The Spectacle that is Jenner

JennerPlayboy_pe2By Helen Hill MA MFT

The “celebration” of Caitlyn Jenner (noticeably, spelt without the signature Kardashian “K”) that
took place on the recent cover of Vanity Fair had enormous potential to open minds, alter perceptions, and glaringly challenge the status quo of what it means to be a “man,” a “woman,” and that mysterious third category—“trans.” And yet it did not. Not only did it not live up to its potential in breaking societal male/female constructs, but it came strikingly close to a celebration, not of Caitlyn Jenner, but of the 1950s female pinup archetype.   (It seems not a coincidence that the Jenner Vanity Fair cover looks astoundingly similar to a 1950s Playboy bunny.)  Or, as we know it, what some sexists (both male and female) in Hollywood think a woman “should be.” Why am I not surprised? Jenner, Vanity Fair, and the business that is the Kardashian family is, at its core, pure Hollywood.  And that, in itself, should be a concern.

To me, the Caitlyn spectacle is currently no more than a Hollywood-celebrity-guy becoming a Hollywood-celebrity-girl whose “transformation” has played strongly to rigid gender and sexuality stereotypes standard in the Business, and whose femininity was oversexualized by a magazine catering to a traditional celebrity aesthetic. And I am shocked at how easily some applaud the pursuit of extreme stereotypes of gender as some kind of reflection of the acceptance of transfolk into the greater culture.  It seems that, in America, as in Hollywood, image is truly everything.

There are thousands of transfolk whose body types don’t fit the “normal,” much less the celebrity-desired aesthetic. These people have not been offered TV shows, high profile interviews, or thousands of notes of support. Far from it! These people have faced rejection over and over and over again; they have lost jobs, housing, health care, families, neighbors, religious communities, and more because of their departure from “normal.”   Many have lived homeless despite having PhDs or other graduate-level degrees, highly-sought after skills, and excellent ethics and work habits.  Coming out as their true selves put them in an “untouchable” caste to be ostracized and set aside.  It cost them everything.

So many paid dearly. I paid dearly.

Most of all, my children and my ex paid dearly.

In other words, the people I love most paid the highest price for me to finally face myself and become a real human being, and, hopefully, a kind and decent one too.  And it is on me to honor them by working hard every day to be that good and loving person they believed in when I didn’t believe in myself.  I can never tell you what I owe them.  They are truly the best part of me.

I am one of the lucky ones. I can put a roof over my head. I have some friends who love and accept me. I don’t ask for much, just please don’t hurt me.

But seeing how willingly young men and women accept this celebrity culture aesthetic and ignore the rest of us who don’t fit it, leads me to believe nothing has really changed.

With this new Caitlyn media craze and the related information and perceptions (and misinformation and misperceptions) now inserted into our cultural discourse, I and other “normal” transfolk have to again confront our own ideas of gender and how we manifest our gender in this world. I question myself to make sure I am me. And I strive to express myself safely so that I am not harassed, bullied, jobless or homeless.

As of now, everything I’ve seen about this messy business with Jenner is about adopting extreme gender roles—first as the ultimate male (Olympic champion), and now the ultimate female (sex and glamour). Someday Jenner will figure out what is really the best manifestation for herself. It almost seems as if it is a caricature, a set of extreme ideas of gender being manifested.  It seems unreal and I cannot relate.  The celebrity trans norm cannot help promote safety and security for “real” transfolk without the cadre of supporters or the backing of millions of dollars. But then again, this transformation was about Bruce and Caitlyn. It was not about me or you.

Jenner could not be where she is without the fact that thousands of us have gone before, without fanfare, without support, and without acceptance, must less tolerance.  We’ve trudged through when it wasn’t popular, newsworthy, or safe.  No awards are given to those of us who have survived horrific conditions to build our lives anew.  But then again, we weren’t looking for any.  It is the height of irony that Jenner is receiving an award for what thousands of transfolk have done for years, and continue to do, sacrificing everything in the hope to live in quiet and simple dignity.

Transfolks continue to be bullied, harassed, sexually assaulted, and murdered.  Even this week. None of what Jenner is doing, nor what the celebrity culture is promoting, has or will change that, in my opinion.

In all of this, the celebrity class divide has remained such a chasm that Caitlyn and her supporters still don’t see the rest of us, must less muster any empathy or compassion for our plight. Where are our voices in all of this? Where is the support? Where is our story?

As of now, it seems that Jenner and Hollywood haven’t changed a damn thing about gender stereotypes. And that they may have done more harm than good with the sexualized Vanity Fair spread.

