THE BLOG

Why We Need to Talk About Caitlyn Jenner

06/02/2015 05:30 EDT | Updated 06/02/2016 05:59 EDT
Vanity Fair

Today I was contacted by two major media outlets to lend my voice on the issues surrounding Caitlyn Jenner's Vanity Fair cover.

I felt the need to come here and say my part to support her. It's a wonderful day to celebrate trans folks. I am so happy that people around the globe are celebrating her and that the conversation around trans issues is on people's minds. My hopes are that this kind of media coverage creates awareness that we exist and that we are just like other folks.

With that said, I think it's very important that this starts a conversation around differing narratives of trans lives and how Caitlyn's story, although wonderful and to be celebrated, is one of privilege. Privilege, that unfortunately 99.9 per cent of the trans community does not have access to.

As well, I think we need to think about the standards of beauty that are set out by these images of Caitlyn and the expectations that are then set upon trans women specifically that they need to present a certain way. There are so many different kinds of people in the trans community and I'm hoping that in these conversations that we can find room for all of them, not just the ones who "pass" or fit the mainstream media's beauty standards. This has been an ongoing conversation in the female cisgender community for years and I hope we can apply it to our community as well. I ask myself why someone like Kristin Beck wasn't asked to be on the cover of Vanity Fair a year ago when she had an award-winning documentary called Lady Valor and an amazing story to tell.

On another note, there is race and class. We must remember that Caitlyn was once seen as a rich, white male who also happened to be an Olympic gold medalist. It is not outside this narrative that she has been specifically targeted and sensationalized. There is a bittersweet mindfulness that happens in me when I take all of these things into account. Meaning that I am ever so happy for her, for her journey, for her courage, but I must also ask myself why is it that Laverne Cox or Janet Mock have never been asked to be on the cover of Vanity Fair. I know Laverne was on the cover of Time, which was AMAZING, but when my critical mind deconstructs this, there is a part of it that asks the question why a trans woman of colour can only represent our community in a political sense and not in a celebration of beauty sense. As well, I also always wonder why so much attention is set upon those whose stories seem to be focused on the courage they had based on how much privilege they had to lose, rather than focus on the courage and bravery of those who already had very little and risked life and limb to be their authentic self.

Don't get me wrong. I am not trying to discount in any way Caitlyn Jenner's courage. It takes a special person to do what she's doing. She is putting herself out there in a way that is beyond brave but I have to say that there is much to be said who the media and mainstream choose to focus on to tell our stories. This is not my critique of Caitlyn, but rather my critique of who the masses seem to think is palatable enough to tell our stories.

As a man who is also transgender, I feel the need to also speak briefly on Aydian Dowling who most of us know as being a contender for the cover of Men's Health and was recently on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Another fantastic victory for the community but again, one that should come with some critical and thoughtful conversation.

As a man who used to be a woman, I have come from a socialization that very much tied me to having to live up to female beauty standards. Standards that I struggled with and still do. I looked at images of women that I felt I could never, ever attain. Unfortunately, I'm finding that as someone on the other side of the coin, that this is happening again.

I am, again, very happy for Aydian. I think it's great what he's accomplishing. But in saying that, I'm getting extremely frustrated that the only images of trans men out there are ones of white guys with six packs. These are not realistic standards for us to have and in fact have very often triggered the issues I have with my body.

I know I have a responsibility to myself to work on my own issues but it is also disheartening when growing up we as trans folks had zero representation to only go and have representation that only covers a certain sect of our community. I will also take full account for being one of those people when I was getting media coverage as I pass as a white male. I can tell you now that it's not comfortable for me to be a main focus in learning what I have through the years about representation.

This may seem like a lot of huffing and puffing and I'm hoping the intentions of what I've written have come across. I'm hoping that as a community who has had to, in the past, live up to the standards of the cis, heteronormative community that we don't fall into the same bad habits because these habits of representing only one sect of the community lend themselves to the bigger issue that ties into everything within colonialism. I know, big word for a musician, eh? But seriously, I just want us to all feel represented. I want us all to feel included. I don't want anyone being sad because the only images they see of their community don't look anything like them. But I also don't want us to fight about it when people like us get attention, merely, let's talk to each other. Let's open up dialogue. Let's educate each other and other's outside our community. These conversations should always lead to positive places. I demand no infighting!

So what I'm saying here is YAY! For Caitlyn and Aydian! BUT let's try not to fall into the same pattern that others have before us and be mindful that there are so many amazing diverse people in our community who all need a voice to tell their stories.

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