At a party some 30 years ago I was introduced to a psychiatrist who, among other things, provided services to folks that were considering transitioning. Her job was to make sure that such a decision was not the product of otherwise treatable emotional issues. It was a fascinating conversation and I remember clearly what she said.
"These patients tend to be very complicated people."
I remembered this cocktail party discussion when former Olympian Bruce Jenner-not yet Caitlyn-revealed to Dianne Sawyer and the world that he was in the process of becoming a woman.
It is my privilege to count gay people as some of my closest friends. I don't think I know any transgendered folks. I did, however, once see the tennis player Renee Richards back when I was a kid at Tulane. At a Bonanza steak house in Metairie of all damn places. And so I do not profess to have any particular insight into these issues other than I would have to think that being self-aware of a longing at one's core to change the biological condition of one's birth would have to be a scary and lonely place. Although I try not to write about things I know nothing about, it would just have to be.
Caitlyn Jenner's "coming out" to the world has been met with scorn by religious and political conservatives. It has been met with mostly admiration by advocates for LGBT issues. Indeed, it is not inappropriate to view Bruce Jenner's decision to transition as courageous.
However, I tend to view with deep suspicion practically anything that has a basis in the erroneously termed world of "reality TV." And I wonder just what real impact this will have on transgender issues that are grappled with by real people in the real world.
Caitlyn Jenner looks fabulous. But she should. She has money and privilege. She has access to the best medical care and cosmetic surgery. She was photographed for Vanity Fair by Annie Leibovitz for God's sake. This is not reality.
Some might say that I am objectifying her in the same reductive way that women are treated in the media and on the Internet. No I'm not. What else am I supposed to do with this person? She didn't come out of anesthesia quoting Simone De Beauvoir. One could have waded in the ocean of Bruce Jenner's deepest thoughts and scarcely get your ankles wet. As far as I can tell she's still got the same brain. And it is the same one that thought it was a good idea to appear in the movie "Can't Stop The Music."
While I hope Bruce Jenner's transition put transgendered folks in a more favorable light, I fear that it doesn't reflect the "reality" of the issue for most LGBT folks any more than his marriage to Kris Kardashian reflected the "reality" of marriage.
Caitlyn Jenner couldn't exactly disappear. I get that. She has been in the public eye for over 40 years. This is a legitimate news and human interest story. I get that.
I accept Caitlyn Jenner and other transgendered people. One can hope that her story starts a frank and useful discussion in the culture about complicated issues concerning sex and gender.
This is, however, also showbiz. Like the psychiatrist said, these patients are complicated people. I hope that Caitlyn Jenner doesn't turn her new life into a burlesque of the issue. That will do nobody any good.