Caitlyn Jenner, formerly known as Bruce Jenner, has once again captured the world’s attention. And this time not as America’s beloved 1976 Olympic gold medal decathlete or patriarch in the TV reality series Keeping Up with the Kardashians. This time Jenner captures the world’s eye, applause and admiration for her bravery to come out as a trans woman debuting on the July cover of Vanity Fair magazine. And she looks amazing!
Laverne Cox, transgender activist and actress on the Netflix series Orange is the New Black, wrote on her Tumblr, “Yes, Caitlyn looks amazing and is beautiful but what I think is most beautiful about her is her heart and soul, the ways she has allowed the world into her vulnerabilities.”
MSNBC commentator and trans author Janet Mock gleefully chimed in with her tweet: “Introducing Ms. Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of @VanityFair: #CallMeCaitlyn #girlslikeus.”
And President Obama giving his thumbs up stated, “It takes courage to share your story.”
While a world of supporters applaud Ms. Jenner’s courageous act of coming out, there are always more than a handful who don’t.
Drake Bell, the star of Nickelodeon’s Drake & Josh tweeted his transphobic remark stating “Sorry….still calling you Bruce’’ to his 3.22 million followers.
And Mike Huckabee, 2016 Republican presidential hopeful, chimed in with a bone-headed remark that was intended to insult Jenner, but instead informed American voters just how utterly clueless and outdated he is: “Now I wish that someone told me that when I was in high school that I could have felt like a woman when it came time to take showers in PE. I’m pretty sure that I would have found my feminine side and said, ‘Coach, I think I’d rather shower with the girls today.’”
To date, Jenner is the most recognizable transwoman with a global platform that can give visibility and advocacy to transgender civil rights. But will it?
Among Jenner’s supporters there are mixed feelings of how the Vanity Fair spread disturbingly promotes White “cisnormative beauty standards.” Many media outlets have gleefully shown Jenner’s doppelgänger to be movie actress Jessica Lange.
In critiquing how certain transwomen’s appearance fit hegemonic notions of beauty and femininity, African American Morehouse College professor, CNN commentator and LGBTQ ally Marc Lamont Hill tweeted on three separate occasion his concerns:
“Between the Vanity Fair spread and “she’s so pretty” convos, we’ve smuggled in the same old cis/Eurocentric narratives about womanhood.” And, “If we only celebrate and welcome Caitlyn Jenner bc she conforms to tradition cis/and European standards of beauty, we are making a mistake.” And, “My critique isn’t of HER, it’s of U.S.”
Many trans critics of the Vanity Fair cover have stated how Jenner’s photo-op as a 1940s and 50’s glam pin-up doll feeds into the heterosexist gaze and voyeuristic fixation concerning trans bodies and appearances that objectifies and sexualizes them, and also contributes to the violence and discrimination they confront. Cox reminds us that while most trans people coming out moments are memorable, many aren’t positive ones.
“Most trans folks don’t have the privileges Caitlyn and I have now have,” Cox explains. “It is those trans folks we must continue to lift up, get them access to healthcare, jobs, housing, safe streets, safe schools and homes for our young people. We must lift up the stories of those most at risk, statistically trans people of color who are poor and working class.”
And Cox is correct. Our transgender brother and sisters of African descent, for example, are one of the most discriminated against among us. A 2012 study corroborates this fact.
The National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), in collaboration with the National Gay and Lesbian task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), released a groundbreaking study in September 2012, entitled “Injustice at Every Turn: A Look at Black Respondents in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey,” exposing both the structural and individual racism and transphobia transgender people of color confront. The study is a supplement to the national study “Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey.”
With misinformation about transgender people in our country still rampant and egregiously offensive, its impact is deleterious. And because of how transphobia, in this present-day and in its present form, has taken shape in and outside Black communities, most of our Black trans populations not only have much higher rates of suicide, truancy, HIV/AIDS, drugs and alcohol abuse, and murder, they also have much higher rates of homelessness, the study revealed.
What saddens me about the discrimination toward our transgender brothers and sisters is that their contributions and advocacy are usually not appreciated and/or recognized until after their death.
While Jenner’s life is privileged and comfortably detached for the everyday lived reality of her trans brothers and sisters, transgender advocates are asking that Jenner gives back to the community whose shoulders of “trancestors” she stands on, making her Vanity Fair moment possible.
Rev. Irene Monroe is a Huffington Post blogger and freelance journalist.