So, in case they didn’t pop up on your Twitter feed or Facebook page, there were plenty of newsy bits dealing directly with gender issues. From Elinor Burkett’s article “What Makes a Woman” to Miley Cyrus posing naked with her pig, and now Susan Sarandon talking about her excitement over gender fluidity I’ve been busy alternately booing and cheering at my computer screen. In fact, my husband pointed out the Burkett article with a, “Hey what do you think about this article,” then wisely removed himself to another part of the house to avoid any rage induced fallout.
If you haven’t read “What Makes a Woman” let me encourage you to read it though I’ll warn you that I found it to be an incredibly insulting piece of pseudo-feminism that failed in it’s attempt to hide transgender bigotry. For me, the long and the short of it is that Ms. Burkett fought hard to keep women from being put into boxes, but now feels entitled to put women BACK into the boxes that she’s tried so hard to avoid. She also feels entitled to tell trans women that they aren’t, in fact, women. Ms. Burkett, I define what it means for me to be a woman. My daughter will define it for herself too. Thanks for your hard work, Elinor, but you don’t get to define anyone but yourself. Here’s where you can read a great rebuttal. Here’s another one.
On a completely different note, I can’t help but bring attention (again) to Miley Cyrus who has impressed me (again) about her feelings on gender issues and sexuality. In Paper magazine (while posing naked with her pig) she says:
“I am literally open to every single thing that is consenting and doesn’t involve an animal and everyone is of age. Everything that’s legal, I’m down with. Yo, I’m down with any adult — anyone over the age of 18 who is down to love me,” she says. “I don’t relate to being boy or girl, and I don’t have to have my partner relate to boy or girl.”
We live in a society where girls continue to be shamed about their sexuality, and now Miley is telling the world that she’s open to every single thing. In a culture that pushes people into a gender binary, we have a young role model encouraging people that it’s okay not to fit into a hetero-normative box. And, that it’s okay to celebrate your sexuality. If you haven’t read the article, I recommend it too. It’s way more entertaining than the previous one I mentioned and far less likely to have you yelling at your screen.
And, in a very welcome surprise, this great little video clip of Susan Sarandon popped where she discusses her excitement about gender fluidity.
“I think it’s a more interesting world when people don’t have such narrow ideas about what they can be.”
I’ve always loved Susan Sarandon both for her acting (hello, Thelma and Louise) and her political activism. And, now I love her for this too. It was a happy little present on this Friday afternoon.
Those are just some of the words I’ve heard used to describe my nine-year-old daughter and others like her. As her family, we’ve had our share of run-ins with those who disagree with us since her social transition five years ago. Some of the gentler conversations stemmed from a lack of understanding about what it meant to be transgender and how a young child could understand themselves in those terms. I welcomed those discussions because they were usually coming from a desire to be educated. I still enjoy having them as often as I can. However, my husband and I have had other conversations filled with intrusive questions filled with implications about my husband’s role in the family, why I wasn’t stepping up and “being the parent”, and if there was a history of sexual abuse. Without exception, those conversations came from people who called themselves Christians.
There’s been a lot of recent media attention on transgender individuals and I’ve seen some very ugly comments, many from those who quoted God’s love out of one side of their mouth while spewing hate out of the other. I realize that not all Christians use the Bible as a weapon against those most in need of love or use their faith as an excuse for hatred and bigotry. Our family has a very supportive group of believers who love us and interact with us on a near daily basis. I know some of them are supportive of LGBTQ issues but I suspect others are not. However, they’re so busy loving us and being our friends that it’s never come up.
First, to my affirming Christian friends and those who are like-minded, thank you. To be honest, before you came into our lives, we were quite content to keep most Christians far away from our family. But, here you are with your love, acceptance, and kindness, and you’ve made us reconsider that maybe all Christians aren’t out to wound our family and cast judgment on our decisions. I have a huge favor to ask of you. Please, speak louder. I appreciate that you believe in a New Testament God who loves over an Old Testament God who judges. I see that you place high value on the verses that talk about feeding and clothing the least of these. We had become accustomed to buffet-style Christians who would take small helpings of specific references from Deuteronomy to force feed us their interpretation of the Bible.
My young daughter already distrusts anyone who identifies as a Christian because she’s discovered on Google that Pope Francis compared trans folks to nuclear weapons. She’s already been approached by children at school whose parents have said that she’s wrong for being who she is because God doesn’t make mistakes. She’s seen the billboards against marriage equality and she’s read about the bills that would force her into a men’s room if she needs to use the bathroom.
