One Size Does Not Fit All: The Trans Experience

“For all intents and purposes, I’m a woman.” -Bruce Jenner

I had been dreading this day for a few weeks now. The Event had been on my mind and I am sure other trans people’s minds for a while. We had all seen the tabloid headlines proliferate over the last year, and especially over the last few months.

Bruce Jenner came out as a transgender woman on April 24th.  I am still using Bruce and he/him/his pronouns per his request.

For the purpose of the interview, Mr. Jenner said he preferred the pronoun “he,” and Ms. Sawyer called him Bruce.

The interview itself was fairly low-key and poignant. It seemed like although Ms. Sawyer was not the most informed person on trans issues, she did her best. It wasn’t the shitshow of epic fuckery I had predicted in my mind.

My friend Hannah Simpson from New York and I were discussing the frenzy that might follow such discussion. She didn’t necessarily think negative things would come up out of the actual interview. She also has a flair for the dramatic:

I see the media shivering, with antici… tonight is the culmination of years worth of emphatic apathy. Never has the media and perhaps the general public too, been more emphatically waiting for the simple chance to be apathetic. Bruce, you will be accepted, once the world knows every juicy detail of what we are accepting you for …pation.

Many in the trans community were dreading this interview because of the tabloids’ increasing coverage, especially how TMZ has handled the reporting to the point. Celebrity culture in America is fucked up.

Greta Martela, founder of Trans Lifeline and a Trans 100 recipient this year, put it succinctly in a quick interview with me:

The reporting around Bruce Jenner has been very damaging to the trans community. The press that covers celebrities has been a lot less responsible than the press in general. Specifically, the folks at TMZ can go fuck themselves.

That is why the dread of the past few months was a real phenomenon. Our siblings have been dying out there. Between suicides and murders, especially of trans women of color, trans people worry that any negative media exposure will lead to more destruction and death.

Artemis, a trans woman from upstate New York posted this on her Facebook wall, and with her permission I included it:

I know a lot of my trans friends are really upset about tonight’s Jenner interview. Now I do understand people not wanting to watch it I respect that, honestly. But I feel it’s important for Jenner to say their point of view of what they’re doing. So don’t think there is anything wrong with watching it. But at the same token I don’t think this will be a watershed moment for trans community. How about getting legislature passed to protect everyone in this country despite what their gender identity or sexual orientation. Honestly I could care less about this and feel transition should be more private so I don’t like how Jenner is doing this but at the same time feel it’s a waster of time to demonize their actions. Also used they/their pronouns since I don’t know what Jenner will like to be referred by. But basically fighting for trans issues should be bigger than worrying about Jenner.

Jenner of course is not the first celebrity nor athlete to transition. It is pretty cool that an Olympic gold medalist is transgender; Renée Richards is the first American athlete to become famous for being trans. An Australian named Westerly Windina was a World Class Surf Champion in the ’70s. (Thanks to my friend Stephanie for that fact.)

Laverne Cox, of course, has been killing it as everyone’s favorite go-to trans person. She made Time‘s people of the year list and is kicking ass and taking names in showing off her body in Allure. Her transition was not scrutinized by the media while she started her journey. Of course during her journey, we have seen the missteps of the cis media. I think that is also partially why I was so afraid of what Diane Sawyer would be like as an interviewer. I didn’t want another Katie Couric on our hands.

The difference between Jenner’s transition compared to Laura Jane Grace or Lana Wachowksi is the culture of celebrity I mentioned earlier. Laura has never been followed by 15 paparazzi at once because she is the step parent of Kim Kardashian and her lovable husband Kanye West. Even Chaz Bono’s transition didn’t cause as much of a stir with the tabloid media that Jenner’s has. I honestly think this is due to Jenner being assigned male at birth.

It seems that Jenner and his handlers have at least done their homework in regards to transition stuff. He answered questions about HRT and surgery very well and it didn’t come across grossly or purely for the cis gaze. It remains to be seen how the E! documentary series will go given their pedigree with Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

Parker Molloy, my colleague and friend, had a great quote from her piece over at Upworthy:

It’s important to remember that this is still one person with one very unique set of personal circumstances.

Though it might be tempting to use Jenner as a template for all trans people, doing so wouldn’t really be accurate. Trans people are diverse, and what one trans person pursues (medically or socially) another might pass up.

All identities are valid, whether they fit neatly inside the gender binary or not.

