By now the portrait of Caitlyn Jenner has been everywhere. The iconic photo of Bruce Jenner’s gender transformation has generated much attention and comment. The photo says a lot about what is physically possible with a world renowned photographer, money for chemical gender reassignment, plastic surgery, hair removal, and Adam’s apple shaving. And clothes. Really nice clothes.
Yes, Caitlyn went through a lot to be female. And now the transformation is proudly displayed in a world class artistic glamour shot.
There’s more to being female than glamour. Even Joan Rivers would have told us that!
Bruce Jenner had money and three gorgeous wives, each of whom are the mothers of his children. But for the rest of us, particularly straight spouses, we are just ordinary people, leading ordinary lives. For women whose husbands are transgender, this can mean a complete lack of affirmation for our desire to be glamorous, or for our own sexuality as we deal with the reality of daily living.
The portrait of Caitlyn Jenner, like all glam shots, sets a standard that is out of reach for most people, including transgendered people. Gender reassignment is a long and painful process. The photo is visual testimony of triumph over that process. It does not speak to the truth of being female, but rather to an idealized appearance and a highly monetized personal victory.
Most 65 year old women would not pose for a magazine cover in their lingerie with a come hither seductive look – unless they wanted to show off their well toned bodies, proclaiming sexual viability is still part of their lives. The sexual suggestion of the photograph is nothing new – drag has been around a long time. The difference, of course, is in revealing a female body shape without padding or corsets. And that takes money, and the lifetime of being a celebrated athlete who remained in better than average condition.
Caitlyn’s photo is an ideal for transgender people. But it is a sexualized ideal, one that many women have a problem accepting as an image to be presented of celebrated femininity.
The photo evokes painful memories for some wives and ex wives of transgender husbands. “At least Caitlyn’s wearing her own undies,” commented one ex wife in a support group discussion. Many wives of transgendered husbands have experienced missing bras and panties only to find them returned later, stretched out and unlaundered. The underwear makes their husbands feel sexy. Yet, when the women wear it, their sexual attractiveness is not validated in their marriage. As their husbands progress in the transformation, they are lauded as brave people claiming their true identity. However, the shattered sexuality of their wives seldom merits attention or compassion.
For many people the iconic image of Bruce Jenner will always be the indomitable champion of the 1976 Olympics, when he won the grueling decatholon, besting a Soviet athlete who had world class training and resources. Yes, Caitlyn is the same person, older, and still much more capable than most people of physical triumph and endurance. Yet, the soft and sexual image of Caitlyn has elicited a kind of public realization that the man who was a heroic Olympic champion is gone.
Many spouses, parents, and children of transgender people experience a grief process. It can take time to reconcile the loss of a husband who has now become female. Time, affirmation, and patient understanding of the full range of emotions spouses experience all support us in moving toward the acceptance of the new directions of our lives and that of our spouses.
With the groundbreaking decision by the Supreme Court of the United States, it is likely that more LGBT people will emerge from leading closeted lives, not needing the cover of a marriage to someone of the opposite sex. In addition, new awareness of the transsexual experience and gender fluidity is allowing many people to discard the conventions of their heterosexual marriages. It is important – vital, even – that the needs of straight spouses in these mixed orientation families are not discarded along with the new wave of acceptance.
Here at the Straight Spouse Network, our sole mission is to support the straight spouse by listening, affirming, providing information and resources, and peer to peer guidance in a completely confidential setting. We know the diverse stories that the rest of the world never hears, and we support one another, no matter where you are on the journey. We recognize the experience of countless millions of straight spouses worldwide, in diverse cultures and locations.
Reach out. Heal. Build bridges – to yourself, to us, to people who affirm you.
You are not alone.