Dennis O’Neil: Caitlyn And The Real Us

O'Neil Faces

You! Yeah, you over there… you as sick of seeing pictures of Caitlyn Jenner as I am? I mean, they’re all over the place and the media are riding the story – paltry little story – like a merry-go-round unicorn.

What? You’re not sick of Jenner pix? Well, go dump your bumple – while I try to elide the above into something at least remotely appropriate for this column, which is supposed to be about comic books or pop culture or something. Here we go. I’ll assume for an as-yet undetermined amount of bandwidth that you have for the past month been on your bi-annual Zen retreat up there in those mountains, far from screens and speakers and media in general (which might explain why you’re not sick of Jenneriana) and so you don’t know that one-time Olympic medal winner Bruce Jenner has become an almost-transexual, posed for a magazine looking hotter than any 65-year-old, of any gender, ought to look, and in the process did a name-change: Bruce, look in the mirror and meet Caitlyn. Caitlyn apparently hasn’t had surgery – hence my labeling her “almost” – but in all other ways the transformation is a fact.

I commend her. Hers could not have been an easy decision to make. Let’s believe what she says – I have no reason to doubt her sincerity – and assume that all these years, from her winning Olympic glory in 1976 through semi-stardom in the Kardashian reality TV ventures after Bruce married Kardashian matriarch Kris, right up to her present notoriety glut, Jenner was hiding her real identity behind an assumed identity. “Bruce” was a mask; Caitlyn was the real person.

Claiming one’s truth is a noble act. But I can’t help wondering why it was done so publicly. The Vanity Fair cover, the television interviews, all the spangly show-biz… it’s almost as though she’s plastering a new mask over the old Bruce one. (Norma Jeane Mortenson, meet Marilyn Monroe.) And basking in the fleeting warmth of the spotlight? Again?

Some of this may seem familiar to comics fans. Ever heard, or even participated in, a debate over which is the real person Bruce Wayne or Batman? Clark Kent or Superman? Part of the appeal of the double identity trope, which isn’t limited to superheroes, is that it acknowledges and delineates basic human reality: we all present different faces to the world depending on the occasion. The you who has pizza with pals is different from the you who has dinner with grannie – and many of us, I suspect, feel that the individual society sees is not the real us. (And it probably isn’t.)

Part of me chooses to believe that Caitlyn is moving toward something valid that’s not just her ego finding another way to demand attention. (Is Batman an exhibitionist, despite his penchant for shadows?)

Now, your turn. Go and get a mask and put it on. Then find somebody who might want to look at it.