Caitlyn Jenner’s transition has undoubtedly marked a landmark moment in transgender visibility.
But while she may have broken records (she amassed one million followers under an hour – no mean feat), Caitlyn has shed light on the setbacks the average person has to face in order to transition – most notably the financial means to fully transition.
What happens if you don’t have the ££ that the former Olympian has amassed? Layla Haidrani investigates
We all knew her as Bruce Jenner, the former Olympian athlete and then long-suffering husband of Kris Kardashian in Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
But this weekend, Caitlyn Jenner finally made her long-awaited debut as a female, gracing the now iconic cover of Vanity Fair, marking a momentous moment for the trans movement.
One only needs to look at the murky trans rights history to observe their systematic exclusion to see the cover as a cause of celebration and an important step in the right direction.
Yet the experiences of more ordinary trans women – not celebrated on the hallowed pages of Vanity Fair – are still largely (and sadly) ignored in mainstream society.
It’s a shame that the media is only interested in furthering trans rights when someone already has a cult celebrity following rather than applauding their bravery.
Luckily, Jenner’s prominent position in the public eye and public speaking forte has enabled her to use this platform to promote the transgender cause.
In her highly-publicised interview with Diane Sawyer watched by nearly 17 million viewers during April, she pledged to “work with the trans community” and added “we’re going to make a difference in the world”.
While Jenner has positively contributed to a climate that could finally accept the transgender community, there are much more complexities to transitioning – both financially and psychologically – than a glossy magazine can ever reveal.
This has been perfectly exemplified in the #MyVanityFairCover Twitter hashtag, orchestrated by Seattle-based self-identified trans Crystal Frasier. But perhaps most poignantly, she revealed that worldwide praise of Caitlyn Jenner’s appearance can only be attributed to her conforming to the narrow standards of beauty: “admiration and praise for trans women shouldn’t only come if we fit a narrow definition of beauty”.
Stringent beauty ideals aside, Caitlyn’s transition aided by financial security begs the question: how do you transition into your true identity when it costs a fortune?
While Hollywood loves to depict an image of trans people having plenty of surgery, this is in fact one of the most perpetual myths surrounding transitioning. As Frasier concurs: “Transition itself isn’t one quick burst of surgery and then you’re done. It’s a slow, piecemeal affair of tiny steps that add up to a long journey.”
This situation is all too familiar for the number of trans people I interviewed. Self-identifying trans female Dani Cook-Bodden agrees:
“Though my transition has been going well, I still deal with high amounts of emotional distress and being financially dependent is a high factor of this. I don’t have the strongest financial budget to do everything I would like to do and I’ve learned that this is something that many other men and women in the community go through. In an odd way, it is comforting to find that you are not alone in that struggle.”
For those considering transitioning in the UK, NHS treatment covers counselling, hair removal, hormone therapy and surgery.
The process begins by seeing your GP who will arrange a mental health assessment followed before referral to one of the country’s seven Gender Identity Clinics (GIC) which provides psychiatry, therapeutic workshops and surgery.
For those wishing to be referred for genital surgery, three NHS services are available in England, two in London, one in Brighton. The only NHS service for child and adolescent gender identity services is in London.
But for those who opt for private healthcare, this can be a very costly affair. It’s little wonder then that for those with financial hardships, they are only able to socially transition (live as themselves) rather than fully transition physically.
So what happens if trans people who can’t afford private healthcare use the NHS to transition? A recent report by Healthwatch England exposed the considerable delays in accessing services. Waiting times for first appointments at GICs are currently a year from the initial referral while for others preparing for surgery, they face an average wait of nearly two years for an operation. Sadly, the difficulties of accessing treatment on the NHS prevent some pursuing a complete transition.
As a result, these delayed waiting times can have a severe psychological impact varying from anxiety, self-harm and depression to suicide attempts.
The Adult Psychiatry Morbidity Survey revealed that during 2014, 48% of trans people under 26 had attempted suicide while 59% considered doing so.
So when there are cases such as Caitlyn’s where their transition appears straightforward, this can provoke feelings of envy from those that are yet to similarly achieve this. Bodden concurs:
“I was so proud that someone of that social status came out with such pride and no regrets in what they had decided for themselves as it made me remember when I first told people I was transgender. Yet the thought that always crosses my mind when I see other trans women who have had feasible transitions financially is “I wish that I was her”.
It isn’t jealousy; it’s simply a longing to have that same achievement. I constantly think to myself that money shouldn’t buy my happiness. Yet I can’t help but believe that money is the only thing that will allow me to have that”.
And with the impending arrival of summer, the season can often intensify anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. Ashley (not her real name), 28, a retail assistant, describes her depression escalating each time the season rolls around as it continues to serve as a reminder of how “impossible” surgery seems.
As a Stonewall spokesperson has highlighted, whilst the positive response to Caitlyn Jenner is a step towards achieving trans equality, there is “huge diversity within the trans community and her journey does not reflect the experience of all trans women”.
So yes, we must celebrate Caitlyn Jenner for her courage but behind all of the pomp and circumstance that accompanies the “coming out” of transgender celebrities, it’s time to also celebrate the ordinary trans individuals that silently struggle to transition alongside us each day too.
As Frasier sadly adds, “Some of us just get tired of the daily struggle and end it.”
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