Playing the Blame Game for Gender Dysphoria...Kardashian Style
There are numerous reasons to detest the Kardashian/Jenner crew, and if I started making a list of the things, they've said and done over the years to warrant the stink-eye they get from a lot of the public, it wouldn't only fill a page, it could probably fill a notebook. However, every now and again, they simply exist, things happen, and because of who they are and what they've come to represent to most people, they are blamed a tad unjustly. I actually haven't seen Keeping Up With the Kardashians or any of their spinoff shows in a couple of years or so, so I guess I haven't really been "keeping up" with them per se except for whenever they're splashed especially heavily over the cover of a tabloid. They're constantly on the cover of magazines; therefore, I rarely pay attention to what they're doing, but when Us Weekly ran a piece on Bruce Jenner's gender reassignment surgery I actually bothered to take a peek at what the writer had to say on the matter. Most times when concerning the Kardashians, or anyone associated with them, the columnist typically sways heaviest on negative comments and quotes concerning the group, all the while only pretending to appear unbiased. Truthfully, I was curious about who would be the villain in that particular article; because, let's face it, when it comes to those people, someone is going to be made to look like the boogeyman even if they're just walking on a runway. I was surprised (though in hindsight I probably shouldn't have been) when Kris Jenner ended up depicted in that piece. And it wasn't that she was the bad guy in that scenario, but it was how the writer made her out to be.
Before I go any further with this, I want to be clear on a few things. Very clear. For many different reasons, some I'll probably state a little later in this hub, I don't like Kris (I'm not trying to be disrespectful, I just don't know what her last name is anymore and I don't really care; okay, so maybe it is a little disrespectful…oops *shrugs*). But even though I don't like her from what I've seen on the show and information that she revealed to the public through interviews and in her book, doesn't mean I can't sympathize with her on a human level on certain matters, and this is one of them. I also want to make it clear that I've never liked Bruce Jenner either, for various reasons that I'll probably end up mentioning later as well, but this hub is not against him or what he's done as far as his gender is concerned. I can see both sides of this from what I know of human sexuality, the human mentality, and having emotions and being honest about them. Also, this is not about religion in any way, or really right and wrong, this is more about people and their thoughts and feelings. Most people aren't honest about their thoughts and feelings on most matters, I just happen to be one of those people who can be.
This isn't solely about Bruce Jenner and his ex-wife, Kris. This isn't really about Bridget Jenner and the life she's leading now. However, I am using them, and what I know of the situation from what I saw in the past, to write about understanding gender-dysphoria in general.
Let's start with the basics…
What is gender-dysphoria?
Gender-dysphoria is a condition that is, simply put, when a person can't identify mentally with the sex they were born with. For instance, a male that is born with male genitalia will feel that he was born into the wrong body and a female with female genitalia that goes on to develop breasts feel that she was born into the wrong body and will reject those things commonly associated with their gender. It is also not categorized as a mental disorder, although treatment could be necessary in some instances because of the mental strain that it causes on the person with the condition.
Gender-dysphoria and sex change operations aren't anything even remotely new, and Bruce Jenner isn't the first man by a long shot to go through with the procedure. This is a common condition whether people want to admit it or acknowledge it or not, and trying to understand it is not a revolutionary concept; it's just that well-known people like Bruce Jenner don't often do it. Rarer still is seeing a former world-renowned athlete alter their gender.
Now here's the biggest mental hurdle for some people to get over that I call "the old gay debate". One of the biggest questions is always: So all this time, this person has only pretended to be into women? He's gay, right? I mean, if he's about to have surgery to become a woman, that means he's always been gay and into other guys, right? Right?!
Actually, having a sex change doesn't mean that the person who changes gender is gay. If an adult male has always had relationships with women, typically they continue to have relationships with females after they go through their total transformation.
Years ago, when I first started doing research on this topic, it was out of pure fascination with the subject matter. I wasn't going through anything like this, I didn't have a loved one going through this, nor did I know of anyone going through this at all. I knew gay men, but as I began learning more and more about sex changes, I found this whole other concept of thought different from anything I'd ever understood before, although I also knew it wasn't a revolutionary idea.
