As all the world knows Olympian Bruce Jenner revealed in an interview two weekends ago with ABC's Diane Sawyer: "Yes, for all intents and purposes, I am a woman." While such transitions are doubtlessly significant to the folks undergoing them and to their loved ones, my response to the Jenner revelation was basically a big yawn. I don't care what gender people are; they are just people and should be treated with the respect due to any other human beings. And more Americans are coming around to this view.
Jenner's TV appearance may, indeed, have the salutary effect of further "normalizing" transgender identities and thus accelerating greater acceptance among cisgender Americans. By one very preliminary estimate, some 700,000 Americans may identify as transgender, or about 0.3 percent of the population. A recent Human Rights Campaign poll found that 22 percent of Americans now know someone who is transgender, up from 17 percent the year prior. The HRC poll also reported…
… knowing a transgender person translates powerfully into positive impressions: 66 percent of those who said they know a transgender person expressed favorable feelings toward them, compared with 13 percent who did not—a net favorability of 53 percentage points.
Free market economist and brilliant economic historian Deirdre McCloskey transitoned to presenting as a woman back in 1995. When told, her then-dean deadpanned, "Thank God! I thought you were going to tell me you were converting to socialism!" In a thoughtful op-ed in the Des Moines Register, she offers some gentle, pertinent advice to Jenner and the rest of us on staying calm:
How to stay calm? Stop thinking of gender change as being about sex, sex, sex. Stop believing the locker-room theory that gender changers are gay, and gays want to be women. Whom you love is not same thing as who you are. You can love your dog without wanting to become a dog. You can want to become an adult, as our kids do, without having much of an idea of what it's actually like to be an adult.
Stop imagining that all male-to-female gender crossers become prostitutes. Stop imagining that "men" enter the women's room to spy on born women or commit rape. Stop thinking of gender crossing as an indulgence. Believe me, I would much rather have realized at age 53 that I was gay, or wanted to ride Harleys, than to go through a dozen operations and a lot of funny and terrifying embarrassments.
But I realized in August of 1995, after 30 years of a loving and successful marriage, perfectly normal all around, that I wanted to become an old woman, not an old man. I had wanted it since age 11, but people can adjust, and I did. Captain of my high school football team. Macho economist. Pretty good father, pretty good husband. I can still change a tire — but would rather watch some man do it.
McCloskey reports that much of her family and most of her friends and colleagues rolled with the change from Donald to Deirdre, but some, sadly, did not:
Jenner can expect some surprises in how people react. The three people I love most in the world have have not spoken to me since 1995. I have three grandchildren I've never seen. But, really, no more tears. Into each life some rain must fall. Your family will have similar stories. Uncle George married a Catholic and no one spoke to him again. Aunt Louise said something unkind to Cousin Betty 20 years ago and that was it. Families act often as though love was in excess supply, as economists put it. Garbage. Throw it away with both hands.
Sage advice: Love is never in excess supply.
Hat tip to Mark Lambert.