A Pareto of Prejudice

Caitlyn Jenner’s decision to present as female has been in the news recently, as have reactions to it from various people and organisations. And, being interested in equal rights, those perspectives have been a frequent feature of various of my social media streams. My stance on her right to become more comfortable with herself hasn’t changed. But the ongoing discussion has raised issues about other people’s search for comfort.

This rather charming video of young children discussing Caitlyn Jenner’s choice displays (appropriately) an innocence of language. An innocence I struggle to achieve.

I rewrote the first sentence of this post several times, striving for both clarity and truth; and I am still not sure I found it. Not because I have any issue with her choice, but because I equally respect the different choices other people have made.

My first draft was merely that Caitlyn Jenner had been in the news recently. But that suggests the reader doesn’t need to know any more to know what I am writing about; that her choice to present as female is the most significant thing about her, rather than other aspects of her celebrity or her career as an athlete.

Describing the matter as her undergoing gender reassignment, or some other medical term, would have immediately let people know what I was speaking about. But would also be open to the interpretation that she was male before a specific procedure, rather than someone who had identified as female for an extended period undergoing a procedure to remove certain traditionally male physical traits.

Which provided a partial answer: in terms of strict biology, her chromosomes define her sexual label; but in any other context, her male- or female-ness is a mental construct, either in her head or another’s, built from a subset of all data. If she ended up as a brain in a jar, I would call that brain ‘she’, so the social and physical traits express her sense of being female rather than being part of it; they are presenting not being.

But it is only a partial answer because those traits are not the traits of female, they are some of the traits that many people associate with being female. When looked at, many of them are female traits not because the majority of female humans do them, but rather many female humans do them because they are female traits. I became tangled in the idea that labelling Caitlyn Jenner’s choice of traits as female privileged that interpretation over that of other people who display the traits but are not being female.

However, I couldn’t find a way of expressing the concept without a very convoluted sentence.

Much like other attempts to act better (or indeed many other things) removing more bias from my language usage becomes harder for less return. In the innocent certainty of a life unexamined, it is easy to not only believe in a diverse world but speak it; but each realisation that certain phrases are heard as oppression it becomes harder to describe the world. Not because I should allow others perceptions to constrain my beliefs, but because it is decent to consider the feelings of others.

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2 thoughts on “A Pareto of Prejudice

  1. It is a medical issue, not a civil rights issue. The question that is being avoided is this: ” Is hormonal/surgical gender reassignment an effective treatment for gender identity disorder?”

    There is mounting evidence that it is not, and in fact leaves many patients far worse off than they were before.

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    1. I don’t know enough about causes or treatments for disphoria to comment on the validity of physical reassignment. Potentially Caitlyn Jenner’s wealth and influence puts her in a better position than many both with regard to breadth and quality of options.

      However, I think there is more than a medical issue here. Leaving aside the broadest definition of medical issue as an issue with a potential impact on wellbeing, using the labels male and female (or any other set of labels) creates a risk of defining those labels to exclude people’s experience of being part of the group.

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