Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Caitlyn Jenner deserves respect like any other woman

How we react to things that fall outside of 'normal' parameters probably says more about the person doing the reacting than the subject. The classic example is homophobia, which many in the psychoanalytic business contend is an anxiety-based reaction on the basis of the homophobe's own deep-rooted fear of being gay.

At first it is tempting to put anti-transgender bias under the homophobia umbrella, as I'm sure many people assume that having a gender identity different than the physical gender they were born with must be an extension of homosexuality or some such. The problem here is that not all trans people are gay, and not all gay people are trans. And yet, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality, more than 25 percent of trans people face a “bias-driven assault”. These rates climb, naturally, when the trans person in question is a racial minority.

It seems to me that anti-transgender bias must stem from a different sort of fear, perhaps on a larger scale than the fear that one's own gender identity may be more fluid than previously thought. In the fear of or hostility toward the transgender community, whether expressed through violence, verbal abuse, or anti-trans advocacy passing itself of as genteel science, I believe what we're actually witnessing is the gag reflex of a patriarchal society feeling threatened at its very foundations.

And if this is true, I can only imagine the squeamishness felt by whatever patriarchal construct still undergirding the establishment at the introduction of Caitlyn Jenner to the world. After all, she is a former Olympic gold medalist whose career saw her setting world records in the decathlon at the 1976 Olympics in Montréal, when she was known as Bruce. Spectator sports have the effect of promoting conformity and normalizing militarism – entire segments of the crowd cheer in unison for a group of people wearing identical uniforms. And in the case of team sports such as hockey, the crowd takes it one step further by adopting the uniform (or jerseys) of the players on the ice, or 'soldiers on the field of battle', if you will. (In my hometown, this is evidenced in an obvious way by the legion of Ottawa Senators fans being known collectively as the Sens Army. Their Toronto counterparts trumpet the cause of nationalism under the Leafs Nation moniker. Any questions?)

So for Bruce Jenner to defy the very meaning we (consciously or unconsciously) assign to athleticism by reintroducing herself as Caitlyn goes completely off the script our patriarchal society would have expected her to follow. For this she certainly deserves the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage. This award should also serve to acknowledge the courage of lesser-known trans people, athletes or not, as they are telling us all that their place in the world is for they themselves to decide, and they do not need our input, thank you very much.

I must confess that in a case like this it takes a bit of conscious effort (at first) to use the female pronoun, as somewhere in my lizard brain is the cruft of an previously-held attitude that this is just a man dressing up as a woman. Thankfully, the rest of my brain has advanced beyond such naïveté, and so despite the required conscious effort I use the female pronoun for all trans women out of respect (which any woman deserves), and because in my heart I know that it is the good and right thing to do.