Is He Really She?


So Bruce Jenner has “always felt like a woman” inside, and ESPN is giving him their “Courage” award for coming out in such a public way. I know you’ve seen his photograph on the cover of Vanity Fair, so fetching with his newly-carved facial structure, his come-hither hair extensions, his pumped-up breasts, and his manly hands and man-parts discreetly hidden behind his back and under his crotch.

“I’ve always felt like a woman.” What exactly does that mean? Does he mean “I know what it feels like to nurture a child and cook a meal and clean a house and bat my eyelashes at a man”? If so — shame on him. That is not what it means to be a woman. And shame on all the pundits and journalists who are falling all over themselves to praise him for thinking that’s what it means, or for letting him get away with making that statement without challenging him to explain what it means.

So Bruce Jenner is the “ideal proportion” for a woman, because he has a man’s skeleton, and thus narrow hips?

Did Jenner feel like a woman in the 1960s when he was training on the boys’ well-funded high school track team, while the girls spent most of their time dressing and showering for P.E. with perhaps 20 minutes spent on the field? Did he feel like a woman during his Olympic glory days, when men’s track and field events were shown during prime time, and women’s track and field events were mentioned in the middle of the sports page somewhere? Did he spend 35 years finding blood in his underwear once a month, and dealing with all the trauma and embarrassment that goes with that? Does he know how it feels to realize your tampon is leaking and you’re sitting down and there is no way to escape without people watching you walk out of the room? How dare he say he knows how it feels to be a woman, after spending 65 years as a man.

If he means, “I know what it feels like to want to put on a dress and heels and makeup” — well, fine. You don’t have to be a woman to do that. Nor do I have to be a man to put on a tuxedo or a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. Clothes do not make the man — or the woman. Moreover, I resent Jessica Diehl, who clothed Jenner for the Vanity Fair photo shoot, gushing, “Caitlyn’s proportions are fashion proportions, really. She’s tall, slim, narrow hipped: kind of ideal to dress” (New York Times, June 4, 2015). So Bruce Jenner is the “ideal proportion” for a woman, because he has a man’s skeleton, and thus narrow hips? My wide hips are perfectly proportioned for a real woman. I earned my hips through eight pregnancies, five births, and three miscarriages. Go through that, Bruce Jenner, and then tell me you know how it feels to be a woman. Even my husband doesn’t know how it felt to lose those three babies. Not from a woman’s perspective.

And let’s talk about Jenner’s supposed transformation. He surgically shaped his facial structure, pumped up his breasts with silicone and hormone therapy, and layered on a pound of makeup. But he kept his penis. What kind of woman has a penis? How does Jenner’s lack of commitment and confidence in his choice qualify him for a Courage award?

Bruce Jenner is welcome to mutilate his body any way he wants to, but please don’t make him a role model, and please don’t call him a woman. He can change his face, change his name, and wear all the dresses he wants. He can call himself transgendered. He can change his name to Caitlyn. But he can’t get rid of that Y chromosome. And he will never know what it feels like to be a woman.

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Rob McMillin

What I find fascinating about both this and the NYT essay by Elinor Burkett is how both agree that having two X chromosomes is the only determinant of what being a woman really means. (Burkett goes a step further and demands for herself and her allies the sole right to define what it means to be a woman, a curious, rigid, and non-reciprocal, i.e. hypocritical, demand.) I wrote a little bit about this here; Jenner illustrates the collision course transsexuals run against modern feminists and religious conservatives, both of whom have very specific and unyielding ideas about what it means to be female.

Scott Robinson

To quote the lyrics to a song by Guns and Roses, "What we have here is failure to communicate." As you can probably guess is that I agree with Elinor Burkett. In the World Book Dictionary I see the definition of woman as, "a female human being." For female it says, "it emphasizes the sex and is largely confined to science and statistics." Important in the definition is that it emphasizes sex according to science. This means that a woman is a Homo sapiens with two X chromosomes in their genetics. You may play this into that our genotype is restrictive. Well yes, this is just like sexual orientation. You are born attracted to others based on your genetics. If Caitlyn Jenner can just change his sex, then a homosexual can just change his or her orientation. I'm sure you've heard about the sexual orientation therapy that was commonly used in the 1950's. I predict that you think these therapies were bad. This may or may not reflect a double standard that your only defense for is that it was often the homosexuals parents that were forcing their child to take this therapy and not the child's choice him or herself (I do want to disclaim that using the male pronoun first and the female pronoun second doesn't reflect sexism). I think that the importance of the offense has nothing to do with choice and everything to do with the fact that you are as you were born. Just like a homosexual who is therapized into being heterosexual is a lie based on self denial, a man who is transvesterized into being a woman is a lie based on self denial. If this is insensitive, c'est la vie. How is forcing me to accept your denial of truth not insensitive to me?
And I know, you "don't need your (my) civil war". C'est la vie.


