Bruce, Darling, You Look Fabulous

Caitlyn Jenner: the most talked about person of 2015. Previously know as Bruce Jenner, team USA’s 1976 Olympic decathlon champion, television personality and father of six. In his college years Bruce played American Football and later took full advantage of his Olympic success, forging a career in television, film, auto racing, and business. But it turns out that this apparent model of masculinity, has secretly identified as a female for over 5 decades. Now Bruce has made the decision to make his exterior match his interior, a decision that has received a mixed bag of reactions. A lot consider it bravery, others aren’t impressed with Bruce putting on a dress and suggest Caitlyn should be more concerned with parental duties. Personally I’m indifferent towards the Kardashian-Jenner dynasty, however Bruce’s coming out party has opened the door to a pretty interesting conversation. The gap between sex and gender has been highlighted and can no longer be ignored.

Before & After
Before & After

Caitlyn and I are cut from a very different cloth, or in my case Kente. I can’t relate to Caitlyn on personal level, in the past I would have objected to her choice. For a long time anyone who stood outside the bubble of what I saw as the sexual norms made me feel uncomfortable. These anxieties are frowned upon, but I think they’re quite natural prior to being educated on the issue. I still can’t separate myself 100% from my prejudices, but I try my best. I come from a very religious background, and was always lead to believe that people with alternative lifestyles were just ‘confused.’ But gender and sexuality don’t seem black and white anymore, more like a spectrum, bendable and flexible. Honestly prejudice is something i’d like to see eradicated from the world, I believe In being the change you want to see, so objecting to someone’s lifestyle wouldn’t make sense, unless it’s actively harmful to themselves or others. I can’t imagine how distressing it must be to told that everybody fits into certain categories, only to find when you look at all the boxes on the list you can’t to tick even one. Truthfully I still find the concept confusing, but I don’t have to understand it in order to accept and respect it.

Surveys show, 4.6% of the U.S. population have reported a suicide attempt. This stat climbs to between 10 and 20% for gays or bisexuals and 41% for trans or gender non-conforming people. These numbers are alarmingly high considering the small size transgender of community, but not surprising. If we dumb it down, these rates reflect the reaction, confusion and in some cases disappointment that come with being openly trans. But why? Why is the reaction so visceral? We have facilitated so much change in other areas of lifestyle so why do gender roles remain so rigid in the minds of the majority? It could be argued that there’s a sense of necessity behind it all, that certain things are hard-wired into our DNA. This might be countered this with the suggestion that masculinity and femininity aren’t real dispositions but are instead learned, that people are programmed to think and act a certain way. I couldn’t really tell you which is correct but its clear that the human condition has moved far past it’s default hunter-gatherer stage, maybe to a point where physiology is no longer the key determinant of certain behaviours. The stigma surrounding the LGBT community is perpetuated by a lot of things particular religious fundamentalism. This is evident in the biblical narrative, which has and always will be part of western conscious: Eve is made from Adam’s rib, his ‘inessential’ parts, their roles are separate but they work in tandem Eve can be definitely be seen as Adam subordinate. When Adam mimics Eve it leads to destruction of their society, creating the view that male participation in ‘feminine’ activity is inessential and even dangerous.

Australian actress and model Ruby Rose

Ruby Rose is case counter to Caitlyn’s. Ruby is willing to sit in the space between masculine and feminine Ruby stating in an interview “I feel like I’m neither, yeah… I don’t feel like I should’ve been born with different parts of my body or anything like that. I feel like it’s just all in how I dress and how I talk and how I look and feel, and that makes me happy.” Unlike Ruby, Caitlyn is adamant that she wants to be seen as a woman but at the same time seems reluctant to under go reassignment and has confirmed she is still attracted and enjoys intercourse with women. The fact that two trans individuals have gone down such different roads again indicates the extreme fluidity of gender. So then how important is appearance in terms of negotiating gender, if a man consistently wears dresses is this effeminate and should he be classed as a woman? Today’s fashion seems to be coming a bit more gender fluid, mens t-shirts are getting longer and coming with curved hems, stars like Kanye West and A$AP FERG have been seen wearing, what can only be described as a skirt or dress. In a recent talk at Oxford, Ferg even mentioned wearing female jeans. Though some might try, neither of the two could have their masculinity put into question, the former is married to arguably the most attractve women on the planet, while the latter is a known womaniser and recently caught a lot of flack, for detailing how he ejaculated in singer song writer Rita Ora’s mouth. Its interesting that today a man’s appearance is put under so much scrutiny while gender is at its most fluid when in the past the line between male and female attire was a lot slimmer. Does this mean masculinity has become less pronounced or obvious and requires a greater exterior indicator?