On one of Bret Owens's HBO documentaries on prostitutes in Honolulu when he interviewed a male prostitute who had sex with other men who didn't consider himself "gay", nor did he like having sex with gay men (or rather, men who considered themselves gay), I sort of scratched my head and went, "Huh?" My initial thought was, "Dude, you have the same genitalia that he does…you're gay, get over it." Then it dawned on me that he didn’t think of himself as "gay" because he didn't think of himself as a man that was having intercourse with other men; he thought of himself as a woman with the physicality of a male, but he was attracted to straight men (or rather, straight "acting" men). On another HBO documentary called Cathouse, a transsexual male-to-female visited the infamous brothel in Nevada because she preferred having sex with other women instead of men, which isn't uncommon among transsexual females (i.e. females who had been born male). There are men that privately behave in a more effeminate manner, and they may privately dress as women as well, but to the outside world, they behave and dress as men; they aren't gay, they aren't attracted to men, but they have certain urges and certain ways of thinking that make them different from a lot of other straight men. It's all about the individual.
One of the most confusing things to some people about gender-dysphoria is that technically, it doesn't have anything to do with sexuality. What that means is a person with gender-dysphoria could separately identify with being straight, bi, gay, or asexual. For example, a person that is born male and during his teen years and early twenties has no particular sexual attraction towards other males or females, but feels that he was born in the wrong body and believes the only way to feel complete is to have the sex change operation, after his transition to female, he would probably identify with being asexual. During those pre-op years, if he'd been attracted to males and females, he would identify with being bisexual after his transformation, which was the case before as well. Having a sex change operation does not change a person's sexuality, it changes their sex, and that's it.
I know there are all sorts of people who watch those old episodes of Keeping Up With the Kardashians where Bruce Jenner was being dressed by the gay stylist and he seemed so uptight and weird around him, and then his visit to the gay bar The Abbey, and now they think it was all pretend, but more than likely, it wasn't. For a lot of men with gender-dysphoria they learn to adjust their identity to some extent with the world around them, and usually that entails regular macho posturing. They watch the way other men behave since birth and they mimic that behavior. They figure out early on what is acceptable for males to do and what is acceptable for females by and large, and they do what they have to do to be accepted by society.
I'm not going to lie; I've made plenty of jokes about Bruce Jenner over the years, mainly because he bugged the hell out of me. I just really didn't understand him. Not only that, but I looked at him the same way I looked at Kris—as desperate for attention "star fuckers". Fame hungry leeches. Granted, Bruce Jenner had garnered quite a bit of fame for himself back in the day on his own right without leeching on to anyone. He was a great athlete when he was younger and he earned his accolades and his money. No one can deny his accomplishments. But after I saw his interview on True Hollywood Story where he came across as someone who left his first wife because he was intrigued by the Hollywood lifestyle his second wife offered, I'll admit I was a little disgusted by him. In the interview, he referred to his first wife as (and this isn't verbatim) "just a small town girl" while his second wife came from "the celebrity life" any respect I had for him was diminished greatly. While he admitted that he and his second wife discovered they were married for all the wrong reasons and subsequently divorced, I couldn't understand his attraction to Kris, of all people. At least, not at first.
When I used to watch KUWK, some things rubbed me the wrong about Kris and Bruce's relationship, and even more things confused me about not only them as a couple, but mainly Bruce. I'm not going to sit here and claim, "Oh, I knew it was gender-dysphoria! I knew something was "off" about him! I knew it all along!" I would be lying if I did that. I mainly just thought he was an asshole. However, now when I think back on many of the things that I couldn't make heads or tails of before, I at least believe I understand them now after it came out that he'd wanted to change his gender for years.
