The me­dia agenda push­ing Cait­lyn Jen­ner

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - Kath­leen­parker@wash­post.com

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 the re­lease 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: Trans­gen­der Peo­ple Not Wel­come Here.

While some GOP can­di­dates have avoided in­quiry thus far, oth­ers have trod 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 by out­raged con­ser­va­tives to backpedal and sub­se­quently clar­i­fied that he meant to “ex­press 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 awoman 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 have been re­cently 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 post­birth, 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 anti-christ and a wicked rein­car­na­tion of Jezebel! . . . YOU MAKE JE­SUS CHRIST WANT TO VOMIT!” Well, good­ness. 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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Cait­lyn Jen­ner in her new ca­ble-TV doc­u­men­tary se­ries, “I Am Cait.”

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