The Problem with Bruce Jenner as Trans Poster Boy

Updated Apr 27, 2015

I’ve got a problem with the Trans-Jenner phenomenon and it doesn’t have to do with Bruce Jenner’s trans-ness.

But it has everything to do with class and celebrity.

A guy in Malibu who tells Diane Sawyer and 16.9 million people on national TV that he isn’t doing this as a publicity stunt for his reality show but then announces the next day a new “E” show is not exactly what I’d call the best public face for trans people.

All Jenner seems to want to do is find a new Wheaties box.

Most trans people are lucky to have a box of Wheaties.

“Injustice at Every Turn,” a 2011 report by the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, reveals that trans people are hardly anything like Bruce Jenner.

Trans folks generally are much poorer, with a large number African-American and people of color, and they all suffer discrimination.

You will find the survey here: http://www.thetaskforce.org/static_html/downloads/reports/reports/ntds_full.pdf

The survey polled some 6,456 trans people, whose racial background was 11 percent multi-racial, 5 percent Latino, 5 percent Black, 5 percent Asian, 1 percent Native American, and 76 percent White.

From the executive summary:  “Discrimination was pervasive throughout the entire sample, yet the combination of anti-transgender bias and persistent, structural racism was especially devastating. People of color in general fare worse than white participants across the board, with African American transgender respondents faring worse than all others in many areas examined.”

“Respondents lived in extreme poverty. Our sample was nearly four times more likely to have a household income of less than $10,000/year compared to the general population.

“A staggering 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide compared to 1.6% of the general population, with rates rising for those who lost a job due to bias (55%), were harassed/bullied in school (51%), had low household income, or were the victim of physical assault (61%) or sexual assault (64%).”

Now where exactly does higher ed fit in?

They become your students.

But not before going through a hellish existence as a young trans person.

Again, from the survey: “Those who expressed a transgender identity or gender non-conformity while in grades K-12 reported Alarming rates of harassment (78%), physical assault (35%) and sexual violence (12%); harassment was so severe that it led almost one-sixth (15%) to leave a school in K-12 settings or in higher education.”

Furthermore, the survey showed respondents who were harassed and abused in K-12 settings also showed dramatically worse health and other outcome compared to those who did not experience abuse. Peer harassment and abuse also resulted in “highly damaging effects.”

Is higher ed prepared and equipped to deal with these students?

They are just one layer of a growing number of people, many of whom may have concealed their preference but are now revealing themselves to the world.

And even if college is successful, the survey indicates educational attainment does nothing to aid the trans person in society.

The survey found high levels of educational attainment. Forty percent had some college; 27 percent earned a degree. All numbers were higher than that of the general population. And yet they all fared worse with higher levels of poverty, incarceration, homelessness and poor health outcomes. The survey authors said it spoke “to the power of anti-transgender bias to ‘trump’ educational attainment.”

Bruce Jenner may have been able to shield himself from any bias by merely subjecting himself to Kim, Kris, Khloe, et al. But that mild form of harassment  would still be preferable to what most trans people have experienced.

I’m sure, Jenner feels some pain. Being the butt of jokes from a Letterman, Kimmel or Conan can be humiliating. But he has the money and the status to insulate himself from all that.

Besides, his whole national reveal seems so calculated, that he’s so far from the norm.

So Jenner wants to be the hood ornament for trans people, perhaps.

But the car most trans people are riding isn’t a Bentley.

And it’s full of many, many different kinds of people, who are victims of discrimination each and every day.

Emil Guillermo writes on issues of race, culture and politics  for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (www.aaldef.org/blog)  Like him at www.facebook.com/emilguillermo.media ; www.twitter.com/emilamok; contact him at www.amok.com