What Bruce Jenner Can Teach Writers

Gender symbols
Gender symbols

I am fascinated by the Bruce Jenner interview.

As a writer, I am interested in the complexities of gender identity that this "coming out" exemplifies. I wonder, when writing about people, whether in fiction, creative nonfiction or memoirs, how the shifting notion of gender can inform our decisions.

Now that transgender issues are being talked about further in the mainstream, what will it mean for writers?

I am no stranger to the whole discussion of the shifting ground of gender identity. In the seven years in which I taught college, I would show films that raised questions about gender in similar ways as the Bruce Jenner interview does in order to spark conversations, such as Boys Don't Cry, Osama and Ma Vie En Rose.

The first is pretty well-known, about a young woman who tries to pass as a man and ends up getting killed when his true identity is revealed. The second is about a mother in Afghanistan who makes her young daughter dress like a boy in order to avoid the violence inflicted on women by the Taliban. The last is a French movie about a family coping with the emerging transgender identity of their young son because he wants to live his life as a girl.

These films examine how our deeply rooted experience of gender goes beyond our genitalia -- and even beyond our sexuality. Further, these films reveal how fundamental and complicated our sense of gender is.

Oh, how I wish I could have shown the Bruce Jenner interview when teaching the subject of gender in my college classes!

I could write a book (and I know someone will!) about the lessons about gender identity we can glean from the interview. But the one nugget I particularly want to latch on is when Bruce Jenner said that when he closes his eyes and goes to sleep, he dreams he is a woman.

It stood out to me because the deepest sense of our gender isn't simply about how we interrelate to people. If we want to write accurately about the wider experience of gender, we have to get to the core of who we are when we dream.

For writers, this means not just describing a woman or man in terms of gender stereotypes or how he or she interacts with the opposite sex. It means recognizing the many gray areas there are in terms of who we are, who we believe ourselves to be, and how we appear to others. And that each of these don't have to -- and many times don't -- gel.

I believe bringing further into the mainstream the issue of transgendered identity opens up a rich reservoir for writers who are willing to paint a more complex -- and realistic -- notion of what it means to be a gendered human being. It is now up to us to try to do the subject justice.

This post originally appeared in Melissa Miles McCarter's blog #WritingLifeNow. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.