On the Hype Surrounding Caitlyn’s coming out:
I think one thing to keep in mind, that no one thinks about, is that trans identities are not applicable to every human on this planet who identifies as something other than the sex they were assigned at birth. Gender is socially and culturally constructed which means gender is different in every culture. (ex: hijras, two spirit, etc) So when we discuss transness and trans identities we need to be conscious of the culture and society that we are discussing and make sure that we are not imposing our concepts of gender on other cultures.
In this case we’re discussing transness in American culture. Caitlyn Jenner is not the first trans individual in the spotlight and that’s something people very clearly don’t understand. Christine Jorgensen is often spoken of as the first trans woman to gain attention in the media. This was in the late 1950s and 60s. Magnus Hirschfield is credited with being the first person to make strides towards understanding the humanity in this “phenomena” Hirschfield coined as “transvestism” in 1910. The first large riot against the police in the name of queerness was not Stonewall, it was Compton’s Cafeteria riot three years earlier in 1966, which was comprised mostly trans women of color. Stonewall itself is spoken of as the first riot for gay rights lead by gay people. This is also not quite true. It was a response to police brutality against queer folk at the Stonewall Inn and trans women of color were the ones who lead that riot. Needless to say transness is not a new concept in any capacity.
The reason no one knows any of this is because no one talks about it. It is not common knowledge. Most folks haven’t even heard of the term transgender until the Jenner Interview. Considering this concept has been around since the early 1900’s, that’s hard to wrap your mind around. We are just now starting to see the conversations expand beyond medical transitioning. We’re just now having the conversation of “where should trans folk go to the bathroom?” Which is somehow a huge ordeal in itself. Over a hundred years later, binary trans folk are starting to be recognized on paper by the state. In various states we are protected under hate crime laws and equal employment laws. In some states we are protected from being told we cannot use certain bathrooms. It’s over a hundred years later and only some states have these laws. None of them are able to enforce these laws.
That’s not to say this has only existed for 100 years because that would be inaccurate also. European/white colonialism wiped out all forms of gender diversity through genocide, assimilation, and slavery among other things. There have been many people in history who were not “male” or “female” in cultures all over the world. Yet we only recognize male and female and are taught these are the only genders and also the only sexes that exist. Sex is much more complex than male and female or the parts that are between your legs. It is a complex combination of hormones, reproductive organs, and chromosomes.
All of this really comes back to – Trans folk are still at a higher risk for homelessness, discrimination in jobs, housing, and receiving health care, not to mention the fact that most trans folk have limited to no access to healthcare, than most other people in this country. Yet we’re sitting here glorifying a white, very wealthy, trans woman. Again. I’m not one for statistics because I don’t like reducing people’s experiences to numbers, but in order to give you a better picture of how violent our lives really are I’d like to share a few with you:
- 1 in 12 trans folk are murdered, that statistic goes up to 1 in 8 for trans women of color.
- 41% of trans folk have reported attempting suicide
- somewhere between 50-70% of trans folk experience sexual violence in their lifetime (compared to 1 in 4 women, and 1 in 6 men).
The trans movement is not moving. It is not going anywhere because there is a repeating historical occurrence of trans people becoming visible for short bursts of time and then we forget about it again. The world ignores us and ignores us and ignores us until something huge happens and things boil over and force people to discuss it. Then it’s discussed just enough to put a cap on it and wait for it to boil over again. This can be said for a lot of the movements however I think the trans movement is in a very particularly interesting spot in relation to other movements. Within the LGBT community trans folk are at the highest risk for homelessness, suicide, mental health issues, sexual violence, murder, and so many other things. Yet the LGBT movement has gone from a fight for sexual freedom, to a fight for gay marriage and left trans folk in the dust. Not only is this erasive of trans experiences and struggles, but it’s completely denying intersectionality. Gay trans folk are real. They are numerous and everywhere. So where does this leave them? The gay community is only fighting for half of their identity meanwhile they are oppressing, violating, and ignoring the other. It’s an awful situation to find yourself in.
There is a similar parallel in the black lives matter movement. This idea has been spoken on in terms of certain people supposedly encompassed in this movement, including black women, particularly black queer women. It has also come up occasionally in terms of trans people of color. We know for a fact that trans people of color are disproportionately affected by all kinds of violence and discrimination. Yet once again they’re being left in the dust by their own community. In fact I would say they are being left behind in every community they are a part of. LGBT folk also rarely focus their work around queer people of color, especially queer trans people of color. This is happening everywhere. Trans folk are way down at the bottom, in terms of marginalized identities being discussed, pretty much everywhere. It’s not because it’s new, it’s not because people don’t understand yet, it’s because people are too caught up in the hype to recognize when history repeats itself over and over right in front of us.
These are the things we need to be discussing. The people thinking this is a publicity stunt, those refusing to acknowledge Caitlyn as Caitlyn, those threatening to take away her medal, and the many other things that people are doing and saying are not even worth acknowledging at this point. People are dying because of this and we’re discussing a extremely privileged white trans woman and what material objects may or may not be hers, how her appearance is changing, and whether or not this is real? I refuse to acknowledge these distractions.
The only reason we should be discussing how her story and experience is being perceived is in order to understand why this cycle is continuing and how getting caught up in a very privileged trans person’s story is causing problems for the community. Caitlyn’s story may help upper class white binary trans folk growing up in this time and it may help their loved one’s cope with that. However on a bigger picture level, this is not helpful. A few minds changed here and there is insignificant in the grand scheme of things and has historically proven to be counterproductive. A lot of this has to do with exactly what is happening right now.
Everyone gets so excited about this “new” person being open about who they are that they start praising them as the new face of the movement and someone who is bringing change to the movement. We have seen this happen over and over to the point where, especially those of us who know the history of the movement, see this occurring and brace ourselves for another tornado of well meaning-ignorant backhanded compliments, colliding with intentionally harmful backlash. People eventually get frustrated with hearing all the discussions that occur during the aftermath. So they go back to not caring and ignoring the violence that never stops.
That brings up something that is extremely important to discuss. Folks who are cisgender have the privilege of reading these articles and seeing these things happen, then going about their daily lives. It doesn’t matter how much it upsets a person or how hurt they are or if they have a trans loved one. At the end of the day cisgender folk can make a decision to remove themselves from the hoopla, the violence, the hate, and so much more. We cannot.
Every day I wake up, I have to face the world as an agender identified person. Every day I find myself in multiple situations where I am forced to chose to educate someone about my identity and risk a violent response, or to not say anything and more than likely be misgendered, which is extremely triggering regardless of whether they misgendered me intentionally or not. Every day I face the hatred and the violence and the ignorance. For us, this never goes away. I sincerely hope you, as the reader, keep this in mind while thinking on these issues.