In this blog post, I will be looking at intersectionality and how it portrays itself in Caitlyn Jenner’s transition to a woman. Additionally, I will look into two questions: What visual cues do we use to determine someone’s race or gender? And, what shapes our ideas of race and gender and inform us how we perceive someone’s racial and/or gender identity?
Intersectionality is the interactions between the different parts of a person, such as race, gender, and nationality to name a few. Furthermore, intersectionality describes how these interactions can create discrimination or possibly prevent it. The way they interact with each other is different from person to person. In the case of Caitlyn Jenner, I believe the interaction between her race and social status lead to acceptance of her transition rather than discrimination and shunning. Caitlyn, formerly Bruce, was a white upper class male who was generally regarded as being “interwoven into American culture as Marlboro Man” (Bissinger, 2015). For this reason and due to the fact that he was a white male, it was more likely that he would be accepted and supported during his transition to a woman. Additionally, his social status allowed him to make this change, if he had not been a wealthy, white male, he may have not been able to make this change. Transitions from one gender to another require money for surgeries and typically a support system from family and friends. If Bruce Jenner had not been an already well loved and wealthy man he would not have been able to become Caitlyn. The intersections between the different parts of Caitlyn Jenner made it ‘easier’ to be accepted and supported. Yes, there were many who did not support her but she had been received as an inspiration to other transgender people transitioning and hoping to transition.
In our society, there are many cues that we use to figure out gender, race, and other aspects of an individual. For example, we use visual cues of how a person dresses and acts to determine what gender they are. In the case of Ruby Rose, she talks about an experience when a waitress came up to her father and asked if she was a “pretty girl or handsome boy” (Rose, 2015). This shows that we rely heavily on visual cues of how someone looks or dresses to determine what gender they are. These visual cues include the type of clothes worn: are they in a dress or suit? They also include haircut and general demeanor. Short hair is typically associated with males and long hair with females. The demeanor of a person also is indicitive of their gender: males tend to sit with their legs spread apart while females sit with their legs crossed (these are all broad generalizations and not representative of the population as a whole, a male could be entirely masculine as defined by the society but still sit with his legs crossed). Additionally, other individuals say that gender is more than physical and visual cues. Elinor Burkett for example, says that being a woman is more than just the physical organs, it is about the experience of growing up and living as a woman in society. She responded to Caitlyn Jenner’s statement that she was most excited to paint her nails and go in public by saying that “nail polish does not make a woman” (Burkett, 2006). A lot of cultures take into account both the physical nature and life experience to determine gender.
The ideas of race and gender are cultural. You can see many examples of cultures with gender fluidity such as Native American cultures where individuals who were not completely female or male, which they refer to as two-spirited (Walters, et al., 2006). Therefore, I believe gender is a culturally defined ideal. In our cultural, gender is viewed as much more fluid than race is. Most of the way we shape and view gender and especially race is physical/biological. Personally, I feel that gender is far more fluid than race. I learned as I grew up generally what a boy looks like and generally what a girl looks like, but as I got older I also learned that boys do not always look like sterotypical boys as is true with girls. I have also encountered in college a lot of people who do not define themselves as one gender and I so I have experienced a wide variety of fluidity of gender. As for race, it is very very uncommon to hear of someone who identifies as another race. This part of an individual is seen more as something that cannot be changed, such as gender, and in some cases could be offensive to the race the person is claiming to identify as. As Elinor Burkett argued, she thought the way transgender people discussed being a women was insensitive to women and their experience: if a man transitions to a women he never had to experience growing up as a woman and all that comes with it (Burkett, 2015). The same applies for different races and ethnicities: how can you identify as black or any other race if you never had to experience the discrimination and other negative impacts that may befall you because of your race? Many races call this appropriation and take offense to people identifying as races they are not.
Bissinger, Buzz, et al. “Caitlyn Jenner: The Full Story.” The Hive, Vanity Fair, 22 Mar. 2018, www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2015/06/caitlyn-jenner-bruce-cover-annie-leibovitz.
Burkett, Elinor. “What Makes a Woman?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 6 June 2015, www.nytimes.com/2015/06/07/opinion/sunday/what-makes-a-woman.html.
Rose, Ruby, director. Gender Fluid. Access Online, NBCUniversal, Inc. All Rights Reserved., 26 June 2015, www.accessonline.com/videos/do-ruby-rose-fiance-phoebe-have-hall-passes-52411/.
Walters, Karina L, et al. “‘My Spirit in My Heart’: Identity Experiences and Challenges Among American Indian Two-Spirit Women.” Journal of Lesbian Studies, Feb. 2006, anthropology.msu.edu/anp270-us18/files/2015/05/My-Spirit-in-my-Heart-Walters-et-al-2006.pdf.