Yesterday, the media was abuzz with the news that Caitlyn Jenner, former Olympic athlete and Wheaties box model, was unveiled to the world with a radical transformation into someone more at peace with her own body, and whom older gentlemen could ogle.
Obviously Jenner has put a lot of effort into presenting herself to the world in a favorable light, and I’m happy for her. But this just highlights something that others more influential than I have already pointed out – focusing on the looks of a transgender person diminishes the spirit and struggle of such individuals as us in this world. We don’t just enter into our transgender cocoons and metamorphose into new fabulous lives. Most transgender people simply cannot afford the sorts of help that someone in Jenner’s position can command. Some simply don’t have the genetics to ever look like the sorts of people who end up on magazine covers, and some would never even consider wanting that sort of attention, or even that sort of mainstream aesthetic.
One of the issues that’s been brought up in social media, is that a great number of people are still referring to Caitlyn as “Bruce,” “formerly Bruce,” or “born Bruce Jenner,” which goes against the standards set forth by several advocacy groups to not refer to a transgender person by their former name. But this is an exceptional case – Jenner is already famous. Bruce Jenner has even been mentioned in song: ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ka21UZUBgSY )
So what we have here is not an ordinary transition. The majority of Transgender people are by no means famous, and even many transgender public figures are usually people who had already embraced at least some part of this identity before entering the public eye. No one has any business using Laverne Cox’ pretransition moniker, because she was never known in the public sphere by that name. But sometimes individual circumstances test the limits of what would normally be ideal – and in this case, while the ideal would be to immediately embrace Caitlyn and set that other name aside, the reality is we have decades of fame already established for this person. So, while I do not speak for all transgender people or activists by any means, I understand and accept that, at least for now, “formerly Bruce” is going to litter media coverage for at least as long as it takes for this fresh revelation to become old news.
But this month is Presidentially-endorsed LGBT pride month – so we should be excited. There has never been a better time in America to be a gay man, and it’s far from the worst epoch in our history for the rest of the spectrum. But there are states trying to ban even the best ‘passing’ transgender people from using the restroom of their choice, trans women of color are still more likely to be murdered than any other demographic, and trans men are still the most likely Americans to take their own lives, combining the despair of depression with the ruthless efficiency by which more masculine individuals select their methods of suicide.
But I’d hate to end this entry on that macabre note, because overall, there is hope. Because as the public takes in the glamour of the most successful transgender people, we slowly move away from being the very bottom of the social hierarchy. Visibility means a lot, and it increasingly means we grow closer to bringing the public in on the real struggles, the real tragedies, and the real triumphs of the transgender world that has so long been ignored. Magazine covers may seem like petty victories when people are struggling just to survive (Well, because they are…) but I see some light on the horizon, and as soon as I’m sure it isn’t a mob carrying torches and pitchforks, I plan to head towards it.