Caitlyn Jenner, and Moving Past the Transition Narrative
Last year, TIME Magazine told us we had reached the “transgender tipping point,” featuring on its cover the stunning actress and activist Laverne Cox, one of the most high-profile transgender women in America. It was a huge moment for trans visibility.
This week was similarly significant: Vanity Fair released its cover image of another of the nation’s most famous transgender women, though this time we’ve only just learned her name: Caitlyn Jenner. Shot by famed photographer Annie Leibowitz, the image was instantly iconic, going viral on social media.
If Laverne Cox’s TIME cover marked a trans tipping point, Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair image signaled – as far as mainstream cultural awareness goes, at least – a transgender avalanche.
Of course, Jenner has for decades been a public figure. Since competing in the Olympics in the Seventies, and on through her marriage into the Kardashian clan, Jenner has spent much of her time under the eye of a critical public, inside the fishbowl of U.S. celebrity life. These experiences became particularly fraught as she started to transition recently (she’d explored hormones for the first time in the Eighties), and the tabloids began to swirl with rumors about her appearance, forcing her to come out in an April 20/20 interview.
But as America lingers over the “lascivious” details of Jenner’s transition, most people are ignoring an equally significant part of the trans experience: what happens next, after the transition.
Cisgender people have been fascinated with transition for as long as trans people have been out about the process. A slew of bestselling trans memoirs focused on gender dysphoria and transition accompany endless pop culture speculation: Has she or hasn’t she gotten The Surgery? Will she or won’t she? What about implants? “Feminization” surgery?
And the real slap in the face: Are trans women “real” women?
It’s a question rooted in an obsession with transition. Many people say they want to understand the trans experience, and in the stories we see about those experiences transition is often the focus, providing context for what it’s like to live as a transgender person. But it’s not an entirely fair focus, because it’s only one aspect of trans life: For some people it’s an ongoing process, but for others, it’s simply a landmark – once they transition, they move on to other things in their lives.