Observe the coming out of Caitlyn Jenner and you get a good study of the power of privilege. I don’t want to minimize the courage and bravery Jenner exhibits to tell her story and to live her life the way she wants. However, Caitlyn’s experience of coming out is tremendously influenced by the privilege of her wealth and her race. Caitlyn lives in one of the most progressive communities in the world. She has money that enables her to access the best doctors, therapists, and surgeons in the world. In general, she will never have to fear for her physical life merely because of her gender identity. It is very clear that she has put in a lot of effort to conform to a very stereotypical cisgender female physical presence and that investment is paying off for her.
Would we all be so accepting of her if she wasn’t so obviously beautiful and conforming to our expectations of what a female should look like? It is well established in the trans community that the more you conform to binary heteronormative expressions of gender the easier your transition will be.
I love that Jenner is telling her story so openly. I love that she is allowing her transition to be used as a gateway to start conversations, to educate people, and to address the ignorance of this world (and feed some of our social addiction to Kardashian-esque gossip.) She is an amazing woman. I just hope that people realize that her experience is so atypical of the myriad other transpeople who barely have the resources to pay for hormones.
Transgender individuals experience one of the highest rates of workplace discrimination. One study by the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 26% of trans people report losing a job due to bias, 50% were harassed on the job, 20% were evicted or denied housing, and 78% of trans students describe being harassed or assaulted. Only 19 states include gender identity or perceived gender identity in their state’s civil rights laws. Transgender people who come out report nearly double the rate of unemployment than the general population. Without work, you don’t have medical insurance and without medical insurance you can’t pay for the care that you so desperately need.
Trans Women of Color have an even higher rate of discrimination and risk of physical violence than the trans community at large. Seven trans women of color were violently assaulted and killed during the first three months of 2015. If Caitlyn Jenner’s story inspires you to learn more about the transgender community I hope you take the time to learn about the socioeconomic challenges within the community.