Well, Bruce Jenner is a woman now. Seems like a simple enough thing to understand, doesn’t it? I don’t have to explain it to you folks, but that’s because you’re adults. If you’re the least bit socially aware, you know what being transgender means. You can deduce what transitioning is, and you know that Bruce Jenner has transitioned. Anyone who needs further explanation is either old, an idiot, a bigot, or some combination of the three.
But the case isn’t closed on this Jenner situation. As a parent, I’m outraged. Because Bruce Jenner’s transition isn’t just between him and his doctor, it also involves me and my child. I have to find a way to explain all of this to him, because as a parent, the most important thing in the world is making sure your child is up to date on pop culture ephemera. My son needs to know who Iggy Azalea is dating. He needs to know where Kanye goes on vacation. And he needs to know that Bruce Jenner is the proper gender.
Last night I sat my son down and tried to explain it to him.
“Honey, I need to talk to you about something,” I said.
“You may have heard the news about Bruce Jenner…”
“Who is Bruce Jenner?”
I took a deep breath and placed a hand on my son’s lumpy, little fat shoulder.
“Well, he was a successful athlete in the seventies but now he’s a reality star.”
“What’s a reality star?”
“Honey, it’s someone we humiliate in the public eye in exchange for money.”
“But listen, honey, that’s not what’s important. Something bad has happened to Bruce Jenner.”
“No! Not Bruce Jenner!”
Mason began to cry and his hammy fist clutched my pant leg. I tried to console him.
“Yes, honey I’m sorry.”
“Did he die mommy?”
“No, honey. He didn’t die. ”
“Did he get hurt?”
“Well, no not really.”
“Did he go to live on a farm with a bunch of other Grandpas?”
“What?” I asked. My father was dead, at least to me, and that’s what I had told my son when I cut him out of our life.
“Did he go to a big farm to live with a bunch of other grandpas, like Grandpa did?” he asked again.
“Honey, Grandpa is dead,” I insisted.
“No Mommy, he went to live on a farm with a bunch of other Grandpas.”
My jaw tightened. Somehow my son must have discovered the postcard from my father’s new home, a gay sex colony in the Philipines for retired men. It was the last correspondence I had received from him before I cut him out of our lives.
“No, Mason, look, Grandpa is dead to us. Which is the same as being dead for real.”
“No, shut up,” I put my hand tight over his mouth and rubbed his head. His resistance waned and I tried to rein in the conversation.
“Listen to me. Can we talk about Bruce Jenner or not?” I asked, uncovering his mouth.
“Honey Bruce Jenner has transitioned…”
“Transitioned? What does that mean, mama?”
“Well,” I began, thinking about how I could explain Jenner’s sex change in PG terms. “Transition means to become something different than you were before.”
“Like a reality star?”
“No it’s different than that. See he used to be a man, but now he’s a woman.”
My son sat motionless and stared at me as I placed my arm back on his dopey shoulder.
“You can cry more if you want to.”
“Why would I cry, mama?”
“Because Bruce Jenner isn’t a man anymore.”
“Why would I cry about that?”
I felt my frustration grow. Rubbing my temples I tried my best to spell it out for him.
“Because honey, he wasn’t born a woman. He was born a man. You can’t change genders. It’s wrong.”
“Does it say it’s wrong in the bible?”
“Well, no. But it’s wrong to change genders.”
“Because you just can’t do it! You have to stay the thing you got in the beginning! That’s how everything works. You know how at school you have assigned seating? They do that because it makes sense. You go in, you have the same seat every day. It’s fair and it creates order and that’s the way people like it.”
“They stopped doing assigned seating at school.”
“They said it hindered our creativity and that having to find a seat every morning helped us get into problem solving mode and develop a latent sense of diplomacy.”
I narrowed my eyes at him.
“What kind of fag liberal school…” I began, steeling myself and returning to the topic at hand. “Look honey, don’t argue with me. It’s bad that Bruce Jenner is a woman now and you’re going to be mad about it and that’s that.”
“But I’m not mad about it.”
Hot daggers ran up my neck. I was furious now. Before I knew it, my fist had drawn back, and my trembling knuckles cast an oscillating shadow on Mason’s face like the homing reticle of a high-tech missile finding its target. Mason cowered, my point was made, and I left the room without having accomplished my simple goal: to make sure my son was as mad about Bruce Jenner’s transition as I was.
Not knowing how to explain electrical outlets to my son is one thing. Fuck it, I say to myself. Let him stick the paper clip in there. Then he’ll know that I’m right. But when I can’t explain my emotions to my son, it makes me look foolish in his eyes. It makes me feel foolish. And it makes me want to hurt him. And that’s the fault of Bruce Jenner.
Parenthood is a burden, but it’s also an opportunity. A child is our only real way to control our narratives externally. Sure, we can believe things about ourselves and work through positive affirmations, but at the end of the day, our negative perceptions of ourselves creep through because we’re the only people that really think highly of ourselves. You can’t get your coworkers or even your friends to believe you’re perfect, but you can certainly make your child think so.
That’s something that Bruce Jenner, as a mother, should understand, and if he had any class or decency, he’d go back to being a man, so the rest of us can go back to being good moms.