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Caitlyn Jenner's gender war on pronouns

(July 26, E!)

(July 26, E!) "I am Cait" chronicles the former male Olympic decathlete's recently announced journey toward long-wished womanhood. Photo Credit: E!

Keeping the pronouns straight. In my experience, that's the hardest part of adjusting to a friend's sex-change operation.

My experience in this case consists of working in the same newsroom as Ridgely Hunt, an award-winning war correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, as he became Nancy Hunt in the mid-1970s.

Or as Nancy probably would prefer to hear me say, she was always Nancy; it only took the help of modern gender-reassignment surgery to let her reveal her true feminine self in public.

That's my pronoun problem. Even today it's hard for me to talk about "her" award-winning coverage of the Vietnam War, for example, when that coverage was published under "his" byline when he was still a "he."

A Yale graduate from a Social Register family and veteran of two wars, Hunt was known for taking on dangerous assignments with gifted writing skills. His -- her? -- reputation for macho stories only made Hunt's changes from a "him" to a "her" all the more astonishing to the rest of us.

After her final operation in 1978, she feared her editors might try to fire her, but instead she was reassigned to inside work on the editing desks. She wrote an autobiography, "Mirror Image," that year. She was profiled in People magazine and grilled by the audience on Phil Donahue's TV show. She was even immortalized by Hollywood when a clip from that show was included in the Brian DePalma thriller "Dressed to Kill" to give a touch of real-life authenticity to its plot.

Hunt retired in 1984, remarried and died in 1999 at age 72 as Nancy Hunt Bowman.

"All the years as a man I would look in the mirror and hate myself," she told People in 1978. "Now I'm an avowed sexual freak. Yet I look in that mirror, and after a lifetime of self-loathing I can say, 'Hey, I like me'."

Those days come back to mind as I once again wrestle with the proper pronouns for former Olympic decathlon champ Bruce Jenner, who famously has become the eerily familiar-looking Caitlyn Jenner.

Like others who are way past tired of the self-promoting Kardashians, a famous-for-being-famous clan of which Caitlyn is a part, I tried to ignore her latest burst of glamorized controversy.

But now I wonder: Will Caitlyn Jenner's fame do for the gender rights cause what, for example, Rock Hudson's and Magic Johnson's revelations of their HIV infections did for the fight against AIDS?

A lot already has changed. The trans-rights movement, not to be confused with the gay and lesbian rights movement, is growing in power and appeal. Time headlined its cover featuring actress and former man Laverne Cox last year with the headline "The Transgender Tipping Point" -- without a question mark.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, now a presidential hopeful from South Carolina, seemed to get that message when he invited Jenner, a reputed Republican, to vote for him as he pitched for a more inclusive GOP.

Still trans people endure enough discrimination to look like the final frontier in the civil rights revolution. In most states, it is still legal to fire someone for being transgender. Surveys by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force still find huge levels of violence and persecution against transgender people -- including 41 per cent of respondents who said that they had attempted suicide.

And as writer Michelle Goldberg reported last year in a The New Yorker piece titled "What Is A Woman?" transgender folks also are attacked by radical feminists on the left as being either inauthentic women, in the cases like Jenner's, or sellout women, in the cases of trans-men, who allegedly caved in to male supremacy.

Can't we all get along? Jenner has added fuel to that radical feminist backlash by announcing that she is leaving her male genitalia intact. A large number of trans-women do, surveys show. That's their right, but it doesn't make my pronoun problem any easier.


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