My daughter is wary because she expects you to say hurtful things. When we visited your church, I heard a message about pruning unfruitful branches, but she heard that she was the branch because that’s what she’s come to expect. She needs your supportive voice to be louder than the competing voices of judgment and hate. So, please, speak up. Her risk for suicide is so much higher than the general population because of who she is and she could use all the love and support that you can show her.
To Christians who say they love others but refuse to use a transgender individual’s new name and affirmed pronoun, who say that God doesn’t make mistakes in regard to my daughter’s gender, who use the Bible as a weapon, I have this to say. I don’t hear you anymore; I stopped listening and you’re wasting your time. When you started by calling my child, and those like her, disgusting and perverted, I left the conversation. When you said that you loved all people, but called them trannies, I took note. When you told me that you loved my child, but disagreed with the choices my husband and I made to keep her alive, I cut you out of my life. When you started quoting scriptures at me, I tuned you out. I deleted your comments from my page. I skipped your blog post. I moved to the next article. I stopped listening because I’d heard it all before. Your message wasn’t new. It didn’t convince me of anything before, and it’s not going to convince me of anything now except that I want nothing to do with you or your brand of religion.
To Christians who don’t allow LGBTQ youth to participate in your church programs because of who they are, what message are you giving them about God’s love? It’s been a long time since I’ve called myself a Christian and my memory of scripture is admittedly dimmer than it used to be, but I’m pretty sure Jesus encouraged others to suffer the little children to come to Him. Some children are trying to get access to God’s love and you are denying them the opportunity.
When the AIDS epidemic first came onto the scene in the early 80s, you had an opportunity to extend love and support to a community that was frightened and alone. Instead of showing God’s love, you proclaimed God’s judgment. When the LGBTQ community was hungry and naked, you did not feed them, and you did not clothe them. And now, when the trans community has jumped into the headlines, you scream Bible versus at my family, you accuse us of child abuse, you tell us not to heed the advice of medical professionals, and you are quite clear that we aren’t welcome in your community.
If this is how you show God’s love, then you’re doing it wrong.
I can’t tell you if I will ever return to the church or if my daughter will ever attempt to have a relationship with God. While I realize that God is not the same as the church or a particular group of believers, I’m trying to figure out if I believe in God or if it’s just a habit from my childhood. But, I do know one thing. It’s won’t be a group of scripture screamers that will convince me to change. It won’t be the group that professes love with their mouths while their hearts are filled with judgment. It won’t be those who proclaim to love the LGBTQ community but disagree with their choices.
Maybe someday I will find my way back to God though today that seems unlikely. But, let me say this to Christians everywhere. If you truly hope to show the LGBTQ community that God is love, then take a tip from the believers in my life.
They are so busy loving us that it seems they’ve forgotten to judge us.
Editor’s note: I know, I know. You’ve been waiting with breathless anticipation to hear my thoughts on Caitlyn Jenner’s transition. I know this because there’s been so little media coverage, so few blog posts, so few television commentaries, so little demands to stop calling her a hero, to take away her medal, that her Vanity Fair debut is a win for the transgender community, or that she’s the worst possible person to represent the trans community. I’m not as eloquent as many of the writers whose blogs I have read this week, but here are my thoughts. Also, the photo credit clearly goes to Annie Leibovitz.
My initial reactions to Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover was jaw-dropping awe. I clearly wasn’t alone in that. My Facebook and Twitter feeds were blowing up about how beautiful she looked and how brave she was for putting herself out there. We had no warning that the cover was coming and it happened so quickly after her interview with Diane Sawyer that it seemed as though her transition happened in a matter of weeks.
In the first few hours of the magazine cover debut, most of what I read was positive. Overwhelmingly positive. I was very pleasantly surprised to see so much support given to her. In a matter of weeks, it seemed that Caitlyn had put the word “transgender” into most American households.
It didn’t take long for the dissenters to raise their voice. I read many comments disagreeing that she was brave, saying that this was yet another Kardashian publicity stunt (seems extreme, even for them), continuing to use the name “Bruce” and the pronoun “he.” I choose not to post links to that vitriol because we’ve all seen them and why spread their words of hate?
But, I do want to touch on a few points.
