All posts edited by Madeline Ricchiuto.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Finally Some Good Trans Exposure - Or is it?

With the recent unveiling of Caitlyn Jenner's Vanity Fair cover there has been an overwhelming amount of media coverage about Jenner and trans issues as a whole; and I don't know about you, but they have evoked A LOT of feels in me - many of which are in conflict. Breaking down and understanding these responses is important if we are to truly appreciate the situation.

Let me start of by stating very clearly that I am happy beyond expression that there is some kind of trans visibility. The fact that Caitlyn feels secure enough to be her 'true self' is a great accomplishment in itself. Seeing that trans women can not only be recognized but celebrated is sure to help at least some trans people around the globe. And the continuing defense of Caitlyn being respected is encouraging to say the least. But this fixation is not all its cracked up to be.

I cannot be the only one who thinks that one of the reasons that Caitlyn has gotten so much attention is because of how much she affirms a cis-normative beauty standards? This isn't an attempt to discredit Caitlyn or any other trans person who falls into one of society's standards for one gender or another. But part of the reason why she is being so well accepted is not only because she is fitting that standard, but because she is fitting it so well.

There is a lot of power that comes from putting one's self out there. Pushing your own boundaries and showing your raw self. But for women it isn't so much a choice as it is a fact of life that their bodies are not their own. They are public domain to be judged, and, where deemed acceptable, they are expected to show it. And sadly I can't help but feel that Jenner's iconic status is in part due to her willingness to play into that objectified role; reducing her to nothing more than her body, her looks, her dress, etc.

It is so different from Laverne Cox, icon alike, whose image and status are constantly being reinforced by her actions and her words in support of the trans community. She even penned her own response to Jenner's cover and I cannot help but agree with what she has written:
"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. The love and devotion she has for her family and that they have for her. Her courage to move past denial into her truth so publicly. These things are beyond beautiful to me."
I fear that most of society doesn't value those same qualities but only Jenner's physical beauty, and they only value it because it fits their cis-normative narratives of the world. Too many of the sentiments I have seen have been along the lines of 'she looks just like she's a real woman' - A standard which, in addition to being complete BS, is unattainable for many. Class, social status, geographical location, and many other factors all play a role in how accessible trans healthcare can be. And plenty of trans people don't want to fit a binary standard, a choice which should be recognized as just as legitimate.

More frustrating to me is the invisible role race seems to play here. Imagine for moment if Caitlyn was a racial minority. Do you honestly think that she would be getting the same amount of attention and support? Do you think the conversation would be the same? Would there even be a conversation? How long did it take for Laverne Cox to get into the spotlight? And how much of wider society was celebrating her as a trans woman; not just reducing her to her body, or using her as a podium to spread anti-trans sentiments? It is hard, as an activist, to be bombarded with (often problematic) well intentioned messages and to recognize at the same time that if any one minor detail was different that the media would likely be silent. Jenner seems to have just the right combination of traits to get the kind of attention she has.

I wish I could do this without being critical of Caitlyn personally, but I cannot. My last reservation has to do with Jenner's professed personal politics. Jenner has spoken that she has consulted with Laverne Cox about coming out publicly and that she recognizes that she is not representative of the trans community but Caitlyn has also described herself as a Republican. I don't harbor any ill-will towards her, or anyone, for having their own political views but I would be remiss to not lament over this. Jenner has essentially said that she supports a party which continuously votes against not just her own interests but the interests of the community she claims to want to serve. She may personally not support those views but if she votes for Republicans then she is not only complicit in a system which leaves trans people in the gutter but plays an active role in creating it.

While being happy for Caitlyn as a person we all need to be critically aware of who and what is being celebrated and those who are being left behind. There are literally an infinite number of ways to identify and express yourself and fitting into (fake) binaries make up only a small portion of possible genders and gender expressions how does this give them a voice? There are so many trans women of all colors and so many issues they face, where is their coverage? I admire that we are placing trans people into spotlights but we can't let those spotlights conceal others in their darkness. Again, the ever wonderful Lavern Cox sums up my thoughts perfectly:
"Most trans folks don’t have the privileges Caitlyn and I have now have. 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. I have hoped over the past few years that the incredible love I have received from the public can translate to the lives of all trans folks. Trans folks of all races, gender expressions, ability, sexual orientations, classes, immigration status, employment status, transition status, genital status etc."
What is the takeaway then? Be happy that Jenner is recognizing herself and being true to herself. Be proud that many are defending are supporting her publicly and openly against a slowly dwindling transphobic society. Support her right to be called by her real name - Caitlyn. But if there is one thing these coming out stories tell us it's that we should never settle. Don't give the media, or even Caitlyn, a free pass for doing what should be the default.

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