BOOK REVIEW and OPINION
The Secrets of My Life
by Caitlyn Jenner with Buzz Bissinger
I wonder if there’s a place deep inside Cait that is heartbroken, if there is a tug-of-war inside her between the pull of the transgender social movement spotlight and her own, private needs.
That’s what I got from reading Secrets.
For 65 years, Cait struggled to hide herself. Then she switches, and—one way or another she’s still hiding herself. She’s all the way up from keeping her genderality a pretty good secret before transition to implying in Secrets what she may or may not be. She doesn’t say what she really is.
Virginia Prince, Ph.D. popularized “transgenderist” to mean
“…people like myself who have breasts and live full time as a woman, but who have no intention of having genital surgery,” (Gender Blending, 1997). I do not wish to offend by using “transgenderist” sometimes; when I do, it’s to delineate the phenomenon of changing gender without changing sex from the grouping “transgender” that combines transgenderist and transsexual.
I can’t tell from Secrets if Cait is a transgenderist* who is implying she’s transsexual or if she’s a transsexual who feels she’s not supposed to say so. She never said “transsexual” in her book; instead, she said she’s transgender with a “final surgery.” I’ve been in this field a very long time, and there is no such thing as a “final surgery,” just that at some point someone may stop with any of a variety of choices. What does happen, however, is many transgenderists will imply that some other surgery might have been SRS, such as an orchiectomy, or use a euphemistic label such as Gender Affirming Surgery to imply SRS. Then if outed later, they can claim they told the truth and that people are misunderstanding with their own inference. Transgenderists tend not to own their own cis sexual issues in fear of rejection from others.
I know Cait from Camarilo Airport, California. Our airplane hangars are near each other. I never knew Bruce, but she switches, and boom, there she is near my hangar. Life is that way.
When I first met Cait, I was reluctant to tell her that “I’m transsexual, not transgender,” because I didn’t want her to get mad at me, as others have. The difference should not preclude friendship. (My husband was a conservative Christian Republican 40 years older; I am a liberal Democrat Jewish transsexual.) And Cait told me on our first meeting, spring of 2016, that it was okay with her that I say so, that I should be myself. I was so relieved.
Thank you, Cait!
I laud her for that. She was right, and I will return the favor, here. In Secrets, she states integrity in her political views, that she will do everything she can to help an LGBTQ community that has been so unfairly marginalized.
At first I thought, “Great!”
Then I remembered the rest of the book. Maybe Secrets is saying Cait will support most LGBTQ but is willing to marginalize transsexuals to do it. Really?
In Secrets, Cait plants seeds of the popular question: Has she had that “gender-affirming” or “final surgery”? Why not say SRS (Sex Reassignment Surgery) outright? She didn’t. Why refer to complete genital reconstruction to opposite sex genitalia with euphemisms—unclear, vague terms that could apply to anything? Why doesn’t she refer to herself as transsexual—or anyone else, for that matter? She mentions “transgender” 55 times, over and over, but she mentioned “transsexual”—never. Hell, Janet Mock mentioned herself as a transsexual, said so 5 times. So why didn’t Cait?
Transsexualism is something that shouldn’t be mentioned? Even if it applies to the author?
Or maybe it doesn’t apply to the author.
After reading a book that says it discloses the secrets of her life, I should be able to tell if she’s transsexual or not, and I can’t. Since she didn’t say, and since transgenders have many times implied surgeries to me that they did not have, I wonder what other surgery Cait may have had that she called “final surgery.” An orchie is chosen by a lot of transgenders because it reduces bulk, easier to hide a penis, and allows a person to feminize a tad more, reduces medications.
For a generation, post Virginia Prince, Ph.D., transsexualism has been marginalized more and more by the growing transgender movement (focus on gender shift, away from sex identity/sexuality), on the internet and through media. “Transsexual” has been claimed a dirty word, a slur, conversely an assertion of elitism at times, handled first as a subset of transgenderism, then as something that’s not even supposed to be mentioned, even retroactively in history.** Transgender scripture has become sacrosanct. Radical trans people have been known to gang up on people in the media with harsh, false criticisms, if the message they want is not provided. “Accept me as different the way I demand it; no divergence is allowed or we’ll slam you.” Alice Dreger, Ph.D. wrote Galileo’s Middle Finger giving examples of radical trans intolerance and slamming. I’ve decried it, too, and reached out to people to try to heal the hurt part of our community has caused to others.
Fear is the reason behind all that: fear of rejection, humiliation…because by far transgenderism is about changing gender and not sex. It is feared awareness of this could affect laws that are developed or social acceptance that could otherwise be gained, so secrecy is employed—never mind that people already know. Denial is commonplace.
And people in media respond to pressure, real or implied.
