I missed Bruce Jenner's interview with Diane Sawyer the other night, and, try as I might, I just can't seem to muster the will to go back and watch it. That the former Olympian regards himself as a woman is, no doubt, a highly significant struggle for him. But I am tone-deaf to its social significance.
It's not that I am unaware of the politics of gender, or of the fact that folks sometimes feel trapped in a body of the wrong type. I've represented transgender folks.
In one case, we made new law 15 or so years ago in Connecticut permitting folks with gender identity issues to raise gender discrimination claims. In another case, I settled a case against the federal Bureau of Prisons on behalf of a transgender person in a prison—the guards could not keep their hands off our client.
The life of a person trapped in a body with the wrong accoutrements is hellish.
But somehow Jenner's revelation left me unmoved. Perhaps it's his association with the Kardashians, and the libidinal circus their lives represent. Or maybe it's just the sense that when every difference enjoys prime-time billing, questions of identity end up being reduced to farce.
I suppose it is easy for a heterosexual white male who regards himself as a heterosexual white male to weary of the struggles of others. I possess vast privileges, or so I am told. If I so much as disagree with another who does not share my accidents of birth, I am reminded of my white privilege, my male privilege, my white-male privilege: That I am also happily married to a woman, and heterosexual, and monogamous, merely adds insult to rhetorical injury.
Folks like me are morally suspect in today's culture wars.
Even so, I am not so sure Jenner is worthy of sainthood.
Yes, identity is socially constructed. Gender, and our ideas about what men and women can and should become, are the stuff of shifting cultural tides. I can read the chic social theory.
But Jenner has the DNA of a male, and, presumably, the anatomy that corresponds with that DNA. That he wants to shed the associations we take for granted with these brute facts hardly seems worthy of national debate, much less recognition. He can be all the woman he wants to be without becoming a national hero, or is it heroine?
Accounts of his interview suggest that he's still just as trapped in social conventions as he was before he declared femininity. He's not a guy's guy? All right. Does that mean he's got to be a woman's woman?
Why can't Bruce just be Bruce, the rest of us be damned?
Earlier this year, Time magazine's cover announced: "The Transgender Tipping Point: America's Next Civil Rights Frontier."
Really? I thought, when I saw the cover. Here I thought the middle class was dead, the infrastructure was crumbling, the climate was spinning out of control. Of all the things I worry about for the grandchildren I hope someday to have, securing the right for Johnny to publicly proclaim himself to be Jane had never crossed my mind.
I keep thinking of William Butler Yeats' great lines:
"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."
Bruce is a woman. That's national news. The next frontier is a fight to make sure he feels good about that.
If you say so. I've struggled for days to feel something other than weary about all this. And I have failed.