This is one of those posts I have a feeling I might regret in a few days, weeks, months or years. But what’s the point of all of this, if not to be open and honest, even if that means providing a window into my thought processes. And that’s what this post is. It’s an expression of my thought process, muddled, messy, complicated, but deeply honest.
WordPress has a new format for drafting posts. It makes it harder to link to old posts (so there will be fewer of those links), and it looks different on the screen. I don’t like it. I’m sure I will get used to it, and it’s not going to ruin my day or anything like that, I just don’t like it.
Then again, typically I don’t like change.
I doubt many people believe that. I’ve experienced a lot of change, and sometimes, I’ve even sought it out. I even write about change on the Internet, and I don’t just mean the jokes I’ve made about vacuum pennies.
But really, I don’t like change. I’ve learned to cope with it, I think, and even to embrace it where appropriate, but generally, unless something is really broken, I prefer it to stay the same way. Do I sound like one of those grumpy old men yet? Just wait.
I was thinking about all of this earlier, when I read an article about Rose McGowan’s post about Caitlyn Jenner. I know, what informed person gets her news from someecards? I do, ok? I also read other stuff, but I also read someecards. Whatever.
Anyway, she wrote an angry letter to Caitlyn Jenner about Glamour’s Woman of the Year Award, specifically about her acceptance speech. In the speech, Jenner reportedly joked, the “hardest part about being a woman is figuring out what to wear.”
McGowan posted this (along with some graphic memes that were deleted before I saw them):
Caitlyn Jenner you do not understand what being a woman is about at all. You want to be a woman and stand with us- well learn us. We are more than deciding what to wear. We are more than the stereotypes foisted upon us by people like you. You’re a woman now? Well f—king learn that we have had a VERY different experience than your life of male privilege.
Woman of the year? No, not until you wake up and join the fight. Being a woman comes with a lot of baggage. The weight of unequal history. You’d do well to learn it. You’d do well to wake up. Woman of the year? Not by a long f—king shot.
and later changed it to this:
Let me amend this by saying I’m happy for what she’s doing visibility wise for the trans community, and I’m happy she’s living her truth, but comments like hers have consequences for other women. How we are perceived, what our values are, and leads to more stereotyping. If you know you are going to be speaking to media about being a woman, maybe come to understand our struggles.
What does any of this have to do with WordPress’s new format? Nothing, really. I think as I was trying to sort out my thoughts and feelings about what McGowan posted, and Jenner more generally, I wondered how much those thoughts or feelings are informed by my aversion to change. Honestly, I’m not sure what the answer is, although I am pretty sure I’m too young to dislike change so much.
I think it’s a complicated situation, and one that is difficult to talk about, even with great care, without offending someone. Still, I feel like I need to try to make some sense of it, even if I end up deleting this post of pushing it to the pile of drafts that will probably never see the light of day.
I don’t know what it’s like to feel like a man, but to be in a woman’s body, and I don’t know what it’s like to feel like a woman, but in a man’s body. I do not have any close friends or close relatives who feel that way, at least to my knowledge. I have casually known a couple of people, a friend of a friend kind of thing, and one former student, who have felt that way. I don’t know anything about the friend of a friend that would add in any way to my thoughts, and the student I had was struggling with a lot of other heavy emotional baggage, and those two limited experience can hardly be deemed representative. Even when I was involved in the LGBTQI group at our campus, there was only that one student who identified as “T.”
Part of me thinks, why do I need to sort it out at all? I don’t need to have an opinion about everything, do I? Except that all of us do, really, have opinions about everything (even if the opinion is limited to, “I don’t give a flying fuck about that”) and the question is more about whether and how we express it.
When I start to think about something like this, I always start here: What if one of my children were dealing with X? What would I say? What would I want others to say? I’m not arguing that this is the best starting point – only being honest about what mine is, at this point in my life.
So if one of my children came to me and said, “Mom, I am not a boy, I’m a girl,” or “Mom, I am not a girl, I’m a boy,” what would I do?
I don’t have the slightest clue, but I would try really hard not to drop my jaw and stare back completely dumbfounded.
As I wrote about last week, if one of my daughters came to me and said, “Mom, I don’t like my nose,” or “Mom, I wish I were taller,” I have a plan for that, and for a lot of other things (including, “Mom, I’m gay”). Easy. Well, easy-ish.
Obviously it would depend on the age, and the child, and it would involve a very long conversation about what those feelings are (I am certainly not going to lose my shit because my three year old son wants to try on a pair of high heels). My first call, in the event that this was seriously something that needed addressing, would be my husband, my second call would be to the pediatrician, in an attempt to find the best available child psychologist in the area, because I would know I was in over my head, and I know a large percentage of people who struggle what the DSM-V labels as “gender dysphoria” struggle with depression. Beyond that, I have literally no idea, beyond doing whatever I believed was best for my child.
Another thing that muddies the already opaque waters is the fact that “transgender” can mean many different things. According to the APA, “transgender” can refer to someone whose gender identity, expression, or behavior, typically does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth. That means that gender reassignment surgery and hormones are not for everyone who identifies as transgender. It also means that there is no one single explanation for what causes an individual to feel that way.
I would, to be very honest, have a difficult time if one of my children wanted to have gender reassignment surgery. I get teary thinking about my oldest daughter piercing her ears. It’s not because I think her body belongs to me or any other kind of similar bullshit, it’s because I think her body is perfect exactly the way it is. I think all of my children are perfect exactly the way they are. I don’t think piercing ears or dying hair or any other change would make them less perfect, I just hate the idea of enduring any level of pain or discomfort in an attempt to change something that is already exactly as it should be.
