Bruce Jenner’s announcement on Friday night with Diane Sawyer that he was, for all intents and purposes, a woman, was a groundbreaking moment. I felt moved emotionally as the significance of his words went far beyond his own personal narrative to touch upon a struggle that millions of others face – that of self-acceptance. Undoubtedly his message was one that will resonate deeply in the minds of many, serving to shatter societal-imparted prejudices.
There is no question that Bruce’s announcement required tremendous courage. Even more courage he has shown by holding steadfast to his desire to transition when it meant a complete rupture with his past. He must have been so deeply dissatisfied with his life that he is willing to risk everything in order to fulfill his desire.
There could not have been a better person to make this sort of announcement.
Bruce once represented the archetype of masculinity – embodying manly beauty in his youth, athletic triumph and paternal virility – that such a person can believe he was born the wrong gender is nothing short of mind blowing for most Americans.
Our society is so attached to artificial labels and identities: American, Christian, Muslim, Black, Rich, Poor. The real work Bruce has done by sharing his story is undermining this categorical way of thinking. It is as if the sky, always believed to be blue, was revealed to in fact be yellow. What else have you been wrong about all this time? What else did you think you know that could also be false? It is this type of second-hand certainty that must be destroyed. The only valid knowledge is that which comes from experience itself.
It seems that Bruce is on a journey of self-discovery. He has said that since he was a young boy he wanted to wear dresses. He said he believed his soul is that of a woman. When asked what he hopes to experience in becoming a woman, he said just to be able to wear nail polish long enough that it chips off by itself. These are very simple objectives. One does not even need to change sex to achieve them.
Our society has decided that dresses are to be worn by women only. It has decided that makeup and nail polish are firmly in the domain of the feminine. But there is nothing intrinsically feminine about a piece of cloth or nail lacquer. If a man wants to paint his nails and wear a long piece of cloth with uncomfortable shoes – whose business is it but his own? Why does gender even have to factor? One does not, presumably, assume the identity of a fish just by having a swim in the ocean. One does not become a bird by flying in an airplane.
When I was twenty, I went through a yearlong phase where I wore heavy makeup every day. I wore foundation, eyeliner, mascara, and contoured my face with blush and bronzer. I also had my hair cut and styled like Rihanna. I shaved my legs. I wore nail polish and women’s jewelry. I worked as a fashion stylist and because I was a women’s size zero, sometimes tried on the designer dresses for fun. Despite all of this, there was no question of wanting to be a woman. Because I allowed myself everything, there was no tension.
But for someone not allowed to indulge, who must engage in these activities in hiding, it becomes a sort of fetishized experience. It keeps growing and growing in the mind because it is repressed. Anything which is repressed will bubble up even bigger.
Bruce has experienced all of his life as a man and it did not fulfill him. Now he wants to experience life as a woman. Perfectly fine, acceptable. But how will becoming a woman fulfill him? If the secret to fulfillment were hidden in the female gender, then why aren’t all women fulfilled? The issue is that he is seeking fulfillment outside himself. He believes happiness can be found by wearing dresses and having female genitalia. But happiness is more elusive than that – it can’t be bought in Nordstrom or created in the operating room. It can only be found within.
Bruce wants to become a woman. He should do it – he is taking a step in the right direction by being honest with what he wants. He should live his desires fully, experience life as he has dreamt and wished it for so long. Only after he has lived it can he experience the emptiness even of that most fundamental change.