My heart sang with joy when Caitlyn Jenner introduced herself to the world as the woman she has longed to be. Beautiful, bold, brave and...ultimately very rich. That isn’t a bad thing at all but we have to remember that whilst Cailtyn Jenner deserves our support, admiration and the applause that she has received we cannot afford to forget about the millions of trans men and women in the world who are forced to live as a gender they do not identify with as they do not have access to the financial resources of women like Caitlyn.
I know a few trans women, a few I am privileged to count amongst my friends, and none of them have the good fortune of being able to afford the photographic skills of Annie Leibovitz or would feature on the cover of Vanity Fair. I think it’s fair to say that not many of us could afford that but just because the world has been mostly accepting of Caitlyn (there have been a few assholes out there that have claimed she is simply playing dress up) it doesn’t signal the end of transphobia in the United States or elsewhere. Caitlyn still has privilege, that of being white, being wealthy, and being a celebrity before she transitioned to the absolutely stunning woman she is today but we all have a duty to speak up on behalf of trans men and women who are still suffering at the hands of transphobic violence around the world.
We have no right to ask Caitlyn to become an activist for the trans community, no more so than we have the right to ask a wealthy African American woman to do the same for women of colour. Why the hell does it have to be someone else that speaks up for trans people? Why can’t we do it? Often the best activism is living a full life as the person you are, as openly as possible. But that isn’t always possible for people like Caitlyn who aren’t Cailtyn Jenner. The Trans Murder Monitoring Project tracks the reported killings of trans people across the globe and it makes for some heartbreaking reading.
Since January 2008 there have been 1,731 documented killings of trans people, 78% of which took place in Central and South America and of which 65% of all trans people murdered worldwide were sex workers. Since records began, 108 trans people have been murdered in the USA alone. That’s a staggering figure and it is likely to climb. As an openly gay white cisgender man I am privileged in that I am at very little risk of being murdered for my gender identity or indeed my sexuality. In fact since records began in January 2008 there have been no documented murders of transgender people in Northern Ireland however trans people are still excluded from protection under hate crime laws here. The Republic of Ireland has taken massive strides in the last three months to improve the lives of its LGBT citizens with marriage equality, a Gender Recognition Bill and the removal of the right of religious run schools to sack LGBT+ educational staff but the violence towards transgender people still goes on, often unnoticed or unreported.
People like Caitlyn Jenner can afford to undergo gender reassignment surgery at their own personal cost with a private medical provider however transgender people are just as likely to be unable to afford life changing surgery as the rest of us. The NHS in the UK can provide gender reassignment services and support but these are often very bureaucratic and the waiting time can be anywhere from eighteen weeks to three years between initial consultation and surgery taking place. The private route is available but if you are willing to fork out the guts of between £8,000 and £25,000 for it. Does that sound fair? No, I didn’t think so.
As a society we need to demand that more is done to support people through their transition and make it as quick and painless as possible. We need to ensure that our national health service has the resources and the expertise at hand to help those who are experiencing gender dysphoria and provide them with the safe spaces, emotional support and tackle politicians who are hell bent on undermining our public services at the expense of the vulnerable. Caitlyn Jenner is beautiful and brave and I applaud her for her transition and look forward to what she does next but we must remember that by thinking that transphobia ended when Cailtyn Jenner joined Twitter we are failing millions of trans men and women who are depending on us to keep speaking up.
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