If you're a student of public relations, you had to be impressed. The rollout of "Bruce" to "Caitlyn" has been handled with such mastery that you'd think we live in a country that long ago shed any deep hostility toward those who don't easily fit into boxes marked "male" or "female". From Diane Sawyer to Vanity Fair, it's been 5-star but tasteful, if you know what I mean, which is exactly what you'd expect from Alan Nierob, the longtime Hollywood pro who is reportedly running the show.
But this is just the beginning. By many painful accounts, it can get harder, and playing it out in public, while tempting at first, has been a source of anguish for some who chose that route. I'm thinking of the sportswriter for the Los Angeles Times, who ended up killing himself after a painful public journey.
Of course, Bruce Jenner is a Kardashian by marriage, which changes all the rules when it comes to what belongs in public. The miracle is how tasteful it all was. If he wants to play this out in public, he knows what he's getting into and how to navigate his way, and it is indeed likely to be a lot easier for him than almost anyone else.
Last month, I wrote about a little fourth-grader in Virginia, a transgender girl whose father pleaded unsuccessfully with the school board not to overturn the policy that allows her to use the girls' lavatory. How do you think this girl will be treated when she walks into the boys' room, past the urinals? It's not an experience Caitlyn is ever likely to be forced to endure, and I was glad to see that OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, just took the opposite view. But in many workplaces, I'll believe it when I see it.
You think it was hard for people to get their heads around the idea of homosexuality. This is harder. The websites are hard to look at. You wonder whether some of these folks — the plastic surgeons charging top dollar for surgical transformations backed up by pictures that aren't quite as tasteful as those in Vanity Fair — are taking advantage of confused and unhappy people whose confusion and unhappiness may or may not be cured by spending their life savings on a sex change. Are they insisting on adequate counseling, on a trial period, following the recommendations of reputable groups? Who is to know?
It is the essence of the right to privacy, the constitutional source of protection for individual sexual autonomy, that these are decisions individuals should be free to make by themselves — free, that is, of government intrusion. So the very notion of government regulation of sexual identity — indeed, of the most fundamental aspects of that identification — smacks of something even worse than the online ads for easy financing of your surgeries.
Of course the magazines will sell, and social media is breaking records, and Bruce is getting his own special. It is not easy to keep up with the Kardashians, which is not to say that they are worth following, or that their "brand" adds value to the effort to secure equality for people whose wiring most of us just don't understand.
I keep thinking of that little girl in Virginia, and I worry about the Caitlyn cover being waved in her face. It's not likely to be a friendly gesture; she's not likely the leader you'd pick.
(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)
- Category: Letters
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