Caitlyn Jenner’s Story Is Heard Loud and Clear—but Most Trans Women Aren’t

LGBT advocates say the visibility of magazine covers and TV interviews is advancing public awareness about transgender issues.
Jun 1, 2015·
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

America’s newest mega-celebrity introduced herself on Monday on the cover of Vanity Fair, and she was met with resounding applause. “Call Me Caitlyn,” the headline reads. It’s a command, not a request, from the glamorous cover girl formerly known as Bruce Jenner—and she’s pushing Americans everywhere to reconsider how they feel about transgender people.

While the magazine cover may seem like the kind of carefully crafted publicity campaign the Kardashians have consistently mastered, LGBT advocates say it’s a brave move that’s advancing public awareness about transgender issues.

“Caitlyn is helping to show and helping to tell the stories of so many other trans folks whose experiences are still sort of waiting to be heard,” says Vincent Villano, director of communications at the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Most transgender people do not have the luxury of the media megaphone that has allowed Jenner to shape her own story after years of cruel tabloid speculation about her gender transition. Statistics show that transgender people are liable to lose jobs or the support of loved ones, or face physical and verbal abuse when they express their identity.

Jenner is fortunate to have the vocal support of her loved ones, who constitute one of the world’s most famous and wealthiest families—nearly every member is a spokesperson for brands and products, from video games to clothing lines. Jenner is in control of her own image, her identity, and her career; an eight-part docuseries about her new life is in the works at the E! network (her four older children have declined to participate in the reality show, Vanity Fair reports). Jenner first leveraged fame to gain endorsements after winning an Olympic gold medal in 1976, appearing on Wheaties boxes, and becoming a household name. But that’s not the reality most transgender people in America contend with.

(Photo: Vanity Fair/Twitter)

Ninety percent of transgender people report experiencing harassment, mistreatment, or discrimination at work, and transgender people are four times more likely than the general population to live in poverty. The community also experiences unemployment at double the rate of the general population, with rates nearly quadrupling for trans people of color, according to a 2011 report by the National LGBTQ Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality.

What’s worse, transgender people, and particularly transgender women, are disproportionately victims of hate crime, violence, and even homicide. In 2013, seventy-two percent of LGBT homicide victims were transgender women, the majority of them transgender women of color, according to GLAAD.
Jenner’s transition can’t be expected to immediately fix all those problems, but it makes it clearer why activists are welcoming the attention. Stories like Jenner’s are important in bringing public awareness to transgender issues, considering that just 8 percent of the American population report personally knowing someone who is transgender. By comparison, about 87 percent say they personally know someone who is gay, according to a GLAAD/Harris poll.