Kirsten Tynan

Is there some reason you are concerned that Caitlyn Jenner not be allowed to self-identify as she sees fit? Is there some reason that you feel the need to comment on and critique not only what you assume to be her personal experiences compared to your stereotype of "what it means to be a woman" (which you also never define), but even right down to her genitalia? Why is this so important to you that you feel the need to criticize her choices for her own body rather than at least living and letting live, if not going the distance and loving our peaceful fellow human being?

Jo Ann Skousen

I hope that Jenner finds peace and happiness in whatever form that takes. I did not criticize that choice in my reflection, nor would I. I criticized the media's gushing leap to label. And I do have a stake in the label, because redefining Woman redefines me.

Scott Robinson

Dear Jo Ann,

It is great to hear someone who doesn't nauseatingly repeat the garbage you mention hearing in the article. The best part of your article is when you mention that Bruce/Caitlyn has a Y chromosome. This calls attention to the fact that you, I, and every other person is what we are from the day we're conceived. This is why the true label is transvestite for sex change, because it is just a change of "vest" not transgender, because your gender is what it was on the day of your conception. I haven't read the Vanity Fair article, but the fact that Jenner is not even completed the vest change is surprising. What Caitlyn is really is a cross-dresser.

I did think also that people should ask him if he's tampon or maxipad. Another great point you made.

To Thine Own Self Be True,

Scott Robinson

Dear Kirsten and Jon,

I know that if you took offense to Jo Ann's article, you took offense to my comment. I want to say that I see that Caitlyn Jenner might be in distress or whatever motivation he has to pursue his choices. He does have his choices and he is free to pursue them. What he is not free to do, however, is dictate the truth. Just because you feel like you are or wish that you are some, pick your label, doesn't mean that you are as you feel or wish. In short, calling Caitlyn "she" or "woman" is a lie. If he wants to change his name to Caitlyn, he has every right to do so. However, he does not have the ability, rights inconsequential, to change his sex (which I think is the same thing as gender). I understand that you may say that I should feel his pain and accept his choices, but my counter argument is that he needs to accept his phenotype that is the consequence of his genes. He is a man. If he gets a sex change, he is just a mutilated man with jello bags implanted in his chest and relegated to spending the rest of his life taking Estrogen like Sammy Sosa, and Lance Armstrong took Testosterone. You probably say that my statements are intolerant, but the truth is intolerant. Caitlyn's "woman-hood" is a doctored-up cover-up of the truth.

I do understand that he is troubled, tormented, which ever adjective expresses the actual truth. But endorsing his pursuit of living in lie does not relieve him of his demons. I predict that he will still be unhappy. The problem of not accepting your state in life is not cured by propagating a lie. The lie doesn't change the truth despite how much one wishes the act made everything better. Caitlyn needs to come to peace with who he is. Otherwise, he will go from act to act, trying to eliminate the truth, and as a result never being happy. This last prediction and diagnosis is just based on my speculations. I could be wrong. He also could be like Robin Williams and totally surprise me with his future actions.

Tolerance shouldn't be Denial of Truth,

Jon Kalb


I admire your commitment to truth, but I'd encourage you to deepen your understanding of gender identity.

If Caitlyn, or anyone else, maintains that Caitlyn was born with XX chromosomes they would be lying and in Denial of Truth.

But this isn't Caitlyn's position. Caitlyn is saying that Caitlyn is a woman. Your response, if I'm characterizing it correctly, is to that not having XX chromosomes is the same as not being a woman, so she is in Denial of Truth. Case closed.

Now I may be getting a bit ahead of our scientific understanding here, but science is often late to the scene at explaining what is empirically well understood. Brewers and cheesemakers were making beer and cheese centuries before science could explain the phenomenon. It is very common for people to have a good understanding of a phenomenon long before science explains the exact mechanism.

We don't completely understand the mechanism involved, but it appears that while in the womb, the fetus is washed with certain hormones at certain ages that imprint lifetime characteristics on the fetus. One of these characteristics is sexual attraction. Typically an XY fetus is imprinted with a sexual attraction (almost) exclusively to the feminine. But, as you've pointed out in your comments, not always. Sometime the atypical happens and an XY baby grows up attracted to men or to both men and women. In a comment you said: "You are born attracted to others based on your genetics," but that doesn't appear to be the case. There is no "gay gene." Sexual attraction is imprinted after conception (but before birth). (

Another sexual characteristic imprinted on the fetus is sexual identity. Almost always, XY fetuses are imprinted with a masculine identity. They grow up with the self-concept of "a man." But sometimes the atypical happens and an XY baby grows up with the self-concept of "a woman" and feels alienated from the clear biological evidence that they don't have a body that is consistent with their self-identity.

