Gender Fluidity for the Rest of Us

This is the summer of what Time magazine called, “The Transgender Tipping Point.”

I for one am relieved. When Caitlyn Jenner received her ESPY Arthur Ashe Courage Award and at the outset said — “Picking out this outfit — okay, girls, I get it! You got to get the shoes, the hair, the makeup, the whole process. It was exhausting. And next, the fashion police — please be kind on me. I’m new at this.” — it’s like Yaass Caitlyn! Sing it, sister!

Let me just say for the record that Cait looks amazing and is so well put together that I’m both in awe and also jealous. Picking out killer ensembles, rocking, and then walking around in heels, and staying coiffed with perfect makeup is totally overwhelming to me and something I’ve never quite been able to master.

But have always appreciated.

This sentiment is echoed by Jill Soloway, the brilliant creator of Transparent — which if you haven’t watched it yet, don’t walk; run (hopefully not in a pair of stilettos!) and binge on the 11-Emmy-Award-nominee immediately. In an interview with Elle, Soloway said, “How do you figure out what to wear every day? Do you go through feelings of, like, I don’t know how butch to dress, or how femme, or how ladylike, or how much makeup to wear, or how to be fancy?”

Uhm, yes.

My journey to be a “normal” girl started at the very beginning, when someone handed me a doll and as I recall, I recoiled in horror. Ok, that might be an exaggeration, but the only fascination dolls held for me was how they looked stripped down and with their hair hacked really short. One year I got one of those Styling Head Dolls for my birthday, and spent the next year in abject terror, just waiting for disembodied Barbie to eviscerate me for smearing lipstick all over her face, painting her nostrils with bright blue eye shadow, and leaving her once-glorious mane a tangled mess.

While I wasn’t exactly athletic, my jam as a kid was all about running around outside, playing an early version of Survivor as I imagined myself as Mowgli, the boy who was raised by animals in The Jungle Book. This game went over like a lead balloon when I played with one of my friends who had a mom that dressed her like a 1950s porcelain doll, down to the starched white-collared dresses replete with crinolines under her skirt.

Part of me loved the girl’s Happy Days vibe, and the other half of me wanted to smear her with mud and ruin that fancy schmancy bullshit dress of hers.

Guess which side of me won? Is it surprising that was my last play date at that particular classmate’s house?

In my early teens, one summer I took a real shine to a black bowler hat that I snagged from my camp’s drama department. When paired with my Billy Dee Williams’ mustache, I looked a bit like Lando Calrissian-meets-Charlie-Chaplin. It was a fetching look, one that probably scored me the role as Action in West Side Story.

A co-ed production of West Side Story.

The only girl cast as a boy in West Side Story.

Other girls on the precipice of womanhood might have been mortified, but not me. I felt powerful and sexy as the leader of the Jets in a plain pair of Levi’s and a white t-shirt with a fake pack of cigs rolled up in the left sleeve.

I was happy to rock on with my (imaginary) cock on, singing “Gee, Office Krupke” at the top of my lungs, and giving a very heartfelt “Krup You!” to anyone who questioned my masculinity.

When I hear that Angelina Jolie’s daughter Shiloh Jolie-Pitt is being called “John Jolie-Pitt” by Internet trolls, taking a comment her mom made out of context and ignoring the fact that neither the 9 year old nor her parents have yet declared her transgender or anything else besides a kid who likes to play a rousing game of Peter Pan, I have to shake my head.

Back in the day, I clearly considered myself a tomboy, and at this juncture, Shiloh probably does too. A short ‘do and an aversion to wearing dresses — which I had as a kid and pretty much still have — does not necessarily a gender dysmorphic person make.

Gender fluidity, on the other hand, is something I think we all have in some way or another.

It’s the reason that dads are often the best moms, and also why women provide for themselves and their families in a variety of traditionally male ways.

This is not to minimize the struggle of those in the trans community, nor is it to confuse being gender fluid with being transgender. The horrible statistics are real, and I for one can’t begin to imagine the pain of feeling that the body I’m in is nothing but a torturous costume masking my authentic self.

Still, as I listen to Laura Jane Grace from the punk band Against Me! tell her story to Marc Maron on the WTF podcast, I can’t help but think that we are all just stumbling around searching for our truths, and that commonality leads to only one conclusion: we must come to each other with sensitivity, compassion, honesty, curiosity, humor, and love.

From Caitlyn Jenner’s speech, she boils down the universal importance of her being so public with her transition:

“I’m clear with my responsibility going forward, to tell my story the right way, for me, to keep learning, to reshape the landscape of how trans issues are viewed, how trans people are treated. And then more broadly to promote a very simple idea: accepting people for who they are. Accepting people’s differences.”

And again, I think Yaass Caitlyn! Sing it, sister! 

Caitlyn’s words have helped me learn how to accept the beautifully coiffed moms who sit in baseball and softball stands looking as if they just stepped out of a spa and were fluffed by a professional team of stylists and makeup artists. I forgive them for looking so freakin’ MLF-y, just as I forgive myself for being fully unable to go one damn day without spilling coffee or food on my clothes, favoring outfits that have long overstayed their welcome, and not fully mastering the art of hair removal (see: Billy Dee Williams mustache, above).

While I loved what Cait had to say, Laverne Cox has even deeper wisdom to share about the lessons she’s learned from being an outspoken trans advocate and more broadly, as a humanist:

“I love working a photo shoot and creating inspiring images for my fans, for the world and above all for myself. But I also hope that it is my talent, my intelligence, my heart and spirit that most captivate, inspire, move and encourage folks to think more critically about the world around them. Yes, Caitlyn looks amazing and is beautiful but what I think is most beautiful about her is her heart and soul, the ways she has allowed the world into her vulnerabilities. The love and devotion she has for her family and that they have for her. Her courage to move past denial into her truth so publicly. These things are beyond beautiful to me.”

Amen, and one more time: yaass sister!

So if you see me twirling my ‘stache and rocking a ripped tee and old jean shorts, just know that I’m trusting that you can look beyond the gender cues and see straight into my heart. Love is ALWAYS the answer, and it too is trans…


Here’s to the tipping point that makes us all more beautiful, more authentic, and more comfortable in being fluid — and kinder — in how we view each other — and ourselves.

caitlyn Jennergender fluiditylaverne coxtransgender