Introducing Caitlyn Jenner (Lessons In Respecting The Transgender Community)

by Simona Terron

Bruce Jenner, the patriarch of the Kardashian family, recently came forward as a Transgender woman, making a much-awaited debut as Caitlyn Jenner in the latest issue of Vanity Fair magazine. In the photos, shot by world-renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz, Caitlyn looks absolutely stunning and marks a major step forward for the transgender community.

The transition from an ex-Olympian athlete and male head of the controversial Kardashian clan to a gorgeous, confident woman has not been easy with the media closely monitoring and commenting on the process. Yet Jenner, who proclaims "call me Caitlyn" on the magazine cover, is the happiest shes ever been, according to the interview. In the article, Caitlyn says, "If I was lying on my deathbed and had kept this secret, I'd feel like I blew my entire life." 

Family, friends, fellow celebrities and media personalities seem to be rallying around her with praise and support, while her Twitter account has hit two million followers, and counting. Jenner is not alone, though.

Caitlyn is not the first to make strides for acceptance of all gender identities, several transgender personalities have been blazing a path for gender equality in the harsh glare of the public spotlight. Laverne Cox, singer Charice, former male model Andrej Pejic, Sonny and Chers offspring Chaz Bono, New York-based French model Ines Rau, and Lana Wachowski, who was formerly known as Laurence Wachowski and was the maker of the Matrix films with brother, Andy are all transgender personalities who have used their platform to advance the cause of transgender acceptance.

With the world finally realizing that you are not defined by the gender you were born with, it's understandable to not always know exactly how to conduct yourself when interacting with those who may identify in a way you don't have a lot of personal experience with.  The biggest thing to keep in mind: as long as you approach your interactions with good intentions and an open heart and mind we're confident you can navigate these waters with aplomb, and probably come out on the other side wiser for it.

Here are some of our tips on what to say, and what never to say:

  1. It's Not Dress Up: The person you're interacting with is not playing "dress up," it's not a performance, so don't treat them like it is. This is who they are and accepting them as anything less is disrespectful and can be hurtful. Even when said with the best of intentions, blurting out something like I never would have known you were a guy before is undermining them. They dont need to affirm their gender to you, or anybody else.
  2. Probing Their Sex Lives: It's not ok to ask about a transgender person's sexual preferences. Would you ask someone who wasn't transgender that question? Would you appreciate it if someone asked you that same question? If the answer is no, then it's a good litmus test for what topics you choose to broach. Stick to good manners and you'll be all set.  
  3. Fearing Or Labeling: To act as if transgender people are anything other than people the same human desires and impulses as everyone else, is to be a weirdo. You don't need to put a label on someone to have a conversation with them, so don't try. They are just normal people, so treat them that way.
  4. Using The Right Pronouns: Nobody cares if you knew the person before they chose to become the gender they prefer. If they wish to be known as a woman, respect that, and refer to them as she. If they are now known by a different name, please use that one. If you're unsure, it's probably best to find the right time and way to ask. Again, as long as it's done in the spirit of mutual respect your question will probably be appreciated.
  5. 'Outing' Anyone Sans Permission: Introducing a transgender person to others needs to be done with courtesy, respect and elegance. Instead of blurting out that they used to be a different gender, why not let them take the lead in introducing themselves how they want? Simply present them by name as you would anyone else and let them take it from there. 
  6. Rants About Pants: This might sound a bit harsh, but do you really need to be familiar with the state of a persons genitalia to understand, interact with, or relate to them? Dont go asking a transgender person if they've had surgery, or whether their privates are male or female, because well, theyre private.
Some great resources for learning about the transgender community: 
Human Rights Campaign 
GLAAD - Transgender FAQ
Gender Spectrum Resources



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