Running several days behind with this post, life is good but a bit complex at the moment. My thoughts this time were inspired by some of the commentary I’ve seen posted on Twitter regarding “I am Cait” as it’s juxtaposed with the criticism that comes from the Traditionalist crowd.
One of my gifts, I suppose (though the effects that come with it sometimes get me down) is that I have a pretty thick skin when it comes to attacks from strangers or those I don’t have a relationship with. To be sure, my loved ones or my good friends can hurt my heart if they were to try, but the random heckler or internet critic? Bothers me not at all. I neither get hurt, nor angry. This gives me the ability to walk into the fever swamps known as “comment threads” and come away with my sanity and also having controlled the message I put across, rather than giving in to the temptation to rage at the idiocy. Because, you see, this is in my estimation the most critical hour of our progress towards widespread acceptance. Now that all the “celebrity” moments are coming back to back, a lot of people are taking notice of our existence for the first time – and what they see and hear when they look and listen will be critical.
As a fried of mine recently observed, we are already saddled with the unsavory stereotype created by the bold fetishest and the drag queen (with all due respect to the history of DQ involvement in equality, it has to be acknowledge that to the “vanilla” voter often the DQ becomes the only conception of trans they know) and this is compounded by the mistakes most of us make in the early stages of being out – the makeup to thick, the garments too dressy, the heels too high, whatever. Frankly there’s little we can do about this (except possibly be more diligent about mentoring the newly-out to help them avoid rookie mistakes). So it is imperative that we counter-balance this with more positive imagery. Now some will scold and say that no one has the right to tell you not to dress like a hooker if you want (and that’s true, whether trans or cis) and there are many among us who see conformity as a thing to flee rather than respect. But acceptance isn’t going to come all in one load and I would argue that critical needs, like facility access and proper health care, ought to be in the first loads, even if the full acceptance of radical nonconformity comes further down the road. So I make it a point, when I involve myself in those comment threads, to represent the best behavior I can.
Which brings me back to “I am Cait.” For all the petty squabbling among the trans community concerning Caitlyn Jenner and her impact on the public discourse just in being who she is (i.e. an adjunct to the Kardasian circus) one of the reasons I’m a huge supporter of her and her show is that she’s going out of way to put other faces besides hers into the public view. It’s just about the single best possible use of a program like that. Together with Jazz Jennings’ show (the other most prominent docu-series featuring trans people) they are having a big impact on the public discourse by featuring people who are NOT examples of the typical stereotype trans woman. Cait, bless her, is so wealthy that she is pretty much incapable of being “average” in any sense. From the glamorous outfits to the paparazzi, she exemplifies the idea of the “overdone” femininity often ascribed to us – even when she’s doing her best to get dirty on a motocross bike.
But when she brings the other women in her new circle before the camera, she shakes that image up. Take the lady who’s been perhaps the biggest breakout name on the show (as far as the general public is concerned) – Jenny Boylan. Jenny would have to be one of your icons if you pay any attention to the discourse in the trans community. A respected professor at Barnard College, the first trans co-chair of GLAAD, prolific and talented author, and legendarily cool and calm and collected. She is Mr. Spock to Caitlyn’s Jim Kirk. She’s no stranger to Oprah, having appeared a few times over the last decade plus, but her schedule is ever more busy and her voice more often heard. And she’s the antithesis of most of the trans stereotypes that plague the imagination of the ill-informed. She’s just one example of course, but an important one. Our community needs to do a better job of pointing to people like Boylan, like Lynn Conway (actual rocket scientist), like Marci Bowers (and other accomplished surgeons and physicians) like Allison Robinson (prominent minister) and so many more. Not celebrities, but real people of real accomplishment. The more the public sees of THAT image, the more we can regulate the rookie mistake and the fetish overkill to the status of exception.
And that will be very good for the campaign for equality.
[A note of clarification: I recognize this is a site frequented by crossdressers as well as transsexual people, I do not mean these remarks to demean all crossdressing at all; rather my points refer to those who wear such a ridiculous caricature of femininity that they might as well just go with the drag queen look and leave the half-measures. Five inch platform stripper heels, boty shorts that say “spank me”, EE glue on breasts and Pippy Longstockings pig-tails may have their place, but not in Walmart or the local grocery. Wear clubwear to the club. You’ll be safer, and you’ll strike a blow for equality and ironically help advance the day when fewer people will care where you wear your heels. But don’t think I’m ripping on crossdressing in general – far from it.]
Image by: Georgina Rose Evans