Cards on the table: my biggest gripe with news of Caitlyn Jenner’s gender reassignment is that her new name doesn’t begin with ‘K’. Then again, choices like that reflect her individuality, and well done to her. Her bravery has got everyone talking, but why do other individuals championing social change not receive similar coverage?
Snoop Dogg, whose name-changing antics are as prolific as his presence on Twitter, summarises the crux of this debate in a tweet: “Shout out to Akon. He is about to supply 600 million Africans with solar power. Im really upset that this isn’t major news but that science project bruce jenner is #society”. I assure you that if I sent that tweet, I would have checked my grammar and punctuation.
Ignoring the transphobic rhetoric, the message is an important one: why isn’t Akon’s commitment to bring electricity to 600 million Africans through launching a solar academy as part of the ‘Akon Lighting Africa’ initiative equally as newsworthy? Is this not a brave and inspiring commitment to warrant equal exposure in mainstream media? We feel for you, Mr Lonely.
Jenner the man created a legacy by winning Olympic Gold in 1976, and in completing her transition in 2015, Jenner the woman will follow suit. The ‘Vanity Fair’ debutante has lived her life her way, and for that reason she will always be a winner. Whilst her actions will serve to stifle the stigma attached to transgender people, her wealth has allowed her to fund and facilitate the changes she so desired; not everybody is so fortunate.
The National LGBTQ Task Force state that transgender people are twice as likely to be unemployed and four times more likely to live in poverty compared with the general population; the disparities are greater for transgender ethnic minorities. Caitlyn Jenner never intended to act in the best interests of transgender people – she simply felt that ‘for all intents and purposes’ she wanted to be a woman. The media’s relentless coverage transcended her to ‘reluctant hero’ status.
One thing must be made clear, this is not a personal attack on Caitlyn Jenner; in an ever-changing world, human autonomy is sacrosanct. As far as we know, apart from appearing in a reality television show, Jenner does not control the media. She made a transition from Bruce to Caitlyn, not Rupert Murdoch. She made the transition in her best interests; it is unlikely she had the intention to help transgender people over the world. The media is at fault for exploiting the personal circumstances of a famous figure and giving her excess exposure at the expense of other deserving figures.
This is not unprecedented either. For every report of a civilian attack somewhere around the world, it is the misfortune of a celebrity figure that we mourn. For every report of child abuse we learn, we prefer to discuss a celebrity’s infidelity. Bad news can never be good, whether it affects one or many, but too often we lose sight equally tragic or groundbreaking events. In focusing our attention on cult figures, we as receivers of news prioritise updates on the life of celebrities to the detriment of the wider population.
Caitlyn Jenner is the second member of the Kardashian family to have ‘broken’ the Internet; this time around, the importance was heightened. In light of her sex change, the transgender community has found its flag bearer – but there are others who deserve to share the spotlight, regardless of the reasons why.
By Kamran Khan