Defying Gender

There were three articles on the front page of last Sunday’s Los Angeles Times. Two of them reported on the violent earthquake that shook the impoverished country of Nepal, killing thousands there and elsewhere in the region, including mountain climbers in the Himalayas.

The third article –- ironically described as “ground-breaking,” -- was about the interview between chronically-sympathetic Diane Sawyer and former Olympic champion Bruce Jenner, better known to this generation as a member of the cash-cow Kardashian Empire.    

Defying gender norms is nothing new. Back in the ‘50s,former soldier George Jorgensen underwent a highly publicized transformative sex change and was known thereafter as Christine Jorgensen. But s/he was a relative unknown. The 66-year old Bruce Jenner has had a flourishing career in show business and other enterprises. He has been married three times and is the father of six children.

Since Jenner won his gold medal in the decathlon at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, he has gone from being on the Breakfast of Champions Wheaties box to establishing what’s dubbed as “The Official Website for the World’s Greatest Athlete.”

So for such a man to declare that he publicly identifies as a woman was sensational enough to draw over 17 million viewers to the Sawyer interview. Fans of the Kardashian family may have thought they’d reached the zenith of hype when Kim’s outrageously lavish and short-lived (71 days) marriage to basketball star Kris Humphries was televised worldwide. And then came her cheeky liaison with outspoken Kanye West.

But nothing spawned by the clan has titillated more traumatically than Bruce’s it’s-about-time revelation that “for all intents and purposes, I am a woman.” Actually, in the 1980s, he had begun a physical transition with hormone replacement therapy. But after he met and married Kris Kardashian, he stated a preference for being perceived as a male.

Now the perception has again changed. And if the story were Bruce’s alone, it might not pack so big a punch. But for the land of equality that seeks to minimize sex as a defining characteristic, America is more hooked on it than ever before. Strangely enough, sex has become the only physical aspect of one’s being that can now be “changed” not  only  by way of some invasive procedure, but by the simple declaration of a person’s intent. 

I happen to be a small woman. If I suddenly announced that I were a “tall” woman, I would be either ignored, humored, or considered delusional. However, if I stated emphatically that I was now a small “man,” I could be taken seriously, even if I had made no attempt to change my appearance and possessed no physical evidence of maleness. And in many places I could even use the men’s rest rooms. 

From a sexual standpoint, we are now apparently whatever we think we are. Living in a society in which a mark of progress is to erase all distinction between men and women, have we thus  arrived at  the point where  they are accepted, at will, as interchangeable? Is gender identity becoming a concept every bit as conclusive as gender itself? Certainly, wealthy people cannot apply for benefits simply because they perceive themselves as poor. (The Clintons are the exception.)

Those with a low I.Q. would not be considered brilliant just because they felt more comfortable viewed in that flattering light. Bill Clinton may have fancied himself the first “black president,” but he really wasn’t.

Yet in matters of sexuality, the psychological creep has exceeded the bounds of reason. In gay marriages, couples at least recognize that they are of the same sex. Now the line is being not so much blurred as trampled, with one’s sexual identity being whatever one chooses to make it. And since the criterion seems to be only a matter of what “feels right,” those who question the consequences of such arbitrary gender flexibility are condemned as dead wrong.

The transgender trend is becoming a matter of concern well beyond the sensational world of show biz. This unusual conundrum is now confronting the few remaining women’s colleges in America.  When young women accepted into such colleges subsequently declare themselves to be “men,” what is the course of action for the collegiate community? The idea of “sisterhood” is understandably strong in such women’s enclaves, and suddenly there are men in its midst. Often a sense of betrayal is mixed with a feeling of compassion, something transgenders might not feel on co-ed campuses.

In the upcoming election campaign, the charges of a war on women will be resurrected -- if they were ever dismantled -- and flung on the doorstep of conservatives. Already GOP candidates like Cruz, Walker, and Rubio are being asked personal, hypothetical questions as to whether they would attend the wedding of a gay couple of their acquaintance. For far too many liberals, beating ISIS, for example, is less important than beating down traditional views of sexuality and marriage, which they regard as more dangerous to their concept of America.

But sex itself will be hard to homogenize because it lies at the very core and survival of humanity. And if entertainment and social media are any indication, our attraction to standard sexuality is stronger than ever. Feminists who discount the difference between the sexes are matched by their counterparts who flaunt it. While some women see themselves as basically the same as men, others prefer being as conspicuously opposite from them as possible. Hence the bikinis on beaches during Spring Break; the near-nudity in movies; the provocative commercials even to sell a hamburger or soft drink; the Hollywood hunks in People magazine; and the cleavage and thighs on the red carpets of Hollywood.  

There are reportedly some 700,000 transgender Americans. For those struggling with sexual identity, Bruce Jenner is being credited with giving them a recognizable voice. But a lot more is going on here than a change of sex or even a sea-change in societal attitudes. Defying the logical boundaries at the heart of something as basic as sex leads us to worry that when anything goes, everything follows.     

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