By Shambhavi Saxena:
“For all intents and purposes, I am a woman,” said former Olympian Bruce Jenner, in a high profile interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer. And really, that’s all that should matter, when we’re talking about trans individuals. That being said, the conversation shouldn’t end there, because the people for whom it’s extra important – and I’m talking about the transphobes and deniers and even closeted individuals – have been resisting joining this conversation. To change that, transgender and transsexual rights and struggles have to be discussed more openly and more frequently, in order to create an atmosphere of safety, acceptance and recognizability, one that actively dispels misconceptions.
Bruce revealed his transition process, which began in the ’80s with hormone therapy, electrolysis to remove body hair, and facial surgery, had to end five years in because of personal fears about how he would be perceived and how the change would affect his family. Now, in 2015, he cannot live the lie of masculinity anymore. The likes of Elton John, Lady Gaga, and Kanye West, in addition to Jenner’s families, voiced their support for the 65-year-old, signalling a positive change in how the trans community is perceived. But we should be careful not to exaggerate Jenner’s individual victory as a victory for every trans woman or man in the United States and abroad.
The fact of the matter is that extremely toxic people, like Leelah Alcorn’s parents, still exist all over the world, sugar coating their hatred with ‘religious conservatism‘, ‘concern for the traditional family unit‘ and attempts to preserve the ‘very fabric of society‘. Remember that trans teen Leelah was buried in the wrong clothes under the wrong name. There are still people who insist on mis-gendering trans individuals, by using incorrect pronouns. While Jenner wishes to continue using male pronouns for now (read GLAAD’s statement on pronouns), the express wishes of many trans people are ignored. We’ve even evolved the transphobic phrase “preferred pronouns” because instead of demonstrating our capacity to respect identities, we place the responsibility solely with this ‘deviant‘ individual.
Bruce Jenner’s bravery is indisputable. As is the emotional struggle. But it ought to be noted that his wealth, status and race are formidable buffers against institutionalised discrimination and violence that is a crude reality for trans women of colour (TWOC). In his interview, Jenner notes the significant struggles led by TWOC, and one hopes the viewers were paying attention here because a little thing called transmisogynoir is real, and alive and kicking. I’m reminded of Janet Mock‘s quote about how some marginal identities are palatable to the cisgender-heterosexual (cishet) majority, while others are reviled:
“I have been held up consistently as a token, as the ‘right’ kind of trans woman (educated, able-bodied, attractive, articulate, heteronormative). It promotes the delusion that because ‘I made it,’ that level of success is easily accessible to all young trans women. Let’s be clear: It is not.” (From Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More)
What Bruce Jenner’s coming out has done is raise important questions about LGBT struggles. It has made it abundantly clear that having a strong network of allies can help an individual come to terms with who they are and also combat the myriad faceless haters who have taken it upon themselves to violently impose an unnatural and strict order on non-conforming bodies. I’d like to end with the reminder that gender is fluid, sexuality is fluid, and you just gotta let it be.