What do you call the World’s Greatest Athlete coming out as a transgender woman? A good start.
By Agustín Ángel Flores, Photo Editor
After Bruce Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer, which aired on April 24, he became the most famous trans* person in the country.
Jenner, who won the gold medal in the decathlon at the 1976 Summer Olympics and is now a television personality, publicly announced on ABC’s “20/20” that he identifies as a transgender woman.
The former “World’s Greatest Athlete,” 65, told Sawyer that “for all intents and purposes, I’m a woman,” and spoke in detail about his lifelong struggle with gender identity and his decision to finally transition. (At this time, Jenner has not requested that a new name or pronoun be used; therefore I am respecting his wishes and will continue to refer to Jenner by his current name and with male pronouns).
Preferred gender pronouns are just the frosting on the layer cake of ignorance and transphobia that trans* people have to deal with on a daily basis.
Jenner’s announcement came at an unprecedented time for trans* visibility and awareness; the two-hour special drew more than 17 million viewers.
While his experience should be heard and acknowledged, this is not the only story that is significant when talking about the struggles trans* individuals face.
Prominent gender-nonconforming advocate Kay Ulanday Barrett wrote on Fusion.net, “The current curiosity surrounding Jenner’s interview in the non-trans community creates a magical fantasy based on a very wealthy, able-bodied, American, and white experience that isn’t the case for many of us who struggle for survival and justice as transgender people of color.”
What Barrett said gives an insight that doesn’t occur to many cisgender people— people who, for the most part, identify as the gender they were assigned at birth—, that the struggle for survival is literal on a daily basis for every trans* person, specially trans people of color. Most trans* people don’t have access to safe and affordable health services, transition related care, housing and a good paying job.
For many trans* women who do not have the money to pay the transition procedure, which can cost as much as $70,000, they have to resort to alternative treatments, such as unlicensed silicone injections, to modify their bodies.
Many trans* people are discriminated against in employment and are not hired or are fired from jobs that provide health insurance benefits. Trans* people of color are especially impacted by this lack of access to insurance. Even if trans* people have health insurance coverage, policies frequently contain trans-specific exclusions that deny them coverage regularly provided to cisgender people, meaning that transition-related health care, including hormone therapy and surgeries, are not covered.
That lack of employment pushes trans* people to do sex work and/or sell drugs so they can make some money to finance their needs, potentially putting their lives in danger.
Laverne Cox, a Trans* Queer advocate and an American actress better known for her role on the Netflix television series “Orange Is The New Black,” once said, “It is revolutionary for any trans person to choose to be seen and visible in a world that tells us we should not exist.”
This is true in its totality because a trans* person cannot be seen in public without being stared at or even being insulted. I personally witness this every time I am out with my friends at night, and even during the daytime.
Another place where trans* people feel excluded and unsupported is in public restrooms. “Transparent”— an American comedy-drama television series directed by Jill Soloway from Amazon Studios is about a family that find out their father is a trans* woman— depicts the harassment and transphobia a trans* person can undergo when choosing to use the restroom they feel comfortable with. This scene can be seen on episode four, which can be found on YouTube.
In 2015, eight trans* women of color were brutally killed within the first 60 days with no media outrage or outcry. One of these cases was of Michelle Vash Payne, a trans* woman of color who was found stabbed to death in a burned Van Nuys apartment Saturday, January 31, 2015. There were no Diane Sawyer interviews to raise consciousness about the struggles in their lives.
I believe Bruce Jenner’s exposure could be better served not as a be-all and end-all of the trans* experience, but as a window into towards issues that affect marginalized communities: poor, disabled, incarcerated, undocumented trans* people of color.
Note: Trans* is an umbrella term used to include all people who identify as having a gender identity different from their assigned gender (also, gender-variant). This can include transsexual, transgender, cross-dressers, etc., depending on self-understandings of gender identity.