The problem with using the template for all trans people is that we really are diverse. Most of us don’t have the access to money that Jenner does.

In her post “I am Bruce Jenner/I am not Bruce Jenner,” Ramona Peel, a college professor from Columbus, Ohio, summed up how we are all unique and not one size fits all:

Jenner will instantly become the most famous trans person in the United States. Jenner is not only a revered former Olympic Champion/National Hero, but also a reality TV “star.” Overnight, Jenner will be seen as representing trans women (if not all trans people) by a wide swath of the population.

But Bruce Jenner does not represent me. I am not Bruce Jenner. Jenner has undoubtedly faced immense challenges and should be commended for having the courage to finally start living authentically, but there’s a major factor that separates the decathlete from the rest of us trans gals…  Bruce Jenner is worth $100 million.

This is so true given how high our unemployment and homeless rates are. Our suicide rates are known to be astronomical compared to cis people. Our access to healthcare is some of the poorest in the country because people simply don’t know how to treat trans people.

Coming out and starting transition, whatever that means to a person, whether it be quietly saying, “I am trans” or going on HRT, is fucking scary. Bruce mentioned how scary it is. I asked some friends what their advice to new transitioners or people coming to terms with being trans is.

From Zane, a trans man living in Seattle:

To a “new transitioner” I would say… Figure out what it means to you.

When I first realized I was trans I thought being a guy meant being butch and tough, then I realized I was gay and thought that meant I had to love rainbows and Cher and be super effeminate. Now, I’ve realized being a man means being Zane. I’m a black belt in taekwondo who loves being in the Seattle men’s chorus and doing ballet.

Being whatever gender you choose isn’t about all that comes along with it. It’s about what it means for you.

My friend Kara put it thusly:

As far as advice, others could offer more specific advice and have well (Annika Penelope’s “10 Things” is a good read). I would say to trust your instincts and realize that you’re stronger than you think. A lot of us have had the down periods, the moments of doubt, the very real pain, but it really does take so much strength to get to the point where you admit who you are and do something about it

Hey you, yes you, I see you for who you are. You are amazing. You can be that person you see inside yourself. All of your trans siblings have your back. Seriously, I have never met a more welcoming bunch of people. We might have our issues, but in the end we stand united behind each other.

For me being trans has been a roller coaster of awesomeness. I have had my lows, as lot of you know, but I have reached higher highs than ever before. Being me authentically gets me out of bed every day. Being me allows me to focus on life and not just focus on maintaining a constant persona, a mask that other people saw. Bruce mentioned how much he has felt scared and hidden away himself for years. He truly seems to be happy now. He feels free. That is what transition has done for me. It has freed me.

I am a 32-year-old queer trans woman who lives in the Northwest with my wife and has an awesome time. My experience is unique.

For Kara:

What does it mean to me? It means I no longer feel like I’m living outside my own body. It means that I no longer see a stranger in the mirror. It means I’m alive, because had I gone on pretending to be that other person, I wouldn’t be.

For Xiola, a Latina trans woman in the Seattle area:

being trans means a lot. for me, it means living an authentic life. it means a lifelong uphill battle because complete acceptance will not happen in my lifetime or the lifetime of my child. being trans means putting myself through pain and suffering – but the reward is living. being trans means i get to live, if i were not, i would be dead right this moment without a doubt. being trans is me finding out who i really am

and awkwardly, finding out ‘how’ i really am

being trans is the search for one’s true personality and manner, and ultimately integrating it with your physical and emotional self

For Rex:

I suppose being a non binary, trans, queer, & kinky person of color means that I’m shameless. At the moment of writing this I’m pre hrt, pre op. I’m not certain I’ll ever be post either, due to money & anxiety. I have a lot of passing privilege that I both am grateful for & critical of. I see nothing I can do about the way people view me, other than being open & out, loudly. Being trans means constantly practicing self care & advocacy. It means actively choosing empathy. It means using my voice to speak up for my black & brown trans siblings. It means being an activist & a feminist. My name is Rex, and I’m transgender.

For Stephanie, my amazing musician friend from Australia:

It means being free.

Our community, though small, is really diverse. I am really happy to add Bruce Jenner to that diversity.


By Alyson

Queer Pop Culture Junkie in the Northwest. Addicted to Coffee, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Fantasy Sports, The Mountain Goats, and Tottenham Hotspur.

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