Tuesday, July 28, 2015

7-28-2015 Entry: An Open Letter to the Critics of Caitlyn Jenner and Her Show "I am Cait"


Where do we go from here? Where does the trans revolution take us next? We now have "I Am Cait" (sadly I haven’t been fortunate enough to watch all of the first episode yet) which, for better or worse, is placating some of the pervasive cisgender curiosity about transgender people and their “otherness” but is that enough? It’s probably no news that we have so many trans activists calling for more than just a widely viewed TV reality show about a wealthy white transwoman, but do they even know what it is they want to see? Are they even prepared or ready to face the trials of social mobility from otherness to acceptance?

 

I’m not so sure that they are. I’m not so sure that we are able to come together right now as a we instead of just a group of individuals. I fear that the nature of individual desire expressed through the limitless ranges of gender identity and expression will undermine the trans* movement as a whole unless its limitation can be overcome. We have activists left and right fretting over how Caitlyn Jenner is just too rich and too white to be able to give trans people a voice. We hear so many people asking, what about trans people of color or trans people with disabilities or trans sex workers, how will they be represented by "I am Cait"? And beneath their questions, beneath their pushing against this visibility is a deep seeded self-involvement that blinds them from seeing the past today towards tomorrow.

 

Transitioning genders and becoming as introspective as one has to be to really evaluate one’s own gender identity and then ask others to uphold what one feels is true leaves many of us inherently self-involved, and there is nothing wrong with that part of the process until that self-involvement blinds us from embracing positive change and pushing for more. I posit that these “activists” who are desperately clawing away at Caitlyn Jenner’s privilege, race, and wealth  by asserting how she cannot and will not represent them and those like them are not actually bringing about the positive change they are longing for. I believe that all many of them are doing is spreading the same kind of intolerance they have been so unfortunate to experience in their own lives.

 

I cannot blame them, I cannot fault them for doing this because it is very hard to break past the cycle of negativity and hatred you’ve been shown by others and reflect back love to the world instead, but I have to ask them what they think they are accomplishing when they criticize Caitlyn Jenner’s race, privilege, and wealth? How does critiquing her position, experience, and message actually serve anyone else?

 

It’s fair to say that her story isn’t everyone’s story and that we need to share those stories too, but you can’t just leave it at that and you really cannot have that be the only thing you bring to the conversation. You cannot just tear Caitlyn down by saying she isn’t poor enough, isn’t colored enough, isn’t socially ostracized enough to represent us as a group and then go about your life NOT sharing other stories. If you believe more has to be brought to the conversation then bring it to the conversation!!

 

It’s like we are in a coffee shop, chatting about where we want to go shopping and all the stores a few of us are mentioning are stores that are too expensive, to preppy, or too corporate for someone and all they do is say, “Those stores don’t represent me and what I want to buy! HMPH!” and then stomp out of the coffee shop in a huff. How does that accomplish their goal? How does that create a change in the plans for the day that they would like to see? Wouldn’t it be better to say, “Those stores are good and I'll go with you for fun, but can we try this other store too? I like the clothes there and it fits into my price range better than some of those others might.”

Aren’t we as a group more likely to say, “Sure, why not? Let’s all be happy instead of just some of us.”

 

I know I’m simplifying this to a degree that some people might take issue with but the principle is the same. If you think we need more stories about transgender people of color, transgender people with disabilities, transgender people who are in the sex industry (wanted or unwanted) then start sharing those stories!! Write books about them, write blogs about them, post them on social networks, paint pictures about that, write poetry about it, and express it in any ways you can to your heart’s content! Why do you think I’m here, writing day after day about my non-binary experience as a person with a dual-spirit? Why do you think I’m sharing my story in such a public way that I'm both male and female, and yet something entirely more? Because people like me aren’t represented 100% by Caitlyn Jenner, or Lavern Cox, or even Kate Bornstein (despite my love and adoration for them), but do you see me tearing them down? Do you see me chastising Caitlyn Jenner for her privilege? Do you see me mocking Lavern Cox's predisposition to openly discuss and support trans women of color more often than trans women who are Caucasian? Do you see me criticizing Kate Bornstein because she might be too quick (like I am) to jump to queer theory rather than basing her writing in hard constructed reality?

 

No, you don’t. What you see instead is me affirming what they are doing because their work has merit. What you see is me affirming what Caitlyn Jenner is doing and asking her if she is willing to do more than just share her story. Maybe she will never read my words but at least I’m offering up ideas and thoughts to her about HOW she can accomplish some of the change I’d like to see instead of just criticizing how she isn’t or can’t accomplish what I want to see. I wrote to her about the non-profit foundation she could start that would begin to help trans people who are less fortunate than her. Was it perfect? Would it serve everyone? No, but nothing ever is perfect and nothing will ever serve everyone.