I would ask that, and continue to have hope that, as time goes on other trans celebrities or leaders will welcome the monetary and emotional support that they receive and give it back to the cause and their peers who are still suffering deeply each day. Donate photoshoot fees (I’m speaking directly to you, Ms. Jenner) to clinics, housing services, job advocates and other services that reach out to those transfolk who do not fit gender stereotypes and who are not welcomed by society with open arms. Do your part to help those who helped pave the road before you. Be a good and kind girl, guy, man, woman, trans person. Honor all humanity.

1/3 of Male University Student Respondents Would Rape a Woman if there were no Consequences, According to Study

Sadly, I read about a new study  in the science journal Violence and Gender, titled “Denying Rape but Endorsing Forceful Intercourse: Exploring Differences Among Responders”, where one third of male responders in the study would rape a woman if there were no consequences.

Quoting from The Independent:

“Amongst other questions they were asked how they would act in a situation where they could have sexual intercourse with a woman against her will “if nobody would ever know and there wouldn’t be any consequences”.

31.7% of all men participating in the study would force a woman to have sexual intercourse in such a “consequence-free situation” – which is rape.

Worryingly, most men who indicated that they would commit rape did not even recognise their actions as such.

When explicitly asked whether they would rape a woman if there were no consequences, only 13.6% of participants said they would do so, a marked fall on those who had described that they would commit rape.”

For some reason, the male respondents, when the action was made clear that what would be happening was legally defined as rape, lowered the percentage saying they would still rape a woman.

There seems to be a disconnect among the male respondents about what IS rape.  And somehow this disconnect seems to maintain that it is NOT rape if it is a consequence-free situation.

It appears there is still lots of work to do with education and ethics for university college males.

Link to the study: http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/pdf/10.1089/vio.2014.0022

Link to the article: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/a-third-of-male-university-students-say-they-would-rape-a-woman-if-there-no-were-no-consequences-9978052.html

The Strange Case of An 18th-Century Sex Change Surgery [newrepublic.com]

by Alice Robb / newrepublic.com

One day in 1779, a London couple, seeking treatment for their seven-year-old daughter, showed up at the Soho Square Dispensary for the Relief of the Infant Poor. The first doctor thought she might have a hernia. The second had a different idea.

“I shall not trouble the reader with the surprise into which the parents were thrown when I first told them their child was not a girl, as they had supposed, but a boy,” wrote the second doctor. The case was recently discovered in the archives of the University of Kansas and written up in the latest issue of the journal Sexualities.

mistakenIn the early 2000s, Carol Warrenthen a professor of sociology at the University of Kansaswas researching the history of electricity in the college’s rare books library when she noticed an old pamphlet with an eye-catching title: “The case of a boy who had been mistaken for a girl; with three anatomical views of the parts, before and after the operation and cure,” by a surgeon called Thomas Brand. “I was looking through a bunch of materials that had been shoved together, and this one appeared,” recalls Warren.

According to Brand’s report, published in 1787, he noticed an “irregularity” in the patient’s “external parts.” After further examination, he concluded that the child’s “part, which had the appearance of the labia pudenda, was in fact the scrotum,” and suggested an “operation to free the penis from its confinement.” He went ahead and made some alterations, enabling the childwhose name is unknown“to urinate standing up, wear trousers, and enjoy the privileges of being a male.” Brand, who practiced at the Royal Hospital at Greenwich, was “not a quack,” according to Mary Fissell, a professor of the History of Medicine at Johns Hopkins who I spoke to on the phone.

Eight pages long, with three illustrations of the child’s anatomy, the pamphlet may describe one of the earliest instances of sex-change surgery. “The first case that I found (in America) was in the 1840s, and it was received quite critically by fellow physicians,” writes Elizabeth Reis, author of Bodies in Doubt: An American History of Intersex and professor of women’s and gender studies at the University of Oregon, in an email.

Brand saw the operation not as sex change, but as a means of returning the child to his “proper” gender; Brand seemed to believe that only two distinct sexes were possible. He denied the existence of hermaphrodites, although he was familiar with the concept: “The term ‘hermaphrodite’ is properly understood as an animal that has both the male and female organs equally and perfectly formed,” he wrote. “But,” he goes on, “There is no reason to believe that such a case ever had existence in the human subject.”

Brand’s attitude toward sex and gender was consistent with the predominant view of his time; according to eighteenth-century norms, sex was a medical fact that had nothing to do with choice or personal expression. In fact, neither the patient nor his parents seem to have even been consulted. “Gender wasn’t conceived of as a form of identity,” says Warren. “It was conceived of as a form of body.” The idea of a person being “transgender,” of course, is not something that would enter common conception until about two centuries later.

Click on the link continue reading the article…

Right-wing preacher condemns Star Trek Into Darkness for bestiality [io9.com]

by Lauren Davis, io9.com

Right-wing preacher condemns Star Trek Into Darkness for bestiality

Reformation Church pastor Kevin Swanson recently went on his Generations with Vision radio show to condemn Star Trek Into Darkness because it shows James Kirk in a post-coital bed with members of the “wrong species.” To which we can only respond—has Swanson ever seen Star Trek?