Now, if we can recognize that sexual attraction is not a choice, but is a biological inevitability that is usually, but not always, related to chromosomes, and obviously you do recognize this Scott, why can we not recognized that sexual identity is also a biological inevitability that is usually, but not always, related to chromosomes?

Yes this is at odds with the simplistic acceptance of "XX means woman and XY means man," but the science that you so highly (and rightly) regard is always open to rejecting simplistic models for ones that better fit the empirical data.

In this case we have empirical data that thousands of individuals have a self-identity at odds with their genetic biology. This feeling is so strong that they sometimes self-mutilate, but more importantly expose themselves to humiliation, social ostracization, criminal penalties, and even risk being beaten to death to express it. We know that social acceptance is one of the strongest desires that humans have. People do not put that at risk for trivial reasons.

But I didn't comment on Mrs. Skousen's reflection to convince society to accept trans individuals. I've no idea what the timeline is for this, but it is as inevitable as the social acceptance of divergent religious views, rights of women, racial equality, and homosexual rights. There will be ups and downs, but the end result is clear.

No, the reason I commented is because I don't want libertarians to be perceived as reluctant to champion the rights of trans people and to be caught on the wrong side of history. I'm very proud that libertarians have been at the cutting edge of a number of issues like gay rights. I don't ever want to have to apologize for our movement being slow to defend the rights of the small, unpopular, misunderstood groups that merely wish to live in peace with the respect due to them for that.

Thanks for your comment and I agree that "tolerance shouldn't be Denial of Truth." Tolerance is seeking the Greater Truth.

Pop culture note: I think Guns and Roses was referencing Cool Hand Luke.'ve_got_here_is_failure_to_communicate

Scott Robinson

Dear Jon,

First, thank you for the pop culture note. I have to say, every time I see the shoes made by Cole Hahn, I think, "It's cool hand Luke" :).

Second, I do understand your point that what scientific models and definitions have been established doesn't equal an absolute truth any more than what is written in the text of the Bible is an absolute truth. Both things travel first through people and are therefore fallible. I do think that there are limits to choice also.
As far as what you said about hormones and other factors in the womb, there is much evidence for this. I do think of this as the balance of nature (our genes) and nurture (hormones, home environment, nutrition). The way I interpret it is that we have a propensity and depending on how this is nurtured, we develop a personality with its rewards and repercussions. It is similar to people who are alcoholic. If they endorse their propensity, they then have to pay for legal and medical costs, but they may feel satisfied. If they suppress their propensity, they then may be disgruntled or unsatisfied, but don't have the legal and medical costs. I don't know if this example applies to transgender people in a way that suits your satisfaction, but then people like me just use the simple explanation, "Such is life."

I do agree that my reliance on cold hard facts is too similar to the concepts of indoctrination and heretics. I think that this is what balance is all about. The problem of balance is that if everything is right, then nothing is wrong. I guess that, closer to the truth, everything has its wrong. Nothing is absolutely right. However, I do think that some things are absolutely wrong. And I know, what I've just said is a whole lot of words to say a whole lot of nothing.


Jon Kalb

Mrs. Skousen, I look forward to your reviews. They are intelligent, well written, and informative. Though we've never met, I consider you one of my liberty-loving friends.

My heart aches when I see something like this coming from one of my liberty-loving friends. Although I know that you are not intolerant and narrow-minded, in this article, you've come off that way. That's because, in this article, you are that way.

You close by saying And he will never know what it feels like to be a woman. This may be true. But it is also true that you'll never know what it feels like to be a man who, as a fetus, was "imprinted" by hormones to be a woman.

And I'll never know what it feels like to be a woman without the right to hold property. Or a black man that might be owned by another. I'll never really know what any of those feel like. But I'm a libertarian, so I don't need to know what those feel like in order to know that every human deserves the basic rights to live their lives in liberty.

As white people socialized with black people they discovered that there were human beings deserving of respect and liberty. As gays have come out of the closet, straights have discovered that they are human beings deserving of respect and liberty.

As society understands the transgendered, their rights to respect and liberty will be obvious to all. It is only right that libertarians are among the first, not the last, to recognize this.

We need to be on the side of those courageously fighting for dignity and liberty. To be otherwise is to be untrue to the best within us and, ultimately, to be on the wrong side of history.

Jim Stiles

While it is true that human beings have the right to elect genital mutilation or removal, it is also true they have the right to elect to surgery that would make them a cybernetic organism (i.e. Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space series of novels).

However, no one is required to like such artistic expressions.

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