The good: Caitlyn Jenner’s Diane Sawyer interview.
It’s difficult to overstate the importance of Diane Sawyer’s groundbreaking sitdown with Caitlyn Jenner. Known to millions of Americans as a gold medal Olympian and the face of Wheaties, Jenner’s Eighties icon status gave trans issues an unprecedented limelight in the media. After months of speculation, Jenner announced what many had anticipated: “I’m a woman.”
“I am going to change the world,” she declared. “My whole life has been getting me ready for this.”
Caitlyn Jenner hasn’t done so yet, but it’s not for a lack of trying. The interview broke viewership records for 20/20, boasting 16.9 million viewers, and her July Vanity Fair cover put her coming out on every newsstand in America.
Caitlyn Jenner also celebrated a hallmark year by winning the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs, while Glamour named Jenner one of its “women of the year.” That’s putting it lightly: 2015 was the year of Caitlyn Jenner.
The bad: The Caitlyn Jenner Halloween costume.
After the Diane Sawyer interview, a Caitlyn Jenner Halloween costume was all but inevitable. There were several variations on her signature Vanity Fair corset floating around this October, with Spirit Halloween‘s offering ranking as the most popular.
All of these costumes breathed new life into the damaging misperception that transgender women are “men in dresses.” Spirit tried to defend the costume, calling Jenner “the most important real-life superhero of the year” and claiming that it “celebrates her.” Jenner told Matt Lauer she thought it was “great” and not offensive “at all,” but her take on the topic almost didn’t matter. To the extent that Jenner became a stand-in for all transgender women in the public imagination, the costume encouraged people to see trans identity as a costume rather than a reality.
The good: The White House names its first trans staffer in response to criticism.
Three years ago, Vice President Joe Biden called discrimination against trans people the “civil rights issue of our time.” But while the nation’s highest offices had recognized the plight of transgender Americans, the White House had yet to actually hire a trans employee until this year. In August, Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, who previously worked for the National Center for Transgender Equality, became the director of outreach and recruitment for the West Wing’s personnel office. A statement from the White House argued that her story is central to the administration’s principles of diversity, inclusion and justice. “Her commitment to bettering the lives of transgender Americans, particularly transgender people of color and those in poverty, reflects the values of this administration,” Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser at the White House, said.
Hiring a trans woman of color was an important move after President Obama controversially shut down a trans activist in June. Unfairly labeled a “heckler” in media reports, the activist, Jennicet Gutiérrez, was protesting the administration’s immigration policies. Two months after the incident, the appointment of Freedman-Gurspan, an adoptee from Honduras, was an indication that Gutierrez’s concerns were finally being heard.
The bad: Republicans voice opposition to trans rights.
Pick a Republican presidential candidate, and there’s a good chances they said something boneheaded and bigoted about transgender people this year.