Editor’s note: I know, I know. You’ve been waiting with breathless anticipation to hear my thoughts on Caitlyn Jenner’s transition. I know this because there’s been so little media coverage, so few blog posts, so few television commentaries, so little demands to stop calling her a hero, to take away her medal, that her Vanity Fair debut is a win for the transgender community, or that she’s the worst possible person to represent the trans community. I’m not as eloquent as many of the writers whose blogs I have read this week, but here are my thoughts. Also, the photo credit clearly goes to Annie Leibovitz.
My initial reactions to Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover was jaw-dropping awe. I clearly wasn’t alone in that. My Facebook and Twitter feeds were blowing up about how beautiful she looked and how brave she was for putting herself out there. We had no warning that the cover was coming and it happened so quickly after her interview with Diane Sawyer that it seemed as though her transition happened in a matter of weeks.
In the first few hours of the magazine cover debut, most of what I read was positive. Overwhelmingly positive. I was very pleasantly surprised to see so much support given to her. In a matter of weeks, it seemed that Caitlyn had put the word “transgender” into most American households.
It didn’t take long for the dissenters to raise their voice. I read many comments disagreeing that she was brave, saying that this was yet another Kardashian publicity stunt (seems extreme, even for them), continuing to use the name “Bruce” and the pronoun “he.” I choose not to post links to that vitriol because we’ve all seen them and why spread their words of hate?
But, I do want to touch on a few points.
First, I am so happy for Caitlyn. I can’t imagine how amazing it was to have a team of stylists come and do your makeup, style your hair, give you a manicure, and then have your photo taken by Annie Leibovitz. Caitlyn had a whole team (not to mention years of experience with the Kardashian girls) helping her look and pose her best. How fun, feminine, and empowering that experience probably was for her. I get excited when I get my hair cut and colored so I can’t even imagine the joy of those days of dress up and photography. And you know what, those photos are beautiful. They should be celebrated. She should have her moment to shine. She is finally FREE. She must have been so proud to see those photos. I know I was. I was beaming that someone so well-known was now representing the community that I hold dear.
But, Caitlyn Jenner’s transition is hers alone. It doesn’t look like transition for most other people. I don’t know of others who waited until a national magazine debut to start using affirmed pronouns. We were using female pronouns well before our Vanity Fair cover (also known as that letter I mailed to all our friends and family). I also know that many trans folks may not get breast enhancement or sexual reassignment surgery (though I don’t believe Caitlyn Jenner has received SRS). But, that doesn’t make them less their affirmed gender. The trans community, allies, and medical profession have all been trying to get across that gender is not defined by sexual anatomy.
For trans folks everywhere, Caitlyn’s media exposure is a huge step in the right direction. Caitlyn Jenner is able to take trans awareness into so many households. The little old lady across the street knew who Bruce Jenner was, she now knows who Caitlyn Jenner is. She has no clue who Laverne Cox is. Or Janet Mock. Or Jazz Jennings. Or countless others who are significant to me and my household because we are so very trans aware. Thank you, Caitlyn Jenner for throwing that door wide open.
But, I also think it is vitally important that we begin to bring more transgender individuals to media attention because Caitlyn’s story is very unique and the public needs to hear the spectrum of experiences. Many teens will never get hormone blockers or cross gender hormones to stop a puberty that’s for the wrong body. Most trans folks lack access to basic primary care much less an endocrinologist, a plastic surgeon, a stylist, a host of fashion forward daughters, a world renowned photographer, and a cover in a fashion magazine. They struggle to get a job, to rent an apartment, to get to a healthcare provider when they are sick.
Caitlyn Jenner made a comment about not wanting to “look like a man in a dress” and I cringed. Hard. Because one’s ability to “pass” should not be the yardstick by which we measure how feminine one is. The trans community’s most notable female examples are glamorous, beautiful, and look way (WAY) better in a dress than I do. But, that’s not the whole of the transgender community. And it’s a dangerous message to send to our transgender youth that the way to be accepted by society is to be glamorous and grace the covers of magazines.
We’ve sheltered the kids quite a bit this week from media. My daughter knew who Caitlyn Jenner was and we looked at her photos together. Conner and I had a big conversation about whether or not she felt the need to grow up and be such a glamorous woman. I realize that the not-quite ten year-old girl who still has to be reminded to brush her hair or take a shower may have a different answer as she grows up, but for now, she does not feel the need to be the next girl in heels and a corset. She would like to be the next YouTube star thanks to her favorite role model, Jazz Jennings. We’ll have to talk about the YouTube part, but a fairly typical teenage girl? Yes, please.
I also want to talk about Caitlyn Jenner’s bravery.
Yes, she is really fucking brave.
She hid herself for over 60 years. She tried to transition several years ago and stopped. I only have an inkling of what it is for my daughter to face the world everyday. She feels different than her peers. She is constantly asking herself if she is in a safe and supportive place, if she can tell her friends who she really is, if they will continue to accept her if she does. She’s lost friends. She’s been bullied, told that she’s wrong because God doesn’t make mistakes, shunned by peers who were afraid to touch her in case they caught her “weirdness.” I get physically ill when I read the hatred spewed out on the internet about trans folks and realize that someday my child will leave the protection of my home and live in that world. She’s not even ten and we live in a much more supportive world than Caitlyn lived in. Don’t tell me that Caitlyn Jenner isn’t brave. Because I see my daughter and she’s the bravest person I know.
Please, celebrate Caitlyn Jenner. We do. We’re thrilled for the positive reception she’s received from so many. Continue to talk about trans folks to your kids. Be aware that you’ve passed transgender individuals on the street and never realized it. There is a beautiful spectrum in the transgender community and it would be a shame to expect every person to be a glamorous woman in heels and lipstick. I don’t want that expectation placed on my daughter, nor do I want it placed on me. In the words of Jon Stewart, “It’s really heartening to see that everyone is willing to not only accept Caitlyn Jenner as a woman, but to waste no time in treating her like a woman.”
Which is a blog post for another day.