Sat | Aug 19, 2017

That’s a man, baby!

Published:Sunday | June 14, 2015 | 6:00 AM

American identity politics can be tremendously entertaining. Let me give an example. Currently, there's a scandal rocking Spokane, Washington, because Rachel Dolezal, the 37-year-old president of the NAACP chapter (that's the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), is refusing to answer a simple question: "Are you African American?"

Rachel, who is a part-time professor in the African studies programme at Eastern Washington University, eventually had this to say: "We're all from the African continent." Splendid. Y'know, technically that's true. All the evidence points to the evolution of Homo sapiens sapiens a mere 200,000 years ago, a shockingly short blink of an eye in evolutionary time, in what is now Eastern Africa. However, I think it's fair to say that the questioner had an even more limited time scale in mind and that Rachel Dolezal is quite aware of it.

There will be very little sympathy for Ms Dolezal. However, if she had been born a white male that could argue that she was 'transgendering' while 'transracialing', I think she could get a commendation from President Obama himself. For there was President Obama giving a 'forward' to Bruce Jenner for mangling himself with chemicals and surgery.

Alas, nowadays one's antennae for rubbish have to be very finely tuned.

I don't think it necessary to argue whether Bruce 'Caitlyn' Jenner is a man. That's just shooting a fish in a barrel. He was born with an X and Y chromosome, is endowed with meat and two veg, was recognised as Associate Press Male Athlete of the Year in 1976, and, significantly, produced no fewer than six children who call him 'papa' and somebody else 'mama'. He falls pretty squarely, in fact, axiomatically, into every known non-demented definition of 'male'.

However, he also happens to be a man suffering seriously from a condition known as 'gender dysphoria' who has begun the process of sculpting his body to conform to his mental affliction. On top of that, he has another condition called 'famous for being famous', which was originally contracted by his stepdaughter, Kim Kardashian, but which, as a once-famous athlete and barely-remembered Z-rated actor, seems to have competitively spurred him into an acute case of public exhibitionism.

What we have is a Caucasian male, currently worth about US$100 million (that's more than 10 billion Jamaican dollaz), to whom it occurs to spend a portion of that fortune to have overpriced doctors surgically remove his bollocks and fashion him a vagina. This guy is taking the message that he can have it all to ridiculous lengths.

Jenner needs sympathy, care, and referral to a panel of Austrian psychotherapeutic experts. Instead, he's being given encouragement. That I find dismaying from a human and Christian point of view. From the perspective of one somewhat interested in observing the near-inexhaustible fringes that men's disastrous appetites may take them, it's fascinating.

I'm more interested in the social demand that everyone treats him like a woman and even refer to him as one. Why so? Why the demand for a collective hallucination?

It took me back to two scenes, one from a movie, Mike Myers' Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, and another from a book, Orwell's 1984.

Remember when Austin Powers punches Basil Exposition's mother, then pounces on top of her trying to rip her wig off? "That's not your mother! It's a man, baby!" Unfortunately, it isn't a wig, there's no disguise, and Exposition's mom was just 'beat with an ugly stick'. Pleading in self-defence, Austin says: "Well, you have to admit, she is sort of mannish!" There's no doubt: sometimes nature misfires and there are strange results.

Then there's the scene in 1984 when Winston Smith confides to himself that "freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows."

What to make of all of this from Jamaica?

Look, that police snapshot of Dudus in the Nurses Association of Jamaica's wig must have done wonders for the self-esteem of cross-dressers across the island. Here was the don of all dons supporting the institution, not just in word, but also in deed. And more than that, there was even a pastor on hand to give it a blessing.

So I don't want us to look at Bruce Jenner and gwaan like we don't know 'bout dem tings down here.

To be fair to Dudus, Livy records that the great African, Hannibal, used to avoid assassination by wearing wigs to disguise himself. Maybe that's the proper lineage, and that the intention one has to cross-dress is important.

And while we're with the Romans, there was the decadent pagan Emperor Elagabalus, who famously wanted to transform himself into a woman. This young man ascended to power at the age of just 14, threw outrageous parties, and is even reported to have married himself to a manservant. Other reports have it that he painted his eyes, shaved himself completely, and donned wigs before prostituting himself. He was, of course, a spectacle, and quite popular among the people. All this was before the triumph of the Cross.

Not that these things disappear, but the Church's archetypal cross-dresser was more benign: St Joan d'Arc. Again, intentions do matter.

As technology permits more self-mutilation and manipulation, and as the cultural orientation and resources provided by the great religious stories dry up, expect more of this. I intend to enjoy the spectacle.

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.