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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Jo Ann Skousen

Dear John,

Thank you for your thoughtful reply. You're right—my tone was harsh, and I didn't mean to sound intolerant of another person's personal choice. My reaction really is to the media circus surrounding Jenner's decision, and the pressure to meet media deadlines for the reality show, the Vanity Fair photo shoot, the ESPN Courage awards.

It concerns me that Jenner's first reaction after the surgery was "What have I done?" Most transgendered people are given time and privacy to make their transition. They live in the clothes and the lifestyle of the new gender for a while, taking time to make sure it is what they want before going into surgery. Jenner hasn't been allowed that privacy and time. Nor have we. Two transitions are required in these situations—the transition of the person who is transgendered, and the transition of those who must suddenly interact with the person in a completely different way. That can be a tough transition too, especially for those who knew and loved the previous version of the person.

Gender is such a strong identifier! It's the label I'm troubled by, and the gushing media attention, and the new definition of narrow hips as the "ideal proportion" for a woman. I understand that in Sweden a new pronoun has been created for transgendered people that seems to make everyone feel more comfortable and accepting. As we consider what it means to be a woman, those of us with the XX chromosomes should not be redefined or marginalized yet again by the XY version.

Jon Kalb

Mrs. Skousen,

Thanks very much for your reply (and for spelling my name mostly right. ;)

I know, from being a long time reader and fan, that your heart was in the right place and that you'd forgive my kibitzing in such a public way.

Circus is a somewhat overused word, but it certainly applies to the media frenzy surrounding this "story" and I can understand your negative reaction to it.

Like you, I sympathize with the tough situation Jenner found herself in. As you say, traditionally trans people have the opportunity to try out, experiment with, and learn about the clothes and roles outside of the public eye. Jenner's celebrity precluded this. I'm certain that this made the process more difficult in some way, but I suspect that this same celebrity (and wealth) made the process smoother in other ways.

I think I understand your (and Elinor Burkett's) concern about having what it means to be a woman defined by "a man." But I think about something that a friend told me about a woman that we both knew who had transitioned. I didn't know her well, but my friend, a devout Christian, had been close to her during her transition. This was many years ago when there was even more ignorance than there is now. He said that although many people might say she isn't a "real" woman, that she had paid a greater price to be a woman than most people would ever understand.

Somehow I don't think that womankind is any danger of being diminished.

Jim Stiles

I agree wholeheartedly.

Jacques Delacroix

My, my, the outpouring of passion! As my grandmother might have said, "Useful as teats on a bull." Well, Grandma was wrong. (Grandmothers regularly lie to their defenseless grandoffsprings.) Mother Nature actually has a strategy. "You never know - She thinks - I have better plan for intermediate forms." After all there must have been fish with gills that breathed a little via their swim bladders at some point. Penis or no penis!

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