The internet is now aflutter. Caitlyn Jenner, looking suspiciously like Jessica Lange, hit the cover of Vanity Fair, and the public just can’t seem to get enough. Many fans of Jenner, fans of the Kardashians, and folks who are fans of neither think this is awesome and praise her for her bravery. Many activists think this is a train wreck, and many others are simply tired of hearing about it already. I’m not a fan of Jenner, the Kardashians, and while not so much an activist as an educator, I think this is a pistachio hot fudge sundae with whipped cream and a cherry. Kool Whip, not that homemade crap. Surprised? Let’s talk about that for a minute.
To give my activist friends their due, I freely admit that the whole rigmarole is exploitative, an exercise in showmanship, and carries forward the archetypal pervasive myth of the boy who gets wheeled through the swinging door of the OR and emerges hours later a stunning woman. It’s true, this is exactly what happened here. Last we saw Caitlyn she was sitting with Diane Sawyer still looking kind of butch, and now just over a month later, which is hardly anything in real life transition time, she’s outshining the spotlights on the magazine rack. With her magazine cover caliber rack nonetheless.
She’s making something often monstrously hard, prohibitively expensive, and soul crushingly depressing look fresh and easy as a summer’s eve. I can see why many who have worked, sacrificed, and made so many tiny forward steps while drowning in a sea of failure and regret might hate her, maybe just a tiny little bit. She’s privileged. She’s white. She’s rich. She’s famous. I don’t care. That’s her life, not mine, not that of anyone I know, so I leave her to it. What I do care about is that people are talking. More importantly, people are asking questions.
Just yesterday a friend asked me, “Is it OK to start calling her ‘she’ now? Is that right?” Some of you reading this just face-palmed. The woman who asked, however, is both big hearted and brilliant. I’m also the first trans person she met, and has treated me from the get go with great respect and genuine interest in my life, non-trans elements included. I was thrilled she asked so I could tell her. I did a Trans 101 seminar about a month back, and during my Q&A, the organizer who contacted me and put the whole thing together admitted, “When I wrote you I wasn’t sure whether to address you as Ms. or Mr.” I was ecstatic that she said something.
Questions and statements like these are gifts I receive nearly every day. I call them gifts because it means the people asking are genuinely interested. People sitting in a seminar are generally being talked at. I know when I’m being talked at I’m usually either a million miles away, or I’ve taken umbrage and tuning them out while I craft my devastatingly clever response. I think it’s the same for everyone. When I ask a question, it’s because I really want to know. I think that is the same for everyone as well. It’s also because I, and I assume we, don’t know. It could be plastered on a billboard in front of my eyes, but it’s still entirely possible, or even probable, that I don’t know anyway. If it’s not a part of my direct experience, my interest is low, and my eyes glaze over as I concentrate on things that are relevant to me.
It doesn’t matter that I’m not a super fan of the Kardashians or Caitlyn. Frankly I wasn’t completely sure who they were, why they are famous, or even that Jenner was a part of their whole shtick. Millions, however, are. Millions invite Caitlyn into their living rooms and bedrooms every week on the tube or in the gossip rags. Caitlyn is part of their cultural experience. They care if she gets into a car accident. They care if she’s spotted getting a Venti Chowdertino from Starbucks. They care if she undergoes gender transition. They are paying attention, and they will ask questions. Startling obvious questions sometimes, but so telling about how far the trans experience has permeated or failed to seep to the core of our cultural consciousness. How sweet it is.
At the heart of it, it doesn’t matter that she’s white, privileged, wealthy, famous, has it comparatively easy in respect to the rest of us, and might even be coming out in this way for all the wrong reasons. It does matter that people are talking about it, asking those questions, broadening their awareness, and gaining the ability to identify with her as a person. I work very hard to achieve that same thing every day; people in my life, people who come to my seminars, anyone who reads my words. In one swoop, flashy, gaudy, and misleading as it may be, she captured the interest of millions, and the questions are flowing. Every one of them is gold, and represents one less person I and every other trans have to talk at.