Me and Caitlyn Jenner

Me and Caitlyn Jenner

OK. I’m late to the party as far as commenting on Caitlyn Jenner’s debut goes. But in my defense I need to take the time to analyze and comprehend my own feelings before committing my virtual pen to equally virtual paper. Here, then, is my small contribution.

I’ve often said, only half in jest, that I spend much of my time in my own little world. This is why I can honestly say that up until that Diane Sawyer interview I had never heard of this former Olympic athlete. I’ve not seen more than a few highlights of the whole interview; just read thousands of words that were written in response.

I know very little about the Kardashian family: just that they have some reality TV show and get mentioned in the entertainment sections of the media with some regularity, and that they have an affinity for alliterative first names. These people are very much not a factor in my life.

Perhaps it’s because I had no prior knowledge of her that I approached the subject of Caitlyn Jenner with an open mind. (Or maybe it’s just how I am?) I’ve read so many blog posts and articles about her Vanity Fair cover, and the majority discuss what it means to the authors of the pieces. What has been lacking is discussion of what it means to her.

I would love to have the means to mask — even temporarily — those physical attributes of my appearance that trigger my gender dysphoria. But I don’t begrudge Ms. Jenner her indulgence. Heck, if I had an equivalent photo of myself it would be so validating: an image of myself as I exist inside my own mind would be immensely gratifying. It would boost my self confidence no end.

I like to imagine that this photo shows Caitlyn Jenner as she sees herself, that all the skilled artifice that went into its creation adds up to an impressionist portrait: this is how she feels she really is. And I’m sure that the end result must have brought her a great deal of happiness.

Ultimately that is the reason that any trans person goes through transition; for their own happiness and well-being. For all her money and influence I do not believe Caitlyn Jenner is any different in this regard: she transitioned for herself. None of that was for the benefit of you, me or anybody else.

Separate from that is the public revelation of her transition. Being somebody who has spent years in the public eye, she was never going to be able to keep it private, whatever she might have wanted. I can understand her desire to present her story on her own terms, to explain and hopefully to gain acceptance.

Of all I have read about Caitlyn Jenner this one post by somebody who knows her stands out as presenting the most human picture of her. And I think that is key to understanding my own reaction: forget all the celebrity and media opinions because the most important thing to keep in mind is that she is a person.

A person who had the same dysphoric feelings I did, who denied and hid her real gender identity for many years — as I did. Who must have felt a similar fear on opening up for the first time; fear of being rejected by those she loved. Being a rich, white celebrity doesn’t improve your odds when you risk being disowned by your family for being transgender.

I find it difficult to identify with Caitlyn Jenner. There are so many aspects of our lives that are different. But I am able to empathize. In the end I don’t judge her: she has made the choices for herself, not me, and it is their effect on her own life that matters. I simply hope she achieves the happiness and acceptance that we all need.

11 thoughts on “Me and Caitlyn Jenner

    1. Me too! I will admit to some pangs of jealousy. But I’d not exchange places with her: the thought of all that attention and public scrutiny makes my blood run cold.

      I’d love to have the funds for a professional makeover if only to get a photo for my driving license that I feel completely comfortable with — although the name’s correct it still shows me with a mustache! I recently got asked for ID (actually flattering when you’re in your 40s) and lied, saying that I didn’t have any on me. Didn’t feel comfortable showing that photo.

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  1. Actually, Alex, I’m tired of Caitlyn Jenner. Like you, she and the Kardashians are not even on my radar. Every place I turn, someone is fawning over her. The Vanity Fair cover is how she sees herself? Okay, great. Just for the record, I see myself as 5’7″ and 110 lbs. Now, I’d be thrilled if the media stopped pushing her in my face. Okay, and our next topic is….?

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    1. I don’t for one minute think she had any choice about the degree of media coverage. Given her high profile before announcing that she was transgender the media was going to pick up the story and run with it regardless. I interpret her ABC interview and Vanity Fair cover story as her way to get a degree of control over the story and put her own spin on it: that’s understandable.

      The negative aspect of this is that a focus on one person inevitably distorts public perception and does little if anything to highlight the very real obstacles and dangers faced by trans people who don’t have access to her resources (which is almost all of us).

      I would love if the media gave a realistic, balanced account of trans peoples’ lives; if they used their reach to inform and educate instead of trying to shock and scandalize their audience. But I can’t blame the subject of the stories for the media’s failings.

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      1. I almost agree with you, but she was married to Kris Kardasian for 23 years. She must have known what the media attention would be like. And she’s not the first person to do this.

        The other thing is that I don’t remember quite the same level of coverage when Chaz Bono decided on his transformation. Yes, there was some coverage, but I don’t remember the same billing and cooing of “Oh, isn’t this just WONDERFUL!” or “This is such a major milestone for the transgendered community!” Exactly what was that milestone and how did she set it? Maybe I’m just “ho-hum” about it all.

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        1. I agree: she understands the media much better than most. Through being part of the Kardashian family on top of her previous fame as an athlete she has a media profile of the same level as a major movie star (and with the same level of resources behind her). With or without her active involvement I’m convinced that this would have received significant coverage, more so than any previous celebrity transition. I’m not saying it’s right or fair (indeed I don’t believe that it is either). It’s also not entirely good for the trans community as a whole, but then the point of what I wrote is that I believe what Caitlyn Jenner has done was primarily for her own benefit and I don’t think that was wrong.

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  2. Well said, Alex. Until quite recently I had no idea who this Caitlyn Jenner was either and I really don’t get all the fuss about her transition. Let the woman be happy for cripes sake. That’s all that matters in the end, innit?

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  3. This makes me think of Temple Grandin a while back. Seemed like I couldn’t say autistic without at least one person around me gushing at length about Temple Grandin as if she were the only autistic person worth knowing about and as if she were completely representative of all autistic people. I didn’t (and still don’t) know much of anything about Temple Grandin. I only know enough to know she is not much like me but that she is at least a better representation than Rain Man was.

    It is so frustrating. I felt like I didn’t really exist even more than if people knew nothing at all about autism. And that, I think, is the problem. Not that these people in the media spotlight are doing anything wrong, but that they are being held *by others* as the absolute embodiment of a very diverse group of people. And some take it to such an extreme extent that if we, the others, don’t conform to these stereotypes spotlighted by media, then we are wrong.

    And yet people dare say I’m the one with black and white thinking and inflexibility issues… How ironic.

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    1. Excellent point about the parallel with Temple Grandin and the way one person can be seen as embodying an entire group.

      I agree that the assumptions people make about us as a result are a form of erasure — “You can’t be X because famous example isn’t like that”.

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