My View: The Importance of Jenner Bearing Witness for the Transgendered Population

AP Photo of Caitlyn Jenner receiving her ESPY for Courage in July
AP Photo of Caitlyn Jenner receiving her ESPY for Courage in July

Earlier this week, it was an evening perusal of my Facebook feed that led me to a post by a friend of a friend that made my blood boil: “Every time I see Bruce Jenner, I throw up in my mouth.” Normally I look at some of the postings from my right wing friends and their contacts and laugh, but for whatever reason this one made my blood boil.

I responded to the friend of my friend, “When I hear this kind of bigotry, it makes me realize why it was so important that Jenner come out of the closet.”

My friend responded, “She has an opinion and does not like something and you get bigotry out of that.”

Yes, I do get bigotry out of that – it is an expression of hatred. But there is something more important than that. As the conversation wore on, there seemed to be a belief expressed: “You just don’t want it pushed in your face.”

This seems to be a very common reaction to a lot of people who believe they have been persecuted in society, and are coming forward to demand a redress of rights and to bear witness. Bruce Jenner or Caitlin Jenner has attracted a lot of attention – some of that is critical attention.

Caitlyn Jenner was honored with the ESPY Award bearing the name of Arthur Ashe, for Courage. Some suggested that Caitlyn Jenner was the wrong honoree for the award.

The LA Times wrote in July, “While Jenner has been widely praised for her bravery — she even received a shout-out from President Obama — and has become a leading figure in elevating awareness about transgender identity, her ESPY’s honor has not sat well with everyone.”

The Times writes, “Sportscaster Bob Costas called the award to Jenner ‘a crass exploitation play, a tabloid play,’ while others lamented that Jenner’s selection pushed out lesser-known, more deserving candidates for the honor.”

I think lost in this is what Caitlyn Jenner did for transgender people everywhere – she bore witness and pled for acceptance of the transgender community.

I think we need to understand the range of challenges that transgender people suffer.

The first is that the person has come to the “undeniable realization that they don’t belong in the gender that they were assigned at birth, whether male or female.” Indeed, there “can be a lot of different reasons for transness, both medical and psychological, but there’s a growing consensus in the medical community that people are born trans, with biological factors like genes and prenatal hormone levels playing their part.”

The problem, as Eve Glicksman lays out in a 2013 article in American Psychological Association Journal, is that even coming to that realization, transgender people then struggle with societal acceptance and stigma.

“Despite the signs of more acceptance for transgender people, many studies show that they continue to face significant challenges,” she writes.

She cites research by Aaron T. Norton and Greg M. Herek, here at UC Davis, who “found that the rejection transgender people encounter is significantly harsher than the negative attitudes experienced by lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people (Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 2012).”

A 2009 study by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network also “found that transgender students face much higher levels of harassment and violence than LGB students.”

Other studies have found very high rates of substance abuse, attempted suicide and HIV infection, among other problems, in transgender adults. A 2011 report, “The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People: Building a Foundation for Better Understanding” concluded “that the marginalization of transgender people from society is having a devastating effect on their physical and mental health.”

So the comment on Facebook in reaction to Jenner can be seen as a form of soft-bigotry or microaggression that leads to this devastating effect on physical and mental health. And there is no escape. Transgender people begin with depression and mental health issues, with the feeling that they don’t belong in their assigned gender-identity and their escape pushes them into a situation where they are marginalized and stigmatized for their new identity.

According to Eve Glicksman’s article, “Treatment only is considered for transgender people who experience gender dysphoria — a feeling of intense distress that one’s body is not consistent with the gender he or she feels they are, explains Walter Bockting, PhD, a clinical psychologist and co-director of the LGBT Health Initiative at Columbia University Medical Center.”

She writes, “Physicians usually require that any transgender client who wants a medical intervention be assessed first by a mental health provider.” She adds, “It is standard practice to treat the client for any psychiatric conditions that might be present before starting a medical transition.”

From my standpoint then, the decision by Bruce Jenner to come out as Caitlyn Jenner really served multiple functions. Caitlyn Jenner, to many, now becomes a role model – one who tells people struggling with their sexual identity that they are not alone. One who tells the transgender people it is all right for them to accept their own situations and identity. And one who bears witness to the rest of us that there are those in our population who are different from us in terms of sexual identity.

This is not throwing things in the face of people who do not wish to accept the transgender community, so much as an action that bears witness to those who are transgender persons that they are not alone in the world.

