Why Becoming Caitlyn is Important — And Why It’s Not

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The LGBTQ community has been quick to react by celebrating Caitlyn’s bravery and also pointing out that most do not receive this type of welcome and support.

The coming out of Caitlyn Jenner has been heralded by the internet and social media as an important part of transgender visibility. The importance of this event should not be diminished to anything less than what it is — simply remarkable. Any event that breaks the world record for the fastest climb to the Twitter 1 million mark rightfully deserves its due. The news trended more quickly than many other comparatively more newsy issues of the day as the internet saw the rise and domination of Jenner’s photo for Vanity Fair. I won’t hide my excitement that the picture seemed to trend faster than the one of Kim Kardashian’s half naked bottom did several months ago. Faith in humanity restored.

The event puts transgender issues, rights and politics at the forefront for many news organizations and lunchtime conversations. As an advocate, I’m pleased that the discussion is afoot and generating reactions, both positive and negative. As a psychologist working with people who are trans, I see how the headlines have impacted those I work with. Let’s stop for a second and consider what this means.

First, I want to acknowledge that the experience Caitlyn Jenner has had with her coming out has been very different from that of those transgendered individuals I see. The LGBTQ community has been quick to react to the event by celebrating Caitlyn’s bravery and also pointing out that most do not receive this type of welcome and support. It has been a good week to advocate and highlight the difficulty that people who are trans encounter. The National LGBTQ Task Force has shared several important observations. They point out the discrimination that the trans community, especially women, face in the workplace. Around 55% related that they lost a job opportunity due to being transgendered. I was reminded by one of my clients about this issue directly when she revealed her fears about applying for jobs and not having her name legally changed yet due to frustrating bureaucracy. The idea of having to sit in front of a potential employer and explain why your name does not match your gender was enough to keep her from applying and thus living in an unsupportive home. Many prefer to hide their gender transition, staying in a job they hate, not seeking promotion or changing jobs — or even delaying their transition altogether out of fear of losing their job. Jenner was privileged to find work almost immediately because of her transition on the cover of Vanity Fair and an upcoming reality TV show about her personal transition.

It is also important to understand that transition can be a different experience for different people. The transition from male to female can be quite different than from female to male. One of my female to male clients remarked about the difference when being perceived as male rather than female for the first time. He remarked that he did not have to feel like he needed to “prove” himself anymore, that people assumed he was now intelligent, had something to say and that it carried more weight “even before I said anything.” The male privilege was there waiting for him. Caitlyn, once she disclosed her transition, was promptly treated like most women in the media. She was placed on a magazine cover, sexualized, compared to other women, and had her beauty remarked on again and again. Some media even baulked at her being labeled a “hero” — a title we traditionally reserve for men in our society. Caitlyn likely benefited from her race, class, and ability, among other privileges that many people who are transgendered don’t receive. As the media begins to wrap its head around the trans civil rights movement, we hope that even more diverse representations can be shown.

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To help the rest of us, the cisnormative, to navigate this, I’d like to present some helpful tips:

Pronouns, pronouns, pronouns.
We all get confused with this one. That’s because we have never had to conceptualize how our gender we identify as could be different than the body we are born with. Keep in mind it’s helpful to use the pronouns that the individual wants to be identified as, not by what you see. You may meet some who are in the early process of transition and those who don’t even wish to live out as the opposite sex. You truly don’t know until you ask them. I know that may be awkward, but asking gets us talking about it. That’s the best thing we can do — get us talking about this. Yes, you may goof from time to time and refer to them with the wrong pronoun, but it gets easier and gets our thinking more flexible about gender in the meantime.
Understand that sexual orientation and gender identity are two different things.
Don’t make the assumption that Caitlyn Jenner is gay. The truth is we don’t know much about that part of her at all. People who are transgendered can be gay, straight, bisexual, and even asexual. The sexuality of people who are transgendered is often based on the current gender identity.
Stop asking them what their “real” name is.
It’s what they introduce themselves as. Period. Likewise, don’t ask about their genitals, sex life, or if they’ve had “the surgery.” If I were to ask you about what was between your legs or who you’re sleeping with I would expect a door to be slammed in my face.
Avoid “helpful tips”.
Avoid tips such as “I think you would look more like a man/women, if you just…”, or comments like “you look just like a real woman.”

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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