfound identity wears off, all the research points to the fact that despite the unfounded support she has received, she may still be as unhappy as she was pre sex change.
Ultimately, stifling important questions about the ethics surrounding transgender identity and how we frame it, will do very little to help Caitlyn and others like her.