ETA: This was posted before the release of the Vanity Fair cover today. It is the last time I will use Caitlyn Jenner’s former name and pronouns.
Bruce Jenner is going to be posing for Vanity Fair and revealing more details about his future self soon. An 8 part TV series is coming that will focus on Jenner’s transition and its effects on his family. This coming out process is going to be a big splashy media display.
After the recent 20/20 interview and with all of this upcoming attention happening in the media I’m concerned about Jenner becoming media’s Official Ambassador of Transgender People. To have anyone in that role is worrying, but it is especially problematic to have an incredibly wealthy Republican white person take on that kind of representation. Jenner is too distant from the experiences of most trans people to represent us all. I’m glad the media is getting better in many ways, and I’m glad more people are getting exposed to improving information, but I’m very worried about Jenner being seen as everyone’s idea of what a trans person is.
When Chaz Bono came out lots of people asked me about him and how I felt about having a visible trans man in the media. I was pretty frustrated. Bono’s experience doesn’t look anything like mine – he never had to spend years saving pennies for surgery, delay hormone treatments because the rent is due, or worry constantly about getting turned down for entry level jobs due to transition.
I don’t want to indicate that I don’t think Jenner’s story, or Bono’s, are true stories of transgender lives. They definitely are – we are incredibly diverse, and that diversity includes famous rich white people. However, I’m a lot more comfortable with people representing us who transitioned BEFORE becoming rich or famous because the money thing is HUGE for so many trans people. So many of us have to do really miserable things in order to feed ourselves, get our medications, pay for our therapy and surgeries. I was incredibly lucky that the worst it got for me was working 60+ hours a week at two minimum wage jobs to survive through early transition. Working for Burger King and Walmart isn’t fun, but it is a hell of a lot safer than the stuff other people do. I was fortunate enough back then to have a partner who owned a car and made enough that we never quite starved and were only briefly homeless. I never had to do survival sex work, but I have enormous empathy for those who do.
When Jenner is put forward to the world as if “This is what a trans person is” it’s frustrating. Jenner is one of us, yes. But we are all so different, and having The Representative be so privileged is disheartening. I’m worried about people getting the impression that transition isn’t prohibitively expensive, difficult, and long. Jenner seems to be be debuting the identity he calls “Her” all at once, continuing the media myth of the overnight “sex change” and leaving many with reinforced ideas about swift, easy, and affordable transition.
The spectacle of all of this does harm because it sends the message that transition is something that is all about “unveiling” and celebration. We’ll see how it actually goes and I may be wrong about how this will play out, but for many the process of coming out is one with a lot of fear and loss and hurt and it seems likely that this media spectacle isn’t going to show any of that. While Jenner is getting the limelight and a whole bunch of money I’m trying to figure out how to recover from the fact that I’ll be failing a class this quarter because I had to work too many hours in order to take care of my most basic needs, and my TWOC sisters are getting murdered.