Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out as transgender has been quite the moment for the trans community. From the Diane Sawyer interview to the Vanity Fair cover to the upcoming debut of her new reality show I Am Cait, a transgender person has never been so discussed and celebrated in pop culture and in homes across the world.
As a trans person, I am immensely grateful for this moment in which many people are, for the first time, seeing a transgender person as exactly that: a real person, instead of as a bad joke in a sitcom or a fetishized object in porn.
While Jenner’s coming out has been wonderful in many ways, it’s important to note that Jenner’s life is her own. There is a whole beautiful, shining multi-colored collage of trans experiences and trans stories out there. When speaking to Janet Mock about Jenner, Laverne Cox very succinctly said: “I think it’s important to note that this is just one story; that [Caitlyn’s] story is very specific; most trans people don’t have that kind of privilege, don’t have the kind of privilege that I have or you have.”
Jenner’s story is filled with moments that many trans people can relate to, but she’s had benefits and privileges many trans people could never dream of.
The daily reality of many trans people is filled with denial — from basic necessities like employment to housing to healthcare. Let’s look at a few challenges* many trans people face that you won’t see on I Am Cait.
1. Transgender people experience job discrimination and have high rates of unemployment and poverty.
As long as you're watching I Am Cait, Caitlyn Jenner has a job and is making money. That's wonderful. For a lot of trans people, though, just getting a job can be very difficult. And 33 of the 50 states have no state-level gender identity protection, meaning in over half of the U.S. it is perfectly legal for employers to fire trans employees based solely on their being transgender.
Nearly half of trans people report having been fired, denied employment or denied promotion for being trans, and 90% of trans people report being harassed at work for being transgender.
Partly due to this discrimination, 14% of trans people are unemployed, compared to 7% of the general population, and 15% of trans people are living on less than $10,000 per year.
2. Transgender people are frequently evicted or denied homes because they are transgender. Often this results in homelessness.
It’s unrealistic for everyone to have a home like Jenner’s $3.6 million Malibu mountaintop estate, but it is realistic for everyone to want to have a home. At some point in their lives, 19% of trans people have been denied housing, and 11% have been evicted, for being transgender. In order to cope with the lack of housing and employment, a significant number of trans people are forced to move to cheaper places, bunk with family and friends, or have sex with people just to have a bed to sleep in.
Due to this employment and housing discrimination, 19% of trans people have at one time been homeless. To make matters of homelessness even worse, shelters frequently refuse transgender people or force them to stay in facilities that do not match their gender.
3. Many transgender people have no health insurance, which can make a medical transition difficult or impossible.
Prior to her Vanity Fair cover, Caitlyn Jenner was able to afford hormone replacement therapy (HRT), a tracheal shave, breast augmentation and facial feminization surgery. That’s tens of thousands of dollars of gender affirming surgeries. For most trans people, even receiving adequate medical care is challenge.
Therapy and gender affirming procedures like HRT, mastectomies, tracheal shaves, etc. aremedically necessary for many trans people to feel safe and comfortable in their own bodies. Nineteen percent of trans people have no health insurance, and very few people can afford these costs out of pocket. Hormones alone can cost up to $150 per month. Even for those who are insured, the fight to prove these procedures’ medically necessity is often long and difficult; many people are required to file disputes with their insurance companies.
Facing so many obstacles, many trans people who wish to medically transition are financially unable to, forced to live in a body they do not feel comfortable or safe in.
4. Transgender people of color face these challenges at much higher rates.
Jenner herself noted the particular struggles transgender people of color face in her 20/20interview. The number of black, latin and indigenous trans people who are unemployed, homeless or uninsured are all nearly double that of white trans people. As has been widelypublicized, trans women of color face high rates of violence and murder, and often receive little to no help from law enforcement.
The adversity trans people of color face is an immense, layered problem that needs to be addressed.
How do we help transgender people who are facing these challenges?
In the Vanity Fair piece, Jenner said she hopes to use I Am Cait to help lower suicide rates among trans people and seems very committed to helping the trans community in anyway she can. But even a star like Caitlyn Jenner can only do so much. If you would like to help trans people facing these challenges, consider some of the following actions:
- Hire or house trans people. If you’re responsible for hiring in your organization or are a landlord, reach out to the trans community in your area and see if there are trans people in need of work or housing, particularly if you live in an area that is hostile to trans people. This gesture will have tons of positive ripples for your community. If you are not responsible for hiring or are a landlord, suggest this step to others who are.
- Work to make your company or organization be more trans inclusive. Especially if you’re a service provider, understanding and working to remove barriers trans people might experience while interacting with your organization helps a ton. Educate your coworkers and look for organizations in your area that provide trans inclusion workshops and see if they can come in and work with your organization.
- Press for laws protecting gender identity. Find out if your state has laws protecting transgender people from discrimination. If not, start putting pressure on your local representatives to put gender identity protection laws into place and support organizations that are fighting for those laws.
- Support transgender organizations in your area. There are trans organization across the country that are consistently fighting for trans rights and providing needed resources, sometimes including healthcare. They are always in need of help in both funding and support.
While you’re watching I Am Cait, remember that what you’re seeing isn’t the entire trans experience. Caitlyn Jenner’s transition has been a wonderful moment for the trans community, but there’s still so many trans people facing adversity and so much work to be done. Let’s celebrate this moment of trans visibility by fixing these issues, and making a whole bunch of trans people happy.
*Statistics in this article come from TransEquality’s 2009 National Transgender Discrimination Survey unless otherwise noted.