Thursday, August 27, 2015

On Chaz, on Caitlyn

I feel like we can’t talk about being Transgender without addressing the issue of the most well-known, highly publicized Transman and Transwoman currently on the planet – Chaz Bono and Caitlyn Jenner. Like many others who felt they had no connection or emotional investment in treating these persons with respect, I was cheerfully and blissfully dismissive of their trials and tribulations in the media.

I didn’t understand what I was witnessing on this very public stage when Chaz Bono transitioned from female to male. I was somewhat alarmed by the transition at some point, and, perhaps, mightily relieved I did not have to deal with this issue as a mother. More fool me. As they say, pride comes before the fall …

At best, I was condescendingly sympathetic at publicly witnessing his evolution from adorable little girl (daughter of the singing duo Sonny and Cher) to out lesbian and LGBTQ activist as a young adult to Transman and Transgender advocate. Now, because this hits so close to home, I am completely mortified by the manner in which he is sometimes referred to in the media. If it is not outright hostility, then it’s a quietly snickering attitude at times.

Flash forward to Caitlyn Jenner’s transition in the spring and summer of 2015 and I see it from a very different perspective as a mother of a Trans child and as a sentient human being.

Now, because I am so close to the situation with my own child I can no longer be blasé or amused at what I see. Whether it is the paparazzi provoking Jenner before she outed herself as Trans or seeing images of a “Caitlyn Jenner” Halloween costume for men posted on-line or pointless and insulting criticism of her high femme style as a woman – now it’s personal. And infuriating.

Is it really your concern if Jenner likes pretty clothes and makeup? Does it set back the cause of Transgender people if she favours manicures and weaves? I can’t help thinking that even the progressive people who purport to be feminists and Trans-positive criticize her style are anti-femme, as if things that are feminine (and I include even the supremely artificially feminine) are inferior, shallow, less than human. It’s as if the embracing of masculine style or an androgynous style is a superior political and personal stance. If femininity is a social construct, it’s my construct to employ or destroy and no amount of finger wagging likely will dissuade someone who chooses to embrace it.

If you knew someone who went through this transition, if you knew how hard it is to come out to the people who love you the most. If you saw how difficult it was to do the most basis things – purchase clothes, find a bathroom, change your name, feel comfortable in your own skin  – you might have second thoughts before you started snickering about it or making jokes.

It’s been a long, difficult journey in a very public forum for both of them – whether you think they have been successful at it or not – it’s their journey to make. If anything, I have felt intense empathy for Bono’s mother the singer Cher, now in her sixties, who sometimes has expressed sorrow, confusion, and resistance to Chaz’ decision to transition.

My child has said to us on more than one occasion, “If I had a choice, I would not go through this.” He has often expressed a wish that things were not so difficult for him. But this feeling almost always centres around trying to battle the fear and discomfort that other people feel towards the transition. I would say that my son is comfortable in his decision to transition but dealing with other people’s fears and insecurities is another matter.

It’s not a choice about a lifestyle. Now I finally understand why some gay people are so dismayed by the term “gay lifestyle” as if it’s some sort of fashionable attire you’ve acquired for a season or two – it’s an honest, brave embracing of being true to one’s inner self. It’s not a question of wanting to be something else, it’s a question of needing to be something else – to have the external correspond with the internal and to have it validated by the people you care about, as well as those you don’t.

An excerpt from The Unfinished Dollhouse. 

1 comment:

Caterina said...

Thank you for posting this. Written with sensitivity and insight.
I know I need to learn.