What's Missing From the Caitlyn Jenner Conversation

June 2nd 2015

Laura Donovan

After more than 65 years, Caitlyn Jenner (formerly known as Bruce) shared her real self with the world on Monday when she posed for Vanity Fair's July 2015 magazine cover. Jenner, who'd been the subject of transition rumors for a while before confirming them in a 2-hour interview with Diane Sawyer at the end of April, was swiftly celebrated on the Internet and began trending on Facebook and Twitter. She even beat President Barack Obama's Twitter record of acquiring 1 million followers in five hours.

As a longtime fan of Jenner (and, OK, the Kardashian empire, too), it made me so happy to see the outpouring of love and support for her on the web, which everyone knows can be a highly critical, negative space that almost always knocks people at their most vulnerable moments. Jenner took a big step in saying farewell to her former life in front of an audience, but I can't help wondering whether anybody will ever be able to focus on Jenner the person rather than Jenner the ex-athlete who transitioned to a woman.

Rolling Stone writer S.E. Smith discusses this in a new column about the "obsession" with the transition experience, which should be a stepping stone to becoming one's true self rather than a constant discussion point.

"[This] fixation on transition casts doubt on that by suggesting that trans people do nothing other than transition – and that there's only one way to transition, with hormones and surgeries and a list of other boxes to tick," Smith wrote. " Jenner's transition amounts to the first day of the rest of her life. In a sense, she's given birth to herself – a momentous event in her life, to be sure, but only the start of her next big adventure."

Jenner, after all, turns 66 in the fall. As she noted in her sit-down with Diane Sawyer several weeks ago, she's not exactly a young person, so it's in her best interests to be the person she's always wanted for the rest of her life. If everyone fixates on her transition forever, that could prove to be a challenge.

As noted by Smith, there's not enough coverage of trans people dealing with the same ordinary issues that cisgender folks face. Instead, we often hear about famous trans people such as Jenner and "Orange is the New Black" star Laverne Cox or we read horrible stories about trans individuals being abused or killed. The media covers little in between.

"The media doesn't show us the often mundane, day-to-day lives of many transgender people," Smith writes. "Their gender is part of a multifaceted identity, and it contributes to their experiences in significant ways, but it's not the only thing that does. You wouldn't think so if you read... well, just about any media coverage of transgender people."

Cox and trans model Carmen Carrera ​experienced this firsthand during a 2014 interview with Katie Couric, who asked them questions about their genitals in the name of “education [for those who] may not be familiar”​ with the process of gender transition.

Cox went on to tell Couric that the “preoccupation with transition and surgery objectifies transpeople. And then we don’t get to really deal with the real, lived experiences. The reality of transpeople’s lives is that so often we are targets of violence. [...] If we focus on transition, we don’t actually get to talk about those things.”

For more on issues facing transgender Americans, check out our video on the battle for gender neutral bathrooms: