Since Caitlyn Jenner – formerly Bruce Jenner of Olympic and reality-TV fame – premiered her new identity with a Vanity Fair Cover on June 1st, the article’s titular hastag, #CallMeCaitlyn, has been trending on Twitter, with the story infiltrating nearly every other media channel as well. In spite of the fact that the issue featuring the full-length cover story won’t hit newsstands until June 9th, reactions to the cover itself varied, from the blatantly transphobic to the effusively supportive. Most significantly, the preliminary release of the cover – and a preview of the story on Vanity Fair’s website – provided a moment for the nation to discuss transgender issues, with several essential points floating to the top of the Twitter stratosphere.
1 & 2) The Importance of Acknowledging Transgender Healthcare Issues
SO MANY TRANS PEOPLE DONT HAVE THE MONEY FOR FULL TRANSITION it’s important to look at #CallMeCaitlyn as a call for trans health care rights
— liza sabater (@blogdiva) June 1, 2015
It takes courage to share your story. https://t.co/Q7wWjV9Rxx
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) June 1, 2015
According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, Obama’s Affordable Care Act (2010) “banned sex discrimination in most health care … While we still desperately need national laws that explicitly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, existing laws such as the Affordable Care Act can provide real protections in many circumstances.” However, as the Center and other Twitter respondents have pointed out, legal protections specifically geared toward protecting transgender healthcare rights are not exceedingly prevalent, and have existed only at the city and state levels, if at all. Pennsylvania, for example, just this past February introduced its “first-ever transgender specific civil rights bill” in the state’s history, The Transgender Health Benefits Act HB304, which is “based on a piece of Philadelphia legislation that allows for transition related healthcare for government workers, but the state bill covers public, as well as private and Medicaid plans.”
3) Acknowledging a Transgender Identity is Difficult, But Even More so for Minorities
— EBONY (@EBONYMag) June 3, 2015
Elle Hearns of Ebony pointed out that Jenner’s privilege as “an elder, white, rich trans woman” renders her story only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to discussing trans issues: “This year, there have been no less than 9 reported murders of trans women of color in the United States. You won’t find these women, these victims, on magazine covers and the ones who survive won’t be on Diane Sawyer’s couch either. While we celebrate the bravery of Caitlin Jenner, we must acknowledge that unlike her peers, she will never be fired from her job because she came out as trans and she is far less likely to be murdered than a Black trans woman. She will never be forced by lack of access to perform sex work or face homelessness.”
— Pop Culture Freaks (@PopCultureFreak) יוני 3, 2015
4) Educators Need To Be Prepared to Lead the Discussions #CallMeCaitlyn Will Spark
— Laverne Cox (@Lavernecox) June 2, 2015
In order for the Caitlyn Jenner cover story to constitute more than just a media-hyped moment of transgender awareness, the discussion needs to continue. For better or for worse, #CallMeCaitlyn may be the entry point into the first discussion some millennials will have about the trans community, especially in an academic setting. Ensuring that such a formative conversation is informed one, then, is imperative, and educators at every level – from middle school to grad school – should be prepared to lead the discussion with resources such as these.
5) Media Representations of Trans Women Need to Be Diversified – Not Just in Terms of Race or Socioeconomic Status, But Also in Terms of Appearance
Featured on a June 2014 Time cover as a celebrity trans activist, the Orange Is The New Black star took to her Tumblr page to elaborate on the Vanity Fair cover, congratulating Jenner as well as making an extremely important call to diversify media representations of the trans community: “Now, there are many trans folks because of genetics and/or lack of material access who will never be able to embody [cisnormative female] standards. More importantly many trans folks don’t want to embody them and we shouldn’t have to … be seen as ourselves and respected as ourselves. It is important to note that these standards are also info[r]med by race, class and ability among other intersections. I have always been aware that I can never represent all trans people. No one or two or three trans people can. This is why we need diverse media represent[a]tions of trans folks to multiply trans narratives in the media and depict our beautiful diversities.”