Caitlyn Jenner has caught the world’s attention. Not as the beloved 1976 Olympic gold medal decathlete or patriarch in the TV reality series Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
This time Jenner has won applause and admiration for her bravery in coming out as a trans woman debuting on the July cover of Vanity Fair magazine.
And she looks amazing!
Laverne Cox, transgender activist and actress on the Netflix series Orange is the New Black, wrote on Tumblr: ‘Yes, Caitlyn looks amazing and is beautiful but what I think is most beautiful about her is her heart and soul, the ways she has allowed the world into her vulnerabilities.’
MSNBC commentator and trans author Janet Mock chimed in with her tweet: ‘Introducing Ms Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of @Vanity Fair: #CallMeCaitlyn #girls like us.’
And President Obama giving his thumbs up stated: ‘It takes courage to share your story.’
While a world of supporters applaud Jenner’s courage act of coming out there are always many who don’t.
Drake Bell, the star of Nickelodeon’s Drake & Josh, tweeted his transphobic remark: ‘Sorry… still calling you Bruce’ to his 3.22 million followers.
And Mike Huckabee’s, 2016 Republican presidential hopeful, made a bone-headed remark that was intended to insult Jenner but instead informed American voters just how utterly clueless and outdated he is.
‘Now I wish that someone told me that when I was in high school that I could have felt like a woman when it came time to take showers in PE. I’m pretty sure that I would have found my feminine side and said, “Coach, I think I’d rather shower with the girls today.”’
Almost overnight, Jenner has become the most recognizable transwoman. She has a global platform to give visibility and advocacy to transgender civil rights.
But will it?
Among Jenner’s supporters there are mixed feelings of how the Vanity Fair spread disturbingly promotes white ‘cisnormative beauty standards’. Many media outlets have gleefully shown Jenner’s doppelgÃ¤nger to be movie actress Jessica Lange.
In critiquing how certain transwomen appearances fit hegemonic notions of beauty and femininity, African American Morehouse College professor, CNN commentator and LGBTQ ally Marc Lamont Hill tweeted on three separate occasion his concerns:
‘Between the Vanity Fair spread and “she’s so pretty” convos, we’ve smuggled in the same old cis/Eurocentric narratives about womanhood.’
‘If we only celebrate and welcome Caitlyn Jenner bc she conforms to tradition cis/and European standards of beauty, we are making a mistake.’
‘My critique isn’t of HER, it’s of US.’
Many trans critics of the Vanity Fair cover have stated how Jenner’s photo-op as a 1940s and 50s glam pin-up doll feeds into the heterosexist gaze and voyeuristic fixation concerning trans bodies and appearances.
This, they emphasize, objectifies and sexualizes them, and also contributes to the violence and discrimination they confront.
While Jenner has stated the coming out process ‘isn’t one size fits all’ and she’s not apologizing for her choice, Jenner’s debut undoubtedly raises questions concerning her ulterior motives.
Voices from the trans community lambasting Jenner are also making the airwaves.
Zoey Tur, helicopter pilot and journalist, who completed her own transition in 2014 views Jenner’s coming out moment as a public spectacle. She sees an opportunistic cash grab to promote her upcoming reality show for E! Entertainment.
‘Many feel that Jenner is pitching a reality show and using this build-up to gain more momentum and getting paid to do an interview, and they don’t like it… This is not about selling TV shows. This is about saving lives,’ Tur toldTMZ Live.
And while Jenner four oldest children from two previous marriages support her transition, ‘they disagree with their father’s decision to use not only the same production company that made Keeping Up With the Kardashians but many of the same people, including several original executive producers,’ the Vanity Fair article stated.
I, like many, have my queries about Jenner’s coming out moment.
Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover came out on 1 June, the first day of Pride month. Is Jenner publicly stating she’s part of the community? Is this trans advocacy? Or was the 1 June day part and parcel of a calculated move to promote only herself.
Cox reminds us that while most trans people coming out moments are memorable, many aren’t positive ones.
‘Most trans folks don’t have the privileges Caitlyn and I have now have,’ Cox explains. ‘It is those trans folks we must continue to lift up, get them access to healthcare, jobs, housing, safe streets, safe schools and homes for our young people.
‘We must lift up the stories of those most at risk, statistically trans people of color who are poor and working class.’
Cox is right.
Our transgender brother and sisters of African descent, for example, are some of the most discriminated against among us.
With misinformation about transgender people in our country still rampant and egregiously offensive, its impact is deleterious.
And because of how transphobia, in this present-day and in its present form, has taken shaped in and outside black communities, most of our black trans populations not only have much higher rates of suicide, truancy, HIV and AIDS, drugs and alcohol abuse, and murder, they also have much higher rates of homelessness.
What saddens me about the discrimination toward our trans brothers and sisters is that their contributions and advocacy are usually not appreciated or recognized until after their death.
For example, Leelah Alcorn’s suicide note of December 2014 sparked a movement to end conversion therapy. A petition on the White House website with 120,000 plus signatures called for ‘ Leelah’s Law to Ban All LGBTQ+ Conversion Therapy’ not only went viral across mainstream and social media internationally, but was swiftly supported by Obama’s administration.
Another example, the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) is an international event memorializing transgender people murdered because of their gender identities or gender expressions.
The purpose of TDOR is to raise public awareness of hate crimes against transgendered people and to honor their lives that might otherwise be forgotten. This event is held every November honoring Rita Hester, a 34 year old African American transsexual, who was mysteriously found murdered inside her first floor apartment outside of Boston in 1998.
Jenner’s life is privileged and comfortably detached from the everyday reality of her trans brothers and sisters. So it’s only right for transgender advocates to ask Jenner gives back to the community.
She stands on the shoulders of her ‘trancestors’ – they made her Vanity Fair moment possible.