They Still Call Him Bruce, But Siri Doesn’t

Caitlyn Jenner
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Bruce Jenner won the Male Athlete of the Year Award from the Associated Press in 1976. Last night, Jenner won ESPN’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award as a female.

Confused? Siri’s not.

Apple’s self-described “humble virtual assistant” insists that the man who won an Olympic gold medal in the decathlon, posed for Playgirl, and fathered six kids is now a woman. Ask Siri Bruce Jenner’s sex, and the iPhone know-it-all definitively explains: “The answer is female.”

Like ESPN, Siri knows the correct answers. Celebrating Jenner with a “courage” award appears about the least courageous of acts. Ostensibly, awards honor another. In reality, those giving the honors really honor themselves. Why else does Congress pass resolutions praising Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela or the president pose for pictures with every championship team?

It’s not about whether Caitlyn Jenner belongs in the men’s or ladies room. It’s about Apple and ESPN announcing that they belong in the club.

Lest one conclude that the Apple app works as a mind-control experiment unleashed on the world by the nefarious Skynet, remember that Siri came out as a transgender long before Bruce became Caitlyn. The soulless voice of a soulless corporation speaks as Rosie the Robot Maid in one breath and C3PO in the next. The operation that transitions Siri from one gender to the other happens in “settings,” a setting far less gruesome than some twenty-first century Dr. Frankenstein’s lab. There’s no cutting or chemicals—just the touch of a screen.

She/he/it harbors a bias here unbefitting of a detached, objective machine, which remains as detached and objective as the humans behind it. The humans in Cupertino, many of them as socially well adjusted as Siri himself/herself, prefer Caitlyn to Bruce the way they prefer Macs to PCs. And they prefer to think this not a preference but a fact.

Such steadfastness appears out of character for the voice in our phones. On most questions, Siri dodges or pleads ignorance. Should we take down the Confederate Flag? “I’m sure I don’t know.” Is global warming is real? “I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows.” What is Siri’s opinion of President Obama? “It’s nice of you to ask.” Does Siri believe that Ariana Grande should have licked that donut? “I don’t believe that I have beliefs.”

Except about whether medical science can supplant God and assign sex. Here, the Orwellian voice of God, or at least of Steve Jobs and his apostles, tells us the answers. And a generation that Googled its way to facts but never to wisdom repeats that 6’2’’ Bruce Jenner—equipment, xy chromosomes, shaved Adam’s apple, and all—walks the world a woman.

As for Siri’s sex, the male and female voices concur on a non-answer answer to the boy-girl question: “I am still just… Siri.” And he’s still just Bruce.


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