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About this Bruce Jenner interview

Update: I’ve written a followup here and turned off the comments on this post after an inbox full of attacks. If you still wish to comment, feel free to do so on the followup post.

Screenshot 2015-04-24 11.18.11Tonight, it’s expected that Bruce Jenner will reveal they’re transgender in a two-hour interview with Diane Sawyer. For most of us trans folk, especially the ladies, this is something we’ve been dreading for quite some time.

It may be tempting to see this as a great bit of visibility for the trans community and another chance for us to talk about trans issues. It may appear we are gaining an advocate and spokesperson in the mainstream media. None of this is true, however. There is nothing positive to come from this interview tomorrow. Most of us are actually quite afraid of the world we will be living in after this evening.

(Please note that I am using the singular “they” as Jenner’s pronoun. Jenner has not yet asked us to use a different pronoun and doing so before being told what to use would be inappropriate.)

What is important to consider is where Bruce Jenner is coming from. They are a privileged white person who exists in the heart of celebritydom. They are already a household name in mainstream media…and rich. Yes, this is going to make their personal experience difficult in a way most of us could not imagine, however, this is where the problem lies. Jenner’s experience does not and will never line up with the experience of 99.99% of trans people. Everything about Jenner will be about them and not about trans people.

Jenner will never understand the fear of being fired from their job simply because they are transgender. Jenner will not have to fear violence at every turn. They will not struggle to afford treatment (hormones, surgery, etc) while fighting with insurance companies to get anything at all covered. They will not experience housing discrimination.

Jenner will literally be able to buy their way out of any experience even remotely typical for those of us in the transgender community. Jenner will be able to snap their fingers for a new wardrobe, a body guard, medical treatment, and anything else they need.

This is not the person who should be the face of our community. The face of our community should not be our most privileged and least marginalized. It should be exactly the opposite. The face of our community should be our most marginalized. Our focus should not be trickle-down in nature. We need to be lifting up from the bottom. No one should be left behind. Our focus and the face of our community should be transgender women of color.

Jenner is not equipped for these conversations, nor should they even be expected to. Even for me, it took a couple years of listening to others in my community before I felt confident enough to be having important discussions around trans issues. I needed to learn the limits of my experience and to not speak over or for those less privileged than me. I needed to learn when to elevate the voices of others and speak in ways and about things with the nuance necessary to not over-step my boundaries. This does not come automatically.

This will not be how things go with Jenner. They will immediately be treated as an expert on transgender issues by the media. Their experience will be put front and center as The Transgender Experience™ instead of just one of many ways to be transgender and experiences to have. We saw this happen recently with Zoey Tur.

Jenner is not an expert on trans issues. I don’t even consider myself to be an expert and I am involved in the community and with activism. In reality, no one can truly be an expert on trans issues because trans experiences are varied and individualistic. Being a vocal part of the trans community and speaking for trans people means having a deep understanding of this fact. It is impossible for Jenner to possess this understanding.

Going even beyond Jenner’s ability to speak for trans people, we’ve already had a glimpse of the nastiness to come from the media. It’s not pretty. Simply look at TMZ and other tabloid publications. Jenner comes with too much baggage. People are too eager to use them being transgender as another way to attack him in pursuit of a quick buck.

Much of the bullying and attacks on Jenner feel like a flashback to the 90s for me. I still have mental scars from the imagery and treatment of trans people in the 90s. Media depictions like those on Jerry Springer set me back almost two decades in figuring out who I was and how to navigate being transgender. I fear a repeat of this for transgender youth of today.

Bruce Jenner’s stardom comes with immense visibility, but visibility isn’t always positive. Each insult hurled at Jenner isn’t just an insult of Jenner, it’s an attack on all trans people. These “jokes” are at the expense of all trans people. We are the punchline. Jenner will be a magnet for transphobia and transmisogyny and while they may be able to endure it and shelter themself from it thanks to decades of experience being in the spotlight, the vast majority of the trans community cannot.

Jenner’s “journey” and this interview won’t be about transgender people and the trans community, it will be about them and all of us will be the innocent victims handed over in exchange for media profits.

Regardless of all of this, Jenner still deserves our respect. They deserve to be properly gendered however they ask us to do. But I beg for the world to not look to Jenner to speak for us.

Update: Based on a lot comments I’ve received in various places, it seems as though I completely failed to make one of my main points clear enough. I 100% support Bruce Jenner and all trans people. My issue isn’t with Bruce Jenner themself at all. It is with a society and a media that will no doubt center around their experience and their story as THE transgender story and experience. We all have different stories and experiences and they are all worth being heard. I don’t want to, in any way, imply that I don’t believe that. Bruce’s experience is just one of an infinite number of them. What I fear is what will be thrust upon Bruce and the elevation of THEIR story over all others. This will only serve to bury the stories of our most marginalized.

