This past year I’ve written many an article about Caitlyn Jenner, transgender representation, and the essential do’s and don’t when it comes to pronoun usage and deadnaming. I’ve been so incredibly happy to write about these topics because it has meant that our country is finally recognizing a group of people it has largely ignored and victimized, and I truly do believe that TV shows like “I Am Jazz” and “ I Am Cait” are helping to change the cultural landscape of the U.S for the better. Yay for TV being slightly less shitty than film!
With that being said, I believe that we still have a long way to go as a country when it comes to representation and acknowledgment of people of varying and fluid gender identities. The other day I noticed a trans student walking across campus and paused to watch how the people around them were responding to their identity. At first glance, this person seemed like someone who was a cisgender male who was simply wearing a bow in their hair (side note: my Microsoft Word tried to correct my usage of “their” to either his or her). As I happen to know who this person is, I was aware that this wasn’t the case; I knew this person had legally changed their name to better fit their gender identity and was trans. Looking at the people around them, I realized that most people do not understand that trans* and transgender are often very difficult things, and while I didn’t see anyone approach this person, I could tell from their look on their faces that they were not accepting of their gender identity.
I love “I Am Cait” because it is a show that is not only about its protagonist, but also about enlightening people about the trans* population and the plights they face. I am so happy to see transgender women like Candis Cayne, Chandi and Jenny Boylan on the show because they have life experiences that differ greatly from the incredibly privileged Caitlyn. The biggest struggle of the show, however, is that it at times forgets to remind its viewers that transgender and trans* people are not always or solely looking to just pass as cisgender. To put it bluntly, not everyone wants to look like Malibu Barbie or Ethnically Ambiguous Ken so we shouldn’t hold them to beauty standards that just further box people in. It is important to keep in mind that Caitlyn’s experience is drastically different than the average transgender woman; not every trans person wants to undergo surgery, not every trans person has the financial resources or desires to meet cisgender beauty standards, and certainly not every transgender person has the privilege of limitless wealth and protective services. It’s great that people think Caitlyn looks like the incomparable Jessica Lange, but we have to consciously remind ourselves that transgender women that don’t look like a celebrity are still as equally valid in their gender expression as some “bombshell.”
What I want people to know is that there is a trans* umbrella; there are people who identify with gender nonbinary pronouns such as “they”, and no, they are not doing this because they want attention or to be edgy. Not every trans* person hates the genitalia they were born with, or feel as if they were born in the wrong body, and gender dysphoria and gender expression varies greatly between folks. Gender roles and expectations are so prevalent and widely accepted that we tend to reject things that don’t fit into a box, but we shouldn’t. If you accept people like Caitlyn Jenner, but reject people like the one I saw on campus, you are still transphobic because you are negating someone’s identity solely because they don’t look the way you expect that identity to look. I truly admire non-binary individuals because they go out into the world knowing that they will constantly have their gender expression dismissed and rejected, or be told to “pick a gender”. They go out even with the possible threat of violence or ridicule, and they leave themselves incredibly vulnerable, which makes them so fucking brave. They have to give up so many things we take for granted just to be themselves, like job opportunities and familial relationships, or hide who they are just to get through the day.
I firmly believe we should admire and support people who live bravely and honestly, I think we should try to educate ourselves and break out of binary ways of thinking, but most importantly, I think we should never invalidate someone’s existence simply because we have yet to develop the compassionate and empathetic muscles needed to understand them.