The recent coming out of Bruce Jenner as Caitlyn Jenner is provoking posts on Facebook that reveal a lot about how we see gender. Responses range from supportive to scathing. I was, after my first initial delight, a little sad to see how glamorous the tone of the photo shoot was. Not that Caitlyn doesn’t deserve a chance to be glamorous on the cover of Vanity Fair. If she wants to be a cover girl, she should. But another part of me was dismayed.I thought, “Welcome to the bad part of being a woman, Caitlyn. Now you too can be objectified.”
I’m media savvy enough to understand why Vanity Fair went for a glamor shot. And Caitlyn is no doubt happy to have her chance to shine in push-up bras, high heels and false eyelashes, but those are the trappings of sex objectification, and are no more the province of femaleness than they are of maleness. They are costume.
And the resulting posts on FB reflect an focus on those trappings. People are commenting on how pretty she is, or isn’t. And not only commenting. It is as though her prettiness (or not) is her passport into womanhood. And that, to me, is far from being the point.
When I was a girl, my grandmother used to say, “Pretty is as pretty does.” I personally am less interested in how pretty Jenner is. I would love to read in-depth articles about Jenner’s interior life, what she does, or who she is, not what she looks like.
As Laverne Cox so rightly pointed out in her June 1 Tumblr post, gender is not about what you look like. We all look different, and most trans people will not have the opportunity to be dolled up on the cover of Vanity Fair. The trans population includes diminutive trans men with tiny hands, and bulky trans women with wide shoulders. The trappings of gender performance are not identity.
Many years ago, i was in a commedia dell’arte company; we were rehearsing a play in which i was cast as Columbina, the lusty servant wench. We rehearsed in regular street clothes, without makeup, and my scene partners, mostly men, were not a bit distracted by my femaleness. We did the work, and polished up our routines and finally came the day for dress rehearsal. I put on my make-up, my false eyelashes, my wig, my pushup bra, my high heels, and the costume with low-neck white blouse, cinched waist and lots of exposed cleavage.
And suddenly their behavior was totally different. They couldn’t keep their eyes off me – they turned flirtatious, they felt compelled to compliment me. “I never saw you this way. You are such a beauty!” It was a significant enough shift I had to comment on it. “Guys,” I said, “This beauty comes in a pot–I rub it on my face, I put it on my body. The stuff you are responding to is not me. It’s stuff. I’ve been here all along.”
Caitlyn Jenner has been here all along – we just didn’t know it. I’m looking forward to learning more about Caitlyn the woman, not Caitlyn the sex object. And I look forward to the day where women are judged not on their looks but on who they are.