From Bruce to Caitlyn Jenner, with love

Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover was swiftly accepted by the public. But that’s not typical, writes Emma Teitel, and shouldn’t hide reality

Annie Leibovitz/Vanity Fair/AP

Annie Leibovitz/Vanity Fair/AP

“Call me Caitlyn.” Never has a simple introduction garnered such wild praise. Caitlyn Jenner, formerly Bruce of Wheaties box and Kardashian fame, made her official debut as a transgender woman this week on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine. The cover photo, shot by legendary celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz, portrays Jenner looking toned and glamorous in a white corset. Her hair is long and windswept; she bears a striking resemblance to American Horror Story star Jessica Lange (who trended this week, yet didn’t know the meaning of the word).

Jenner, on the other hand, lives the meaning. Once a breaker of Olympic records, the former athlete is now (to borrow a phrase from her stepdaughter Kim Kardashian) an official “breaker” of the Internet. When her Twitter account went live on Monday, she beat U.S. President Barack Obama’s Guinness world record as the fastest Twitter user to gain one million followers in only four hours. “I’m so happy after such a long struggle to be living my true self,” Jenner tweeted. “Welcome to the world, Caitlyn. Can’t wait for you to get to know her/me.”

Related: Syrus Marcus Ware joins the Thrill podcast to talk trans representation in pop culture

Apparently, we can’t wait either. The social media reaction to Jenner’s official coming out is overwhelmingly positive. Congratulations and warm wishes poured in from every corner of entertainment and politics—from Lena Dunham and Maria Shriver to John Stamos and Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Obama. Any negative reactions to Jenner’s transition have been summarily shamed online: Record producer and rapper Timbaland announced he will continue to call the former Olympian “Bruce.” Timbaland even posted a disparaging meme on Facebook that read, “His Mamma named him Bruce. Imma Call him Bruce.” Many were quick to point out his hypocrisy: Timbaland’s own mother called him Timothy, not Timbaland, at birth.

At first glance, Caitlyn Jenner’s successful reintroduction to the world is wholly inspiring. As corny as it sounds, there is undoubtedly a closeted trans kid out there who is better off knowing that the most famous trans person in the world is also beloved. Visibility matters, even when it is sensational. But, in this circumstance, it is inordinately sensational: Jenner is being celebrated not only as an out and proud trans woman, but as an unparalleled bombshell. She is not only beautiful; she is a beautiful 65-year-old woman who looks about two decades younger than her peers. (She could play Jessica Lange’s stand-in, no doubt, but she could also play the actress’s daughter.) Jenner looks fabulous and apparently feels fabulous, too. But her swift acceptance by the public isn’t typical, a point trans actress and activist Laverne Cox made in a personal essay this week. When Cox appeared on the cover of Time magazine a year ago (the first transgender person to do so), she says many “trans folks” called her “drop-dead gorgeous,” but “that doesn’t represent most trans people.”

Related: Laverne Cox on a ‘revolutionary moment’ for trans people

“What I think they meant,” Cox writes, “is that, in certain lighting, at certain angles, I am able to embody certain cisnormative beauty standards.” (The trans community uses the term “cisnormative” to describe people whose gender identities match their sex at birth.) “There are many trans folks [who], because of genetics and/or lack of material access, will never be able to embody these standards. More important, many trans folks don’t want to embody them, and we shouldn’t [have to conform] to be seen and respected as ourselves.”

In other words, the Internet fanfare surrounding Caitlyn Jenner is, at least in part, grossly out of step with reality, where trans people who can’t “pass” as cisnormative are routinely harassed and humiliated.

When news broke about Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer in April, I argued that we would be kinder to Jenner (then the subject of crude jokes about her rumoured gender identity) when her feminine exterior was set in stone; in other words, when she could “pass” more easily herself. And it appears we are. Media organizations that once hounded and mocked the former Olympian about her long hair, painted nails and large Adam’s apple have nothing but nice things to say this week. Good for them. The hope is that their newfound approval will be a catalyst for wider acceptance of the majority of trans people who will never be overnight pin-up material. But the worry is, it may not.


From Bruce to Caitlyn Jenner, with love

  1. There are lots of trannies in the world, but Jenner….a 68 year old male….isn’t one of them.

    Good stunt though.

  2. Yesterday there was an article in the National Post about people who call themselves “transabled”:

    “We define transability as the desire or the need for a person identified as able-bodied by other people to transform his or her body to obtain a physical impairment.”

    I know this is politically incorrect, but what is the difference between someone who wants a healthy limb amputated, and someone who wants his or her sexual organs removed, replaced with those of the opposite sex, and undergo a lifetime of hormone therapy?

    Transgendered and transabled people are human beings who deserve our respect, compassion and medical and psychiatric help. However I don’t think their best interests, or society’s, are best served by treating their conditions as normal or healthy.

    • Your entire gender….is considerably different from just your arm.

      Why do you think everything is black and white?

  3. It is clear that the inmates have taken over the asylum. Bruce jenner is not a woman, he is a psychologically damaged (though harmless enough) man. The fact that all of the usual (and entirely predictable) suspects “support” his “coming out as a woman” is all the evidence you need that the world is indeed a crazy place.

    sorry bruce….you are a dude. You may be a dude in a corset…but you are still a dude.

    Transgenderism….is not a state of mind so much as being a confused state of mind.

    he needs help….not fans.

    • And suppose you had been born with both male and female genitals as lots of people are….what would you do then?

      Didn’t you take biology?

      • Emily,

        we are not discussing true hermaphrodites. We are discussing people who were born an identifiable sex, but for psychological reasons want to be the exact opposite of what they naturally are.

        It is a psychological condition, not a physical one.

        And you may want to check your stats….true hermaphrodites are extremely rare.

      • by the way….

        I studied biology and science extensively………which is how I know that a man will always be a man, and a women will always be a woman.

        Mutilating your body and stuffing yourself with hormones won’t change that basic reality.

        • No, James…..biology out of comic books won’t help you. Sorry.

  4. Just another weirdo making money off the gullible public and the fawning left wing media

    Someone kick him in the nuts and straighten him out.

    • Better hurry….

      At this pace, he won’t have nuts to kick for very long.

  5. Yes and tell me that photo isn’t photoshopped to the hilt! Quite disappointing Annie and certainly not up to your past work.

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