By Paula Overby (2014 and 2016 U.S. Congressional District Candidate; left IP July 2017)
As the first Transgender woman to run for U.S Congress I feel that it is appropriate for me to respond to the recent interview by Diane Sawyer with former Olympic Decathlon champion Bruce Jenner about his transgender identity. There will, of course, be intense debate about his legitimacy and motives particularly with his long standing presence in the media on “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” which attempts to create a modern day montage of the ideal American family.
It is significant that Bruce Jenner presently is identifying himself as male. In essence, he is presenting his experience as it has been. After the transition she will discover what her life will be. As a transgender woman myself and a visible representative of the community I empathize with her and I know the challenges she will face as a woman.
It is equally significant that Jenner is not presenting himself as a representative of the transgender community. Still the interview has profound implications for a more enlightened discussion of transgender issues, both in the way the media approached the subject and the openness of Jenner’s responses. It is from my experience a very realistic representation of the struggle faced by transgender persons; the internal, social, and family conflict that surrounds it. There was emotional intensity portraying the challenges, the social pressures, and the difficult choices. It is for the general public a window into the soul of that internal struggle.
The interview also brought emphasis to the divergence of sexuality and gender. The transgender community has long been associated with the Gay and Lesbian community but sexuality and gender identification are distinctly different when relating to the broader issue of gender equity in our society. Unlike the Gay metaphor of coming out, transgender women have been forced into the social spotlight because of rapid and dramatic changes in family structure and gender roles. That dramatic shift is driving an exaggerated interest in a small and largely invisible group of individuals.
Jenner is, for now, announcing his intention to transition. He will endure tremendous public scrutiny in a very public way. Transgender women, like myself, know that we have experienced both genders in a culturally significant way. It is that knowledge and that experience that we offer to society at large.
As a political candidate it was not my intention to gain social or political acceptance as a transgender woman. Nor was it my intention to gain social or political parity as a woman. Gender was not an emphasis and never central to any discussion. What I emphasized was parity for traditional feminine values: the future of our children, the support of family values, the restoration of our communities, and social engagement. In our two major political parties I found those traditional values displaced by the relentless pursuit of wealth and a reckless disregard for future generations: the national debt, the budget deficit, student loan debt, environmental neglect, outsourcing of jobs, and the institution of a visa work force. I see two political parties that have abandoned the economic strength of this nation in favor of military domination.
I see in the Independence party a transformation of political values with a focus on the future of our young people. I see a party shedding the political rhetoric of the past in favor of a new political agenda based on accountability, transparency, individual liberty and “We the People”. The power of a great campaign is in the message we create and the impact it has on our culture. That’s how we win. Transition is not about boys becoming girls. It’s about a fundamental realignment of our cultural values.