So, a week and more later and the name still on everyone’s lips is Jenner. What name you find with that one, of course, depends on the source. It’s no surprise that Traditionalist posers assume the mantle of experts (on a subject the demonstrably know virtually nothing about) waxing at length, and with a great deal of irrationality about “Bruce” in terms which you can no doubt imagine (if you haven’t been reading them, ad debating them, as I have – then you don’t have to imagine).
Those ill-informed pundits often base their criticism on arguments that have their basis in gender stereotypes, but given that so many of them are hidebound defenders of “traditional” culture that’s exactly what one should expect. But what’s surprising is to see progressive women who style themselves feminists, and sometimes even other trans women, wade into the discussion with diatribes about how Caitlyn Jenner did a disservice to all women and, by the way, discredited the claim of transgender women in general, in participating in such a “glamorous sex kitten” themed presentation.
It’s fascinating, if puzzling, to watch writers like Elinor Burkett and Barbara Kay, professed feminists, throw the basic tenants of feminism under the bus in their rush to police the gender expression of Jenner and, let’s be real, all trans women. Isn’t it a foundational principle of classic feminism that you DON’T get to question the legitimacy of a woman based on the degree to which she adheres to gender expectations and stereotypes? I’ve seen the argument that she was too old for such a glamor shot. Really? We’re going to go ahead and police age stereotypes too? I’ve seen claims that by her exaggerated display of femininity she proves she’s no woman at all.l Which is a neat little trap – be tomboyish and you prove you don’t really intend to be a woman, be TOO feminine (a constantly moving standard depending on the observer) and you are suddenly a caricature which also, somehow, proves you are not a “real” woman. It’s as irrational an argument as anything coming out of Bryan Fischer.
Gender stereotype policing is ugly no matter the source, and irrational in particular when directed only at trans women. Are their a lot of “girly-girl” trans women? You betcha! There’s also a lot of girly-girl non-trans women? Are a lot of tomboy’s among cis-women? Absolutely! There are a lot of tomboy trans women too. I have friends who work on their own vehicles, collect guns and shoot for fun, and work in outdoor physical labor in stereotypical male jobs (by choice). A lot of my friends never wear make-up, some don’t even own a pair of heels and some break out in a cold sweat if a skirt touches their skin. They are just as legitimately women as any non-trans woman with similar inclinations.
Likewise, those who tend towards the more girly stereotypes are perfectly legitimate whether cis- or trans. We should no more police either other’s gender expression than we should allow men to do it. It’s the antithesis of feminism, at least classic feminism. There are of course some more radical types in recent years. Yet the critics fire criticism at her that they never bother to mount against high-profile cis-women who behave in a similar fashion. Go ahead and look for their articles bashing Madonna, for instance. Or Cher. It ain’t there.
But it’s really just camouflage. It doesn’t take long for both women – and other supposedly progressive critics – to get right down to the meat of their REAL complaint. Complaints they could have lodged without gender-policing. You see, Jenner never menstruated, never got pregnant (or not), never suffered the indignity of being a female her whole life and so forth and so on. Thus, she is denied admittance to the “real woman” club as are we all, and how dare we make pretense to it? But they, just as the Traditionalist types, fundamentally fail to understand that which trans women claim about themselves.
They all seem to proceed from the idea that Jenner, for example, professes to be – or be capable of becoming – a 100% authentic replication of the female she would have been had she been born with a vagina, both biologically and culturally. No trans person I’ve ever heard is naive enough to even remotely think that. The rising generation of young trans people transitioning in pre-teen years will enjoy a great deal of the latter, but the science remains in the future to approach the former.
And we KNOW this thing, that our critics seem obsessed with pointing out. I don’t know about you but I am PAINFULLY aware of the collective experience of womanhood I missed over the first 45 years of my life, and which I can never get back. I am under no illusion that I can ever completely be what my mind knows I should be. I suggest the critics ought to talk less and listen more.We’re not seeking to define – or re-define – womanhood. We’re seeking to SURVIVE and live according to the dictates of our own conscience. To be able to look n the mirror and feel a connection to what we see there.
I can only marvel that the right wing traditionalist who are the biggest fans of the patriarchy would be shouting “amen” at the rhetoric of these avowed feminists. If that doesn’t make them want to reconsider their position, what will?
Photo by: Mark Sebastian