A lot of the public discussion and media coverage about Caitlyn Jenner has focused on how beautiful she looks on the cover of Vanity Fair. But for some transgender activists, the coverage of Jenner, a trans woman, has drawn concerns that the media may be presenting a very one-dimensional picture of trans people in America.
"To make any trans person a symbol for an entire community is an unfair task," Janet Mock, a trans writer and activist, wrote on her blog. "No one can speak about the varying, intersecting and layered ways in which trans people experience the world. That is why it's necessary to create a space for nuance and to amplify the voices of those who often are not heard."
About Caitlyn Jenner's wardrobe (and why it shouldn't matter)
About Caitlyn Jenner's wardrobe (and why it shouldn't matter):Posted by Parker Molloy on Wednesday, June 3, 2015
"She doesn't have to represent every single trans woman any more than any woman represents all women," Molloy said. "Trans women are held to this weird standard. If you're too feminine, you're trying too hard. If you're not feminine enough, you're not really a woman." She added, "Just let [Jenner] be herself, just the same way that you want to be able to be yourself without others jumping down your throat and telling you that you're doing it wrong."
The argument, echoed by Molloy and Mock, is that the media should treat Jenner as an individual trans woman. Jenner shouldn't be expected to represent all trans people — it should be on journalists to fairly and accurately report on these diverse communities, perhaps using Jenner as one example of many. So while Jenner's story and publicity can be used to launch a broader discussion on trans issues, the coverage shouldn't be limited to a white celebrity who is, frankly, wealthier and more privileged than a great majority of Americans.
This goes back to a long-standing debate as LGBT communities fight for acceptance
Carlos Maza, who writes about LGBT issues for Media Matters, pointed out how this is an issue gay, lesbian, and bisexual communities also had to deal with as the same-sex marriage movement tried to show the world that gay and lesbian relationships are by and large similar to opposite-sex relationships:
When media representations of marginalized groups are one-dimensional and assimilationist, a lot of people get left behind.— Carlos Maza (@gaywonk) June 5, 2015
Gay marriage ads did a LOT to make America comfortable with straight-acting white gay men. Not so much for the rest of us.— Carlos Maza (@gaywonk) June 5, 2015
What gay person hasn't heard a friend/relative say "I'm glad you're not one of THOSE types of gay guys." Is that liberation? Equality?— Carlos Maza (@gaywonk) June 5, 2015
These concerns are why the LGBT movement demanded presentations of gay and lesbian people that went beyond stereotypes or traditional expectations. It's one of the reasons a show like Six Feet Under earned so much praise for presenting a gay couple who were genuine down to their major flaws, arguments, and even breakups.
Similarly, as trans issues get more attention activists hope the media can move beyond Jenner and present a more varied view of these communities. Most trans people, for example, suffer from much worse socioeconomic outcomes than the general population — trans and gender nonconforming people, for example, are nearly four times more likely to make less than $10,000 each year than the general population. Many trans people are rejected by their families, leading to much worse outcomes down the line. Some trans individuals may not be able to afford the medical procedures they want, perhaps because their insurance doesn't cover them — or they may not want such treatments at all because they're content with their bodies as they are.
And there are demographic and racial differences to consider as well. Minority trans women in particular reside within the intersection of discrimination against women, minorities, and trans people, exposing them to greater levels of violence and disparities than virtually anyone else, according to multiple surveys.
"This is one of the many reasons why it's necessary that we celebrate Jenner's courageous decision to not only reveal herself to herself and her family, but to share that journey so openly with us," Mock wrote. "While we celebrate her visibility, it's also vital that we contextualize and frame her journey so we can better serve a multilayered, intersectional community that doesn't have the level of access that has enabled Jenner to be seen and heard as her truest self — something every single person should have access to."