Caitlyn Jenner very boldly came out on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine this week. The response from the world has been, well, extraordinary. No matter what the level of knowledge regarding gender, sexuality, or queer theory, everyone has an opinion regarding Ms. Jenner. Very few of these opinions are positive, even from within the trans community, which points to a grave miscalculation in our priorities.
The cis, largely straight, mainstream reacted to the emergence of Caitlyn in a very intense way. There were her detractors, as there were bound to be, but their numbers were more limited than I’ve ever seen regarding a public celebrity transition. The last very public transition was that of Chaz Bono’s 2009. Chaz was treated as a joke. He was either openly mocked or entirely ignored. This country was not yet ready for transgender issues. Caitlyn’s emergence has allowed for real trans discourse to come to the mainstream. Typical transphobia has been attacked. The reaction to Caitlyn has been much more positive, as well as more numerous. Even the President of the United States commented on Caitlyn’s coming out. This has all been very surprising. Overwhelming, in fact.
The trans community has, in my view, behaved badly. Instead of congratulating Caitlyn on her courage, instead of sharing in her triumph and bravery, our community has been complaining. Yes, Caitlyn Jenner is white. She’s rich. She’s famous. She is able to avoid the pitfalls trans people commonly face. She is able to transition and pass as female, something very few trans women have the capacity to do. She is still trans, and as such, we have a responsibility to support her as a transgender sister. We don’t get to choose what other individuals who happen to be transgender. We must only support them. Some have even gone as far as to complain about her choice of name. Many have suggested that “Caitlyn” is too childish. Can we not just get along?
Caitlyn’s coming out will help trans people for years to come. The country may now be finally ready for cisnormative trans people, which is a (small) step in the right direction. She has begun the dialogue in the media, in government, and in kitchens and living rooms around the country. We have a long way to go, of course. Transwomen are, for some reason, more easily understood by cisnormative society than are transmen. Transmen have a significant head up on nonbinary individuals.
We cannot stop with Caitlyn Jenner. We cannot allow ourselves to be too bogged down with demographics and “the perfect trans.” We must be happy for and support Caitlyn as well as advocate for the needs for all trans people. The two are not mutually exclusive.