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I’ve never been particularly comfortable with Caitlyn Jenner’s transition.
That bothered me.
I pride myself on my intolerance of any discrimination whatsoever and was confused that I didn’t immediately embrace the opportunity to speak out for her and express support for her decision to transition; something I imagined I would recognise because of the bravery and self-actualisation it represents.
If I had decided to write about it earlier (and I’ve thought about doing so a lot) I wouldn’t have been the only one. There’s been a considerable amount of disturbance in the feminist force about the impact appropriation of feminine tropes has on women and society as a whole and I wouldn’t have been the first to express my uncertainty. But I simply didn’t feel I had anything to add to the debate. And in the era of the hot take, I wasn’t prepared to commit to a piece when its natural conclusion remained tantalisingly out of reach.
In the last place it would have occurred to me to look.
When I was a kid, I was a rock fan. One minute I was fifteen years old, wandering the High Street looking for nothing to do, the next a casual acquaintance dragged me up three flights of stairs to the top floor of a building that, to my knowledge, only contained a branch of Burtons, and opened the door on a sticky carpeted, deafeningly loud experience that would change my life forever. The Night Owl night club; hub of the Cheltenham rock scene. A place with all the reverence to Health & Safety legislation that the epithet suggests.
I was obsessed with it and it came to define me. I loved the blend of aggressive music and proud, inclusive community. I got drunk and made friends that I fiercely loved to a soundtrack that made my pulse strive for previously unscaled heights. Those years were always going to be indelibly marked on my soul.
But I grew older and it drifted out of my life as those friends did. My music tastes broadened, softened and I before I knew it, I kind of liked the new Kaiser Chiefs single. About six months ago, I realised I’d completely lost touch with something that I once considered a constituent part of me. It was time to seek help.
I stumbled upon ThatsNotMetal via a friend and immediately fell in love with its ethos. Devised by Terry ‘Beez’ Bezer, a former writer for genre bibles Kerrang! and Metal Hammer, the podcast seeks to reclaim rock culture from the revenue driven, merchandise flogging machine that’s slowly consuming it and restore the moral code to its DNA . Tolerance, community and the bond only otherness from the herd can bring.
Beez, and Metal Hammer writer Steven Hill, spend two hours a week discussing the news, releases and issues circulating around rock music, their opinions candid and blunt to the point of character assassination. In the case of pop punk band, A Simple Plan, actual assassination.
They get away with it because they’re right. The music they enthuse about and beg you to try with the kind of beseeching, helpless commitment usually found in someone trying persuade another to stop punching themselves is so good, I couldn’t help but take up a life of making lists of bands they talk about on my phone and listening to the albums on Spotify while muttering “Kaiser Chiefs” and shaking my head. They’ve cost me a fortune in band t-shirts already, those guys.
A few weeks ago, they had a discussion on Against Me!’s 2010 album, White Crosses.
It’s fair to say I was familiar with the band’s music and news of lead singer Tom Gabel’s decision to transition in 2012 hadn’t completely passed me by, but I hadn’t put the two together until I listened to Hill and Beez speak about the importance of White Crosses in their lives; two straight, white men discussing the connection they felt to Against Me!’s music and how it had empowered them during darker periods of their lives.
I’m just as guilty as anyone of assuming that because the world is essentially run by straight, white men, that being one is a free pass from the self-doubt, insecurity and confusion the rest of us receive as standard, but their conversation and subsequent interview with Laura Jane Grace herself, clarified the reasons for my uncertainty over Caitlyn Jenner so completely, I’ve spent the last fortnight wondering why I hadn’t seen it myself.
It’s so simple. I’m a woman, but I’ve never been comfortable with overt expressions of feminine ideals. As a child I was largely left to my own devices when it came to clothing, developing friendship groups and interests, so remained blissfully unaware of the binary gender model imposed on a lot of kids my age until later. I was never particularly interested in make-up, although I wear it, I don’t wear skirts or dresses and I’m so unsteady on my feet in hi-tops that heels have been, and will always remain, an abstract deathtrap.
But the dislike of the constructs of femininity failed to remain on a practical, functional level. As I grew up, the ideology that a woman is only a woman if she fulfills certain criteria became more of an issue. Probably because I don’t fulfill those criteria and felt the subtle effects of that.
So why would I empathise and feel kinship with a person who very publicly and (and deliberately) embraces those constructs in her quest to be accepted as a woman? I’m not a fan of Beyonce, who, alongside a few others, has come to define the gender in Western culture. I have never had the attention span required to commit to a regime that requires me to remove all my body hair, critique my face and figure in a mirror and the only way I’m ever going to achieve the weight loss that would get me to the mythical Size 0 would be to lose a limb. I’m OK with that, even if a small proportion of people I have met are not.
I understand Laura Jane Grace though. She dresses like me, she loves music like me and her tender yet fierce ownership of her self-actualisation lights a fire in me that both illuminates and warms. I’ve learned that the ability to inspire and comfort aren’t gender specific and it’s our responsibility to embrace each other as human beings, not impose arbitrary restraints on self-expression because of gender. That hurts us all eventually.
Inspiration comes in many forms, as does gender, some anticipated, some not, and I’m writing this about Laura Jane because, without her knowledge, she has pushed me towards a better understanding of the world when I thought I had it nailed.
I hope that Caitlyn Jenner’s journey inspires people to do the same, but if she doesn’t, and you’re still uncertain, never stop looking. As Laura Jane Grace reminds us in the Against Me! song ‘Transgender Dysphoria Blues, (starts 20:10 in the above video):
“we can’t choose how we’re made.”
But we have a responsibility to look inside ourselves and think about how we, as individuals, can be better people.