2 Jun 2015

Caitlyn Jenner: a ‘pivotal moment’ for transgender people?

In a glamorous photoshoot for Vanity Fair, Caitlyn Jenner announces herself to the world in what has been hailed as a “pivotal moment” in the perception of transgender people.

Ms Jenner, who originally shot to fame by winning a decathlon gold at the 1976 Olympics, and later on reality TV show Keeping Up With the Kardashians, was photographed by Annie Leibowitz for the glossy magazine cover with the title “Call Me Caitlyn”.

At the same time she set up her new Twitter account, which attracted 1 million followers in just over four hours. According to the Guinness Book of Records it is the fastest a Twitter account has ever reached 1 million followers.

And the majority of responses to Ms Jenner’s transition have been positive. The hashtag #CallMeCaitlyn, tweeted by Vanity Fair, has featured in 222,000 tweets since Monday.

“Bruce always had to tell a lie,” Ms Jenner said in a Vanity Fair interview, referring to her former name. “Caitlyn doesn’t have any secrets. As soon as the Vanity Fair cover comes out, I’m free.”

Ms Jenner became the highest profile American to identify as transgender when she made the announcement in April. Her Vanity Fair shoot, in which Jenner appears in a range of glamorous outfits that emphasise her femininity, was accompanied by a 22-page article.

The transition has been applauded by a host of transgender celebrities as well as Kim Kardashian West, daughter of Ms Jenner’s former wife Kris.

She was also tweeted by US President Barack Obama, who hailed her “courage to share your story”.

Transgender rights activist and journalist Paris Lees wrote that the Vanity Fair photoshoot is “the most ridiculous, bold, life-affirming and gloriously overblown celebrity transition ever”.

“Jenner has endured years of hiding who she is, of trying to live up to other people’s expectations of who she was supposed to be and, more recently, cruel tabloid speculation, ridicule and bullying,” she wrote in the Guardian.

“After going through all that, her time has finally come. To see her looking so happy on the cover of Vanity Fair is a triumph.”

‘Those most at risk’

Laverne Cox, the American actress best known for her portrayal of Sophia Burset in Orange is the New Black, said the transition “feels like a new day” but added that most trans people do not have the same advantages that she and Ms Jenner have.

“It is those trans folks we must continue to lift up, get them access to healthcare, jobs, housing, safe streets, safe schools and homes for our young people,” she wrote.

“We must lift up the stories of those most at risk, statistically trans people of color who are poor and working class.”

Across the world transgender people continue to face discrimination and violence. A total of 1,731 trans and gender diverse people were killed between the start of January and the end of 2015, Transgender Europe’s Trans Murder Monitoring Project said last month.

In the US the “realities that transgender people experience in America are truly alarming,” the National LGBQT Task Force says.

Harassment and discrimination

Kylar Broadus, Transgender Civil Rights Project Director at National LGBTQ Task Force, said on Tuesday: “Transgender people are twice as likely to be unemployed and four times more likely to live in poverty when compared to the general population—and these disparities are much greater for transgender black and Latina women.

“And for transgender people who are able to find a job, ninety percent of them experience harassment, discrimination or mistreatment at the workplace.

“This year alone nine transgender women of colour murders have been reported. Clearly more needs to be done to ensure that transgender people have a fighting chance to access the promise of America.”

But many will hope Ms Jenner’s transition will be a positive change in the perception of trans people. Drian Juarez, programme manager with the Los Angeles LGBT centre, said: “It feels like a pivotal moment in the way that media portrays trans people.”

And Caitlyn, at least, is “so happy after such a long struggle to be living my true self.”