Laverne Cox has thoughts on Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover photo and its reception.
[I]n a Tumblr post that went live shortly after midnight Tuesday, Cox warned the trans experience is much more than a dramatic physical transformation and only celebrating the women for their beauty can be inherently harmful to the trans cause.
“What I think [people praising Cox’s beauty] meant is that in certain lighting, at certain angles I am able to embody certain cisnormative beauty standards,” Cox wrote.
Cox hopes transgender role models like Jenner and herself can be seen as so much more than beautiful women.
Oh looky there – that was exactly my point.
“I love working a photo shoot and creating inspiring images for my fans, for the world and above all for myself. But I also hope that it is my talent, my intelligence, my heart and spirit that most captivate, inspire, move and encourage folks to think more critically about the world around them.”
Failing to see these women as holistic individuals runs the risk of fetishizing them, Cox wrote:
“Yes, Caitlyn looks amazing and is beautiful but what I think is most beautiful about her is her heart and soul, the ways she has allowed the world into her vulnerabilities. The love and devotion she has for her family and that they have for her. Her courage to move past denial into her truth so publicly. These things are beyond beautiful to me.”
Trans people are no less complicated, complete human beings than anyone else.
That too was my point. I think women should be seen as complicated, complete human beings just as men are, and of course that means trans women too.
It’s so much more than a magazine cover. The trans experience consists of a lot more than conforming to “cisnormative beauty standards.” Jenner and Cox are unusually privileged in resources and public support. Other trans men and women might not have the ability to transform themselves physically the way these two women have.
“Now, there are many trans folks because of genetics and/or lack of material access who will never be able to embody these standards,” Cox wrote. Furthermore, some trans men and women may simply not want cisnormative conformity. “More importantly many trans folks don’t want to embody” [these standards].
While Cox and Jenner’s photoshoots and media attention are to be celebrated, tweeting pictures of them and commenting on the beauty of their transformation must not be confused with fighting for the trans cause. Public acceptance is a huge part of it, but truly embracing and supporting transgender people is so much more than praising someone for their (cisnormative) beauty.
And not just more than. I think making such a point of praising someone for their (cisnormative) beauty makes life harder for people who don’t have (cisnormative) beauty.
Of course, you can say well that’s life, tough shit – beauty is beauty and people are always going to worship it, so deal. Lots of people do say that. But I don’t. I think we can be more thoughtful than that.