WASHINGTON – Barring a terror strike or an Ebola outbreak to distract us, the 2016 presidential election seems headed for a gender identity showdown.
Within days of Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover photo, Republican presidential candidates were being asked to comment, while conservative pundits were warning of a political apocalypse.
Leading the charge was Rush Limbaugh, who has advised the GOP to reject Caitlyn Jenner, even if she is a Republican. Big Tent Sign: Transgenders Not Welcome Here.
While some GOP candidates have avoided inquiry thus far, others have tread carefully around the murky issues surrounding gender identity.
Rick Santorum initially gave the correct answer to a reporter, saying, “If [Jenner] says he’s a woman, then he’s a woman.” But he was forced to backpedal by outraged conservatives and subsequently clarified that he was “expressing empathy, not a change in public policy.”
Mike Huckabee was also thrust into the debate when a video of a speech he gave in February surfaced online. Huckabee had joked, “I wish that someone told me that when I was in high school that I could have felt like a woman when it came time to take showers in P.E.”
When asked Tuesday about his earlier remark, Huckabee said, “I’m not going there.”
This is good advice for all Republicans, unless they have something thoughtful to say. If you think “legitimate rape” was a problem, stick around for “Can Jenner be a woman if he still has male organs?” Apparently, Jenner hasn’t yet taken the final physical step to becoming a woman, according to Vanity Fair.
As flip as the question may seem, it does invite a necessary elaboration. As I recently have been tutored, sex organs are irrelevant to gender identity. Simply put, sexual orientation concerns with whom you have sex. Gender identity, which forms early in life based on multiple factors both pre- and post-birth, concerns who you are, male or female, regardless of the equipment you were born with.
Clearly, this subject is more complicated than a girlie pinup in a ‘50s muffler shop, which is what Jenner’s cover photo reminded me of. Never mind the potential ramifications and adjustments that may become necessary in the public square, from single-sex institutions to restroom facilities to those awful public school showers.
Limbaugh isn’t wrong in predicting the coming stigmatization of conservatives as crazy or hateful because they’re not queuing up as popular convention requires. The danger for the GOP is that the loudest and kookiest voices will be harnessed by the media and trotted out as typical of the Republican base.
As always, volunteer crazies will present themselves, as did one fellow who wrote to me recently as “God’s Emissary.”
“You are an agent of the antichrist and a wicked reincarnation of Jezebel! … YOU MAKE JESUS CHRIST WANT TO VOMIT!”
Apparently, the fellow was upset by what he incorrectly gleaned as my “celebration” of Jenner when I had written critically of the media surge. So it goes in Column World. But you see how gleefully a reporter might seize upon such a letter and declare, “There they go again. Those wacky Republicans.”
The truth is, one needn’t be unhinged to be concerned about sweeping societal changes in matters as fundamental as what it means to be a man or a woman. Such cultural shifts shouldn’t be expected to become mainstream with a single magazine cover.
But transgenderism isn’t a threat to the GOP or to the nation, notwithstanding the dire warnings of people in the business of direness. What really bothers most conservatives, and doubtless many others, is the dominant template of social change via media saturation. While some advocates and talk-show hosts are cheering the debate on transgenderism prompted by Jenner’s celebrity transition, there is no debate. What we have is a media-created, media driven conversation among the media.
Indeed, the matter has been settled by Vanity Fair and other Big Media, and it’s now up to the rest of the country to fall in line.
Accepting that transgender people are human beings, too, should not be that difficult. Granting equal protections to all regardless of race, creed, sex or gender should be fairly easy to process. Ultimately, the courts will sort it all out.
In the meantime, Limbaugh and others who insist that Republicans take a stand on Jenner’s transition are big fish lured by small bait. The media’s group embrace of Jenner’s transition should be seen for what it is – not a revolutionary step toward minority rights, but a money grab for ads, ratings, sales and buzz in a culture of provocation and greed without ethics or conscience.
Let’s talk about that, instead.
Kathleen Parker’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.