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Why Transparent creator Jill Soloway’s Facebook post hurts so much

Before I even get started here, let me just quickly point out the fact that, as of writing this, Bruce Jenner has not, in any way, said he was transgender or that he was transitioning or anything. No amount of media speculation, obsession, or bullying can decide who Bruce Jenner is. Maybe he is trans. Maybe he’ll ask us to use female pronouns and we will welcome him to our community. Or maybe he’s not trans. It doesn’t matter. If there is something to tell, he will tell us when he is ready. His identity is his to share, not anyone else’s to determine.

That, itself, is an important enough concept to warrant its own post, but this post is about Jill Soloway, not Bruce Jenner. Everyone’s favorite cisgender (not-transgender) teller of trans stories. Jill Soloway, creator of Amazon’s Golden Globe winning Transparent. The show with everyone’s favorite “Moppa.”

I’ll admit it, up until yesterday, I was a big Transparent fan. When I first heard about the show, before it was available for streaming via Amazon Prime, I went through my normal reaction to a cisgender (male) actor, Jeffrey Tambor, playing a transgender woman. I was angry. Trans characters should be played by trans actors. And trans stories should be written and told by trans people. These are our stories to tell. Our lives and stories are not for cis entertainment or appropriation or profit.

But I watched Transparent anyway. I gave it a chance. And I liked it. A lot actually. I liked it not because of the trans story it was telling, but because it didn’t feel like it was telling a trans story. It was telling a cis story. It was telling the story of Maura’s family and how fucked they are. She was the grounded parent of three selfish adult children. Then the show won at the Golden Globes. Speeches were made by both Soloway and Tambor. Good speeches, actually, saying all the “right things.” They talked about trans people, mentioned Leelah Alcorn, etc etc. I overlooked the stuff that was problematic about the show and gave it a pass. I even vouched for it and recommended it to friends.

I regret this now.

The one time I’ve given a pass instead of sticking to my gut, I got burned.

Yesterday, Jill Soloway posted this gem to Facebook:

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Yes, that’s ally-of-the-year Jill Soloway poking fun at Bruce Jenner’s gender and the speculation of him being trans. Using being transgender as a joke. Some ally. She should know better. She should be speaking out against others doing this. Instead, she’s joining in.

Now, I’m sure straight cisgender men everywhere will go ahead and break this down for us trans people that we have no sense of humor and she’s an ally and she has a trans parent whom she supports very deeply and blah blah blah, but the reality is this shit hurts. A lot. “With friends like these” and all that. If she truly cared about trans people beyond her own “Moppa,” this post never would have happened.

Trans people are constantly the punchline to jokes. In most cases, there isn’t even a fully formed joke. The formula is little more than “trans = lolz.” Why does this relatively tame joke hurt so much? It hurts because she was supposed to be our ally. She conned many of us into trusting her, albeit begrudgingly.

When you’re transgender, you go through every day of your life with the fear that all your friends, family, and coworkers who are nice to you and “completely support” you are actually laughing at you behind your back. You never truly shake feeling like you’re their joke. Jill Soloway’s post yesterday confirms all those fears and suspicions. They are talking about you and they are laughing about your life. You are their joke. It’s not just in your head, it’s real.

Is it really so much to ask to not be a punchline? To not have our lives be a joke? To be treated be as human? If even our “friends,” can’t resit, then I guess we are just asking too much.

I learned something from Jill Soloway. I will never ever trust or give a pass to a cisgender person telling trans stories. I will never say “but she gets it!” She doesn’t. And the next cis person who comes along won’t either.

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Transgender Day of Remembrance

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Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance. It’s a day every year where we remember the names of those who were murdered simply for being transgender. The vast majority of these people are always trans women. More specifically, trans women of color.

This year, the list is 226 names long. That may not seem like a lot considering there are seven billion people on this planet, until you start doing the math. I’m not going to break down a bunch of numbers and statistics here for you. Partly because that wouldn’t be super important at the moment and partly because I’d prefer not to reduce trans people down to a bunch of numbers. We’re actual people. The important thing to know is we are just .3% of the population, yet we are murdered at a rate higher than any other group of people. Even just looking at anti-LGBT violence, a very disproportionately high number of attacks are against the T. And, again, it’s even worse for trans women of color. A trans person is reported murdered every 32 hours in the world. Why? Because we live in a culture that sees trans people as, at best, a punchline for a joke and, at worst, inhuman.

Anyway, I’m actually going to hold up right there and keep this short. There are a lot of people out there writing much better things than I could ever hope to write. Take some time to check out the hashtags on Twitter and Tumblr.

It’s scary out there. The other day, my coworker asked me how I even leave the house every day. I didn’t have an answer.