Caitlyn Jenner, community and identity

I spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not The Venture Out Project blog is the right place for me to talk about many of the issues that Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out has made more visible over the past two days.  Her coming out has been celebrated and simultaneously criticized.  She has been applauded for coming out, increasing trans visibility, being true to herself and for looking traditionally beautiful and feminine while doing it.  At the same time, people have been quick to point out that Jenner is a person of privilege.  She has the wealth and resources to fund a glamorous photo shoot with Annie Liebowitz.  She has the fame and public position that enabled her to be interviewed by Diane Sawyer.  And let us not forget that her whiteness, her American citizenship, her celebrity status, among other things, help ensure her physical safety as she comes out.   As the critics point out, Jenner’s coming out story is not the norm for many transgender and gender non-conforming folks.  The sheer fact that she ostensibly doesn’t need to worry about her physical safety is a huge distinguishing factor since violence against trans women, and particularly trans women of color is at an all time high.  The chance of being murdered in the US is 1 in 12 for all trans women and 1 in 8 for trans women of color (Trans Student Educational Resources).  Yet, her apparent immunity from these statistics doesn’t mean that Caitlyn Jenner doesn’t get a pit in her stomach every time she walks into the women’s restroom, or that she doesn’t hear the snickers as she walks by.  Her transition is real, her feelings are real, her identity is real and and her process is real.  Without a doubt it’s true that she has more resources than most and that helps.  But for our identity to feel real it needs to be mirrored back to us.  What I mean is that for me to feel like a man, it helps a lot for others to validate that they also see me as a man.  This is not just me; this is grounded in research, lots and lots of research.  We seek out people who see us as we see ourselves.  We want and need to be validated.  And that is why, in the end, I am writing about Caitlyn Jenner on The Venture Out Project  blog.  I am writing about her, and about validating identity because as much as The Venture Out Project is about backpacking and outdoor adventure, it is about community.  It is about bringing together queer people who see and affirm ourselves and each other.   So, to be sure, there are things to critique about Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out, but there are also things to celebrate.  Trans celebrities are helping to make us more visible.  Laws that protect trans people are being passed at a higher rate than ever before.  Just today OSHA (The Department of Occupational Safety and Health Administration) announced new guidelines to ensure that all employees have access to restrooms that correspond to their gender identity. Clearly, there is much work still to be done, but we are making progress.  When a 65 year old, self-declared conservative Republican comes out as trans, we are making progress.  Now, if she’ll just come on a Venture Out trip…

Posted on June 2, 2015 and filed under Safety, Gender.