Today the world was introduced to Caitlyn Jenner.
First off, what a fierce photo! What a wonderful, confident, happy person staring back at you from the screen, right?
And let’s be clear. Caitlyn introduced herself to the world as Caitlyn. As she. As her. She even had a dang hashtag – #CallMeCaitlyn. And yet – people didn’t see that. People saw something that wasn’t there anymore, and couldn’t let it go.
The thing is, I don’t get it. I genuinely don’t understand how people can easily accept people (ahem, women) who take on a partner’s name after marriage, who easily switch honorifics (I googled it, folks) from Miss. to Ms. to Mrs. with marriage, and they can’t handle using a different pronoun or name for a person when they self-identify and blatantly tell folks what words, pronouns, and names they prefer.
Some mistakes are due to ignorance, some are simply hateful, and neither are okay. We can talk all we want about how much privilege Caitlyn has had in her self-identification, how much wealth, support, and social status was associated with this fresh start, but no matter what, I cannot imagine this has in any way been easy. Some quick change of mind that is no big deal. This is a big deal. It’s a wonderful big deal. And it should be supported.
I don’t know Caitlyn. I see as much as you do. I see media reports and news clips and articles and photos online. I have no idea as to what is necessarily true and what isn’t except what she has said. Except that she has asked people to #CallHerCaitlyn. So while I have not experienced what she is experiencing, I can support her in doing just what she asked. Calling her Caitlyn.
I can also encourage others to use preferred pronouns. For her and other trans* folks. I can gently and not so gently reinforce language and behaviour.
I do it often, but have been especially active doing it today. I want to believe that people are, at their core, understanding and good. I give them the benefit of the doubt that they just don’t understand that using he/him/a dead name can be hurtful and harmful (and wrong – considering that wasn’t a true identity to begin with) so I am starting with small gestures to change the conversation, to change the language, to stop being a bystander.
Today, I began to more actively be responding on comments on Facebook and blogs. Simple, gentle, corrections and flat out calling out the error. I’ve written “It might seem hard now to make a switch, but as she has been using she/her/Caitlyn, we should be doing the same.” I’ve also written “Nope, her name is Caitlyn.” Often this has met with “yes – I should have written her/she” in response. This makes me hopeful. I’m one of many people who are trying, through small gestures, to make it known that I want this world to be a welcoming place for people to be able to be themselves in, no matter their wealth, locale, privilege. I am not looking to engage trolls, but believe that I have a responsibility to educate ignorant people. I can’t speak to trans* folks’ experiences, but I can follow their lead and support them in the ways in which they have asked to be supported.
I don’t want to be a bystander to transphobia and ignorance. Ignorance is not an acceptable excuse for using the wrong name, pronouns, or even using derogatory terms. Instead, I’m learning how to be an ally. I still have a lot to learn, and that’s okay. I’m trying, through small gestures. I’m calling her Caitlyn, and hope you do too.