In a 20/20 special with Diane Sawyer in April, Caitlyn Jenner came out as a trans woman. That TV event was followed up with a miniseries on E!, called I Am Cait, documenting her transition. Everybody is talking about this important moment in our culture, and it’s got me thinking. Here, I’ve highlighted three amazing things about Caitlyn and what her decision has inspired and three other things we—and our culture—still need to think about.
Three Amazing Things
- Visibility. Having a transgender person visible removes the general fear and stigma surrounding people who are transgender. Namely: They exist! These are not people we have to hide from view. They are real people with real lives. Don’t pretend they don’t exist. They do.
- Inspiration. It’s inspiring for young people who are struggling with many kinds of differences to see someone living proudly and fully and starting conversations about it. I have heard this a lot from LGBTQ+ individuals as well as from young people who are simply different from what we’ve come to accept as “normal” development.
- Dialogue. Caitlyn has opened up an unprecedented dialogue about beauty. Jon Stewart remarked that after Jenner’s first magazine appearance as Caitlyn, the media wasted no time in treating Jenner like a woman, as conversation surrounding her very quickly turned to what her breasts look like. “Now you’re a woman,” Stewart joked, “so your looks are the only thing we care about.” Welcome to the club, Caitlyn! But in all honesty, there are men who want to be appreciated as women, and they are beautiful. There are women who want to be appreciated as men, and they are beautiful. There are many kinds of people expressing all types of sexuality and our concept of beauty should not be tied to the heterosexual status quo.
Three Things to Think About
- The study of brain behavior. There is an entire field of study devoted to understanding the male and female brain. This doesn’t just mean understanding if there are differences in brain structures, but the brain is responsible for releasing hormones that alter behavior, and when these hormones are manipulated in research studies, we can see how specific behavior and hormones affect what we describe as heterosexual or homosexual behavior. Neuro-endocrinology has much to offer to the general public’s understanding of sexuality and the brain, and I hope we get some neuro-endocrinologists talking about this in a way the general public can appreciate. It’s an amazing field.
- The “reality” of the reality show. The reality show fascination with Caitlyn worries me. I’m not a fan of reality shows, and while I Am Cait has been touted as different from all other reality shows, it still is a semi-fabricated, situational, episodical show that only thrives when there is drama. Even if it is, as Flavorwire termed it in their piece, “Staging Empathy for Social Change,” “a fascinating specimen of a new form of social justice oriented reality TV,” I’m worried that we are observing aspects of Caitlyn’s life that will be exploited. I’m worried that people are teasing her, or using this as a source of gossip. It worries me about all reality shows, but especially about this one.
- The statistics on sexuality, and those who can’t or won’t understand the need for tolerance. In the 1940s, noted sex researcher Alfred Kinsey had claimed that 10% of the men he treated were homosexuals; while this statistic has been largely debunked, we know that there are many men and women who identify as “other than heterosexual.” Whatever the statistics, there are still many thousands and thousands of people who don’t like or accept any of it. Many—but not all—of them are religious. Many people simply cannot get their heads around this and may never be able to. My hope would be that these individuals can continue to see these “other than heterosexual” people as human beings with desires and chemicals running through their brains and hearts that think and love and feel just like theirs do. You may never agree with people’s decisions or even the way they were born, but it doesn’t mean they are trying to change your life or harm you. There are so many ways to be tolerant.
I wish Caitlyn a happy life, a full life, and I hope she continues to stand for freedom and liberation of so many kinds. And I hope we all get to learn along with her: how to exist, co-exist, and cooperate as human beings on a very big and very diverse and complex planet.