Letter to a Trans* Stranger:

Open Letters

I wrote this letter, reaching out into the internet, in response to a post where the comment section had gone pretty rancid. An acquaintance had posted a rather poorly framed ‘response article’ to Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out coverage. See link: http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2015/06/call-me-caitlyn-or-else-the-rise-of-authoritarian-transgender-politics/

They posted without context and without clarifying that they, in fact (I assume?) are supportive of Trans* people… without providing details about what parts of the article they agreed with or found worth sharing.
The comments descended into the personal, the angry, the threatening. It seemed like a few of the ‘Friends’ of the original poster were on their own, fighting an onslaught of entitled, very vocal dissent about a person’s right to self-identify and have that identity (and pronouns) respected. One man in particular seemed to be getting beaten down relentlessly for daring to stand up for himself and his identity. So I (cowardly?) sent him a personal note.
—————
Hey Landon,
We don’t know each other but I wanted to voice my support, more personally than on a public thread. I read XXXX’s post, the one about Caitlyn, and the feed of increasingly inflammatory comments below.
I wanted to reach out to say that the community and so many of its members DO support you. I support you. The few who don’t are part of a generation who has not learned to connect their struggles and privilege with a broader history of oppression and the rights movement. They don’t know what they don’t know. That isn’t an excuse, but a sad fact. They feel entitled to opinions that disregard the fact that the only reason they HAVE the right to that opinion is because other people, before them and around them, have struggled to insulate them and give them privileges. You would think that having experienced oppression, you’d fight tooth and nail to end it for ALL, but some people don’t extend that concept beyond their own immediate circle.

We’ve never met, but to me the T* in LGBT (QQI2, etc), is as vital to the acronym as any other letter.

I’m a lesbian, queer cisgender woman and I applaud each and every diverse individual who puts themselves out there to live life authentically. And hope for each person who isn’t there yet that the efforts of those living OUT in their lives will pave the way for the rest.

I am grateful to the queer people who fought harder than I ever had to, making it possible for me to be out, as a young person in high school and now as a teacher in a public school system. Lesbians and Gay men, and any of us who pass in our day to day life, should be endlessly grateful to those who visibly push the boundaries. Trans* people and gender queer individuals are bearing the brunt of society’s sad, but still present animosity, violence and hostility – physically and emotionally absorbing the worst of what intolerant people throw towards OUR community. I recognize that I have privilege because more visible minorities, like many trans people, now experience/are experiencing what Lesbian and Gay people went through 15 years ago.

We should be allying ourselves with you, to bring the conditions for ALL people to the same standards enjoyed by the majority. I’m just not comfortable with the idea that these are separate fights.”L-Word lesbians” and GBFs would not be living as comfortably as they are now if it were not for the targets on the backs of people living further outside the ‘norm’. I get to feel ‘more normal’ because the trans community, assexual community and other identities are bearing the burden of society’s slow-moving education, intolerance and lack of awareness. I hope that makes sense.

Long-windedly … what I’m trying to say is that I’m on your side. I cannot know what it is like to be in your shoes. But I want to hear and share and validate your experience. And to thank you for your bravery. And to apologize that I even have to ‘thank you for the bravery’ of being yourself. Because it should not be this hard. And to make it easier, you should at least be able to rely on people who should know better – to have your back.

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Some of the coverage is obviously satire, like good old Penny  http://www.gallerynews.com/current/you-cant-change-your-sex-and-thats-final-says-eminent-psychiatrist/

but subtlety can be tricky. And anger is so much more obvious. When it’s you in the cross hairs, its about more than tropes and disembodied politics. It’s life and death. Your life.

As Alix Olson says,

“Sometimes anger’s subtle, less rage than sad

leaking slow, through spigots you didn’t know you had

and sometimes it’s just, ‘Fuck you… fuck you’

You know, and to me, that’s poetry, too.”

The World Welcomes Caitlyn with Mixed Reviews of the Reviews

Open Letters

Two, of many great articles, present contrasting perspectives on the world’s introduction (or re-introduction) to Caitlyn Jenner.

Vanity Fair features Caitlyn on their cover, in a shoot with Annie Leibovitz, releasing the first images of this new Trans* icon.

http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2015/06/caitlyn-jenner-bruce-cover-annie-leibovitz

In response to the flurry of praise and adulation, and mostly subdued shock and nose-turning-up, NoWooWoo.com posted a thought-provoking response, asking whether we are missing the point and possibly failing to acknowledge the continued bias in our media to glorify privileged, powerful people`s journeys – while under-reporting the lived experiences of those without the means to glamorously realize themselves and their identities.

http://nowoowoo.com/things-we-shouldnt-celebrate-about-caitlyn-jenner/

First, I think Bronwen (NoWooWoo.com) is a brilliant writer and have shared much of her (your) writing with my students. Big fan. So, please consider this small criticism in that context.

I definitely agree with much of the critique of the media`s coverage in NoWooWoo`s article, especially the irony of Timbaland’s quote.

I agree that class and race, and certainly privilege play into this discussion and the media’s coverage, but to wave away the hugeness of this coverage, even slightly, by saying that her whiteness is a reason it shouldn’t get ‘column inches’ is maybe unfair. Is it? I wonder a little. She didn’t choose her birth gender, or her race. One of these she has been able to fix so that her identity is cohesive.

I’d be more inclined to agree that more column inches shouldn’t be given to any of the Kardashians. But if a white woman is getting press, I’m happy its advancing the visibility of queer/trans* people and the LGBTQ community – even if the person’s race, class and power make them part of a privileged group. She is so much more than class, race and gender categories can fairly capture. So, I’d argue she’s not ‘just’ another beautiful, white woman on the cover of a magazine. She has the means to pursue her transition in a way that many are barred from due to lack of resources, access and communities supporting them. However, Caitlyn has a lot to lose and is going to be subjected to the worst vitriol that the social media world has to offer.

With fingers crossed that the world will be kind, I try to maintain a bit of empathy, mixed with pride at her bravery, and just hope she’ll use the platform to move the bar forward for those with less visibility and voice.