I Am ... Cait?
Cue the scary music. Cue Rod Serling somewhere in writer's heaven…
Picture, if you will, the following: Somewhere inside a large Nashville hotel not long ago, a former athletic champion is beginning to come to terms with his hidden gender. Standing in front of a mirror inside his room, two thoughts may have entered his mind as he prepared to undertake one of the more risk-filled challenges of his life:
“These shoes hurt” and “Oh G-d, what am I doing?”
He is a reasonably successful motivational speaker in town to address a tanning industry convention. He would not be the first traveling professional to cross-dress in a public setting far from the prying eyes of home. There is a long history of (mostly) males taking these types of jobs to be “themselves” just for that reason. Some of them may have been using the experience to embrace, or reject, their very secret identities. Some may have just liked wearing the right clothes for a change. Our subject may have been doing both.
Courage in that moment probably required baby steps...very careful baby steps in those wobbly high heels as he, now a she, stepped out onto the room’s balcony overlooking a dimly lit indoor atrium. She would probably not risk the journey downstairs to the main lobby or visit any of the hotel’s restaurants. She most likely settled for a quick stroll along the enclosed hallways high above the bustle, thinking the upcoming exercise in femininity would be risky enough as is was.
She may have been attempting this for herself; perhaps also as a therapist's requirement too. But just before she left the room to face her fears, she probably gripped that balcony rail, stared down at the people far below, and asked herself a potentially life-changing question:
“Can I really do this?”
I have a somewhat unique problem in my personal transgender journey. I recognized that I should have been a girl around age five. The difficulty was that I also identified as a lesbian around that age too (my military childhood was chock-full of lesbians). I have always thought like a gay girl, been mainly attracted to gay girls and felt far more comfortable in their company than with the straight variety. I like my hair nice and short, prefer the tasteful power lesbian fashions my sister-in-law suggests to me, and have absolutely no desire to wear makeup...although I really should learn how...soon. I have no problem being assertive in my personal affairs and consider myself to be a butch-leaning feminist woman. However, I still do not publicly refer to myself as that just yet. That privilege is earned in my opinion, never given, and I have far more dues to pay.
Ms. Caitlyn Jenner seems to have chosen a more traditional transgender presentation and in a very public fashion too. No one should say that her coming out in the media last year was not a watershed moment for LGBTQ nation on par with other victories. We had our first really famous person publicly step out of the T closet for all to see. But I do share some of the guarded skepticism expressed by my non-trans friends about how all this looks and is being handled. Frankly, she looks fabulous...way too fabulous. She’s not Barbie in the Malibu dreamhouse sans Ken, but seems to come reasonably close. Yes, she lost her marriage in the transition and her very famous (for some reason) kids have had to adjust to the new paradigm too. But all things considered, she seems to have come through pretty darn well compared to the majority of novice transgender experiences. Her revelation led to a multi-million dollar television deal and a shot at icon status. My revelation led to a one-way ticket to military school. Timing is everything, I guess…
Caitlyn’s journey into LGBTQ daylight is much the same as anyone else, produced and directed by acolytes of the Dick Clark coaching tree of course, but real nonetheless. We have all been there in one way or another in a far more private fashion. Eighteen months in and a few public gaffes later, she's still family. The training wheels are off and she seems to be over the “look how radical and out!” phase of the journey as news breaks of her television programme’s demise. The main difference between the overwhelming majority of the tribe and Caitlyn, other than we don't get the dreamhouse or the super-cool famous friends, is that we get to make our gaffes without cameras rolling. High school and college were our training grounds. We had a G-ddess-given right to explore our unrequested blessings in creative and occasionally stupid ways that no one outside a select few would know truly know about.
Public personalities usually do not get this advantage with work and paycheques on the line (as many a closeted journalist will attest). But successful people also go through that deep and very personal hell that most LGBTQ folks suffer when adjusting to being a minority in a rather heterosexual world. Driven types tend to put their real identities on hold until achieving what seems to be a more important and reachable goal again...and again. It is only when their intentionally busy lives slow down long enough that they can no longer ignore what their soul has always been telling them...and they run out of reasons to delay.
Should she have done this in front of the cameras? Good question. I think she probably made a very smart move by doing so for at least one good reason: the tabloids were going to out her anyway. Why not make the most of it and collect a large paycheque for herself while shining a light on the cause for all to see? Many transgendered people have done this for far less fame on the Internet and her programme has allowed America to get an up close and personal look at who transgendered people are and how they really tick. The heterosexual world finally got a clear picture of the LGBTQ universe’s Pluto...and most were pleased with the image.
As contrived as some of the television presentation may be, there is one thing that stood out for me when I watched the first season episodes: Caitlyn is genuinely scared in many scenes. Her body language just cannot lie. Joining the other team is always hard no matter how right the decision and how well you prepare. It's a brave new world, and Caitlyn has very likely and irrevocably blown up her past life to live as she was truly meant to be. She finally joined the tribe.
Sound familiar? We need to continue to back her. She's one of us now.
Hey Cait, love you babe. Now please do a rethink on some of your politics.
Julie Chase is the pen name for a local 40-something trans woman. A graduate of The University of the South at Sewanee, she loves butterflies, strong women and the Austrian School of Economics.