Call Her Caitlyn But Then Let’s Move on to the Issues Affecting the Trans Community

Today Caitlyn Jenner introduced herself to the world in a fabulous Vanity Fair spread. “Call me Caitlyn,” she tells the public in this latest cover story and through her recently launched @Caitlyn­­_Jenner Twitter handle.

It is important that people do actually call her Caitlyn.

Words matter and erasing the identity of trans people by calling them by their birth names and birth-assigned sex is an act of hatred — one that is inextricable from the brutal violence that so many trans people, particularly trans women of color, encounter just for existing in the world.

How we talk about trans people sets the tone for the world in which trans people live.

And because young trans people are dying by suicide and trans women of color are being murdered at alarming rates, those of us forming public narratives about trans celebrities have an obligation to tell those stories with care.

When we write about Caitlyn Jenner, her name and narrative will give enough context. There is no need to mention what her name used to be or what sex she was assigned at birth. And as writer and activist Janet Mock brilliantly explained to Piers Morgan, neither Janet nor Caitlyn were “born boys.” They were born babies and they are women — brave and fabulous women.

But as brave and fabulous as Caitlyn Jenner is, and she is both of those things, her story is so far from the story of most trans peoples’ lives and should not eclipse the truth of the fight for trans justice.  

Telling her story with care means using the right name and pronoun, but it also means highlighting the extent to which it is not the typical trans story. Her story can only be told by also telling the stories of the trans people who are struggling to survive systemic discrimination.

Health care for transgender people remains highly stigmatized and largely unavailable for the majority of trans people. Both private (i.e., employer) and public (i.e. Medicaid) insurance plans continue to have blanket bans on coverage for health care related to gender transition. Even where there has been progress on coverage generally, insurance coverage for care that trans women need is still elusive.

For example, the facial feminization surgery that Caitlyn describes in Vanity Fair is almost universally excluded from coverage. This means that most trans people, particularly trans women of color, cannot access the basic care that they need. It means that going to the doctor feels like a battle — if a trans person can get there at all. It means that trans people participate in criminalized economics like the drug and sex trades to pay for the health care they need or seek the care from friends or unsupervised black markets. It means that trans people die seeking the care they need to live.

To tell Caitlyn’s story with care is to demand justice for trans people.

We must not tell Caitlyn’s story in a vacuum that erases the history of trans organizing, mobilizing, and celebrity of the many trans women who came before her and made her Vanity Fair cover possible. Janet. Laverne. Major. Sylvia. Marsha.

We must not exclaim that Caitlyn looks “fabulous” without interrogating our standards for which trans people get to grace the covers of magazines and all the while continuing to keep the health care that brings life to trans people out of reach.

We must not celebrate Caitlyn without mourning Islan, Lamia, Penny, and the hundreds of other trans women, mostly of color, we have lost to violence. This violence isn’t just at the hands of hateful partners or strangers, but violence in the arms of hateful and exclusionary systems.

Thank you, Caitlyn, for bravely sharing your truth. May your platform shed light on these injustices and the leaders who have been fighting to make them known. 

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Anonymous

Funny how you won't help children victimized by pedophilia yet you'll glorify this nonsense with your name all over it. Smh!! ACLU is a cruel joke!!!!

Anonymous

You seem to be suggesting that trans people are somehow pedophiles, which is truly cruel. Every peer reviewed study out their has found that pedophiles are almost exclusively middle aged cisgendered straight white men.

Anonymous

If you knew a trans person or were educated at all you would know that this is not nonsense! Theses are real issues that need to be talked about so uneducated people like yourself can in a small way start to understand the hard ships that the trans community go through each and every day.

Julie

To the anonymous comment, you seem to be seeing only what you want to see. This person is merely stating that the issue of child molestation isn't talked about but this is because gender is a socially "happening" topic. Would you ever put a child molested on the front of Vanity Fair?

Anonymous

I'm not defending this person (I definitely don't agree that this is nonsense), but I think this person may be referring to a couple other things the ACLU has been in the news for. Could be the ACLU's defense of the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) and/or the ACLU saying the sex offender registry is unconstitutional and/or who knows what else -- didn't seem to me like the person was saying trans people are pedophiles. ACLU does do some awesome work but sometimes they do some weird things.

Anonymous

Simply put: there is zero correlation between trans people and child molestation.

Anonymous

Who won't help children victimized by pedophilia? Did Caitlyn molest a child that we don't know about? I mean...I don't particularly feel that sex-change operations are "right" but I'm also not being forced to get one. I'm not being forced to pay for surgeries. In other words, it is none of my business. And there are LOTS of things being covered in the news that mean nothing to me. Maybe this means nothing to you, but you don't get to decide that it means nothing to everyone. I'd much rather have a transgendered child than a dead one and if this story prevents someone from killing themselves then so be it.

Personally, I've been sick of her entire family for years. I'm tired of hearing about them. This is far more newsworthy than anything else the Kardashians have done.

Anonymous

By "pedophile", you are referring to "Josh Duggar". Correct? Or did I miss something?

Meghan Minor

They are right, Caitlyn's story is not typical of trans people. First, because it is very rare for any trans person to undergo surgery as quickly as she did without going through therapy, gender therapy, etc. and it is also rare that trans people are as well off as she is, which means fighting with insurance providers to get them to cover the therapy, gender therapy, surgery, and hormones.

In addition, it makes me sick to see this article repeatedly use the term, "especially trans people of color." Yes, trans people of color do die more often than white trans people, mainly because , believe it or not, there are more trans people of color. Worldwide, I mean. Yes, the main cause for them dying more often is because of the added discrimination of being a racial minority as well as being trans. But the use of especially trans people of color has no place in the following paragraph ...

For example, the facial feminization surgery that Caitlyn describes in Vanity Fair is almost universally excluded from coverage. This means that most trans people, particularly trans women of color, cannot access the basic care that they need. It means that going to the doctor feels like a battle — if a trans person can get there at all. It means that trans people participate in criminalized economics like the drug and sex trades to pay for the health care they need or seek the care from friends or unsupervised black markets. It means that trans people die seeking the care they need to live.

I say this because in this case, a trans persons race means absolutely nothing. ALL trans people have that problem, and there is no color involved in that. I know there are thousands of trans people worldwide that will piss and whine about it, but all trans people face discrimination, and as long as we keep separating ourselves according to the shade of our skins, society will do the same.

The point of this is to say, we need to fight discrimination the world over, not just discrimination against any particular race or nationality.

ceres

i agree what does people of color have to do with it! It's insulting to people of color to be marginalized by these comments.
Healthcare is difficult for sure ... For all people!
Let this story of a courageous person
"Caitlyn" to help further awareness for
All people wishing to live their authentic selves. To help them not want to kill themselves ,but to seek assistance and support !
Hopefully , to educate the ignorant to recognize we all have choices and have the right to exercise them!

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