The Caitlyn Jenner Effect
No-one can have failed to notice the latest Cardassian Kardashian-related news item being splashed all over the first world media; the transition of Jessica Lange Caitlyn Jenner. I tend to avoid all Cardassian Kardashian crap as much as possible, not being a fan of celebrity culture and the false idols thus raised up based on the crumbling pedestals of white, heteronormative, cisgender, able-bodied wealth and status. However, Ms Jenner is taking a huge personal step and is allowing the public in to understand the process and the life of a transgender person going through transition.
As predicted, FOX News misgenders Ms Jenner all over the place, even quoting her words within the interview as having been said by ‘Bruce Jenner’ and stating Bruce Jenner is debuting Caitlyn Jenner. No, FOX, you linguistically transphobic morons, Caitlyn Jenner is debuting Caitlyn Jenner.
Much of the press coverage has been supportive, and this in itself reflects great strides in social evolution. It is worth noting that this only happened after a sporting hero (I do not gender the word) who was well known and conforms to all other privileged identity markers took this step. Perhaps this makes it easier for those who would normally turn in disgust to open themselves up to. If it changes minds, it’s a good if miniscule step.
That does not mean that violence towards transgender people, misunderstandings (to put it politely), misgendering, ‘tranny’ jokes in sitcoms etc. (how often have you seen the old trope that a tall and/or larger woman is mistaken for a man, or a man has ‘accidentally’ snogged a ‘man’, for example? Even in wonderful sitcoms such as Miranda *sigh*), and either ignorant or deliberate transphobia is going to disappear overnight. Last year there were significantly more violent attacks against transgender people than in the whole of 2013. The suicide rate for transgender people, particularly the young coming to terms with their identity, is far higher than the average.
In the UK we had a transgender character on one of the biggest soap operas in the country, Coronation Street, the wonderful Hayley Cropper (still missed). A m-t-f post-transition transgender character, who was played by a cisgender woman. I do not know why a transgender actor was not chosen to play the part; I am guessing that gender identity was not a question asked in the audition. I for one think that they should have asked transgender actors to apply; affirmative action is something I support. After all, what is discrimination if not affirmative action for those already in the position of privilege?
The United States has openly transgender women in highly successful roles, people such as Janet Mock and Laverne Cox. They remain the exception, though. I am struggling to think of any high-profile transgender people in the United Kingdom, other than Labour party MP candidate Emily Brothers with whom I have been lucky enough to briefly meet and discuss politics, and Lauren Harries, famous for appearing as a child on various daytime shows as an antiques expert. All women. I cannot think of any transgender men in the spotlight; whether that be through fear of transphobic ridicule in the reaction or because there simply aren’t any due to discrimination I do not know. It may be the patriarchal male gaze which chooses to objectify women and the transgender identity adds an extra level of prurience (and I’m grimacing in disgust at the vileness of such an action).
It will be a wonderful day when everyone who is transgender is simply accepted and supported through their transition, however much and however far they wish it to be, whether they identify as male/female/genderqueer/pangendered or agendered.
So I am hopeful that the Caitlyn Jenner effect will be to push back the boundaries limiting those who are transgender. There is so much more to transgender identity than simply gender; only someone who is transgender can relate and really understand. I hope that the Caitlyn Jenner effect will be for all cisgender people to sit down, shut up and listen. Really listen. Then understand and stop with the transphobic idiocy. If you feel threatened by anyone who is transgender, then recognise that it is your problem and get help for it.
If only one positive comes out of the Caitlyn Jenner effect, then I hope that it is to wipe transphobia out. I trust that you are all with me.