Is anyone talking about anything other than the Caitlyn Jenner cover of Vanity Fair? For months it had been rumored that Bruce Jenner, 1976 Olympic decathlon gold medal winner and arguably the greatest athlete of the modern era , was going to come out as a woman. Transgender people, while increasingly in the public eye, are still unfamiliar to many of us. Perhaps because of Bruce Jenner’s status as a champion record-setting athlete—and perhaps even more so because of his membership in the publicity mongering Kardashian family— this transition seems to have grabbed everyone’s attention.
And what a cover it is! Who can deny that Caitlyn Jenner looks awfully sexy in her lingerie? “Sexy” is not the first word that comes to mind for most people when they think about a transgender person. So in that sense, the Annie Leibovitz cover photo is liberating; it helps destroy our preconceived stereotypes about these members of our society.
And maybe the sexy picture could explain the otherwise obnoxious comment by former Arkansas governor and three-time Republican presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee, that he wishes he could have identified as a female in high school gym class. But I don’t think Huckabee was really saying that he found Caitlyn attractive—rather, I think he was really resorting to that shopworn stereotype that all transgender people really want to do is get into the bathroom or locker room of the opposite sex so that they can see them naked. Perverts!
I’ve had the privilege of representing transgender people on several occasions. On one occasion, my client wanted to use the women’s room at a restaurant. In the second case, my client wanted to use a women’s locker room. On both occasions, these transgender women were denied the ability to do so—although the Maine Human Rights Act gave them the right to do so—because employees thought that other patrons or customers would be offended or, even more baseless, because they supposedly might assault “real” women in the bathroom or changing room.
The first argument at least has some merit to it. Yes, some individuals are and will be uncomfortable by the presence of people with genitalia that don’t conform to their expectations of what it means to be male or female (although research increasingly shows that we are not so binary as we tend to believe). But the same argument was used to exclude blacks, women, Jews, people with disabilities—they’re just not “like” us. And we have long since rejected the argument that because we are uncomfortable with someone else’s protected characteristic, therefore we should be able to discriminate against them.
The second argument, the fear of assault, is just plain ridiculous. If anyone has good reason to be fearful of assault, it is the transgender person. Dressed in the garb of his or her new identity, but forced to use the facilities of the sex she was assigned at birth, she is far more likely to be assaulted than to assault someone. Indeed, statistics show that over 50% of transgender individuals suffer assault at some time. So the idea that someone would pass himself or herself off as a member of the opposite sex to assault a member of that sex is absurd. People don’t “choose” to be transgender anymore than they choose to be gay.
Growing up, the Temptations had a hit song, “Cloud Nine.” In the lyrics, members debated the merits of life on earth (a “dog-eat-dog world”) versus life on cloud nine, where “you can be what you wanna be” and live in “a world of love and harmony.” I doubt Caitlyn Jenner is on cloud nine, but I for one am glad that she is finally free to be herself.