Unless you live under a rock, you probably know that today, Caitlyn Jenner made her debut in this month’s issue of Vanity Fair. In a 22-page feature, Jenner appears relaxed and comfortable (not to mention gorgeous– thank you, Annie Liebovitz) in her new skin.
First, I have to say bravo to Ms. Jenner. Coming out as a trans person is hard to do, no matter how supportive your family and friends are. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be such a public figure and have so much scrutiny directed toward you, during what is surely some of the most difficult time in a trans person’s life. Transitioning is a strange, long process that can, at times, be anything but graceful. Yet Jenner has handled the whole thing with ease.
Therein lies the problem. Jenner, as a wealthy, famous, politically conservative white person transitioning, has it relatively easy. Transitioning so publicly runs the risk of furthering the Dominant Trans Narrative, which is that the trans person has the means and the opportunity to medically transition and thus, a “trans person” is someone who has made physical alterations to their body and “passes” as their true gender at all times.
So, Jenner’s coming out is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, increasing visibility for trans people is a good thing. I mean, Jenner was a major household name for many years. We know her as an Olympian, a that person who was on a Wheaties box. An American Hero. Also, Jenner’s transition story shows a very real struggle that spouses, children, and friends can have when a loved one comes out as trans. Plus, having a high-profile, professional athlete transition in the public eye is amazing. This past year has brought transgender people some really awesome exposure via Jenner, Laverne Cox (who wrote an excellent commentary on Jenner’s big reveal here), Janet Mock, Aydian Dowling, and more.
The negative thing about the very public nature of Jenner’s transition is that all of Jenner’s wealth and political capital buys her the best care, the best therapy, and the most insulation from the struggles that most trans people, especially trans women of color, experience every day. I will not speak for trans women of color, but if you’re interested, there is some really good commentary here and here.
Jenner’s transition timeline is not representative of most trans people’s experience– I worry that it creates in the general population an expectation that her transition is what transition is supposed to look like, and people who do not look like Caitlyn Jenner are not real trans people.
I hope that folks following her story recognize these things, but I am fearful that they do not. The reality is that trans women, particularly trans women of color, are murdered at an alarming rate. Trans people, particularly trans women, suffer from high rates of homelessness, unemployment, and harassment on a daily basis.
To her credit, Jenner has acknowledged, both in her interview with Diane Sawyer and in Vanity Fair, that her experience is privileged and that many, many trans women are not as fortunate. The fight is far from won, and I just hope, hope, HOPE that our society and all you dear readers recognize this, too.
We are off to a good start in 2015– but we have many miles left to travel. Thank you for joining the journey.