I wrote yesterday about my fears for Bruce Jenner’s two hour interview. In some places I may have failed to make some of my thoughts perfectly clear, but I stand by my point.
I received a lot of comments accusing me of not supporting Bruce Jenner and being bitter because Bruce’s story doesn’t match my story, as if this is actually in any way about me (it’s not). While it is true that Bruce’s story is very different from mine, it obviously has parallels. But much of this criticism came at me dripping in class privilege, without any consideration of what our community’s most marginalized members deal with. A complete lack of the intersectionality of class and race with trans issues.
To be clear, of course I think all trans stories are worth telling! To say otherwise would be ridiculous. My point was that we are all different and unique. We have different stories and experiences. Bruce’s story is just one of an infinite number of trans stories and we should be wary how much the media focuses on _his._ I would never try to suggest Bruce doesn’t deal with many of the same feelings and things all trans people deal with. However, Bruce’s transition is still very different. Having money can’t buy your way out of transphobia and all the dysphoria and feelings, but it can ease many of the of the struggles around being able to simply pay for shit. If you cannot see or understand this, you have a serious case classism that I can’t help you with.
I say this as someone who lives with an immense amount of privilege. I’m white, my wife and I do not worry about money, and we live in the NYC area. It makes a difference. A HUGE difference. My transition was relatively easy because of all of this. That’s not to say being trans is ever made easy or any of it is easy, but I do have advantages many do not have. While there is too much to go into around this in this post, it is still important to consider. Still, just like Jenner’s, my story matters too. As I’ve said, all trans stories and all trans experiences matter. However, trans activism and media should focus on our most marginalized and our most at risk.
We must not leave anyone behind in our fight for equality. The LGBT movement largely left the T behind and mainstream feminism has largely left women of color behind. We must not make the same mistake other fights have had and the only way to ensure we don’t is to focus on those most marginalized. Lifting their stories and focusing on _them_ lifts us all up. I’m sorry white trans folks with money, but this means it’s not all about us.
So, yes, Bruce Jenner’s story matters, but it should never be the focus of our community.
As for the actual interview, it was absolutely not the transwreck many expected. The interview was far from perfect, but it was more a fender-bender than a wreck. I clearly underestimated Bruce a lot, but I never didn’t support him. Diane Sawyer made mistakes and drifted into a few of the standard tropes, but largely avoided any _major_ faux pas. While the interview clearly showed just how far the media has to go on trans issues still, it was, without a doubt, an indication of progress and real effort being put in.
While I found the use of he/him pronouns and repeated referring to him as a man to be very jarring and likely to be confusing to many cis (not trans) people, I actually completely understand Bruce’s request for that. I get the compartmentalization of what is essentially a persona you put on vs the actual real person you are. I think that’s something a lot of us have had to do to some degree. And Bruce’s request for this is why I am using masculine pronouns in this piece. This is what Bruce asked us to do, at least for the interview, so that is what we should do.
For me, the biggest issue was the repeated question of what Bruce will look like “when he emerges as she.” There is just so much wrong with focusing on how a trans person will look after they transition. I know this is always the question on people’s minds, but it can really miss the point of transition. It is this thinking that creates hierarchies based on our appearance. It is because of this that those of us who “pass” or are pretty are often treated better. It is because of this that I use women’s rooms with no problem and am consistently gendered properly while my friend Robyn has the complete opposite experience despite even having a more femme style than I do. It doesn’t matter to anyone else what we look like. It only matters to us.
All of this said, the reality is we’ve been burned time and time again by the media and “good intentions.” One only needs to look back a year to Piers Morgan’s interview with Janet Mock and Katie Couric’s interview with Laverne Cox and Carmen Carrera to see what I mean. Or how about a couple months ago with Jill Soloway? Skepticism is completely warranted and we should still exercise it until being burned is no longer the norm. I actually think this string of tweets by Casey Plett really nails of lot of why we should continue to be skeptical.
One of the things not everybody understands is those of us who have seen multiple Celebrity Transitions as well as concrete positive change— Casey Plett (@caseyplett) April 25, 2015
have seen little link between the two. Consider also perhaps we've spent lots (some of us lots and LOTS) of time working for the latter— Casey Plett (@caseyplett) April 25, 2015
often in times of great personal despair, loss, and trouble.— Casey Plett (@caseyplett) April 25, 2015
We can have arguments and discussions about the visibility and trade-offs that new celebrity transitioners carry (and imo anyway, they— Casey Plett (@caseyplett) April 25, 2015
always carry both) but they change very very little for those who've been around, lived it, been hurt over and over. That to me is— Casey Plett (@caseyplett) April 25, 2015
indisputable and the starting ground for respect in this matter.— Casey Plett (@caseyplett) April 25, 2015
Additionally, I stand by my fear that media will center too much around Jenner’s story instead of those I mentioned above. I want to be wrong here, I absolutely do, but until the media starts to get this right, I will continue to be skeptical.
I’ve seen a lot of cis people come out this week in support of Bruce Jenner. That’s GREAT! For real, it’s absolutely awesome to have people supporting trans people, but it’s hard to not question where these people are when we’re calling out transphobic jokes in TV shows and movies. I didn’t see people speak up when a trans woman was murdered every week for the first two months of this year. Are these people speaking up against the proposed laws in Texas, Florida, and other states to limit our right to access public restrooms? Supporting Bruce is great, but it cannot end there. This is why I continue advocate for our focus on our most marginalized and to focus less on coming out stories and more on the lived experiences of trans folk.
I 100% support Bruce Jenner, but let’s make sure we never leave anyone behind. Let’s fight for more than just the scraps that fall off the table of equality. Let’s fight for a seat at the table.