First off, congratulations to Caitlyn on her Transition. The support she has been getting from around the world shows just how much the world has changed these past few years. She will have grown up in a time where LGBT people were imprisoned and subjected to electroshock treatment, where coming out as anything vaguely queer was the end of your career. When you are in a marginalised group, you are more aware than the average ‘normie’ of every piece of abuse, misinformation, scapegoating, violence or condemnation aimed at those like you. Why do the older generations still sit in the closets when the world is moving on?
Because they have seen, or even experienced first hand, the risks and abuses that being of this group or that group can bring, and quite frankly I’m pretty sure they don’t trust people not to carry on that way. I don’t blame them. I myself spent several years after my traumatic experiences at school, trying to will myself Cis. Ultimately though, it never works… even if it looks like it does, inside it eats at you.
What people need to realise with regards to Caitlyn Jenner though, is the absolutely atypical nature of her transition. For months, under heavy speculation about her identity, she maintained her old name, her old identity in public and then… BANG… big reveal on a TV interview, a month later she’s Caitlyn, she’s a photoshopped covergirl with the world applauding her bravery. Good on her for using her resources to her advantage.
For the rest of us… the non-reality TV stars, transition is a very different process. Jenner had the ideal situation… millions of dollars for surgeries and treatments to ensure that when she came out of the oven she looked yummy and ready to nom upon. The hermetically sealed lifestyle of a Hollywood celebrity allowed her to transition largely in private, with very little actual public interaction. It was like a chrysalis from which she could emerge fully formed and sculpted into womanhood. The moment she came out to the world, she already looked the part.
In contrast, the reality of transition for the vast majority is crueller. We don’t uusally have private fortunes to fall back upon should our family reject us, or private security to protect us should someone choose to hurt us. We can’t sneak around getting cosmetic surgery before coming out. Even if we could afford it, we are expected to go full-time in our gender role for a set period of time without even the aid of hormone treatment until psychiatrists are satisfied that we are serious enough to warrant it.
I spent the first year after going full time spending what little money I had on self medicating with inferior products, because I could not access a prescription. I, and every other transperson I know, was expected to live full time, physically on their own, whilst their bodies went further and further down the roads that biology had laid out. For Transwomen, this meant hairlines receding, beard growth getting thicker, voices deepening, all whilst trying to live and present as female in a harsh and unforgiving climate. So many of us uproot when our transitions are nearing completion just to get away from the places that watched us go through this walking, talking, often ridiculous metamorphosis. We walked the streets we walked before but that were now unsafe. We had to leave the house, interact with random people… throw ourselves upon the mercy of their tolerance and being utterly broken by their lack of it. We have been treated with suspicion, deliberately humiliated and then ignored when we complained about it. We all lose people, some of us lose everyone. We all suffer anxiety and depression, amplified by the fact that we looked like men in dresses or stereotypical butch lesbians. None of us make it through unscathed, and many of us don’t make it through alive.
Treatment is slow to come. Surgery is even slower. Even those of us who are fortunate enough to have it covered by a nationalised health service still only receive the absolute basics of surgical necessity. Any additional work to feminise a strong jaw or heavy brow, restore a hairline or resculpt the body have to be paid for privately. With the fact that Trans people, especially in transition, struggle to find employment, such processes can take several years to complete, through scrimping and saving.
For those in countries that do not cover gender reassignment, it is common for us to fund our transitions through sex work, often in dangerous environments such as Brazil where transsexual sex workers are murdered with alarming regularity.
Caitlyn’s anguish at her gender identity is certainly not in dispute, and the challenges she has faced are massive, but they are not representative of most Transgender people. I am concerned that people’s understanding of gender transition will be influenced by Caitlyn’s narrative, and that she may become the standard to which other Transpeople are held. For all the emotional turmoil and inner conflict over her life, once her decision to transition was made, the journey was straightforward and accessible to her. For the rest of us, the decision is the start of a years long Journey in full view of everyone without the partitions of camera lenses or security gates.
My hope is that Caitlyn uses her profile to champion the cause of better recognition of Trans people, and better coverage of the treatments that are ultimately life saving. The world has a high profile Transgender person in a position to do so much good and bring dignity and respect to us all, but also in a position to make us look bad and rob us of what credibility we have clawed our way to achieve. The dangers of Reality TV make me worry which way this will ultimately go, as Jenner is ultimately just the product. It is the studios that are putting her out there that control what the public see, and the public don’t always want inspiration, dignity and acceptance… scandal, conflict and destruction are proven to be bigger money spinners.
Make us proud Caitlyn. We all have a lot riding on you and your need to carry on being amazing.