I’m thrilled that Caitlyn Jenner is on the cover of Vanity Fair’s July 2015 issue and that she looks astoundingly beautiful. Her increasingly brave choices are poised to do more good for the transgender movement than anyone elses in human history. Her platform and message almost make 10 years of Kim Kardashian coverage actually worthwhile.
But I am concerned about putting it in the hands of VF, with vanity being the literal and meta name of their game. Historically, I am not usually a fan of even their other highend covers since, with their level of access and recognition, they often seem to be the last one to see a trend, covering it only just before the lights go out on it for good.
Their July cover and much anticipated story on Jenner’s reveal, however, are right in the zeitgeist. Her photographs and personal story hit newsstands at the first real tipping point of transgender awareness in America. Mostly due to Jenner herself, but tee’d off by Laverne Cox and her layered portrayal in “Orange is the New Black,” right alongside Jill Soloway’s stunning drama “Transparent.”
But as the world, myself included, dissects gender, sex and sexual orientation from one another and simultaneously learns more about gender dysphoria and transgender people – pre and post op – might we… maybe… possibly and hopefully discuss more than … their looks? And their hair and makeup? And plastic surgery?
Truth be told, it’s rare that I ever feel conscious of my gender as a woman, which trans people and their families have made me appreciate. However, anytime I have ever felt cognizant of knowing, owning or acting on my gender, it has never had anything to do with what my face or hair or nails look like, or what shirt I have on while it’s happening.
For me, gender awareness has only had to do with feeling fellowship among women, or enjoying the differences of my feelings, thoughts and opinions in the company of a man. Or more specifically, how my gender allows me to see the world and the people in it – is perhaps the only way I have, so far, defined it. I would imagine those feelings and much deeper ones have more to do with why any transgender person goes on their journey to establishing self. And discussing that, rather than how hot they look, would do so much – for all people. Of any gender or any stage of being true to it.
I do long to give an extra pause for women though. Because over the last 50 years, it has become increasingly difficult to reduce females to just their viability to entertain and reproduce. The sentiment, however, is not gone. What a shame if at this transitory time, we reinstate any aspect of that limited view. Because it has been a long road to get here.
Nearly 20 years ago, while cohosting 200 episodes of the television talk show “Loveline,” I grew to fear the calls from those with gender dysphoria – at a time when it was labeled something less correct or kind. During my tenure there on MTV during the late ’90s – at what was laughably the cutting edge of cable TV at that time – I first heard of the struggles of those who felt their bodies failed to accurately represent them. And I dreaded their calls. Primarily because I had absolutely no advice to share. I feared anything I might say in my extremely limited experience at all of 28 or 29 years old would only hurt or prove me as clueless as I was. But the other reason the questions left me cold was seeing no way for these callers to possibly thrive in society – then. It was just a heartbreaking tale, told anonymously over a phone, being exploited for shock value – that I knew would send a truly struggling person back into solitude as soon as their three minutes were up.
But here we are, at the precipice of change, two decades later. The door to self identification is about to open further than I ever imagined: Facebook now has 50 ways to identify, and transgender characters appear on television and in film – not just written for comedy punchlines. And then there’s Caitlyn, out there and ready to tell her story. My only hope now is that non fiction media, can keep up with her.