The Ontology of Caitlyn Jenner

Let me start off with some signaling:  Good for Caitlyn Jenner. She has made moves within her life to become the person she feels she needs to be in order to self actualize. Well done.

I recently expressed to my partner that i felt an almost surprising amount of admiration for many individuals in the trans movement. Individuals taking it upon themselves to create new and more appropriate identities for themselves strike me as beautifully healthy and inspiring. And the fact that it’s generally done within a hostile culture and even hostile families and communities makes the act of creating a new self often heroic.
In all likely-hood, this movement probably indicates a future wherein individuals and communities will have more social technology and cultural space to spontaneously and intentionally create new identities for themselves as they see fit.
I can only applaud this trend and toss what meager resources i can in the same general direction.

However, within the same conversation where i admired the trans movement for its bold ownership of identity, i also expressed annoyance and frustration at certain ontological principles being tossed around.
What upset me were the methods many individuals within the trans movement were using to go about justifying their decisions and forcing themselves into mainstream cultural space. This is of course only true of some individuals, but often i here the conversation go into areas where a transgender person proclaims they had always TRULY been their target gender, and that they were now just finalizing their inherent true gender. This reliance on assertions of the ontological reality of gender fluidity in terms of hard, concrete, science is not a good thing… I think. More on that in a bit.

Along with this ontological claim about the reality of gender and sexuality generally comes a demand that everyone admit to this reality, and in no way disagree with the terms laid out, or the ontological premises. It seems to be more and more common for some individuals to demand full acceptance of this new reality and for others to conform to every title and bit of vocabulary that comes with it. In other words, instead of just asserting a new self-proclaimed identity in the face of a conservative and patriarchal culture and through solidarity and compassion build a community, the movement often sinks into demanding a space be made for it within the lives and realities of people who otherwise might not be involved or may even object to the movement.
Again, to put it another way, the burden of legitimation is placed too much in the hands of those outside the trans community instead of within it.

I’m more excited to see identity legitimization through the defiant and forceful proclamation of one’s identity than i am through active demands that everyone else adopt the new reality. Make the new world through the force and will of our lives! Don’t ask for it to be made for us!

Back to the ontological stuff. Ontology is a field within philosophy and science (sort of) that grapples with what can be said to exist, and what being and existence actually may mean. From the Ontology wikipedia page: “…ontology deals with questions concerning what entities exist or can be said to exist, and how such entities can be grouped, related within a hierarchy, and subdivided according to similarities and differences.”  I bring this up not because i actually know much about ontology, i don’t, but because it strikes me as a useful word and concept to grapple with the ideological upwellings and debates going on around the trans movement.
When we make claims about the fundamental reality of some new gender schema we are in a kind of hegemonic cultural war. Hell, as a good post-modernist i’d have to admit that i may be engaging in this sort of thing with this post. But either way, when we assert new and full realities against the old and full realities of others we are fighting for the hegemony (ideological or cultural dominion) of our worldviews. When a transgender person asserts the unquestionable reality that they are now a gender that before they weren’t claiming, OR when a cis person asserts that people cannot change and/or self-determine their own gender, each party is waging an ontological war over who gets to claim monopoly over reality in this case. This strikes me as a very conservative methodology to bring a community into existence with.  I honestly don’t think we need to convert people to our worldviews in order for us to legitimate our existence, whatever our emerging identity/community.
Why, considering what we know from anthropology and genetics about how broad human sexuality, biology, and social identity can be, are we concerned about trying to produce new hegenomies concerning allowable states of gender identity? Why not just admit that gender and identity in general are just states of being largely created by cultural and historical circumstances? How can any of us actually take seriously any claims to ‘true’ states of gender identity? The trans community certainly doesn’t need anymore commentary from straight cis white males like myself, but if you asked me i’d say this whole methodology is one fraught with inconsistencies and quasi-religious thinking.  The greatest victory i could image for the trans community, and perhaps humanity in general, would just be the crumbling of any hegemonic ideas about gender and identity in general. A great diaspora of identity!
Basically, i don’t need to adopt meta-narratives and worldviews wherein transgender persons represent undeniably and irrefutably REAL forms of identity any more than i ought to accept the realness of the gender binary of cis-gendered monopolies in order to be pleasant and supportive of cis persons. In terms of their gender identities, I have no actual faith in the realness of cis women and men anymore than the realness of trans men and women. And honestly, it seems like i may just be proposing my own sort of ontology where legitimate identity springs from self declaration. Hard to say.
So, tell me who you are! I’m excited to see what you have created for yourself! Tell me you’re a woman now and what me to use the pronouns “she” and “her?” Great!! I don’t need you to worry about new ontologies to convince me i should be good and compassionate to you. I gladly support any peaceful and pleasant person who wants to create a new identity for themselves. Your self determination is more important to me than even logical consistency, of which i can’t even claim of my own identity.

Also, on a slightly odder note, i’m uncomfortable with what appears to me to be a sort of latent judeo-christian essence to the claims made by some transgender individuals and their allies that such and such person was always their target gender/identity because that’s who they ‘truly’ are and ‘have always been’.  What about a person changing who they are, even in radical ways, undermines the reality of the current identity? Children become adults, highschoolers often become part of the labor force, singles can become partners, and hell, caterpillars become butterflies. Rarely does anyone have problems with the legitimacy of these new identities, so why do we so often fall back on arguments that new emergent identities we create for ourselves have actually always been the ‘true’ and essential identities, just hidden? Well, honestly, i think it’s just a modern expression of our old friend the soul. The soul has classically been conceived as this essential, inherent, pure, and fundamental aspect to an individual. You can’t see it, you can’t prove it, but apparently it’s there, sure enough. When we claim a certain new identity we create for ourselves as having always been the true identity, i think we’re sorta falling back on this old idea of the essential soul of an individual. Statements like, “It’s just who i am” or “i have to be true to myself” or “it’s just in my nature” are inherently resting on the idea that people have a sort of invisible unchanging essence to their identity. But how boring! I for one hope my identity goes through countless revolutions! This “true self” stuff strikes me as a somewhat conservative aspect to common methodologies of legitimation in the trans movement.

I don’t mean to give people in the trans community more grief than they already get. It’s clear that yall are the one of the most marginalized and generally oppressed groups out there. I’m just offering some commentary about something that often makes me uncomfortable as an ally (if i can call myself that, which i’d like to) and often leaves me feeling alienated from a movement i find a lot of inspiration in. We don’t need the legitimation of others to create our own spaces, be proud of who we are right now, and go forward with the kinds of people we want to be! This is our world, and our imminent actualization can’t be stopped!!

So, all that said, is Caitlyn Jenner a woman?
Well, what does she have to say on the matter? I’ll go with that.

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ontology

“Alice Dreger: Is anatomy destiny?”

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