This post is part of the Bodies, Gender, and Domination OOPS Series.
In April of 2015, Caitlyn Jenner came out as a transgender woman on Diane Sawyer’s 20/20. Formerly known as Bruce Jenner, Caitlyn’s identity before her transition represented the paragon of what it meant to “be a man.” Caitlyn was an Olympian, a father, and a T.V star. Her masculinity was secure and unquestioned in the eyes of the world, which is why her transition startled many and raised heated political discussions throughout social media, academia, and crowded bars.
Paul Preciado’s Testo Junkie, however, provides a deeper and more intricate framework of analysis through which one can analyze Caitlyn Jenner’s transition in comparison to the superficial “was it wrong or was it right?” narrative that these discourses exist in. Ultimately, Preciado’s analysis would describe the cultural and political phenomenon of Caitlyn Jenner’s transition as an effect of the pharamaconopornigraphic era of gender and sex. In fact, Preciado was interviewed right after Caitlyn Jenner came out, and he stated,
Gender is both constructed through biotechnologies (such as hormones or surgery) but also through multimedia techniques. In other words, gender does not exist prior to its multimedia display. It is through the media’s disclosure and representation that the truth of Jenner’s gender is produced.
What was significant to Preciado in Caitlyn Jenner’s transition was the media-narrative-construction component of the social phenomenon. Caitlyn’s Jenner “coming out” as a woman on national television, the vicious internet debates that ensued, her award of the title Woman of the Year for Glamour magazine, the feminist debates that ensued, are all a reflection of the contemporary construction of gender through what Preciado calls “biopower.” Her text is an extension of Foucault’s History of Sexuality and analyzes the technologies and institutions that maintain and constitute the gender binary in the subject.
We see that these technologies are still in place through Caitlyn Jenner’s narrative in her interviews. She takes great pains to justify herself as a “good parent,” she does not discuss her sexuality in depth, and her ability to “pass” as a woman is the signifier of her successful transition. These components of her narrative represent the cultural internalization of the binary “MAN” and “WOMAN.” As she “comes out” identifying as “woman,” she must prove herself to be a good parent as moral verification for her womanhood. She must downplay her sexual self, so not to be seen as deviant. Her annihilation of androgyny and ability to fully pass is celebrated and considered a victory. Yet, each component of this narrative still supports the binary itself, and is a reflection of the biopower that provides Caitlyn Jenner’s transition with its cultural success.
The new era of gender is upon us, and it welcomes deviant, trans, androgynous bodies so long as we can keep our fictions of the transcendent “gender” and it fits well into the capitalistic scheme. This is the way biopower flexes itself over our society.