First, I am so happy for Caitlyn. I can’t imagine how amazing it was to have a team of stylists come and do your makeup, style your hair, give you a manicure, and then have your photo taken by Annie Leibovitz. Caitlyn had a whole team (not to mention years of experience with the Kardashian girls) helping her look and pose her best. How fun, feminine, and empowering that experience probably was for her. I get excited when I get my hair cut and colored so I can’t even imagine the joy of those days of dress up and photography. And you know what, those photos are beautiful. They should be celebrated. She should have her moment to shine. She is finally FREE. She must have been so proud to see those photos. I know I was. I was beaming that someone so well-known was now representing the community that I hold dear.
But, Caitlyn Jenner’s transition is hers alone. It doesn’t look like transition for most other people. I don’t know of others who waited until a national magazine debut to start using affirmed pronouns. We were using female pronouns well before our Vanity Fair cover (also known as that letter I mailed to all our friends and family). I also know that many trans folks may not get breast enhancement or sexual reassignment surgery (though I don’t believe Caitlyn Jenner has received SRS). But, that doesn’t make them less their affirmed gender. The trans community, allies, and medical profession have all been trying to get across that gender is not defined by sexual anatomy.
For trans folks everywhere, Caitlyn’s media exposure is a huge step in the right direction. Caitlyn Jenner is able to take trans awareness into so many households. The little old lady across the street knew who Bruce Jenner was, she now knows who Caitlyn Jenner is. She has no clue who Laverne Cox is. Or Janet Mock. Or Jazz Jennings. Or countless others who are significant to me and my household because we are so very trans aware. Thank you, Caitlyn Jenner for throwing that door wide open.
But, I also think it is vitally important that we begin to bring more transgender individuals to media attention because Caitlyn’s story is very unique and the public needs to hear the spectrum of experiences. Many teens will never get hormone blockers or cross gender hormones to stop a puberty that’s for the wrong body. Most trans folks lack access to basic primary care much less an endocrinologist, a plastic surgeon, a stylist, a host of fashion forward daughters, a world renowned photographer, and a cover in a fashion magazine. They struggle to get a job, to rent an apartment, to get to a healthcare provider when they are sick.
Caitlyn Jenner made a comment about not wanting to “look like a man in a dress” and I cringed. Hard. Because one’s ability to “pass” should not be the yardstick by which we measure how feminine one is. The trans community’s most notable female examples are glamorous, beautiful, and look way (WAY) better in a dress than I do. But, that’s not the whole of the transgender community. And it’s a dangerous message to send to our transgender youth that the way to be accepted by society is to be glamorous and grace the covers of magazines.
We’ve sheltered the kids quite a bit this week from media. My daughter knew who Caitlyn Jenner was and we looked at her photos together. Conner and I had a big conversation about whether or not she felt the need to grow up and be such a glamorous woman. I realize that the not-quite ten year-old girl who still has to be reminded to brush her hair or take a shower may have a different answer as she grows up, but for now, she does not feel the need to be the next girl in heels and a corset. She would like to be the next YouTube star thanks to her favorite role model, Jazz Jennings. We’ll have to talk about the YouTube part, but a fairly typical teenage girl? Yes, please.
I also want to talk about Caitlyn Jenner’s bravery.
Yes, she is really fucking brave.
She hid herself for over 60 years. She tried to transition several years ago and stopped. I only have an inkling of what it is for my daughter to face the world everyday. She feels different than her peers. She is constantly asking herself if she is in a safe and supportive place, if she can tell her friends who she really is, if they will continue to accept her if she does. She’s lost friends. She’s been bullied, told that she’s wrong because God doesn’t make mistakes, shunned by peers who were afraid to touch her in case they caught her “weirdness.” I get physically ill when I read the hatred spewed out on the internet about trans folks and realize that someday my child will leave the protection of my home and live in that world. She’s not even ten and we live in a much more supportive world than Caitlyn lived in. Don’t tell me that Caitlyn Jenner isn’t brave. Because I see my daughter and she’s the bravest person I know.
Please, celebrate Caitlyn Jenner. We do. We’re thrilled for the positive reception she’s received from so many. Continue to talk about trans folks to your kids. Be aware that you’ve passed transgender individuals on the street and never realized it. There is a beautiful spectrum in the transgender community and it would be a shame to expect every person to be a glamorous woman in heels and lipstick. I don’t want that expectation placed on my daughter, nor do I want it placed on me. In the words of Jon Stewart, “It’s really heartening to see that everyone is willing to not only accept Caitlyn Jenner as a woman, but to waste no time in treating her like a woman.”