 

Does Caitlyn Jenner owe any of us anything? Hell no she doesn’t. Sorry friends, but Caitlyn doesn’t owe anyone anything. She doesn’t have to be a good person, doesn’t have to want to get it right. Doesn’t have to care about trans people who are less fortunate than she is. None of us owe anything to anyone else, that’s the beauty of autonomy, choice, and infinite self-expression. Do we still have an active call for people who are willing to put their own lives aside to assist others who are less fortunate? Abso-fucking-lutely, and she is doing that! And guess what amigos, so can you!

 

I spend time volunteering for a gender therapist, and am going to school (and further into debt, I might add) so I can help the trans population in my area full time. I’m choosing to share my story openly and to help inspire others to do the same. I’ve had so many trans* people write to me and tell me how important my words are to them, how much relief they feel from my efforts to help them live more authentically, but I know I can still do more, and so I am.

 

I challenge every transgender person out there who has ever said anything about how Caitlyn Jenner doesn’t represent enough of us to begin picking up the slack by doing it for her. Only when all of us come together, when all of us can put aside the petty bullshit of ego, pride, and self-involvement to begin doing things for each other and those in need will we ever accomplish the representation we are seeking.

 

If you are transgender person of color, if you are a transgender person with a disability, if you are a transgender person working in the sex trade, if you are non-binary, if you are gender non-conforming, if you are bi-gender, if you are androgynous, if you are queer, or even if you are just a cisgender advocate (and anything else I might have missed) I challenge you to actively bring visibility to the issues you care about and think are important. We will never accomplish anything worthy of remembrance by criticizing the efforts of others who share their own story and experiences. That’s not how the trans revolution overtakes the gender binary stratification in our society. That’s not how we bring our voices to the conversation.

 

Don’t just condemn what’s already being said, instead, bring about a new conversation or steer the conversation as much as you can towards the things that are important but aren’t being addressed. To quote (ironically I’m sure) the fictional character Don Draper, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” We could learn a great deal from that mantra, and that’s what I’m advocating now.

 

I have a few hundred consistent readers and there is a story I’d like to share, to exemplify what I’m talking about. This is a story you won’t hear on "I am Cait". This is a story you won’t even hear from transgender activists in America, but it’s a story worthy of sharing and remembering.

 

A few months ago a little girl wrote to Dara Hoffman-Fox (and by proxy me) about her desperate conditions in life. If I remember correctly she was about 11 years old and she was living in Morroco. She was assigned male at birth and was raised as a boy, but she knew that she was a girl, not a boy. She tried to tell her mother this and tried to tell her teachers this but instead of listening to her or accepting her for who she knew she was, they refused to acknowledge her as a girl. Worse than this her mother took to physically abusing and beating her whenever she would try to assert her female gender and had started threatening to kick her out of their house if she didn’t stop. Imagine, an already impoverished and dehumanized 11 year old child homeless because she knew she wasn’t a boy. When she wasn’t at home her teachers also beat her in school when she tried to assert that she was a girl. The other boys in her class also picked on her and bullied her on a daily basis. She wrote to Dara (and me) about how she couldn’t stand to live her life anymore and she wanted to get out of her conditions. She begged us to help her be adopted by a different family, hopefully an American family who would understand that she was just a girl, and that’s all she wanted. She didn’t want anything special, didn’t want to be rich or live a life of luxury, she just wanted to not be abused by her mother and teachers because she couldn’t hide who she was. She just wanted to be loved as her true self.

 

The hardest part about this story was that it was completely legal in her country to be physically punished by her parents and teachers, and there was nothing that could be done about it. Dara and I were both completely unable to help this child who was so desperate in her pleas to be saved from the cruelty she was experiencing. I cried when I read her email and I’m crying now thinking about how I couldn’t help her, how international laws and personal financial limitations prevented me from extending the assistance she needed. I don’t know what will become of this girl. I expect that in her country the rate of transgender people being killed is even higher than in the U.S. so I fear the worst.

 

Being transgender isn’t just a first world phenomena. It isn’t just a product of western culture, it isn’t a product of post-industrial society, it transcends borders, cultures and time. It is a fundamental human condition for millions of people all around the globe and has been throughout history. We in the U.S. have an opportunity to help lead the trans revolution by sharing our stories, by influencing culture, art, TV, radio, education, public policy, and family dynamics. The way we treat each other here resonates around the world. This little girl wanted to come to America because she knew she would be safer here than where she was, and that means we have (in my opinion) a duty to live up to that belief by reducing not only the violence we tolerate against people like us, but the violence we throw at each other because our stories can be and often times are different from one another.