Now here is where I might offend a few people and please understand that if I do, this is not my intention, my tone is one of intrigue, not condescension. Is sex reassignment surgery a good solution?  When a man says he ‘feel like a women’ what does that mean? He might mean it whole-heartedly but it’s not literally true, it can’t be. As far as we know its not biologically possible; a man will never experience a monthly cycle, his body won’t secrete the appropriate levels of oestrogen etc.  Then does he simply want the aesthetic of a female and the treatment that comes with it? It seems to me what is really being expressed here is how ill suited and uncomfortable someone feels with the specific gender roles expected of them and a desire for the ability to participate in behaviours or activities reserved to the opposite sex. The surgery seems more aesthetic than functional. Patients are given a new set of genitalia but aren’t fitted with a womb and require drugs to affect hormone levels. Other than allowing for frontal penetrative sex, the importance of which being dependent on sexual preference, what does it do? Granted it makes it easier to manoeuvre more freely in world of feminine activity, but even this is somewhat limited, especially if an individuals status as a trans is known openly. For some the surgery might only offer a simulation of what was desired and this might not be enough, leading to a greater level of discomfort than in the first instance. Perhaps In the future science will enhance the procedure.

We are moving toward a place where our physical attributes bear less and less significance in our functions as male and female. Though the body determines our status as man or women how much longer will it define our status as masculine or feminine?


2 thoughts on “Bruce, Darling, You Look Fabulous

  1. Interesting piece, I imagined it would come up on here at some point!

    Kudos for being willing to pose what, as you rightly note, are controversial questions. The whole Caitlyn Jenner thing has, in some ways, accelerated the whole issue of transgenderism by about 10 years in the public consciousness – but that hasn’t given time for the average person to ask those kind of questions or say what they instinctively feel. When questions and concerns like yours are expressed, they’re often (it seems to me) shut down and condemned by a certain intelligentsia who have been into this issue for years, who have defined among themselves what you can and can’t say and how you should say it, but don’t seem to understand that your average person on the street really has no clue how to get their head around all this. People get penalised for fouling in a language game that no one has taught them how to play, and you get Twitter accounts devoted to trawling the Internet for any example of someone using an incorrect pronoun.

    An interesting double strain seems to running through popular media at the moment also. On the one hand: blogs like this and other stuff I’ve seen is highlighting a modern masculinity crisis (which I hugely applaud). Yet, parallel, is the increasing popular acceptance of the idea of gender fluidity. The two seem to have most met head-on in clashes between so-called “radical feminists” and the trains community. Would be interested to see any thoughts on that from you guys. Would an embrace of total gender fluidity undermine the endeavour of a blog like this?


    1. Hi Rhys, a long overdue reply to your insightful comment.

      For me, this idea of gender fluidity SHOULD only enhance blogs like this. I believe a lot of what masculinity studies is addressing is masculinity’s pragmatic nature. The idea of masculinities rather than a fixed masculinity. This entirely draws on feminism and finds much solidarity with it. But unfortunately, yes, there are those who don’t fully understand what we are truly trying to do and believed we are simply detracting from the feminist struggle, or completely miss the mark and think we support male superiority. This of course couldn’t be further from the truth. Gender studies does (or at least should) include the study of masculinity, as it necessary and very much stands hand-in-hand with feminism in trying to denounce the idea of a hegemonic masculinity and fixed gender roles….Although saying all this, I am just speaking for myself and some other writers on masculinity may feel differently.


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