I grew up during a time when it was still socially acceptable to make jokes about “tapettes.” That’s the word that we could use at the time to talk about homosexuals. This was before legal equality for same-sex couples and even gay marriage.
The norms have since evolved, and it’s much better. A gay character in a TV series is now just as surprising as a woman piloting an airliner, which is to say not at all. Perhaps this is how we measure social acceptability: when we’re no longer surprised by a fact.
Hence the extreme surprise that has welcomed the anachronistic comments from Marc de Foy, of The Journal de Montréal, in an article about Michael Sam, new member of the Montreal Alouettes, who declared his homosexuality after his college career. Marc wrote that it was surprising to hear Michael Sam say he was eager to hit his opponents, as if a gay person must be “soft.”
In 1975, nobody would have written this type of mediocre joke for one very simple reason: Michael Sam would have kept his sexual orientation buried beneath his cleats — it would never have been revealed.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that the world is head over heels for homosexuals in 2015. There are still barriers to overcome, but it can be said that homosexuals’ battle for the collective imagination is just about won, within our culture.
Which brings us to Bruce Jenner, Olympic decathlon champion in the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. To be awarded the gold medal for the decathlon is to be de facto the greatest athlete in the world. It is to become a symbol of masculinity, and that’s what Jenner was in the years that followed: an All-American with the perfect body and a face made to measure to advertise cereals, as well as to pose for the cover of Playgirl.
Not just a man, no: the Man.
Except that the Man was a woman.
It exists; it can be. It is known and understood as such: there are some people who are born into the body of a man, but who are, deep down, women and vice versa. Science has allowed for these people who choose to do so to correct what nature has imposed on them — they are able to have a “sex change,” as it is said.
And that is what Bruce Jenner has done. He accepted the cocktail of hormones and the buffet of surgeries — a process that is as serious as it is painful — that made him a woman, at the completion of what is called a transition.
Bruce Jenner is, in a manner of speaking, dead. One must now use the pronoun “she” in order to talk about Caitlyn Jenner, like in “Call me Caitlyn,” the quote that decorates her photo on the cover of the current issue of Vanity Fair.
He who embodied a certain idea of the perfect man in America now embodies a certain idea of the perfect woman in America, and she evidently wears a corset that accentuates breasts with incredible curves and shows off a languid gaze that leads to horizontal jogging. Evidently, she is photoshopped ….
Bruce Jenner said he has always denied his true identity, and, in that way, he is like thousands of other transgender men and women. Bruce has become Caitlyn, and she will remain, if I understand the article from Vanity Fair, a vaguely unhealthy product of televisual consumption: from a character on the reality series “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” she will become a character of her own series, produced by the same masterminds of trash that have given us the Kardashians’ reality series. In Vanity Fair, Jenner incidentally tells of her terrible disappointment as her four adult children (all of whom she has neglected) refused to participate in the TV series about her transition toward life as a woman (as they say in L.A.: WTF).
But, never mind that human billboard Bruce is becoming female human billboard Caitlyn — let’s not let cynicism suffocate us. We have before us a person who is becoming what she had always wanted to be and what she always should have been. This comes with its own share of mockery and the equivalent of a truckload of nasty words, on screen or off. A bit like the time when jokes about “tapettes” were still tolerated.
By her transition and her desire to tell her story on all possible media, Caitlyn Jenner will perhaps contribute toward making a fact — the adaptation of her body to her sexual identity — less surprising and more accepted. There’s nothing weak about that.