And he/she is causing fits for uncomfortable conservatives
June 4, 2015 12:00 AM
Annie Leibovitz/Vanity Fair
Bruce Jenner debuts as Caitlyn Jenner.
By Jennifer Graham
Bruce Jenner, hunky Olympian turned femme fatale, is the elephant in the room for conservatives, and that’s not speaking figuratively.
Bruce, now Caitlyn, identifies as both a woman and a Republican, flummoxing would-be critics in the GOP who will need every vote in 2016. Since the Vanity Fair cover emerged with Mr. Jenner’s new, womanly visage, they have been mostly quiet, save for Fox News host Neil Cavuto, who growled on air, “Rome. Final days. But that’s fine.”
Actually, it’s not fine for many Americans, who view gender dysphoria as a psychiatric disorder, not a laudable lifestyle choice. To them, the Annie Leibovitz depiction of a beguiling Caitlyn in a corset, legs coyly crossed, arms tucked behind her as if bound, is a Photoshopped finger in the face. Worse, they — unlike Mr. Jenner — are forbidden authenticity of response. Faced with the omnipresent image of a person who is female from the waist up, male from the belly button down, they are ridiculed as bigots if they suggest, in the quietest of voices, that such a person would have headlined the tragic freak shows in carnivals of old.
Doctors who examined Julia Pastrana, the sadly celebrated “bearded lady” who died in 1860, declared her “one of the most extraordinary beings of the present day” and “a distinct species.” One could say the same of today’s act, the lovely and talented Brucette. Mr. Jenner, however, is both architect and engineer of his design, Bruce 2.0, unlike the pitiable woman who died five days after delivering a hirsute baby boy who died at birth.
It’s still “mister,” despite the fiction presented by Vanity Fair and its breathless cheerleaders, because until below-the-belt surgery is done, Mr. Jenner is still male, albeit a male with great hair and breast implants. The truth, obscured by the noisy hosannas, is that the image is no more — or less — a lie than any other magazine cover. It comes, however, with a sinister bonus: the suggestion that anyone who is sexually conflicted can, and should, be awarded a radical rearrangement of their privates (even at taxpayer expense) and be awarded all the rights and privileges of their desired gender, to include bathroom privileges, without anyone protesting that the bearded lady has no clothes.
It’s issues like these, not a wild-eyed bent for injustice, that makes conservatives wince as Mr. Jenner joins Chaz Bono and Laverne Cox in the don’t-call-them-freaks parade. When Mr. Jenner says that he is, and has always been, aroused by women, yet wants the right to join the interminably long lines at the women’s restroom; when transgender activists petition Canada to stop putting gender on birth certificates because the genitalia evident at birth may present “false information”; when 6-year-olds (6-year-olds!) identify not as tomboys, but as transgender; when transgender prisoners demand sex-change surgery at taxpayer expense, conservatives worry, just a tad, that the inmates have overrun the proverbial asylum. Not that they don’t love the inmates, of course. Not that they don’t want them to be happy and authentic.
Mr. Jenner told ABC’s Diane Sawyer that the thing he is most looking forward to in his new life is “to be able to have my nail polish on long enough that it actually chips off.” Good luck with that. Nail polish and its maintenance is one of the scourges of womanhood (makeup and high heels among them) that thinking people of my gender have tried to shrug off since Betty Friedan said to hell with all this. But have at it; whatever makes you feel pretty. Just know that, for every person cheering your courage, there are others wishing you were a bit more of a coward.
Finally, for everyone who, despite their best efforts at compassion and acceptance, just can’t bring themselves to say “her” or “world’s greatest athlete Caitlyn Jenner,” I give you Mr. Jenner’s mother, Esther, who, while “very happy for him — or her,” still trips over the pronouns and maintains something resembling a bright moral line: “I still have to call him Bruce. His father and I named him that,” she said.
At least that solves the pronoun problem. When in Rome, do as the mothers do.
Jennifer Graham is an associate editor and columnist for the Post-Gazette (email@example.com,412-263-1668).
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to
firstname.lastname@example.org and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner.