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Welcome to the world, Caitlyn Jenner

This week a member of the Jenner/Kardashian clan broke the internet, but it wasn’t Kim or Kylie.

On Monday afternoon the world was introduced to Caitlyn Jenner, the person formerly known as Bruce Jenner, when Vanity Fair released a preview of their upcoming cover photo and story, and Caitlyn Jenner opened a Twitter account. That Twitter account promptly broke the record for quickest to reach 1 million followers.

Like many others I watched the television special with Diane Sawyer in April where Bruce (who at the time was still going by “Bruce” and wished to be referred to using male pronouns) sat down for an in-depth discussion about being transgender, a lifetime of gender identity conflict, its affect on previous marriages, how Jenner’s children are reacting to the transition, and more. I actually found that interview to be well done and educational. I thought the special did a great job of asking pertinent yet sensitive questions, educating the audience on what it means to be transgender, the importance of pronouns, the difference between Gender Identity and Sexual Identity, and other topics. If you haven’t seen it, I really recommend looking for ways to view it either online, a repeat showing on TV, or on demand through your cable/satellite provider.

By introducing the world to her true self, Caitlyn has made another important step in her journey and I for one am very happy for her. There’s a few reasons why I think this story is important, and has the potential to be a watershed moment for transgender people.

Visibility – Transgender visibility is an important part of the movement towards better understanding of trans issues, equal and fair treatment, and acceptance in society, and this story has brought immense attention to the topic. Check out the infographic we shared back in November that talks more about visibility and its importance. The more our society is exposed to the stories of transgender people, getting to know them and their lives, the more we can expect better understanding. I hope that with this understanding we’ll see lower incidences of violent crime, bullying, and discrimination towards members of the transgender community.

Advocacy – Caitlyn Jenner is arguably the world’s most famous transgender person at the moment, and she has both financial resources and connections to powerful people. My hope is that she’ll use her influence to advocate for transgender rights and become a great ally fighting for transgender people who don’t have the resources she has. Time will tell if Caitlyn becomes a vocal advocate but I really hope she will be. In the Vanity Fair article she hints that her upcoming series on E! will spend some time focusing on ways to lower the rates of suicide and attempted suicide in the transgender community, among other issues. I’m excited to see how the show handles this topic, and hoping it makes a positive impact.

Another Role Model – Shortly after Caitlyn introduced herself, ESPN announced that she would be the recipient of the Arthur Ashe award at this year’s ESPYS. According to ESPN this award, “is presented each year to individuals whose contributions transcend sports.” A representative added:

The ESPYS are honored to celebrate Bruce becoming Caitlyn. She has shown the courage to embrace a truth that had been hidden for years, and to embark on a journey that may not only give comfort to those facing similar circumstances, but can also help to educate people on the challenges that the transgender community faces.
I think that having this kind of high profile coming out, and to have it be met with a large amount of celebration and affirmation, could be hugely beneficial for transgender youth. It wasn’t so long ago that a young person who felt conflicted about their gender identity might have felt completely alone and confused, thinking that no one else on earth is going through what they are going through. I can’t imagine the depths of such isolation, it’s heartbreaking to think about. So we can now add one more role model, with the highest profile yet, to the growing list of names that can give trans youth some hope that they are certainly not alone, and that there is hope for them to live happy and fulfilled lives being who they are.

Family conversations – The stories we’re seeing on TV, the internet, and social media are sparking conversations about what it means to be transgender or gender non-conforming, and this includes discussions between family members and friends. I hope this is serving as an ice breaker and presenting more opportunities for families to have an open dialogue about gender and sexual identity issues. If it’s helping kids talk to their parents, and vice versa, and helping kids feel more comfortable opening up to their parents and other trusted adults, that’s certainly a good thing.

Ultimately Caitlyn Jenner’s story is just one of several this year that brought trans issues further into the mainstream awareness. I’m an optimistic person by nature but I don’t mean to make it sound like this event will bring an end to all the hardships that transgender people face. There is still a LONG way to go and lots of problems to tackle (the high rate of suicide and suicide attempts, unemployment, homelessness, horrific violent crimes). But I think like most other major shifts our society has seen, these high profile stories of celebrities and other well-known people have an impact in bringing these issues into the light, to show that it’s happening to people everywhere, and to make us more aware/sensitive/educated about the issue. Caitlyn Jenner is fortunate to be wealthy, white, and surrounded with support, but that doesn’t mean that she hasn’t struggled or that she’s lived without pain. Surely anyone who watched the Diane Sawyer interview could hear and see the suffering Jenner endured her whole life as she lived with her secret. I hope that by introducing herself to the world, she’ll experience happiness and a sense of freedom, and that it might help others achieve this as well.

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Dana joined the iCarol team in 2013 after 12 years of direct service and administrative duties in the Helpline Industry. You'll find her presenting Webinars, Tweeting, Blogging, Facebooking, and producing other materials to help others learn more about iCarol.

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