The “celebration” of Caitlyn Jenner (noticeably, spelt without the signature Kardashian “K”) that
took place on the recent cover of Vanity Fair had enormous potential to open minds, alter perceptions, and glaringly challenge the status quo of what it means to be a “man,” a “woman,” and that mysterious third category—“trans.” And yet it did not. Not only did it not live up to its potential in breaking societal male/female constructs, but it came strikingly close to a celebration, not of Caitlyn Jenner, but of the 1950s female pinup archetype. (It seems not a coincidence that the Jenner Vanity Fair cover looks astoundingly similar to a 1950s Playboy bunny.) Or, as we know it, what some sexists (both male and female) in Hollywood think a woman “should be.” Why am I not surprised? Jenner, Vanity Fair, and the business that is the Kardashian family is, at its core, pure Hollywood. And that, in itself, should be a concern.
To me, the Caitlyn spectacle is currently no more than a Hollywood-celebrity-guy becoming a Hollywood-celebrity-girl whose “transformation” has played strongly to rigid gender and sexuality stereotypes standard in the Business, and whose femininity was oversexualized by a magazine catering to a traditional celebrity aesthetic. And I am shocked at how easily some applaud the pursuit of extreme stereotypes of gender as some kind of reflection of the acceptance of transfolk into the greater culture. It seems that, in America, as in Hollywood, image is truly everything.
There are thousands of transfolk whose body types don’t fit the “normal,” much less the celebrity-desired aesthetic. These people have not been offered TV shows, high profile interviews, or thousands of notes of support. Far from it! These people have faced rejection over and over and over again; they have lost jobs, housing, health care, families, neighbors, religious communities, and more because of their departure from “normal.” Many have lived homeless despite having PhDs or other graduate-level degrees, highly-sought after skills, and excellent ethics and work habits. Coming out as their true selves put them in an “untouchable” caste to be ostracized and set aside. It cost them everything.
So many paid dearly. I paid dearly.
Most of all, my children and my ex paid dearly.
In other words, the people I love most paid the highest price for me to finally face myself and become a real human being, and, hopefully, a kind and decent one too. And it is on me to honor them by working hard every day to be that good and loving person they believed in when I didn’t believe in myself. I can never tell you what I owe them. They are truly the best part of me.
I am one of the lucky ones. I can put a roof over my head. I have some friends who love and accept me. I don’t ask for much, just please don’t hurt me.
But seeing how willingly young men and women accept this celebrity culture aesthetic and ignore the rest of us who don’t fit it, leads me to believe nothing has really changed.
With this new Caitlyn media craze and the related information and perceptions (and misinformation and misperceptions) now inserted into our cultural discourse, I and other “normal” transfolk have to again confront our own ideas of gender and how we manifest our gender in this world. I question myself to make sure I am me. And I strive to express myself safely so that I am not harassed, bullied, jobless or homeless.
As of now, everything I’ve seen about this messy business with Jenner is about adopting extreme gender roles—first as the ultimate male (Olympic champion), and now the ultimate female (sex and glamour). Someday Jenner will figure out what is really the best manifestation for herself. It almost seems as if it is a caricature, a set of extreme ideas of gender being manifested. It seems unreal and I cannot relate. The celebrity trans norm cannot help promote safety and security for “real” transfolk without the cadre of supporters or the backing of millions of dollars. But then again, this transformation was about Bruce and Caitlyn. It was not about me or you.
Jenner could not be where she is without the fact that thousands of us have gone before, without fanfare, without support, and without acceptance, must less tolerance. We’ve trudged through when it wasn’t popular, newsworthy, or safe. No awards are given to those of us who have survived horrific conditions to build our lives anew. But then again, we weren’t looking for any. It is the height of irony that Jenner is receiving an award for what thousands of transfolk have done for years, and continue to do, sacrificing everything in the hope to live in quiet and simple dignity.
Transfolks continue to be bullied, harassed, sexually assaulted, and murdered. Even this week. None of what Jenner is doing, nor what the celebrity culture is promoting, has or will change that, in my opinion.
In all of this, the celebrity class divide has remained such a chasm that Caitlyn and her supporters still don’t see the rest of us, must less muster any empathy or compassion for our plight. Where are our voices in all of this? Where is the support? Where is our story?
As of now, it seems that Jenner and Hollywood haven’t changed a damn thing about gender stereotypes. And that they may have done more harm than good with the sexualized Vanity Fair spread.
I would ask that, and continue to have hope that, as time goes on other trans celebrities or leaders will welcome the monetary and emotional support that they receive and give it back to the cause and their peers who are still suffering deeply each day. Donate photoshoot fees (I’m speaking directly to you, Ms. Jenner) to clinics, housing services, job advocates and other services that reach out to those transfolk who do not fit gender stereotypes and who are not welcomed by society with open arms. Do your part to help those who helped pave the road before you. Be a good and kind girl, guy, man, woman, trans person. Honor all humanity.