EDITORIAL: Caitlyn Jenner, #MyVanityFairCover initiate needed conversations
Last week, Caitlyn Jenner made her first appearance on the cover of Vanity Fair as a transgender woman and brought transgender representation in the media to fuller focus, an especially impactful moment for transgender acceptance in popular culture.
However, as pointed out by Laverne Cox, transgender actress and activist and the first openly transgender person to appear on the cover of Time, though Jenner’s cover is revolutionary, not all trans people have the privilege to transition safely, and many can’t meet society’s traditional beauty standards. In acknowledging this, as reported by Buzzfeed, Tumblr users Crystal Frasier and Jenn Dolari began #MyVanityFairCover, in which they made their own covers and encouraged others to do the same, with “Call me___” to match Jenner’s “Call me Caitlyn.”
The hashtag has since gone viral, with trans men and women posting their covers and personal stories on Tumblr and Twitter. In doing so, they acknowledge Jenner’s cover while also bringing attention to the reality that not all transgender women can fully relate to her. The hashtag is an outlet for all trans people to celebrate themselves in the same way Jenner did.
Jenner’s choice to publicly come out allowed her to share her story to a mass audience, but to also continue a necessary discourse about transgender recognition. E! released a two-part special called “About Bruce,” and will debut another called “I Am Cait” July 26. Hearing her story is just as important as hearing those whose stories can’t relate to hers, and her bravery in sharing who she is opens opportunities for other trans people to do the same.
Frasier and Dolari’s praise for all transgender women brings trans representation to another level, as the hope with #MyVanityFairCover is for “the myriad faces of the trans community” to be known, especially minority trans women, those from poor upbringings, and those “who don’t pass.”
Transgender representation in the media is also crucial to the social perception of the trans community. The U.S. transgender population is estimated at .5 percent, which, as pointed out in a U.S. News and World Report article, makes representation that much more vital since often people’s only contact with a trans person is through the media.
As seen with a review of trans-inclusive TV over the past decade by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation taken in 2012, realistic representation is still far from where it should be. Not only were only 12 percent of shows considered “groundbreaking” and “fair,” but 40 percent wrote trans characters as victims, and 21 percent cast them as killers or villains.
While there are shows with positive representations of transgender characters, such as Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black” and Amazon’s “Transparent,” which follows the struggles of a father who comes out to his adult children as transgender later in life, the media still has a long way to go in portraying the transgender community as individuals removed from stereotypical molds.
This is why Caitlyn and #MyVanityFairCover are changing what it means to be transgender in pop culture and are giving depth to ingrained standards of beauty and stereotypes — conversations that will surely continue to open up society’s view to the complexity of the transgender community.