6 Things Caitlyn Jenner’s Coming Out Has Taught Us
The Debrief: Why her coming out is just the beginning for trans rights…
Caitlyn Jenner is a 65-year-old white trans woman who is internationally renowned for her achievements as an athlete and now, a reality star involved in a franchise worth $100 million. Her coming out is one of privilege, that’s why it’s important to remember that it’s not just enough to retweet or Instagram Annie Liebovitz’s – stunning – cover for Vanity Fair.
In the UK, nearly half of young trans people have attempted suicide. And that’s in a country that has anti-hate crime legislation in place. A recent report from the UN took notes from the Trans Murder Monitoring project which finds that, internationally, 1,612 gender non-conforming (someone who doesn’t outwardly appear either male or female) have been killed between 2008 and 2012.
Clearly not enough is being done to help trans people, but it’s not ridiculous to suggest that what Caitlyn has done by coming out so publicly and talking about each stage of the process – something which no trans person is required to do – has helped. Just a bit.
Her coming out has taught us:
1. When it comes to she/he and her/his, you go with whatever the person wants to be called, and in Caitlyn’s case, it’s she.
2. Yes, you can say that it’s Caitlyn Jenner who won medals at the Olympics.
Know who the boxer Cassius Clay is? Probably not, because he changed his name because he didn’t want the name of the slave master of his ancestors. He’s long been Muhammed Ali, and everyone accepts this newer name. The same should apply to Caitlyn. Not doing this – as Drake Bell (whoever that is) insisted was his right to by tweeting: ‘Sorry...still calling you Bruce’ – is called ‘deadnaming’.
3. Gender-conforming trans people are treated with extra respect
A lot of guys online are claiming to show their support by saying, ‘I’d hit that’ about Caitlyn. Well, that’s great for those guys, but Caitlyn’s worth doesn’t need to be defined by her sexual desirability – no woman or trans person needs to be hot to be important.
As Laverne Cox, from Orange Is The New Black, put it: ‘There are many trans folks because of genetics and/or lack of material access who will never be able to embody these standards. More importantly, many trans folks don’t want to embody them and we shouldn’t have to, to be seen as ourselves and respected as ourselves. We need diverse media representations of trans folks to multiply trans narratives in the media, and depict our beautiful diversities.’ She’s also started the hashtag #TransIsBeautiful.
4. Being trans doesn’t make you gay
As Caitlyn said in her Diane Sawyer interview, gender is who you go to bed as, sexuality is who you go to bed with. The reason LGBT people are part of the same group? They’re all sexual minorities and their rights tend to entwine. But not all the time.
5. Comparing cis women (women born with female parts) to trans women isn’t insulting
While a childish meme goes round of Kris Jenner looking upset with the tagline: ‘When your ex-husband looks better than you’, American Horror Story actress Jessica Lange has responded to the comparisons people have made between her and Caitlyn’s looks with so much more composure: ‘That’s so wonderful. Well, now I’m going to have to look for that picture.’
6. The Kardashian-Jenners are important
People blast the family because, well, it’s just so easy to have a go at things young women enjoy. But Kim Kardashian goes through slut-shaming every day and has turned herself into a successful businesswoman.
And Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out has drawn attention like never before to trans rights. It’s unfair that non-famous, non-rich, trans people only get a hashtag when they’re dead – like Leelah Alcorn, the trans girl who killed herself after her family sent her to ‘conversion therapy’ (where zealots try to ‘pray the gay away’) – but hopefully, #CallMeCaitlyn has helped keep up discussion and awareness of trans issues, and really could begin to change public opinion, policy and treatment of trans people.
In the same way that it took high-profile cases of sexual harassment (Anita Hill), stalking (Rebecca Shaeffer) and revenge porn (Scarlett Johansson) for actual policy change, that can affect so many other women, to happen, Caitlyn has privilege – but with that comes more influence than any trans person before her.
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