EXAMPLE 1: In Secrets, Cait talks about “The Danish Girl,” how she wanted to be supportive of it and Eddie Redmayne, but that Jenny Boylan sent her (then) confidential texts, which warned Cait of turmoil because the film was felt by “a lotta trans people” to be problematic, outside the bounds of what I refer to as scripture. Secrets says Jenny’s warning gave Cait pause, moderated her support of the film at the time. FWIW, I agree that the problem of radical transgender slamming is real. Jenny wasn’t wrong. But I disagree that letting radicals guide decision-making is wise. I think it’s dangerous.
EXAMPLE 2: The Oscars, in 2016, wouldn’t even refer to Lili Elbe in the film as transsexual, but they did refer to Lili a few times as “transgender,” and twice said she’d had gender confirmation surgery, a generalized euphemism that could mean anything including an orchiectomy. In “The Danish Girl,” Lili died from an early version of SRS to adopt female genitalia, and it was believed that concept shouldn’t even be spoken at the Oscars. I felt like Christine Jorgensen, Canary Conn, Renee Richards, Jan Morris, Lili Elbe and I are all something that’s wrong to even mention.
EXAMPLE 3: In The Secrets of My Life, Cait says she’s a transgender woman who’s had the “final surgery” to be “authentic,” her true self. She implies she’s transsexual, but doesn’t say so. It’s easy to say, so why not?
What’s the reason transsexualism is supposed to be played down? I’ll tell you why: Because if someone, like me says “I’m transsexual” it highlights the idea of the change of sex, and the next question is, “What’s the difference?” which is what transgenderists want to hide.
After reading Secrets, I find myself feeling that Cait is hiding herself to help others hide, and that promotes a false image of both transsexualism and transgenderism for the benefit of transgenderism in a misguided plea for social acceptance.
Secrets wisely decries hate crimes against transgenders, citing an example of a john who murders in disgust, but it kinda stops with the demand. Of course violence should stop, but is there anything the transgender political movement is doing that could be part of the dynamic?
Privacy is a major problem in transgenderism, either the political movement or the phenomenon. Genitalia in trans living should not be held private. Who you love should be nobody’s business? Ask Harvey Milk who said that coming out is the most political thing you can do. We’re all here; folks already know that? Ask Kenji Yoshino, author of Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights. The hidden assault is ourselves. Hiding, implying, evading, not standing up for what we really are enables hate crimes. Bullies pick on people who won’t stand up.
The transgender movement needs to evolve, needs to mature. Keeping these essential things a secret may attenuate today’s embarrassment but can create tomorrow’s hell.
Secrets decries media asking about genitalia and hails Laverne Cox’ evasion when asked. That is, from my Midwestern roots, bass-ackwards. Media should ask the questions. Society needs to learn about all forms of trans living because it cannot be hidden long-term, and the only way to live peaceably is for society to grapple with it and learn about it.
Cait: I love you. I love your hugs. I am always glad to see you. I’d stand for you against anyone, with you for any true thing. But because Secrets is about revealing secrets, and because media should ask the questions, I have to ask:
Are you now genitally female? Do you have a penis or a vagina? Are you a transsexual who feels she’s not supposed to admit who she is, or are you a transgenderist who is falsely implying SRS where that’s not actually what you had? Is that what you meant by “Final Surgery”?
My mind boggles that after reading you complain you suffered in secrecy for 65 years, you’re still keeping your status a secret. What are you doing? It matters because at some point in your life, you need to be able to finally be yourself, and I don’t see that in Secrets.
With all the respect I have for you, Cait, as a person, I think The Secrets of My Life as a book is a sell-out, misses the mark, marginalizes both transsexuals and transgenders, and promotes the problem of privacy rather than the solution of openness and advocacy. It’s the politic of the book, misguided transgender paradigm through and through.
I think you are much more than that, Cait—a very good person who is new in trans living, only since 2015. I wonder if you are following advice from people who are taking advantage of you to promote their own political view on what is best, or if you really are what Secrets seems.
Please clarify for us.
* Promoters of the transgender paradigm have been saying “transgenderist” is offensive since the 21st century. It’s accurate, means “the person who is transgender,” but it was popularized to mean changing gender role but keeping a form of cisnatal genitalia. I don’t want to offend, but “transgender” used for me (transsexual) is painfully offensive, so I need to be clear that I’m referring to the 98% of transgenders who don’t want SRS, who, for FtM, keep the penis. Our sexual identities, sex expression, and sexual response are all opposite, a life and death matter to people like me, worthy of recognition as much as any males vs. females.
** Internet pages that relate to trans people have been being modified. I’ve noticed in the 20th century that older stories of transsexuals have been being modified to reflect the perspectives/politics of the modern transgender paradigm. What were clearly specified as transsexual—on Wikipedia and others—have been being changed more and more to “transgender,” omitting or marginalizing transsexual opposite sex issues, sex and gender conflated.