What Caitlyn Jenner can teach us

  • by Sadaisha Shimmers and Jayson Dowker
  • Wednesday August 12, 2015
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Jayson Dowker and Sadaisha Shimmers. Photo: Courtesy Sadaisha Shimmers<br><br><br><br><br><br><br>
Jayson Dowker and Sadaisha Shimmers. Photo: Courtesy Sadaisha Shimmers

An estimated 7.7 million viewers recently tuned in to watch Caitlyn Jenner accept her ESPY award. This statuesque former athlete and mother took the stage with the courage that only an Olympian could have. As we watched, like many other trans Americans preparing ourselves in anticipation of Jenner's speech, we wondered how this seasoned social icon and transgender media star would handle this historic moment.

You have to admit the cards seemed stacked. It was an award ceremony geared to embrace athleticism; in the sports world gender is very much still divided. After all, less than a month prior the International Olympic Committee had just made a ruling in response to a petition signed by over 11,300 people. The committee ruled that Jenner was entitled to her medal from the 1976 games.

So the stage was set, lights gleaming, cameras rolling. Appearing in a floor length, long sleeve white gown, it was safe to say the woman standing before the nation was comfortable in not only her newly liberated body but her internal convictions as well. After a moment of mutual admiration between her and the collection of athletes, celebrities, and television viewers everywhere, Jenner drew a breath to speak.

"Well the real truth is, up until a few months ago, I have never met anyone else who was trans, who was like me ...," she said. Hearing those words, as she started to engage an eager audience, there was no smoke, there were no mirrors, there was just truth. We thought to ourselves: "A trans person receiving an award in honor of them, will this be a fan event? An egocentric celebration of a transition well done? Or will this be a teachable moment?"

Jenner continued, "Now as you saw I handled my transition on my own in private." Hearing those words we understood she wasn't just talking about a couple cosmetic procedures and a prescription for hormone replacement therapy. She was speaking her truth of the internal battle that she was forced to have to face. The realization that millions of athletes, countless reality fans, and her very own family may not only be incapable of understanding, but incapable of accepting the true her as well.

Sharing her plans with Diane Sawyer in the televised April interview was one thing, staying true to herself and owning it is quite another. So as millions tuned in expecting to see an emotional sideshow of gratitude and transgender regalia, what they got was nearly 10 minutes of transgender truth. Jenner spoke to the struggle of the transgender community. Discussing the anticipated transgender military inclusion, she spoke with the glee that only a true patriot could have.

" ... All across the world right now there are young people this moment coming to terms with being transgender ...," she said. "They are getting bullied, beaten up, they are getting murdered and they are committing suicide." Jenner then went on to mention Mercedes Williamson, who was found murdered in June. Williamson, a trans woman of color, is one of the nearly 40 trans people to die this year by the hand of someone else or themselves.

One woman who apparently watched the awards show was Cristina Bowman, from suburban Detroit. Jenner said, "I also want to tell you about Sam Taub, a 15-year-old transgender young man from Bloomfield, Michigan. In early April Sam took his own life." After seeing Jenner tell the world about the trans lives gone too soon, Bowman became outraged. "What Jenner did by using my daughter's name on national television was so uncalled for," Bowman said in an interview. She and her husband, Larry, went on to tell Inside Edition "What does Jenner know? Who gave Jenner permission to use my daughter's name? Jenner never met her."

Hearing the ignorance and hostile words of parents still misgendering their deceased child is a prime example of the lack of compassion people have for the transgender community. Perhaps Sam would have found acceptance in the words of his father, Geoffrey Taub, who told the New York Daily News : "I think anyone would have drawn strength from Caitlyn's message."

It wasn't until the unfolding of comments from the transgender community in the days following the ESPYs that our hearts as a transgender couple began to ache. As we took to social media, we began to see opinions, views, and prejudices pouring out about Jenner's heartfelt and empathetic speech. Is this really happening? Are these attacks coming from our own community? Hasn't there been enough bloodshed this year? This has got to stop. These are the words that we found ourselves saying to each other.

