So Bruce Jenner has undergone gender reassignment surgery. Fantastic news.
And I say that not as a fan of Bruce, or the Kardashians (seriously, who would even admit to that!) but as a fan of people living their life in a way that makes them happy. Yes, changing gender is probably as extreme as it gets. But if that’s what it takes then it’s no-one’s business apart from the person suffering.
And suffering must be exactly what it feels like. Living every day as a lie. Imagine, whatever gender you are and feel happy with, that someone makes you act out the opposite gender every day. So for me, as a woman (and perfectly 100% happy with that), if someone told me I had to dress as a man, and go to men’s toilets, and look like a man, and answer to a man’s name – it would destroy the hell out of me. It would strip me of my identity, of my true self, and feel like I was lying to the world and myself (which, of course, I would be).
I don’t understand why that’s so difficult for many people to understand. Our mind is what makes us who we are – not our body. Our body is just a vessel. And bodies sometimes don’t develop quite as they should. People are born with physical disabilities because of how they developed in the womb – would you tell those people that they’re wrong? That they have the body they “should” have? Of course not.
And so I believe it is with trans-gender people. Whenever you read their story, they always say they were born with the wrong body. Bearing in mind the difference between male and female during development is just the splitting of a chromosome, its not hard to comprehend. It’s not their mind that is in the wrong. It’s just their physical vessel.
There’s a lot of vitriol and trolling on social media and chat forums from people who are either so narrow minded that they can’t comprehend anything different from themselves, or people who are just looking for a rise. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference (the unfortunate thing about the anonymity of the internet is that it gives people a mask to hide behind, and that there are some weird people who enjoy being mean to others). Unnecessary, horrible, vile words – the likes of which I wouldn’t say to my worst enemy. And I always think to myself, “imagine if it was you or someone in your family”.
Back to the celebrity side of things. Bruce Jenner is part of the very successful money making Kardashian brand, so a decision like this – going public – can’t have come easy. As an ex Olympian with grown up children – she’s lived the life of a “real man”. Her children are on TV. Her son-in-law is a rapper. These are all judgemental areas of life that she could jeopardise by finally being herself. But, however long it took her to get there, she obviously couldn’t live the lie anymore. And, based on news reports of how they’ve handled it (and this is something you will probably never hear me say again) I respect the Kardashians. Kim has been vocal about never having seen Bruce look happier, and how she will help her with styling. Even Kanye is reported to have been the one to help Kim come to terms with it (I still think that’s a PR stunt to make him look like less of a douche, but that’s another story). Kris has said Bruce is “her hero”. These are all beautiful reactions to a person that they love. Before all this, they might have had negative opinions of transgender people; not believing that it’s a mental issue, or even real. But, when faced with it, they have embraced Bruce as the person she is.
I know that people all over the world go through these kind of experiences day in day out, and don’t get the coverage or support or celebration that celebrities get. They may have to fight harder and longer to get a diagnosis, or treatment. But that doesn’t mean we should chastise the celebrities. In some ways it’s harder for them, as their struggle isn’t localised – it’s all over the media. Their every move, every look, every fashion choice is judged globally. Imagine the first time Bruce is seen, post-op, in women’s clothes. It will be everywhere.
I recently became aware, via the internet, of a little girl called Jazz Jennings.
When Jazz was born, she was physically a boy. But from a very young age, Jazz identified as a girl. Her parents have supported her, not pigeonholing her into being a boy or girl, but letting her make her own choices. There’s even more controversy around transgender children, purely because many people say they’re too young to know their own mind, that they may change as they get older. Again I would say that a feeling – a knowledge – as strong as this isn’t “just a fad”. But of course there are rules in place around surgery and such like that are there to protect children and avoid any mistakes being made (I have to say I’ve never read a case where a child has identified with an opposite gender and then “changed back”).
Jazz is now growing up, in her teens, and is a very vocal activist for LGBT rights and for transgender children. She’s appeared on TV, co-wrote a book aimed at children to promote understanding and is to star in a reality show. Clean & Clear have featured her in an ad campaign – groundbreaking move by them, and so important in “normalising” transgender people.
Jazz and her family have put themselves out there to increase understanding and acceptance. They could have kept it under wraps, done it quietly, let Jazz have a normal girl’s life. But she felt so strongly about her rights, and the rights of others like her, that she’s out there making a difference. Campaigning for equality. They established the TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation, to support other children in Jazz’s position. She isn’t unique – there are thousands more like her. Unfortunately not all of them will have the same happy ending due to misinformation, stereotyping and lack of compassion.
It’s heartbreaking that, in the 21st century, people should still have to carry a title .
Who cares if you’re gay, straight, transgender? What it comes down to is this. We’re all on earth for a relatively short time. If happiness is within your grasp then you owe it to yourself to pursue it. The journey may be hard, but the result will be worth it.