Should We Be Thankful For Caitlyn Jenner?
There are few people in the Transgender Community who are more controversial than Caitlyn Jenner. Whether it is her wealth, her privilege, her support of Donald Trump (and attendance at his inauguration), her association with the Kardashian clan or any number of other items, when you bring her name up in a crowd of trans people you are more than likely to get a loud and vociferous debate.
There is no doubt that Jenner has been late to the party and that she has struggled with finding a voice that resonates with the Community. All you need to do is to re-watch her appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres show where her response to a question about supporting gay marriage was tepid at best. Another example was her participation in a TV debate held on Great Britain’s Channel 4 – an event that virtually all reputable trans-advocates avoided because they knew it would turn into a spectacle of heckling, cruelty and dog whistles.
A Willingness to “Grab the Mic”
Starting the Diane Sawyer interview where she came out on television and followed-up with her Vanity Fair cover shoot, her acceptance of the 2015 Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs, and the two-year run of her eponymous reality TV show it seemed as if Jenner was everywhere. It also appeared that she was more than willing to accept the mantle of “Trans Community Spokesperson.” Even though – as she has publicly acknowledged – it was a Community that she knew little about and a role she was not prepared for.
Another area of concern for many trans activists has been her continuing affiliation with and support of the Republican Party. She has clearly stated (albeit well after the election) that she does not support the current administration’s anti LGBTQ policies. But she has also said that she is not a one-issue voter and will support Republican candidates while “changing things from the inside.”
When you put it all together, it is no wonder that to many in the Trans Community Jenner is a self-serving and privileged outsider who was wholly unaware of the Community’s ongoing intersectional struggles and its decades-long fight for justice.
A Slow Evolution
What some in the Community don’t know is that Jenner has been quietly experiencing an awakening. It is the same awakening that many people of privilege experience when they suddenly realize that the people and organizations with whom you were once associated (family, friends, a faith, or a political party) hate you for living genuinely.
As this has been happening for Jenner, she has begun to respond. She has partnered with various trans organizations to help them raise over $2 million in donations and has personally donated in excess of $100,000 to organizations such as the TransLatin@ Coalition and National Center for Trans Equality. She has discretely met with trans service members and has attended meetings of support groups for trans people of color. While she has been on this “listening tour” she has not been speaking loudly or taking the lead. Instead, she has tried to enable those who don’t have voices to find them.
Is Forgiveness Possible?
For some, Jenner’s previous words and activities - or the fact that still supports the Republican Party – are a bridge too far and don’t deserve forgiveness. Of course, few of them had to deal with being the most famous transgender person on the planet.
The experience of transition forces all of us to evolve and change and it has taken Ms. Jenner a regrettably long time to wake up and smell the coffee. She is evolving and I thank her for that and for the work she is doing to help less privileged trans folk, but those are not the reasons I am thankful for Caitlyn Jenner.
Gratitude Comes In Many Forms
A few weeks ago, I was speaking with the grandmother of a young trans woman. She said that when her granddaughter came out to her she asked that they sit down and watch “I am Jazz” together. It has become a weekly tradition for them now and this simple activity has helped both of them to learn and grow together. It has ultimately created a new layer of acceptance and trust for them both and – most critically – it has turned the grandmother into a trans advocate.
Since Ms. Jenner stepped out into the light we have seen similar happenings. People who may never have reached-out to a trans person are now doing so. Often they mention seeing an article or TV feature about Jenner as being the motivating factor for their request . Lehigh Valley Renaissance has seen a significant uptick in the number of requests for education and resources from the Cis Community. And, since part of Renaissance’ mission is to educate the broader population about trans issues, we are more than happy to fulfill them whenever possible (see sidebar).
Additionally, and perhaps most critically, since Jenner’s coming-out, the Renaissance Support Group has seen a significant up-tick in the number of trans women and men who come through our doors seeking guidance as they begin their journey into the light. Many of them have said words to the effect of “If Caitlyn Jenner can do it, so can I.”
It is for these things that I am thankful to Caitlyn Jenner.
Learn More About the Lehigh Valley Transgender Community
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Note: The views expressed in this post are those of the writer and are not necessarily endorsed by Lehigh Valley Renaissance.