Caitlyn Jenner: A Lesson in Being Yourself

imageOf all of the insecurities I have about myself, my gender has never been one of them. If I’m being honest, it is something that I never even considered – I was born as the person I was meant to be. I am a woman and I am comfortable with that.

The Internet exploded yesterday with Caitlyn Jenner’s “Call me Caitlyn” Vanity Fair photo shoot. While I’m not a fan of anything Kardashian, I’ve been following Caitlyn’s story for quite a while. Recently, like millions of others, I was moved by her honest and frank interview with Diane Sawyer. Why? Because, while I am comfortable in my own skin, I have witnessed a similar journey first-hand.

As a teacher, I’ve worked with thousands of students over the years, but there are a few that will always have a special place in my memories. One in particular will always stand out as being one of the bravest I have have ever known.

At a previous school I used to teach lots of drama, despite music being my first subject. In one of my Year 7 classes (11 year-olds to anyone outside of the UK), there was a little girl. Shy, awkward and quiet, she found it difficult to connect with others and as the year progressed she withdrew more and more into herself. She started to frequently argue with others, got into fights and developed a hatred for the school. At the end of the year, she told me she was leaving to go to another school, stating that she couldn’t be herself and would feel more accepted somewhere else.

Nearly a year later, I went for an interview and as part of the process, I was required to teach a short lesson to a class whilst being observed by the Principal and Head of Faculty. When I walked into the classroom, I heard a squeak from the corner of the room. It was the same student who had left the year before, and she proceeded to repeatedly tell everyone how ‘awesome’ I was, to the point where the Principal had to ask her to be quiet. If I could have hugged her, I would have done – I got the job and I have always felt that her reaction played a small part in obtaining it. Gone was the awkward, shy character I had known – she had made friends, had become involved in music activities and appeared to be much more confident in herself.

Unfortunately, I soon realised after starting my new job that she wasn’t. She was clearly depressed and struggling. She hated any activities that involved her being ‘seen’ in any sort of way, and she refused to have her picture taken or be filmed during music events.

Eventually, she came out as being gay when she was about 13 years old. It wasn’t unexpected, although perhaps unusual for someone so young to be open about their sexuality, but her friends and the majority of the school community accepted it immediately. I was pleased for her, and hoped that her disclosure would make her feel a little more secure with herself. However, she appeared to continue to spiral downwards.

Everything became a little more clear the following year.

She wasn’t gay, she was transgender.

He was physically a female, but identified as being a male, trapped in a female body. He wasn’t looking for attention or to cause trouble – he was simply tired of his daily internal struggle and had made the decision to tell everyone who he really was.

While I’m not going to go into the personal details, I can tell you that it was a long and difficult journey for him. Thankfully, he was extremely lucky to have the support of those closest to him – his friends, both male and female, took the time to ask questions, listened, and once those questions were answered they carried on exactly as they had before, except referring to him as a ‘he’ and calling him by the masculine name that he identified with. I was proud of them. I am proud of him, and I have every faith that he will continue on his journey and live a productive, happy and confident life as the person he was meant to be.

Millions of others aren’t as lucky.

Despite huge strides being made in the understanding and acceptance of the LGBT community in recent years (although there is still a long way to go), being transgender is still widely misunderstood and many still confuse gender with sexuality, and even worse, believe that it is a form of mental disorder. The stigma surrounding being trans means that many struggle with accepting themselves and finding a place in their community. According to surveys conducted by the Williams Institute, 41% of trans or gender non-conforming people surveyed had attempted suicide, more than 25 times the rate of the general population.

image

It took Caitlyn Jenner 65 years to finally become who she is, and her decision to transition in a very public forum has received a hugely positive reception. Yesterday, she broke the record for the fastest number of followers on Twitter, gaining a million in just four hours on her new account. It has started conversations and explained misconceptions, highlighting the issues and taboos surrounding the trans community.

Above all, it has become an inspiring story of acceptance, and proof that living life as your true self is truly a life worth fighting for.

My biggest congratulations to you Caitlyn, and to all those who have had the courage to stand up and be who they were born to be.

You can also find me on Twitter and Tumblr @suzie81blog and don’t forget to check out my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/suzie81speaks and my Pinterest page http://www.pinterest.com/suzie81speaks

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Photo credits: Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair

 

46 thoughts on “Caitlyn Jenner: A Lesson in Being Yourself

  1. Kudos to Caitlyn for being who she is and for being a positive role-model for others who are transgender. Hopefully with increased communication and understanding, acceptance and support will always be there for students like your’s and many others. What a better world it will be. Thank you for taking the time to bring this to light for those who may need it. .

    • Thanks so much – it’s a story that has touched a nerve with me and I wanted to share it, even though I’m sure most people have heard about it by now! At least it has people talking!