* Link to radio broadcast: https://soundcloud.com/rightwingwatch/swanson-star-trek-evolution

On a June episode of Generations with Vision, Swanson explained that he wasn’t going to take his children to see the new Star Trek movie because Star Trek—and evolutionary theory, he claimed—promotes interspecies romance, which is equivalent to bestiality in his estimation:

Swanson: Do I really want to take my kids to watch a movie that implicates the good guy in the film as mating with the wrong species- but not just one, but two.

Beuhner: Well you know I could understand that Christians would get upset if it was a male of a different species. No actually, I’m not sure that the bestiality and the homosexuality are really all that different.

Swanson: So uh Dave I said to myself we’re not gonna go see that movie. So, you know, you gotta draw the line somewhere don’t ya? I mean, ay yay yay. And how many Christians asked that question? I actually did a survey, I mean I went on to Google and kind of goggled, you know, Christian sites, I mean I try not to put the wrong kind of wording into the Google search, cause if you do that, you can be in a heap of trouble. So I did a little search, turns out there was a Catholic site, had a little forum discussion on the issue. And nobody brought up Leviticus 18 Dave, and of course the whole premise of this is that within an evolutionary construct there is no real problem with speciation and cross-species mating, there’s no problem with that at all, in fact that’s how you evolve, that’s how you get evolution, and so the end result of course is that evolution has no basic problem with bestiality or cross-species mating. Okay? Now some of you are saying that I can’t believe these guys are saying this on this radio program. I can’t believe I’m saying this either. They are going places where no man has gone before. Or should.

Well, if Swanson has some kind of beef with Terran-alien miscegenation, then he has a big issue with the whole mission behind Star Trek. After all, the original series gave us a half human/half Vulcan first officer, and from Kirk onwards, the characters have engaged in plenty of interspecies romance, often to show that deep down, we aren’t all that different. But even if they have lion tails, these characters are portrayed as consenting adults. (Okay, there was that one episode of Voyager in which Janeway and Paris de-evolve into lizard creatures, but at least they do it simultaneously.) But apparently Swanson’s issue has nothing to do with consent, and everything to do with the participants being members of the “other.”

But Swanson is no stranger to creating controversy. Last year, he slammed the Jim Henson Company for parting ways with Chick-Fil-A over the fast food company’s anti-gay stance. More recently, he’s called feminists “family-destroying whores,” and warned that members of the gay community would “burn Christians at the stake.” So his preaching is based on a rather loose contact with reality—and fiction, for that matter.

Swanson: Star Trek Promotes Bestiality, Children’s Show Superhero ‘Probably Fighting Christians’ [Right Wing Watch] and Star Trek promotes bestiality because Kirk sleeps with alien chicks, religious right says [America Blog]

http://io9.com/right-wing-preacher-condemns-star-trek-into-darkness-fo-683228506

When Taking Multiple Husbands Makes Sense [theatlantic.com]

Historically, polyandry was much more common than we thought.

by Alice Dreger / Northwestern University / theatlantic.com

For generations, anthropologists have told their students a fairly simple story about polyandry — the socially recognized mating of one woman to two or more males. The story has gone like this:

While we can find a cluster of roughly two dozen societies on the Tibetan plateau in which polyandry exists as a recognized form of mating, those societies count as anomalous within humankind. And because polyandry doesn’t exist in most of the world, if you could jump into a time machine and head back thousands of years, you probably wouldn’t find polyandry in our evolutionary history.

That’s not the case, though, according to a recent paper in Human Nature co-authored by two anthropologists, Katherine Starkweather, a PhD candidate at the University of Missouri, andRaymond Hames, professor of anthropology at the University of Nebraska. While earning her masters under Hames’ supervision, Starkweather undertook a careful survey of the literature, and found anthropological accounts of 53 societies outside of the “classic polyandrous” Tibetan region that recognize and allow polyandrous unions. (Disclosure: I first learned of Starkweather’s project while researching a controversy involving Hames and he is now a friend.)

Indeed, according to Starkweather and Hames, anthropologists have documented social systems for polyandrous unions “among foragers in a wide variety of environments ranging from the Arctic to the tropics, and to the desert.” Recognizing that at least half these groups are hunter-gatherer societies, the authors conclude that, if those groups are similar to our ancestors — as we may reasonably suspect — then “it is probable that polyandry has a deep human history.”
Rather than treating polyandry as a mystery to be explained away, Starkweather and Hames suggest polyandry constitutes a variation on the common, evolutionarily-adaptive phenomenon of pair-bonding — a variation that sometimes emerges in response to environmental conditions.

Click to read the rest of the article…