 

Being transgender, non-binary, androgynous, etc. has to go beyond race, privilege, and wealth. It has to bring us together by understanding that our differences are our strength, not our weakness.  Let us celebrate "I am Cait" for what it is, a revolutionary television show about one kind of transgender story that is tearing down barriers that have stood for a very long time. Let us celebrate anything that Caitlyn Jenner is willing to do to bring visibility to those less fortunate than her rather than casting stones at her for not being perfect enough for everyone. Let us celebrate every single victory that comes from her bravery to bear it all for the world to see.

 

We as a group are far too diverse to ever have a single voice to speak for all of us, that is easy to see, but instead of arguing with each other over who’s voice matters and who’s doesn’t, let us remember that every voice matters and those voices are best heard when they stand next to each other, shouting in the same direction. Our lives matter. Our lives are beautiful. Our lives are amazing. Every one of us deserves to be treated fairly and every one of us deserves to be heard. She might be Cait, and I might be Emma, and you might be you, but all of us are important. All of our stories matter. All of us can be heard, if we are but brave enough to speak up and stand up for what we believe in and who we are.

 

I want to change the conversation from “Caitlyn Jenner’s transition story doesn’t represent all of us because she is too white, too privileged, and too wealthy to really be a voice for us,”

 

to the conversation:

 

“Caitlyn Jenner’s story is doing great things for some people, and we should embrace the potentials there, but let’s also be sure to share our own stories as well so everyone can get a better picture for how limitless the potentials are for expressions of individuality through gender. Let’s all be sure to remember that every life matters, and ever trans* story deserves to be expressed and respected. Together, we can be sure to bring about greater visibility for all of us so that no one is left behind as we fight for equality. The world is watching how we react to these changes and we have the opportunity to make a great impression on how much stronger we are together than divided.”

 

I hope you will join me in that conversation. I hope you will join me on the side of love, affirmation and positivity. There are infinite ways that one thing will never solve all of our problems, but there is absolutely a way for one thing to solve some of our problems. Caitlyn Jenner is solving some of our problems, let’s not forget that, but let’s also not forget that she cannot and should not be expected to solve all of our problems. We can let her off the hook for not being perfect, can’t we? None of us are perfect, after all. Only all of us working together can solve all of our problems. If Caitlyn doesn’t represent you and your story, then by god share your story with others! Share your experiences! Add to the collective understanding of how diverse trans*/etc. lives can be and make us more than what we have been.

 

Imagine the pathway to equality is over a bridge, except that bridge hasn’t been built yet because there haven’t been enough bricks or materials in the past to finish the job. Sure, some of the foundations have been constructed but a great deal is left to be built. Imagine everyone’s story is a brick or one of those valuable materials. Some of those stories, like an internationally recognized athlete and reality TV celebrity who will automatically recruit millions of fans and viewers upon coming out to an audience of 17 million+ are capable of bringing a lot of bricks/materials to the scenario because life has situated some them with great circumstances, but by themselves they can't give enough to complete the bridge. They can maybe finally bridge the entire length on one side, but only those the most capable of traversing the difficult expanse are able to cross over it while the majority are still stuck on the other side. If you have a brick or material that you know is needed, what should you do with it? Should you cast that brick at the portion that’s already been completed out of anger or jealousy that you aren’t one of the lucky few able to cross it? Or do you recognize that you have a valuable material in your hand that could ultimately help in the completion of the rest of the bridge, which would not only help you across the bridge but help others as well? If you do recognize that possibility, what do you decide?

 

Even though I too am privileged more than many others simply because of my life circumstances, I only have a limited amount of materials to help in the construction of that bridge to equality. Despite my limitations I have chosen to give those materials away in the hope that eventually my effort will assist in the overall completion of the bridge. I have faith that sharing my non-binary story will help others. I have faith that my effort to inspire others to give away their materials as well will help even more people in the long run. I know that with all of our materials used together we are able to build this bridge and that it will be a fabulous bridge! One of the most fabulous bridges ever constructed! The world will stand in awe of our effort and that effort will stand the test of time. That effort will change the world, forever.

I am driven by the vision of what lies ahead in the future because I know that it is the visionary that builds the world of tomorrow, not the critic, and not the nay-sayer. Are you a visionary, or a critic? Do you see the potentials and offer effort and thought towards achieving those potentials? Or do you simply complain that things aren’t good enough without ever doing anything to make them better? You have the right to be either one, that is your prerogative, but at the inevitable, inescapable end of the day, month, year and ultimately your life, you are the only one who will be forced to grapple with the consequences of those choices.

I want you to leave Caitlyn Jenner alone and instead, turn all of that energy towards making the difference you want to see in the world. Don't worry about potentially failing or not achieving the visibility that she currently has, simply do as much as you can, and it will be enough. You can make a difference, even if it's only a small one and that's all that matters.


“It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.” –Theodore Roosevelt


 

With love,

-Emma

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