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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Trans issues should involve everyday trans people, not just Caitlyn Jenner

Today, March 31, marks the seventh annual International Transgender Day of Visibility. Transgender-identified people and their allies everywhere celebrate the transgender community while raising awareness about the discrimination and violence transgender people from across the world still face today. 

The day was born out of a need for a transgender-focused holiday that held up the lives and stories of contemporary trans folks, rather than focusing on mourning the deaths and injustices historically and presently faced by the transgender community. Thus, the Transgender Day of Remembrance, a much more somber and reflective day, was founded in 1999 and honors those in the trans community that lost their lives to hate crimes. 

Transgender Day of Visibility, though, seeks a more upbeat and festive aura, while still acknowledging and continuing to fight against the horrific and inhumane treatment of transgender people in the United States and beyond.

Although the transgender movement has gained unprecedented momentum over the past few years, there is still a long way to go.

The average life of a transgender woman of color is estimated to be around 35 years old. Transgender people attempt suicide at shockingly higher rates than the rest of the population. They are also more likely to experience sexual violence, police brutality, poverty and drug abuse than the average population.

This month, North Carolina passed anti-LGBTQ+ laws largely targeting the transgender community. Other states and cities across the nation have started to attempt to pass similar “bathroom” legislation.

In lou of these negative systemic issues, Transgender Day of Visibility seeks to educate the broader populace and dispel any discomfort some people may feel toward the transgender community. And while, originally, this day was probably the first time some people ever even encountered transgender people, in 2016, transgender issues and discrimination are widely known. This is largely due to an unprecedented number of celebrities who publicly identify as transgender.

Caitlyn Jenner, who came out last summer on a Vanity Fair cover, is a prime example. Her corresponding television program, “I am Cait,” has elevated trans issues and brought a general public awareness of the transgender community to an unmatched level.

Jenner made an incredibly brave choice to come out publicly, allowing the media to cover nearly every aspect of her life. Coming out is an extremely personal and difficult process, and her doing so publicity as a celebrity has undisputedly shifted the national conversation encompassing transgender people.

But this doesn’t mean Jenner shouldn’t be criticized, nor does it mean trans people shouldn’t argue for more diverse media representation.

Jenner’s experience is unique and largely unrepresentative of the trans community as a whole. She has the resources to undergo any medical procedure she chooses, she lives in one of the most tolerant and wealthiest cities in America, and she has the celebrity status to push back against any blatant transphobia.

And while Jenner has acknowledged her privilege and has the intention of improving the quality of life for trans people, some of her remarks can be counterproductive.

For example, in a 2015 Time magazine interview, Jenner said, “So what I call my presentation, I try to take that seriously. I think it puts people at ease. If you’re out there and, to be honest with you, if you look like a man in a dress, it makes people uncomfortable.”

In many ways this comment is correct. Trans men and women who present according to society’s rigid expectation of masculinity and femininity are more often better received in public. But, ideally, gender norms should be viewed as constructs, and trans people shouldn’t need to “pass” as binary men or women to be considered legitimate transgender persons.

The transgender and LGBTQ communities deserve representatives and spokespeople that exemplify more. There need to be advocates who can speak to the racism, classism, sexism and ableism that compound upon each other and who understand the ways systems of power and privilege oppress marginalized communities.

Jenner is a courageous human being who deserves our respect for going through one of history’s most public transgender-coming-out stories. But her narrative should not — and cannot — be the only narrative.

This year for Transgender Day of Visibility, we must give opportunities and attention to those who are often silenced. Other advocates need the space and the rest of us need to listen. Hopefully society will reach a point in the future where Transgender Day of Visibility and coming out in general are both obsolete concepts. 

Until then, we all must work to elevate the stories of those who are most hidden. 

Follow Jacob Winkelman on Twitter.

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