By Vaagisha Das:
When Caitlyn Jenner affirmed her gender identity in Vanity Fair, telling people to “call [her] Caitlyn“, most people seemed to be supportive of her choice, going as far as to compliment her on her looks as a ‘beautiful woman’. Indeed, to the public eye, she seems to have made an effortless transition into the polished, savvy businesswoman that we see today. The exclusive coverage of her TV show, ‘I Am Cait‘, and the transgender pride that she ‘sells so effortlessly’ (according to a review on The New York Times) stands testimony to that.
But this seems at odds with the burgeoning cases of trans bullying in schools and skyrocketing cases of depression that are being noted amongst transgender youth today. In fact, a study shows that nearly fifty percent of trans people have attempted suicide in the UK. Leelah Alcorn, allegedly committed suicide because she felt that ‘her life wasn’t worth living’. Trans teen Blake Brockington was relentlessly bullied online and suffered years of depression and suicidal thoughts. If being transgender is a thing to be celebrated, then why are these horrifying incidents still taking place?
Naturally, a major reason for celebrities such as Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner being accepted, even lauded, can be attributed to their appearance. In people’s minds, they conform to the social standards of appearing as ‘desirable women’, and this conformity leads people into the familiar territory of ‘believe what you see’- if she looks like a woman, outwardly, then she HAS to be a woman – no doubt about it. These celebrities, and similarly, people from relatively well-off backgrounds, have the privilege of choice. They can choose to have sex reassignment surgery- to ‘match’ their outward appearance with their gender- whereas a majority of the trans population remains unable to afford such expensive procedure. Hence the cases of bullying, which escalate to public shaming, which incidentally, sparked off the debate about trans people being fined for entering the toilet of the gender that they identified with, rather than what they appeared as. The media seems to be dismissive of such harsh realities, and the limelight remains on Caitlyn’s attire.
Another trick the media played was showcasing Caitlyn as someone who magically transformed into a beautiful woman overnight, glossing over the fact that such surgeries take months, even years to be fully complete. This again may have had a negative impact on transgender youth undoing surgery – why didn’t they look like THAT after the procedure? Yet again, it boils down to the privilege of being a celebrity with vast resources at their disposal. They can be exacting in the way they will look after surgery, from employing top surgeons down to the smallest of details such as buying the best makeup and having a ‘glam’ wardrobe best suited to their needs.
But then again, what about the people who are content with the way they are – at odds with the social perception of what a ‘woman’ or a ‘man’ should look like? To put it simply, albeit a tad incorrectly, what about the women who might ‘look like men’ and are fine with it, voluntarily not opting for surgery? This is a different ball game altogether. For such people, even getting through the day could be an immense act of courage – simply because they do not conform to a certain ‘ideal’ image, unlike Caitlyn Jenner. Maybe what is needed is not the unnecessary glossing over of an issue, but a conscious media effort to shift focus from Caitlyn’s wardrobe to what transgender pride, in all its glory and struggles, actually encapsulates.