First of all, Kris had always come across as the one with the upper hand in their relationship. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, especially if that's the agreed upon dynamic between a couple and that's what they feel most comfortable with. Kris seemed to be the one running things, managing the finances and the household the way she saw fit, and also making the main decisions between she and her husband as to how their lives ran, and it had worked for them for nearly two decades. Or it seemed to have worked. While Kris didn’t come across as masculine exactly, she had an air about her that said she was the boss of things, and Bruce seemed content with having her in the driver's seat. Bruce rarely put his foot down, but when he tried, Kris usually still got her way. A part of me wanted to slap her when she came across so bossy toward him, but then I would think, "Why is he putting up with her shit, anyway? He should be a man and put his foot down and stop letting her run all over him." I don't care how that sounds to some people, but that is what I thought and I'm just being honest; I'm pretty sure there were a lot of men out there looking at the way he was and they were shaking their heads as well. I wasn’t to clarify that I don't think there was anything wrong with him taking care of his youngest daughters or doing the laundry or this or that, but I'm mainly talking about how things seemed between he and his then wife. The younger girls listened to him for the most part (when they were younger, at least), but overall, he came across as a weakling. He didn't really have any other male friends at all, either, which I didn't really understand. We saw him hang out with his sons, his stepson, and his stepdaughters' boyfriends, but as far as any male friends of his own there was never one during the first few seasons of the show that even stopped by and had a beer with him. I know how editing works and I know how shooting schedules are and most of the filming is all staged when it comes to a reality TV show, but over the course of a handful of years you would've seen him with at least one other male friend if he'd really had any he'd been comfortable around. It was strange that a person who was such a charismatic public speaker didn't seem to be able to connect with other during regular conversations. There was an episode where he was talking to some young snowboarders and his conversation consisted of telling them about his Olympic triumphs from, like, thirty years (or more) before. Look, if they ask that's one thing, but can't you have a normal conversation with people that don't include what you did when you were in your twenties, and now you're in your late fifties or early sixties? Have you not done anything in the last four decades that could serve as a convo starter? I mean, that was all he talked about—his Olympic days. Any conversation he had with another man that wouldn't be considered family of some sort seemed to fall flat. Even when he was talking to the man in the barbershop, in a brief conversation, he came across as strange. Now I think I understand that outside of the arena of sports, Bruce was probably totally uncomfortable trying to talk to other men because aside from the subject of rigorous physical activity he actually didn't know what to say to them or how to relate to them. With a condition like gender-dysphoria certain things are simply expected of an individual and they have to try to conform to them regardless if they feel comfortable doing them or not, but to other people they end up coming across as weird. Remember, I am only speculating in the case of Bruce Jenner, and I'm only going on with the things I saw him do. In many cases, I'm sure a lot of males with gender-dysphoria who dress the part of a man and in physical appearance and speech seem totally male and are in their twenties, thirties, and forties probably come across as the "quiet types" because that makes their lives easier. Please don't think I am saying that just because you know a few quiet men that means they gender-dysphoria plays a role in their lives, but I'm trying to make a point. In Bruce Jenner's case, people expected him to talk. He was expected to communicate. He lived in a house filled with females and he was a public figure so he couldn't lean on being quiet. Not only that, but I got the sense that he loved attention—or I guess, to better put it, fame—to some extent. That had to have been hard—to love attention and to not feel comfortable within your own skin at the same time. Imagine the duality that comes with those feelings.
Over the years, the world watched Kim Kardashian's fame grow, and the ratings of the KUWK soar, and we watched that family revel in fame and money and the disintegration of Bruce and Kris's marriage seemed money and fame based to most people, including me. He looked as if he was trying and she looked as if she was pushing him away so she could hang out with Kim and a bevy of other (sometimes younger) men. It looked sick and sad and I felt sorry for Bruce to some extent, but I wondered why he didn't just leave her. Then again, a part of me didn't feel sorry for him at all because Kris seemed like one of the most materialistic greedy woman on the face of the planet and he'd chosen to be married to her. Not the greediest and materialistic, but one of the most. I know most people want to act like Kris and her daughters are the only gold diggers on the planet, but they're just some of the best, most famous ones that we can point the fingers at—they're by far not the only ones. She loves status just as much as she loves money, and that's just something I've observed about her over the years. She groomed her kids for the friends they have and the lives they lead and it's obvious. Ever since they came onto the scene, all of their friends and associates were famous. They seemed to have had more famous associates before they were actually famous than the majority of famous people. It's not a dig, it's just the truth. Every single one of their "friends" that they introduced was either a radio personality, a socialite that already had a reality show, an actress, an actor, a singer, a dancing instructor to the stars, a stylist to the stars, a makeup artist to the stars—everyone they knew was someone already known. When Kris said that she was going to contact her "good friend" Cris Judd to help her get ready for a dance routine I almost died laughing. Anyone who hasn't been living under a rock knows that Cris Judd isn't just any old dance instructor—he's one of J. Lo's ex-husbands and for a couple of years his face had been splashed over damn near every tabloid known to man. Didn't you notice that Khloe's two best friends were twin actresses and they'd been in various movies? Maybe they weren't A or B-list, but their faces were somewhat known. Same for Kim's "best friend" Brittney Gastineau. It was as if Kris told them they couldn't invite any friends over to the house to play or have milk and cookies unless they were already famous. And don’t act like celebrities are just on your doorstep just because you live in California and you have no choice but to friends with a few of them; it's almost as if their lives were already staged. Which made the fact that Kris being married to Bruce made sense. Aside from previously being married to someone with a brain and having children with him (and happily admitting to an affair on him as she publicly acknowledged), Kris only appeared to attach herself to other people who had accomplished things, meanwhile she did nothing but spend money and gain access to other famous people through them. And no, I don't think I'm being harsh or biased with what I'm saying. Bruce seemed vain to me and obsessed with status, so their pairing made sense; it also made sense to me when I saw them drifting apart when Kris gained a certain amount of her own fame due to that of her daughters'. Now I see things a little differently.