  2. It’s really important for people like Caitlyn Jenner to tell her story seeing as she is such a high profile person. It’s also important to acknowledge that Caitlyn is a very privileged person who has the money for things like surgery, and also support from her family, something a lot of trans* people don’t have (and in terms of surgery, might not necessarily want). I think Jenner has opened up peoples minds and by telling us her story has given people opportunities to talk about trans* issues on a larger scale than ever before. I would really encourage people to click the link below and read Laverne Cox’s (from ‘Orange is the New Black’) comments on Caitlyn Jenner’s cover as she raises some really valid points on the diversity of trans* narratives. http://thequeerav.com/…/laverne-cox-comments-on…/ I’d also like to encourage people to read this article (http://thequeerav.com/…/keeping-up-with-bruce-jenner…/) written directly after the Diane Sawyer interview (hence the name Bruce being used and gender neutral pronouns) as it highlights just how different and complex trans* narratives really are; no two stories are the same! I’m really passionate about trans* issues and volunteer with a lot of young trans* people in Perth and I just want to say that getting to know people for who they are rather than judging them for their differences is so important. Let’s celebrate diversity, it’s such an amazing thing and we can learn so much from listening to other people’s stories!

    • Thanks very much! Before her story become public I knew about what being transgender was, but it has opened up a whole new world to me about the narratives involved, thanks so much for the links!

  3. I knew a transgender person in high school. He (not sure if I should say he or she here since although she feels she is a she, she still mostly operates as a he) is married and has grown children. I had lunch with her once. At the time I found it all very interesting as the idea was new to me. Now I sit here trying to imagine literally feeling like you don’t belong in your own body, and I just can’t. Kudos to her.

  4. Great post – engaging and moving. I like the way you told the story. I follow a blog by a therapist in the states called Joe Burgo. He wrote a piece called ‘What Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Gender Identity Disorder Have in Common’ looking at factors which may lead to stories like this one, (in light of his clinical practice). I found it interesting. At the same time, whatever the causes might be, I think your piece nailed an important point: ‘living life as your true self is truly a life worth fighting for’ and the journey towards self acceptance is one which requires great courage. I also feel that blogging plays a part in that too ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. This may sound weird, but I can totally relate to Caitlyn’s new boobs. They are just like mine!
    I wish her all the best and I’m happy she is taking everyone along for the journey.

  6. Great points on all of this. I came in to work today to hearing “why is this a big deal?” and “so what?”…and while in an ideal world this wouldn’t be a big deal, it needs to be until acceptance and understanding is more widespread. Good for her for putting herself out there and telling her story.

    • I totally agree my lovely – I heard the same comments. While I think that it s good that people are not making a big deal about it, I totally agree that the story needs to be shared and heard to be better understood… It’s all about acceptance!

  7. Excellent post! It’s unfortunate that the journey to be yourself is extremely hard but it is inspiring to see people overcome the difficulties and emerge happy and confident. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. So very true & you have summed up the situation perfectly. I am not a fan of anything Kardashian either, but like you I am intrigued by Caitlyn’s story and hope it inspires more people who aren’t comfortable with themselves to embrace who they are and be proud of it, whether that be in terms of gender or anything else! Go Caitlyn!

    • Absolutely! In the interview that was given with Diane Sawyer, she said that (I think) if it made the difference to one person it would be worth it. I really hope it does.

  9. Suzie, your post was incredibly compassionate and informative. I think in our lives, we all know someone who identifies as LGBT and we must understand we are not the judge and jury of their choices. My neighbor is transitioning from male to female and she is still the same person with the same soul. Thank you for posting this!

  10. Very nice article and helpful to those who haven’t had direct contact with someone who is transgender. As far as age goes, as a psychotherapist, there was a 7 year old little girl know knew she was a boy inside and with her parent, we worked carefully on how she could finally disclose her true feelings. She would say things like “I say I’m a girl but I’m really a boy.” This had been going on since she was about 4. Now that the spotlight is on the concept of transgenderism, we finally have a new law about providing restrooms for people who identify outside of their gender. Hopefully the public will begin to have a better idea of the differences in people and not shame or make them bad for being who they are. Perhaps Caitlyn’s story will promote more of this.

    • Thanks Lorraine – I hope so. That was one of the main issues when working with a trams student – things like bathrooms and accommodation on trips are things that Ive never had t think about, but it was indeed a huge issue for my student!

  11. Pingback: Does It Bring You Happiness? | A Momma's View

  12. Beautiful post. The few friends I’ve known who were/are open in identifying as transgender have all had very distinct narratives, too. Most didn’t face quite the incredible battles that previous generations have done, but each in his or her own way suffered for the sake of becoming True Self. I am grateful I’ve never had to face such trialsโ€”but all the more grateful for knowing these good and wonderful people exactly as they’ve grown to be.

    Cheers,
    Kathryn

    • Thanks so much Kathryn – I didn’t even know anything about narratives until the last few years! I just hope that the issue of narratives is something that has been brought to light so that it can be understood better!

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