As we continued reading posts, we knew something had to be said, and so we are saying it. If you're not part of the transgender minority you may not understand. There are a lot of broken people trying desperately to free themselves from the clutches of stereotyped gender roles. Sadly, all too often these very same people have endured poverty, abuse, exploitation, and excommunication from not only their church but, far too often, their very own family. When you are in survival mode, trying to blend into society for safety and having to strategically plan everyday duties such as where to use the restroom and who is a safe doctor to see, it becomes a volatile rollercoaster of emotional pain and societal danger.

As with any victim, there is always a risk of becoming a victimizer. Unfortunately, when reacting out of pain or personal discomfort, you can be just as cruel to others and their circumstance without even realizing it. This is all too often the case with perceived privilege. Here are a couple examples of some of the posts we read from our transgender peers about Jenner. "Ugh! I wish I had the privilege to have @Caitlyn_Jenner's glam squad, plastic surgeon, and money honey." "Caitlyn lives in one of the most affluent and densely populated areas in the U.S. and had access to a number of, not only the best therapists, but ones that consider themselves LGBT experts. Her surplus of cash also makes it easy when it comes to obtaining hormones and keeping them regimented."

As transgender, transsexual, non-gender binary, bi gender, two-spirit, genderqueer, and non-gender folk we make up the #TransNation. We are a minority of black, white, Asian, Latino, Pacific Islander, Native American, gay, lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual, pansexual, asexual beings. We are a melting pot of humanity wrapped up in gender fluid that is as unique to each individual as their very own DNA. It is these very differences that divide us, that segregate our community and keep our minority from united revolution.

There is no question that transgender women of color have experienced an overwhelming level of hardships. By that same token, transgender women with roots spreading through countries such as Thailand and Brazil are more socially present than most European countries. If we react to the fact that lives lost are differentiated by color we propitiate racial division. This division becomes a distraction " no life is more valuable than another. Without having a census to tabulate the number of trans-identified Americans, we will never know (A) how many trans individuals exist and (B) what demographics these trans people reside in.

It's time we stop attacking one another for our differences; those very differences define our individuality. It's not for us to say that taking hormones or surgically altering your body qualifies you as trans. It's not for us to decide whether or not a trans person can date a member of the same or opposite gender. Certainly it's not for us to decide that just because someone has money, they have it easy.

As we write this very article, we are living in a hotel. A transman and transwoman " a trans couple " fighting for daily stability. This road is not an easy one, but it's not our place to make it harder for our brothers and sisters. Judging them for what they have or don't have does absolutely nothing for us. When we divide ourselves into sub categories and cliques of like-minded people, we water down our potency. If we don't embrace our commonality and fight peacefully, democratically and whole-heartedly we can never accomplish equality.

It's time we set aside our differences and fight for our commonalities. The right to use any American restroom. The right to serve our country. The right to work at all employment opportunities. The right to fair and safe housing. The right to a fair trial and safe jail systems. The right to gender corrective medical procedures, not limited to genitalia, but all corrective treatments. One thing that must be done is to allow trans individuals the liberty to be equal and free Americans.

It's time transmen are allowed to be seen in the media as more than eye candy, or sexualized objects. Our brothers need to be able to stand up and utilize their gifts in the public eye as any other male. It's time our sisters stop being a punch line, or a sideshow attraction to the mainstream media's failed attempt at trans integration.

If one thing is to be said about Jenner's ESPY acceptance speech, it's this: Jenner said more to the truth and reality of the average trans American in 10 minutes than Chaz Bono, Janet Mock, and Laverne Cox have said in the past three years. It's time our brothers and sisters take note " it's not about us as individuals. It's about us as a united trans nation.


Sadaisha Shimmers and Jayson Dowker live in San Francisco. For more, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DZEkQBLr7g.