I remember one episode from a few years ago when Bruce had another face lift or something got his ear pierced in an attempt to look better for Kris, and I saw it as some kind of last ditch effort he was trying to make to save his sinking marriage. I remember her buying thousands of dollars in clothes and she wouldn't give him a few hundred for a toy airplane. Bruce didn't make a big stink about it; he just seemed sad. I wanted to believe that was a ploy for the show's storyline, but I wasn't sure. Then she sort of pushed him out of the house and gave him a small space in what looked like the corner of a garage, and every time she did something that seemed mean or unfair to him, he always seemed to end up holding one of the pets and just looking lost and heartbroken. As much as I hated to, I did end up feeling sorry for him, but again, I wondered why he didn't just leave her. Then there was the Christmas photo incident a couple of years ago when Kris obviously didn't even want him to pose with her and the girls. That was just downright strange. She seemed to want nothing to do with him and he seemed to be holding on to the mist of a marriage; to the rest of the world it was over for them, but he was still clinging on for dear life. She constantly complained about him, openly. She didn't want him in the bed with her, he got his own separate apartment miles away—still they weren't legally separated or divorced that anyone knew about. It was odd to witness, and all I could think was, "Really? All this because now you make a ton of money on Kim's coattails? You're seriously going to throw away nearly two decades with a man because you have a little status and money of your own? That's really sick." But I figured that was the kind of person she was. I think the last time I recall seeing them within the same vicinity of one another was at some sort of award's show where Kris was actually presenting him with some kind of achievement award. I remember his hair was longer then and after Kris presented he had the saddest smile on his face when he got up to accept it and it honestly was heartbreaking to see.
I know what most people think, and they've been vocal about it over the years: Kris emasculated him to the point where he didn't see any choice but to become a woman himself. That's not true and it's not fair (regardless of how much I don't like her), especially since it's come out that he's struggled with this for years, even before they were married. Gender-dysphoria isn't something you wake up with in your twenties or thirties, and it's not a condition a spouse can convince you of no matter how much of a bitch or bastard they are.
Not everyone understands the concepts of various types of sexual orientations, and something like gender-dysphoria—that has nothing to do with sexual orientation, but it could seem that way—is absolutely baffling to them. Many people aren't pumping their fists for the whole sexual revolution that's going on, mainly because all they understand is being straight. It's become so that if a person says they're not absolutely for it or they don't understand it, it automatically makes them a bad person. Here's the tricky part about being open minded: You have to accept the fact that not only is everyone not going to be open minded, but some people don't have the ability to have an open mind about certain things. You have to accept that as well.
I believe that Bruce told Kris about his feelings before they were married, and the thought of it was incomprehensible to her. He was "Bruce Jenner" after all. What would people think if he started living his life as a female? She wanted to marry him, she wanted more babies (obviously)—he still needed to be a male to accomplish those things, especially since I'm pretty sure she wanted to be married to a man and not a post-op female. The article in Us Weekly kind of made her seem like a villain that stopped him dead in his tracks about any plans on living the rest of his adult life as a female; I think they might have used the term, she put a "kibosh" on it right away. It was as if she forced him to continue to lead his life as a male. Can you blame her for wanting that? Can you blame her if she was looking at a man that she wanted to marry and she told him she wanted him to stay that way? I can imagine she couldn't even wrap her head around this man that so many people looked up to not only wearing dresses and makeup, but trading in his male parts for female ones.
