Caitlyn Jenner and Trans Issues

Caitlyn Jenner is here, and transgender issues are being brought to the forefront of the news. Therefore, there are a few things we need to be careful of as we discuss her and trans issues in general.

Caitlyn Jenner Vanity Fair Cover

First, passing and transitioning aren’t necessary to be trans, be a certain gender, or be worthy. Transitioning is a choice that is that person’s business, and is often a privilege that many trans-identifying people can’t access. Passing is how someone is perceived and has nothing to do with someone’s identity–it has to do with societal expectations of gendered behavior and appearance (such as wearing “gendered” clothing, wearing makeup, having breasts).  Not “passing” does not and should not invalidate someone’s identity or existence. Everyday Feminism’s Vivian Taylor provides some insightful words about the pressure put on trans people to be “passing.”

I personally identify as cisgender, and many cis people often (unfortunately) give attention or positive messaging toward trans people only when they are conventionally attractive (i.e., white, thin, etc.) and “pass” well. The term “passing” itself is controversial as it refers to being perceived by others as a particular gender/identity and can imply that the person isn’t genuinely what they are “passing” as.

In addition, media and news outlets rarely mention people who are nonbinary or people who don’t present their gender expression as the community at large wants them to – either incredibly masculine or incredibly feminine. Even when trans people are getting coverage, we are only covering the ones that fit into the gender binary of man/woman and the socially constructed appearances/behaviors for each, further denying the legitimacy of other genders and people who don’t present as extremely masculine or feminine.

This is a problem. Cis people should not define trans people by whatever makes cis people comfortable. Cis people don’t get to define trans people at all.

In the media, when we get trans coverage, the focus is usually on the individual. While it is important to tell individual stories to highlight a social issue, media must be careful not to forget the real issues the trans community faces and must not exploit the individual whose story they’re covering. Trans people often get asked inappropriate questions by interviewers about surgeries or their genitals, and often are asked what their “real name” is–both of these invalidate the trans person’s gender and identity. (GLAAD’s guideline for trans media coverage can be found here.)

However, we must also ask ourselves why these women are in the forefront of trans coverage. They both have had gender affirming surgery and look how society believes a woman should look. Would the coverage be different, or even exist at all, if it was about a trans person who didn’t fit into societal expectations of masculinity or femininity? If the person hadn’t transitioned? If the person was genderfluid?

The missing piece in media coverage is the community at large. At least 8 trans women have been murdered in 2015 so far, all but one of those being women of color. Out of 18 anti-LGBT homicides in 2014, 90 percent were people of color and more than two-thirds were transgender women.

The largest national survey on trans people found that they experience unemployment at twice the national rate of the general population, and that doubles to four times for trans people of color. 90% of trans people report being harassed or discriminated against on the job.

Trans people are 9 times more likely to attempt suicide, and 41% of trans or non-gender-conforming people attempt it at least once in their lives. Trans people are often misgendered, harassed, fetishized, and assaulted. These issues need to be at the forefront of the news, as well.

When we talk about Caitlyn Jenner…

  • It’s okay to say she’s stunning! She is stunning!
  • Don’t say things like, “She’s prettier than me!
      • This insinuates that being “pretty” is a criteria for being a woman.
      • It implies societal definitions/standards for beauty, which focus on the white/cisgender/thin/etc.
      • It implies that trans women aren’t expected to be beautiful or be “more beautiful” than cis people.
      • It insinuates that only individuals assigned the female sex at birth are qualified to be pretty.
  • Acknowledge that trans people don’t need to be “pretty” or “passing” to be worthy of praise.
      • There are other amazing things that Caitlyn has done. She is brave, strong, self-accepting, and has acknowledged her (white/class) privilege in the past.
      • Once Caitlyn’s Vanity Fair cover emerged, she was immediately sexualized by the media, and the only thing reported on was her appearance. Jon Stewart had a great segment on this on his show.
  • Talk about larger trans issues. Violence, harassment, depression/suicide, triggering/offensive language, the privilege involved in being able to afford to transition if you so choose
  • Realize and educate others that the only criteria for being a woman is identifying as one. That is it.

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7 responses to “Caitlyn Jenner and Trans Issues

  1. Ms. Pierce, you have neglected a social justice overview and analysis on behalf of the issue of safe spaces for natal/biological girls & women in a male supremacist rape culture, and the fact that trans activists (who are generally hetero males) do not get to tell women how to speak of ourselves, to do so is actually misogynist and hateful.

    Being that NOW membership likely includes male-to-trans people who “identify” as female now, it is no surprise that this sort of patriarchy-catering tripe would be found here on this blog.

    We can maintain universal human rights whilst also abolishing gender. We can provide safe spaces for Trans people whilst also providing safe spaces for natal women. The issues of trans-of-color and prostituted trans are rooted in the same racism and sexism that oppress natal women and human rights must be protected – but this doesn’t mean that natal girls & womens rights must be erased.

    This kind of “feminist” essay is not feminism, it’s postmodernism charading as feminism.

    As a co-author of NOW’s 1999 Resolution to expand the definition of reproductive rights to include homebirth and the midwifery model of care, I am very disappointed. Many mentor feminists in our 50s-70s are disgusted at the lack of real class analysis in mainstream feminism these days. This is why I support Totally Excellent Radical Feminists and found great value in Michelle Goldberg’s New Yorker article last August entitled “What Is A Woman?” which looks at the virulent and violent anti-feminism harbored by some in the trans politics world.

    I would also like to point out that there are some highly unscrupulous interests in the mainstream trans lobby that are aligned with industrial profits, and have lobbied the WHO to normalize the medical transgenderism of children starting in 2016. This amounts to the desexing of millions of children, with unknown longterm health impact. For more:

    The Arctic has melted and male pattern violence against girls & women is at an all-time high. I think trans politics are largely distracting us from the work at hand.

  2. I self identify as an American citizen. I don’t attempt to put on an accent and I completely disagree with all that flag waving patriotism and terrible foreign policy. So I don’t fit in with the culturally constructed appearance and behaviour of an american but as you say its not up to cis Americans to define me. Please realise and educate others that the only criterion for being an american citizen is to identify one. That is all. If you could help and explain this to the immigration officials this would be much appreciated. Let us hope in these more enlightened times that trans nationals will soon be offered the same legal protection and media endorsement given to trans gender people. Keep up the good fight

  3. “It’s okay to say she’s stunning! She is stunning!
    Don’t say things like, “She’s prettier than me!”
    This insinuates that being “pretty” is a criteria for being a woman.”

    No insinuation needed. If you’re female you’ve had this “insinuated” into you , since birth….you didn’t choose it, you cannot outrun it, and you cannot pretend it’s not there….
    And you will NEVER feel as though you can match it..
    And that’s all females..all of us. FIFTY ONE PERCENT OF THE BLOODY PLANET.

    I’m not going to bother to unpack any of the rest,(cis, really?’re a woman, period) because that ALONE tells me there’s a feminist ID that need handing back.

  4. I agree. If I understand this article, a biological woman has a right to privacy when considering an abortion but not when using a bathroom or locker room. In those circumstances, a biological male can demand the right to be in areas specifically designated women in which some level of nudity occurs. I consider such action unwanted biological male invasion. To me, requiring that such action occur in the absence of biological female consent is akin to RAPE (it is also illegal – think hostile environment, sexual harrasment, peeping and indecent exposure). It. is wrong. No one, least of all a feminist, should be telling other women that they are wrong in wanting to keep others from violating their rights to privacy, modesty, and dignity. Shame on you for not supporting a third option.

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