I know there are differences between feeling like a man trapped in a woman’s body or vice versa and feeling like my legs aren’t long enough or my hair isn’t blond enough. Still, I am a big believer in appreciating and loving what we have, of learning to love what we’ve been given, and in this case, that sort of runs straight into my belief that we should all try to live as authentically as possible, that is, we should be able to be who we want to be, and be honest about who that person is.
People want to have boob jobs and tummy tucks? Fine by me, whatever you want to spend your disposable income on is none of my business. People want to take hormones and have major surgery to change the sex assigned at birth, that should be fine too. But it feels different.
Is it because I’m some kind of hateful narrow-minded conservative religious zealot? I don’t think so. I hope not anyway.
I think there are a few differences for me, and I will attempt to articulate them.
First, I think the degree of the surgery involved and the hormone requirement makes a difference. I think for people who have some kind of major accident and have extreme surgery, that is something completely separate – it’s about getting back to something that already existed. For people who have not had major physical trauma, having surgeries that changes how they look so completely feels like something else. Then again, maybe this desire to change resulted, at least in part, from some emotional trauma. In that case, maybe it’s similar. Really, I’m not sure. Maybe this is a hollow point, I’ll have to think about it more.
Second, I think the type of change is different, and it’s difficult for me to unravel the mental health pieces in motion. A woman going from a B cup to a D cup might change her life in one sense, but she is still going to live, more or less, the same life (I think). A man having surgery to become a woman is going to have a much more major and extreme change. It involves removing body parts and adding others, and taking hormones to change how the body works. That’s a big deal. Typically, women do not suffer from major depression because they have small breasts (to my knowledge), while a great number of people with gender dysphoria do. I am not a psychologist or a psychiatrist, so I don’t completely understand how those things interact – is the depression solely a result of societal pressures, or is it something more? Is gender reassignment the best solution? I’m not sure, but if I am wary of psychiatrists prescribing medication, I am even more concerned about them prescribing surgeries and long-term hormone therapies.
Third, and I think this is really most of the difficulty for me, I think this idea that we can change our sex is complicated, and I think that’s part of what McGowan’s post was about. Being a woman is more than having a vagina and X amount of Y hormone pumping through our bloodstream. I’m not arguing that there is any one experience that is woman, and certainly there is a spectrum to womanhood, but I am saying it is complex, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts (I first wrote, “the sum is greater than its parts, because these are the things I can never remember), if you will forgive the phrase. I don’t mean that to be exclusive or hurtful in any way, but I do believe it is objectively true, and I think it’s dangerous to reduce what it is to be woman, or man, to something so simplistic. And really, I think that’s one of the real difficulties here – figuring out what it means, at its essence, to be woman, or to be man.
On the other hand, I believe people feel what they feel. If Caitlyn Jenner feels like a woman, and wants to be a woman, and wants to be treated like a woman, I think maybe that’s ok too. Again, I think the hard part is that while people have the right to be who they are, we also live in a society with other people, who also have rights (I am not including the “right” to be a jackass on that list). So for example, say Caitlyn Jenner joins a women-only volleyball team. Fair? Not really. And not just because she’s Caitlyn Jenner. Then again, who gives a shit about a volleyball game? And also, doesn’t one person’s desire and ability to be who they are outweigh any concerns about a game? I think so.
But then something like Glamour Magazine’s Woman of the Year comes along, and it does raise some questions. Two main questions, I think. First, should Caitlyn Jenner be eligible for that award because she was recently a “he?” Second, is Caitlyn Jenner deserving of the award.
The first question, I think, is complicated, for the reasons McGowan pointed out, even if she did so in terms that mostly addressed the acceptance speech, and that were, I think, unnecessarily “us vs. them” oriented. What she said about not understanding the weight of the history, the baggage that comes with being a woman. There is a sense of unfairness to someone having all of the privileges of being a white, athletic male for six decades, and becoming a white female and winning an award for being Woman of the Year soon after. I know one response to that is that she has always thought of herself as a woman, and while that may be true, she did experience most of her life as a man, that is to say, she had all of the advantages that come with being a man when she was Bruce Jenner, of which there were many, and it does seem unfair for her now to be eligible for an award specifically reserved for women.
Second, the question of whether Caitlyn Jenner has done anything to deserve the award, as a separate question from basic eligibility. That is so far beyond the scope of anything I am capable of answering, I will not even make an attempt. The only things I know about her personal life come from friends who watch more reality television than I do, and something one of his ex-wives wrote about what it was like to be married to Caitlyn when she was still Bruce, and what it was like to love that person all of these years. It was sobering to read, and my heart hurt for her as I read it. I’m sure most people know more than I do about what she is like now and what she was like, but most of those people also probably only know one small part of the story, including whoever decided on the Woman of the Year Award.
What would I do if one of my children came to me and said they thought they were assigned the wrong sex at birth? I would hug him or her, we would talk about it, and I would probably cry about it and pray about it in the shower, as I would do in response to any challenge with which they were presented. I would love them, and I would reassure them that I think they are perfect, and I will continue to think they are perfect no matter else happens, gender reassignment surgery or not.
I don’t have answers for any of the other questions surrounding this issue, and to sleep tonight I don’t need them. I hope to have a clearer understanding of gender dysphoria over the coming months and years, but for now, knowing that I have thought it out just a little bit further, even if that’s raised more questions than provided answers, that’s enough for right now.
Be kind, friends.