All those times that I recall seeing on the show where she appeared to be bullying him, I think it was her tough love way of trying to get him to "man up". If you notice, during those years he'd already started to take on a more feminine appearance. It's not just this, but I don't ever remember having seen him with facial hair, and I take it he must have gotten electrolysis years ago because he didn’t like the appearance of it. Many people with gender-dysphoria will "correct" the physical attributes associated with the gender that they were born with if they can because they can't stand having those attributes be a part of them. For most men I guess it's easier to get rid of any appearance of facial hair. I didn't even notice the fact until recently that even when he was younger I'd never seen one photo of Bruce Jenner with any amount of facial hair. Gender-dysphoria actually seems to be tougher on females with the condition, probably because their female attributes aren't as easy to get rid of as simple as with males who can get a razor and shave away unwanted hair (I'm saying, as far as some of the easier attributes go). Not only do women with gender-dysphoria have to deal with breast development and having a period, but it's all of that on top of having a vagina when they don't feel they should have one. But I'll get to that a little bit later. With Bruce, I think he still believe in his heart that against all the odds he would eventually gain Kris's support in his life altering decision; after all, they'd been married and had children together, they'd gotten along wonderfully for so many years, and he still felt he needed her hand to hold during such a life change.
In the end, I think she thought he'd get over it or he'd finally accept himself as is, and he thought she'd loved him enough—beyond gender—to be his partner forever. They were both wrong. The hardest part is sometimes accepting the person you love won't be there for your hardest decision you make; either you know you're with someone who'll love you no matter what, or you end up with someone who you hope will be there no matter what happens. There is a difference between the two. According to certain reports that have come to light, Bruce was hoping that Kris would be there for him no matter what, but she'd stated from the beginning that she didn’t want to be any part to what any gender alteration on his part.
The way the Us Weekly article made her sound, it could spill out on to other spouses going through something similar to what she was, and it could make them feel worse than they already do about something that wasn't their fault. Bruce was a grown man, it was his decision, and I'm not saying he didn't deserve support, but he chose to stay male and lead the life a man for all those years of his own accord—he could have easily gone with what he felt instead of marrying her and having more children with her. There are a lot of other couples that go through what Kris and Bruce did, it's just that they aren't famous and they don’t have a fraction of the money that the Jenners and Kardashians have. Sex changes aren't relegated to the uber rich or wealthy; that's like thinking only rich people get breast implants or other kinds of plastic surgery done. Most people who write articles dealing with the entertainment industry tend to forget that regular people go through some of the same things famous people go through. There are women that marry men, and they have the same dilemma that Kris and Bruce had dealing with gender dysphoria—and it's no one's fault. That's a tough situation to deal with. Kris didn't "turn" him into a woman, either, as some a-holes may meanly suggest.
One of the best, most honest films to watch on this subject matter in my opinion, is the film Normal if you're interested in understanding this further. A common physical ailment that people dealing with gender-dysphoria have to deal with is frequent headaches. I understand that. Imagine constantly leading two lives, day in and day out, minute after minute, every single day. People see you as a particular gender, you see it physically, and while you act the way that you're expected to act, there is that dual mind that tells you that it's absolutely wrong. In your head, you're somebody else—you're meant to be someone else—yet you're not.
I feel bad for any spouse who is having or who had a hard time dealing with their significant other's gender-dysphoria condition and they read that article and felt as if they were the bad guy. Everyone dealing with that sort of situation needs support and it's not right to blame any party. You can't penalize someone for what they feel, especially when they've struggled with it for so long.
Then again, not everything needs to be broadcast to the world.
Just as many people who are vocal about things like gender-dysphoria, even more people keep it to themselves and you can't blame them. Sometimes people go on too much about private things in public and the internet makes it seem as if everyone has a right to know things that perhaps should remain private at times. There are couples, as well as individuals, who do plenty of things sexually behind closed doors and looking at them you would never be the wiser. What they do isn't wrong, but it's between them. Not everyone is comfortable sharing every single thing they think and feel to the world, or even to other people close to them, and that’s perfectly okay. To repeat what I've said before, not everyone is capable of accepting and understanding this sort of thing, nor does everyone want to. To some people it's disgusting and wrong, no matter how much someone explains it to them. Not everyone is going to understand this, but those who do shouldn’t point fingers. They should understand that's not right, either.