In the four days since Bruce Jenner came out as a woman named Caitlyn, many Americans have celebrated her transformation as a courageous and even heroic act. But among the social conservatives who are a powerful force within the Republican Party, there is a far darker view. To them, the widespread acceptance of Jenner’s evolution from an Olympic gold medalist whose masculinity was enshrined on a Wheaties box to a shapely woman posing suggestively on the cover of Vanity Fair was a reminder that they are losing the culture wars.
As indeed they are. And it matters not that Jenner herself has said she’s a Republican and, on many issues, a conservative.
Here’s the rub:
Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to Obama, argued that the electorate has evolved so quickly on gay rights in particular that Republicans risk sounding out of touch whenever they talk about these issues.
“Republican reticence and at times intolerance on LGBT issues is a problem for them because they have become a litmus test for young people,” Pfeiffer said. “Even if they’re conservative on other issues, if you break with them on gay or transgender rights, you look like a candidate of the past.”
But Republicans are in a bind: seem backward and intolerant to most younger (and a growing number of older) Americans, or alienate the religious right that votes heavily in GOP primaries, particularly in the South, and dominates the Iowa caucuses. They’re caught in a vice of their own making.
On the subject of Jenner’s transition, noted economist Deirdre McCloskey, herself a transwoman, makes an important point countering the lazy if perhaps politically expedient view that LGB and T are some sort of continuum (they’re not), writing:
How to stay calm? Stop thinking of gender change as being about sex, sex, sex. Stop believing the locker-room theory that gender changers are gay, and gays want to be women. Whom you love is not same thing as who you are. …
Believe me, I would much rather have realized at age 53 that I was gay…than to go through a dozen operations and a lot of funny and terrifying embarrassments.
Bisexuality is on the Kinsey scale from straight to gay/lesbian, but gender identity is distinct from sexual orientation, and we shouldn’t confuse matters further than they already are by the simplistic idea of an LGBT identity.