Reading the anger of this person led me to realize how important it actually was for Jenner to come out. There are a lot of suffering kids for whom a role model like Jenner can make a huge difference. Some may want to view it as being pushed in their face. But for many in the transgender community, they likely view it as confirmation that maybe they aren’t alone in the world.

People react with anger and perhaps a revulsion to that which they do not understand, so maybe it is time for people to try to understand the transgender community.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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14 thoughts on “My View: The Importance of Jenner Bearing Witness for the Transgendered Population”

  1. Tia Will

    You just don’t want it pushed in your face.”

    People react with anger and perhaps a ( revulsion ?) to that which they do not understand, so maybe it is time for people to try to understand the transgendered.”

    From my perspective as an ob/gyn who has delivered thousands of babies over my career, I will try to add a little factual perspective to the conversation. I will start with what I consider the key statement in our binary designation of babies by gender.

    “undeniable realization that they don’t belong in the gender that they were assigned at birth”

    What I am going to say is going to fly in the face of “common sense” and everything that most people who have not had careers in medicine or genetics believe to be true. Our assignment of gender at birth is less than perfect. Babies are almost invariably assigned a gender at birth based solely on visible inspection of the external genitalia. This is a far from perfect process and affects all aspects of the child’s identity for the entirety of their lives.

    What most people do not realize is that there is a third category into which a very small number of children are currently categorized. This is called ambiguous genitalia which just means “we can’t tell by looking “. These children undergo genetic testing for chromosomal determination of their gender and are assigned on that basis. This brings up the fact that sexual identity ( unlike sexual assignment)  is not simply a matter of the appearance of the external genitalia and is, as David alluded to, a combination of chromosomal, hormonal and structural factors. When all are aligned, there is no gender confusion and the child will slip into whatever role that society assigns to that gender. When all are not aligned, these individuals may experience tremendous internal dissonance throughout their life as they attempt to reconcile what their hormones tell them is their true nature with what society demands that they conform to on the basis of their appearance.

    To say that awareness of this issue is “being pushed in your face” is a sign of profound ignorance of the dilemma faced by these individuals who are gender discordant by nature, not by choice. It is an indication of a person who is unable or unwilling to attempt to understand that changes in medical understanding ( genetics and hormonal interactions in this case) will necessitate changes in how we deal with various problems as our understanding of their underlying causes deepens.

  2. Biddlin

    If you buy this soap opera script as real, you are more naive than even I suspect. Jenner is a media xxxx, who, failing to garner enough attention among the Kardashian stable, concocted this latest publicity scheme.  There are plenty of truly transformed people who are changing attitudes by living their lives in the open, every day.


    [moderator] edited for language

    1. Barack Palin

      Fine, Bruce wants to be Caitlyn.  Go for it but I don’t have to give a xxx or look at him/her as some kind of hero.  Biddlin says it best, “media xxx”.
      [moderator] edited for language

    2. Anon

      I’m with Biddlin and and BP – Jenner is a media hound, and has been ever since his olympic win.  IMO, the whole “coming out as transgender” of Jenner was his effort to get a television show of his own.  He married into the Kardashian family to garner attention for himself.  It is almost as if, once he won his gold medal at the olympics, he didn’t know what to do with himself out of the limelight.  Pathetic – and I cannot believe the number of people that buy into his current “transgender and the need to go public with it” shtick.  Perhaps they don’t know enough about his entire career/life.

      If you really want to watch a more realistic version of being transgender, watch “I Am Jazz”, which describes the struggles of a young teenage “boy” physically who knew “he” was transgender/”a female in a male’s body” from age 2, and the struggles “he” has had to become a “she”.  Particularly touching is the agonizing Jazz is going through whether to get sex reassignment surgery, which is notoriously “unsuccessful” psychologically in the long run by the way.  I think if you watch I Am Jazz, you will understand why people see Jenner as a phony.

  3. Davis Progressive

    jenner was in the limelight 40 years ago – i think the media w- charge is overblown here.  are you guys implying he had a sex change operation to get in the media?  if not, i don’t see your point.

    1. Anon

      Why the need to publicize his sex change operation to so much overblown attention – full spread on magazine cover; his own television show with teasers about an upcoming surprise, etc. ad nauseum?  Gag me with a spoon!

    1. Don Shor

      [moderator] I am the moderator. I edited words that were inappropriate, and I removed your comment about my action as moderator.

      Debating Moderator Practices. An article’s comments section won’t be used to debate these guidelines or a decision of the Content Moderator. Concern about the removal of a comment should be addressed in an email to the Content Moderator. The moderator will keep confidential all email exchanges related to disagreements, and the identities of those raising concerns.

      Don Shor

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