With the recent nationwide legalization of gay marriage, we ask ourselves, “what is the next step?” Many people agree that the next frontier of the equal rights movement is the transgender community. The transgender community is getting more media exposure with upcoming movies “About Ray” and “The Danish Girl,” which focus on transgender main characters, as well as television shows like “I Am Cait,” starring the recently transitioned Caitlyn Jenner. Cassidy Medicine Horse, a teacher in Montana State University’s Native American Studies department as well as a grad student working toward her Ph.D. discussed how the transgender community can use its newfound exposure to talk about transgender rights, lives and conversations.
In a discussion of celebrities, specifically those identifying as transgender, and the use of their media exposure, Medicine Horse expressed mixed feelings. She appreciates the exposure transgender celebrities like Laverne Cox and Jazz Jennings have brought to the community. Cox is a transgender activist and an actress on “Orange is the New Black,” and Jennings, an adolescent YouTube celebrity, is the writer of the children’s book “I Am Jazz,” about gender transitioning. Medicine Horse commented that this attention toward transgender people shows that they are a “viable, vibrant part of the social condition.”
Celebrities, however, can often be the exceptions to the rule. The picture the public sees is usually the finished product of transition, and can often ignore the dark side to being transgender. They had good connections at the right time, and didn’t have to deal with the same problems as others who decide to transition, such as access to money and social support.
Many transgender people are never seen because they have a lot to lose by going through a transition, and thereby make transgender people into even more of a minority. This means there are less people around to battle the stereotypes and media’s choice of sensation stories. “Are there cuckoo birds within the trans community? You bet there are. No more than in any other group,” Medicine Horse stated. “But the [transgender] community is smaller, so it’s more noticeable.”
When asked for a comment on transgender celebrities, Medicine Horse said she would ask them, “Where were you when we were in the trenches?” To explain this, she discussed the job refusals, loss of family, homelessness and violence that many who are transitioning deal with. Much of this loss is based in the concept discussed in part one of this article — many people are comfortable with the boxes that they have created for others. Anyone who no longer fits into that box is considered disposable.
Medicine Horse desires for those with the pulpit to use it wisely. They could start foundations or fund homeless shelters; Medicine Horse said they need to take a stand and get active. “Change what you can, make it a better place for somebody that comes after you,” Medicine Horse commented. “Thanks for the exposure … now time to get your hands dirty.”