Caitlyn Jenner is High Femme, Get Over It
by Be Scofield
It’s happening already. Just a day after Caitlyn Jenner has graced the cover of Vanity Fair I’m seeing Facebook & Tumblr posts, comments and links to blogs from trans and queer folks attacking Jenner’s femininity. I’ve already heard her decried as nothing but a “feminine stereotype” wearing a “Marilyn Monroe type bathing suit.” I’ve learned that Jenner is embracing an “impossible beauty standard that is being shoved down our throat.” One trans guy wondered “Does she have to look like a pin up model? Or do these Sheras make for pretty gawkery?” Another trans person says that Jenner is merely fueling “the belief that being trans is only okay if you look socially acceptable,” that the photo shoot depicts Jenner as “half-naked” and that her preference of gender presentation is merely a “surgically created idea of womanhood.” They go on to say “it’s not a revolutionary act of self-love and acceptance…to surgically alter your appearance.”
This is a form of femmephobia and transmisogyny and it needs to stop. It’s time for the gender police to retire. Jenner is being herself and this binary expression is just as legitimate as any other non-binary gender presentation.
The attacks on Jenner’s femininity represent transmisogyny and femmephobia because there is a glaring double standard here. You won’t hear a famous cisgender female movie actress accused of being too feminine or a stereotype for wearing a dress. You won’t hear folks attacking trans men for being too handsome or dapper or embracing some “masculine stereotype.” You also won’t hear someone decry a trans man as wearing a “David Hasselhoff” type bathing suit and setting “an impossible handsome standard.” And you won’t hear buff trans men decried as “Heman” or chastized for appearing “half-naked.” No one will say “Does he have to look like a playgirl model?” Yet, in just one day since Caitlyn’s news I’ve seen all of these types of negative comments about her. While my social media stream may not be the end all be all, I’m sure that where there is smoke there is fire.
It’s widely believed both in queer and straight communities that masculinity is natural and acceptable while femininity is artificial, costume like, stereotypical and unnecessary. This is why transgender men can take on a binary, conventionally masculine appearance and avoid the scorn of trans/queer folks and others. You won’t hear queer/trans folks telling trans men to downplay their masculinity in order to preserve more femininity. One commenter says about Caitlyn, “Enough with feminine stereotypes. Hardly anyone really looks like that.” There are just as many (or few) men who look like Aydian Dowling (picture left) as there are women who look like Caitlyn, yet where is the outcry against Aydian for holding up impossible handsome standards or a “masculine stereotype?” One writer says that Jenner’s transition will enforce the “dehumanizing strictures of womanhood.” Do all famous femme women, whether trans or not, enforce the “dehumanizing strictures of womanhood?” Do the public transitions of Chaz Bono or Adyian enforce the “dehumanizing strictures of manhood?”
Additionally, famous trans men like Chaz and Adyian can spend tens of thousands of dollars on breast removals, phalloplasties, hormones or other surgeries and not be subjected to questions about the costs or importance of them. In contrast, if a trans woman like Caitlyn Jenner gets facial feminization surgery, among other things, then it needs to be pointed out how inaccessible the cost is or “unrealistic” the need is for these types of procedures are. Comments like these about Caitlyn are case and point: “It costs a great deal of money to look like that. I don’t know too many folks who have that kind of cash.” Again, I really don’t hear these same points raised about prominent trans men in the public eye (or trans men in general). One must ask if this “concern” is really about accessibility or more about people being suspicious as to why someone would spend large sums of money to become feminine in a culture that still shuns femininity. Or furthermore, the concern is rooted in the belief that these surgeries are more frivolous than female to male surgeries.
Caitlyn Jenner’s public transition is a great moment for trans awareness. I fully support using this opportunity to raise attention to the barriers to healthcare and transitioning surgeries. It’s also a great chance to discuss the varieties of gender expressions that don’t neatly fit into the binary. However, rather than chastizing those who transition into a binary and can afford surgeries for setting an “unrealistic standard” lets work to make these procedures more accessible to anyone who wants them. Let’s create a more gender fabulous world where all gender expressions, whether femme, butch or gender queer are not just tolerated and included but celebrated.
I’m seeing more and more articles being published with doomsday titles like “One Step Forward for Caitlyn Jenner, One Step Back for Womankind” and “The Price of Caitlyn Jenner’s Heroism.” It’s unthinkable that stepping into femininity and embracing it could actually be a step forward for womankind, let alone for a trans woman. This must just be a complete construction, a fabrication, an entire ruse promoted by patriarchy. It’s not. Jenner has been duped. She hasn’t. No doubt a mix of social forces are always at play, but that’s true for every gender presentation. Rather than blaming Jenner for a step backward for “womankind” can we have a more nuanced conversation about trans identity, gender expression, social influences and patriarchy?
Many people enjoy a high femme gender expression. Caitlyn Jenner is one of millions of them. Get over it.
About Be Scofield
Be Scofield, founder of Decolonizing Yoga, is a queer/trans writer, activist, Dr. King scholar and web/interaction/graphic designer who specializes in helping progressive and alternative health platforms shine. Her work on spirituality, social justice and atheism has appeared in Tikkun Magazine,
Huffington Post and Alternet and she has a chapter in the book “21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics & Practice.” She taught a graduate course called “Dr. King and Empire: How Martin Luther King Jr. Resisted War, Capitalism and Christian Fundamentalism.” You can follow her on facebook here.