When a high profile celebrity undergoes drastic physical and personal reinvention, it would certainly generate extensive media coverage and a great deal of public interest. Thus, the revelation of Caitlyn Jenner was monumental.
Appearing on the cover of the July 2015 issue of Vanity Fair, former Bruce Jenner, an Olympic gold medalist dubbed before as one of the greatest athletes in the world, reintroduced herself as a woman. With her feminine features and clad in a female article of clothing, the transition seems almost complete. The same pop culture magazine revealed that Jenner underwent series of hormone therapies and gruelling cosmetic procedures to further align her physique with her identity.
Gender and identity struggle of Caitlyn Jenner
But her revelation was more than a vanity fair. For quite a long time, Jenner struggled with her situation. Her famous interview with Diane Sawyer of ABC News on April 2015 that ended years of public speculations revealed how she felt detached to the world because of her identity and gender issues. She said, “I was a very lonely boy. I’m still a lonely big boy. I don’t socialise a lot. When you deal with this issue, you don’t fit in.”
Caitlyn struggled with her gender and identity. She fancied wearing dresses when she was a kid, secretly trying on the clothes of her mom or sister whenever she got the chance. But she never resolved her crisis.
Straight from high school, Caitlyn attended Graceland University under a football scholarship. Her college football career was cut short because of a knee injury. She remained athletic and competitive, nonetheless. A mentor recognised her potential and encouraged her to pursue decathlon instead—a highly competitive and intense sport consisting of 10 track and field events.
Caitlyn won a gold medal at the 1975 Pan American Games. In 1976, she won an Olympic gold medal while setting a world record that remained unchallenged until 1980. This achievement was a social and political phenomenon. Athletes from the Soviet Union dominated decathlon and an Olympic gold during the Cold War made Caitlyn an instant celebrity and an American cult hero.
She was smart enough to take advantage of her Olympic fame. She eventually pursued a career in television and landed some several endorsements. But she had a sprawling interest. She had a successful career as a race car driver during the 1980s. Her business pursuits are also noteworthy. She currently owns an aviation supply company, an infomercial production outfit, and a personal brand that sold several merchandises using her former name.
Despite her accomplishments, her struggle remained. In the same interview with Sawyer, Caitlyn said: “I look at this way—Bruce always telling the lie. He’s lived a lie his whole life about who he is. And I can’t do that any longer. My brain is much more female than it is male. It’s hard for people to understand that, but that’s what my soul is.
“They see you as this macho male, but my heart and my soul and everything that I do in life—it is part of me. That female side is part of me. That’s who I am.”
Gender identity and gender dysphoria
Gender roles and identities have some basis on social construction, including culture and prevailing social norms. However, gender also remains deeply rooted in observable and measurable biological differences between gender classifications. There is nonetheless a prevailing divide whether gender is indeed a product of social construction or a natural biological manifestation. Regardless of this nature-versus-nurture debate, it is fair to say that gender is a spectrum and roles and identities vary.
Those who are unable to completely determine their roles and identities due to discontent often suffer from gender dysphoria—sometimes referred to as gender identity disorder but several researchers and clinicians have argued against the attachment of “identity” and “disorder” to the entire term. By definition, gender dysphoria is a medical diagnosis used by psychologists and physicians to describe a psychological condition in which an individual experiences extreme discontent with the sex and gender he or she was assigned at birth.
However, it is very important to take note of the fact that gender dysphoria and the desire to transition to another gender are not mental illness. Instead, it is a psychological condition that involves stress, anxiety, and depression emerging from the discontent over physical sexuality or the conflict arising from a mismatched between gender identity and the physical or visible sexual determinant.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder 5 or DSM-5 of the American Psychiatric Association or APA, about 0.005% to 0.014% of males and 0.002% to 0.003% of females would be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, based on current diagnostic criteria.
Individuals who suffer from gender dysphoria often isolate themselves from the public and also experience poor self-esteem. They are also at increased risk for suicide and development of actual mental disorders to include eating disorders due to anxiety and depression emerging from their discontent.
Resolving gender dysphoria and the Caitlyn impact
Care and treatment for gender dysphoria have shifted from psychotherapy or counselling to hormonal therapy, cosmetic surgery, and gender assignment surgery. Caitlyn has significantly undergone hormonal therapies and cosmetic surgery to make herself appear less manly and more feminine.
Other treatments include social and legal transition to the desired gender. In the Vanity Fair story, Caitlyn mentioned that she has been hosting several small gathering in which she invites female friends and close relatives. During these events, she could dress as desired and feel natural in the presence of women.
There is a need to resolve gender dysphoria. As mentioned, people suffering from this condition experience stress, anxiety, and depression. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey of the National Center for Transgender and Quality, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force revealed that suicide attempts among untreated transgender are common than the general population but this susceptibility lessens with strong familial ties. From the surveyed 6,450 respondents, 41% of them reported that they attempted suicide—considerably higher than the 1.6% prevalence in the general population.
The APA, also recognises the need to protect people suffering from this condition against discrimination. These individuals need a proper diagnostic term to protect their access to care, especially access to insurance coverage for medical treatments. It is important to note that the DSM-5 of APA put emphasis on the need to promote a diagnostic label that would remove all connotations that the individual struggling with his or her gender discontent is disordered.
The revelation of Caitlyn Jenner is indeed more than a vanity fair. More than just the media coverage and reactions to her transformed physique, it has been remarkable because she is a high profile celebrity that brings the issue of gender dysphoria and transgender orientation back to the surface. Her transition from manhood to womanhood could bring forth renewed awareness as regards the existence of individuals who are struggling to resolve their gender issues. In addition, her revered celebrity status could promote the plight of transgender and the entire LGBT community and LGBT Movement.
Individual empowerment is the most important impact of Caitlyn. In a promotional video for her upcoming documentary series that chronicles and follows her new life, she raised a rhetorical albeit reflective question. She asked, “How many people go through life and just waste their entire life because they never deal with themselves to be who they are?”
Further details of the Vanity Fair cover story are in the article “Introducing Caitlyn Jenner.” Further details of the Diane Sawyer interview with Caitlyn Jenner are in the “Bruce Jenner: The Interview” webpage published by ABC News.
More information about the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder of the American Psychiatric Association are available from a dedicated APA website. Further details of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey are in the report “Injustice at Every Turn” authored by Jaime M. Grant, PhD, Lisa A. Mottet, PhD, and Justin Tanis, DMin. Photo credit: Vanity Fair