It’s perfectly reasonable for the media to report on Caitlyn Jenner’s transition. It’s newsworthy in the same way it would be newsworthy if we learned that Barack Obama is converting to Judaism.
But what is not newsworthy is the lurid fascination so many people have with such an “event.” And what is not news is the sexist slant nearly all of the news outlets have taken. Consider these comments.
Rhonda Garelick, visiting professor of distinguished teaching in comparative literature at Princeton University and the author of Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History wrote in The New York Times on June 3rd:
Caitlyn Jenner’s transition is…a commercial spectacle on an enormous scale, revealing some disturbing truths about what we value and admire in women.
What does it mean that Ms. Jenner’s newly revealed “true self” (in her own words) comes packaged like a 30-something starlet along the lines of her famous daughters and stepdaughters?
While the fanfare around the emergence of Caitlyn may advance our acceptance of transgender individuals, it does so, in this case, at a price: the perpetuation, even celebration, of narrow and dehumanizing strictures of womanhood sustained by the fashion and entertainment industries.
Jon Stewart, on a recent episode of The Daily Show called it out more directly, saying “Caitlyn, when you were a man, we could talk about your athleticism, your business acumen, but now you’re a woman, and your looks are really the only thing we care about," adding, facetiously "Look, we want to give a woman a compliment here. We just need to make sure another woman gets taken down a peg in the process."
Green Daniel, a local transperson, looks at it more cynically. "Bruce Jenner signed on to the top of the heap of the tabloid shit pile when he hooked up with the Kardashians, so he was smart enough to know that keeping silent in this is the loudest voice anyone can use to draw attention to the issue. The Diane Sawyer interview was devoured by a large segment of Kardashian followers who are not particularly known for their Mensa memberships. If Jenner is trans, then Jenner is trans, and at the moment this is potentially a stronger position for trans people and allies than has ever been available. “
Another local transperson asked “how [does] one’s being famous open doors for Ms. Jenner, helping her transition? My personal journey is a private one. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to be followed 24/7, having my every move captured on film and shared on public media. Imagine not being able to go to a support group, being followed to your therapist, doctor, shopping, dinner out, or for laser or electrolysis treatments. So to all those in our trans community who want to belittle one of our peers: support their individual journey or shut your mouths. Unless you can say something supportive, say nothing at all. You are just making things worse for all of us!”
But it was Laverne Cox, the actress who appeared on the cover of the May 29, 2014 issue of Time Magazine, who put it in the right perspective. “Most trans folks don’t have the privileges Caitlyn and I have …because of genetics and/or lack of material access [they] will never be able to embody” society’s rigid standards of femininity. “More importantly,” she adds, “many trans folks don’t want to embody them. This is why we need diverse media representations of trans folks to multiply trans narratives in the media and depict our beautiful diversities… 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.”
In many ways, Caitlin Jenner is as much a victim of our twisted social attitudes as Bruce Jenner was. I’m old enough to remember the brouhaha that surrounded Christine Jorgensen and I can assure you that nothing has really changed.
The male to female transsexual still must trade one form of discrimination for another. That doesn’t mean Caitlin should not have taken the route she has chosen—she really had no choice. And for the most part, it has been handled well.
But let’s hope that once the public’s fascination subsides that she uses her notoriety to address the more serious issues of healthcare, jobs, housing, and safety facing all transpeople.