Bruce Jenner: Transition or Fashion Statement?
Is Bruce Jenner in the process of gender transition or could this be simply a bold fashion statement? I’m surprised that Jacob Bernstein writing in the Style Section of The New York Times on February 5, did not think to pose this question. What better place than the Style section to discuss how as a society we get our knickers in a twist when a man presents in ways we consider feminine? Kilts have remained a fad and, try as he might, Gaultier has never been able to put men in skirts. David Beckham in a sarong, notwithstanding. Instead Bernstein’s article mainly rehashed a bunch of quotes from other sources, some gossip blogs, some tabloid, some as he described them “mainstream.” The quotes he included from those working as trans advocates and helping professionals were carefully worded and politically correct. The entire article seemed to be simply a way for the “Grey Lady” to hop on board the gossip express without getting her pumps dirty. Don’t be surprised. In complicated issues, the lazy press chooses simplification, to clarity, much to our loss. Or shall we accept that Trans people just appeared fully formed, no personal histories; no mommies, no daddies;immaculate conceptions or maybe just landed from another planet?
I really do think that this is more than a fashion statement for Bruce Jenner, but in a way, I wish it were. As dean of the world’s first transgender academy, Miss Vera’s Finishing School for Boys Who Want to Be Girls, which I founded more than 20 years ago in NYC, I, a cis woman (not trans) have guided many adults who cross the gender border from male to female, sometimes for a day, sometimes for a lifetime. Of those who choose to live in both worlds, presenting sometimes as male, at other times as female, there are some who also use hormones, for a variety of reasons: to make physical changes, to calm libido… Like Bruce Jenner, many of my students are highly functioning adults, heroes in their own fields.
No matter what the gossips throw at him, Bruce Jenner exudes serenity, the kind of joy that comes from self-confidence, self-acceptance, self-love. Qualities I see more and more in my students, especially those who come out to their nearest and dearest and in those who transition.
I could almost laugh at some of the quotes I’ve been reading about Bruce Jenner, except that the dissemination of ignorance is not funny. Mr. Bernstein quotes one source as saying “You don’t become a woman because your wife is pushy.” The truth is that feminine men often have a strong attraction to assertive women, and vice versa. Some cite Bruce Jenner’s three marriages to women as proof of his red-blooded maleness, when this fact could just as easily suggest the opposite. Secrets, even from oneself, can eat away at a relationship. Overcompensation can lead to philandering. Some men when cross dressed identify as “male lesbians.” Others are sexually attracted to men, or other transgender people. We all have bodies with enough opening and appendages to experience sexual pleasure from any gender.
Another similarity between Bruce Jenner and the students of Miss Vera’s Academy is that he comes from the world of “white male privilege.” The homogeneous nature of our student body is more reflective of income level and age, than anything else. The transgender umbrellas covers people of all ages, colors, incomes, sexual orientations, physiques, i.q.’s and on and on… Trans men and trans women. There are those who identify as gender fluid; for others crossgender is a more apt term. So many individuals, so many needs and experiences, so much to understand, but with a common refusal to be locked into two categories. It’s time we acknowledge the time of gender binary is over, there is a third gender and it is trans, and like male and female, this third gender could not exist without the others.
If he comes out as trans, and does become a spokesperson as Nicholas Kristof suggests in his Op Ed column which also appeared in the NYT on February 5, then Bruce Jenner will stand along side many: Laverne Cox and Janet Mock, but even more closely with the brilliant “gender outlaw” Kate Bornstein. That is very heady company, particularly for someone so immersed in reality show’s commodification of life. Jill Soloway, creator of TRANSPARENT took a lot of heat for posting a visual parody she received called, The TransDashians. Many in the trans movement were offended. They labeled Ms. Soloway an enemy – a cis woman who like all cis (non-trans) people could not be trusted. Do trans people and cis people have no shared emotions, beliefs or experiences? Ms. Soloway is the daughter of a trans person, credentials which give her a unique perspective and, she has created a show that is honest and true. If a Bruce Jenner transition show does air, TransDashians would be an excellent name and Ms. Soloway’s seeming faux pas would be not be. What the trans movement and arbiters of political correctness would then confront is another commercialization of trans, perhaps the most challenging yet
Note: For an unflinching and highly informative coming out story and photos see Chadwick Moore’s interview with me and student “Ginger” who comes out in OUT, March 2015 on news stands mid-February, 2015.