By Elena Eckhardt
The media has recently been dominated by the news of #CallMeCaitlyn, the coming out of Caitlyn Jenner, who at 65 found the confidence to express her true self. Formerly Bruce Jenner, first shot to fame for winning a gold medal for the decathlon in the 1976 Montreal Olympics and was referred to as ‘The World’s Greatest Athlete’. Bruce became a household name winning major endorsements and has remained in the public eye throughout three marriages, most recently to Kris Kardashian, giving the world a view into their private lives in the reality TV show, ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’.
In April 2015, Caitlyn came out as a transgender woman in an interview with Diane Sawyer, admitting to decades of struggling with gender dysphoria. The interview was watched by 20.7 million viewers, and there was overwhelming support for her honesty. On the 1st of June, Caitlyn revealed the images by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair and introduced herself to the world as Caitlyn on Twitter. The positive reaction from the public was outstanding, and Caitlyn broke the Guinness World Record for the fastest time to reach 1 million twitter followers (beating Barack Obama).
The positive reaction has included an article by Samantha Allen for The Daily Beast, ‘How to Tell a Bruce Jenner Joke: Late Night’s Subtle Transition’, noting a change in the way comedians and late night talk show hosts discuss transgender people, namely being smart and not crude. She believes the same changes were made for lesbian, gay and bisexual people as they received public acceptance and political progress. Transgender people are no longer the butt of the joke, but now are the politicians and their policies, such as the Republicans eager to have a female candidate to rival Hillary Clinton. Caitlyn is not off limits to comedians, but rather they are encouraged by their audience to be clever and witty when discussing her and the larger issues she represents. Comedy is known to be a barometer of cultural change and these subtle nuances symbolise progress.
American actress Laverne Cox also made a statement of support for Caitlyn, drawing upon her experiences as a transgender person in the public eye. Laverne was on the cover of Time magazine in May 2014, with the heading ‘The Transgender Tipping Point’. She also received widespread support for her magazine cover, but also felt a need to draw attention away from her and Caitlyn’s appearances and focus on who they are as people, not whether they encompass a certain beauty standard. This is an issue that affects all women, transgender or not. Women are so often defined by their image and appearance, and their qualities and achievements are overshadowed. The media should present holistic images of the celebrities they present, and the articles should always go beyond first appearance.
Bruce Jenner was in the public eye for decades and it is no surprise that Caitlyn will be a constant topic of conversation and media interest. She is now referred to ‘as the most famous transgender person in the world’, and will be seen as a representative and spokesperson for all trans-people by many. While it’s great to see acceptance, we have to acknowledge that everyone is different and not all trans-people identify with Caitlyn Jenner. Let’s focus on who she is as a person- an athlete, a father who has raised 10 children, and an intelligent business person, and not just what she looks like.
We are all different and experience things differently. Let’s remember that many people have private battles and struggles that we will never know about. All kinds of people are discriminated against and denied basic human rights every day. #CallMeCaitlyn is a step in the right direction if we open our minds to the issues that affect all trans-people, and see Caitlyn as a person, not just an image.
In media focused industries such as PR, it can become common place to focus on appearances, images and accept what we’re told without question. But it is important to challenge the norms and put ourselves in the position of the celebrity presented to us. We can all learn something from the courage it took Caitlyn to come out to her family and friends with the whole world watching. Hopefully, we can all use this experience to think more openly and independently every day.
Image Credit: http://images.lifeandstylemag.com/uploads/images/file/17821/caitlyn-jenner-vanity-fair.jpg?fit=crop&w=680