Seven transgender women were murdered in the first two months of 2015 in the US, and one was murdered in London last March. Roughly no one paid attention to that, or to the two transgender women who were killed last week in El Salvador. But Channel 5 did film a documentary showing boxing manager Kellie Maloney undergoing her transition from male to female, which was on this week. The timing was perfect, as the world is still intrigued and fascinated by Caitlyn Jenner's incredible transformation. Is it a media circus, or a tipping point?
"It's misguided to believe that an increase in 'famous' transgender people is leading general #Society to endorse them in a tolerant way," comments Dr Elle Boag, senior lecturer in Social Psychology at Birmingham City University, in a note sent to Blasting News. "#Celebrities Caitlyn Jenner and Kellie Maloney have been in the spotlight this week and are newsworthy because of their gender status. We're intrinsically fascinated by their perceived 'strangeness' which is considered to be outside of expected norms," she adds.
The list of famous transgenders has grown bigger in the last year, after actress Lavern Cox made it to the Time cover and serbian model Andreja Pejic transitioned and hit the catwalk as a woman at London Fashion Week, four months ago. They both made headlines, but not to the global extent of Caitlyn Jenner. Why? Because she used to be one the most highly regarded male athlete in America? Because she spent the last eight years under the spotlight in reality shows? All of the above, among other reasons, but the media frenzy isn't showing any signs of stopping and therefore the debate is here to stay.
But no, the debate is no longer whether she's a "real" woman or should be accepted, because it's already happened and no one can deny it, even if they don't agree. The debate is about the violence, poverty and discrimination transgender people are subjected to all around the world, whose experiences are very far from the riches, glam and positive recognition Caitlyn Jenner is enjoying.
"The majority of us don't come face-to-face with 'real' transgender people, and if we do then stereotypical thoughts often lead to prejudice and discrimination," Dr. Boag notes. She's afraid the media is only sensationalising Jenner's and Maloney's journeys and wasting an opportunity to foster tolerance.
American presenter Janet Mock, who has also become a very important voice for the transgender community, took it to Twitter to point at the same issue: "Let's celebrate Caitlyn & use her moment to uplift trans folks facing insurmountable economic barriers for affirming healthcare."
What do numbers say?
Regarding the prevalence, a 2009 report from Gender Identity Research and Education Society estimated 1,500 individuals enrol in gender transition in the UK every year. However, the trans reality is almost never played out in lavish sets, with celebrity photographers, mansions in Malibu and expensive cars.
A recent study in the UK found that 48% of transgender people have attempted suicide under the age of 26; the report, conducted by health charity Pace, notes that these are "shocking numbers" and the "lack of visibility and acceptance in society" is a major contributor. In the U.S., a report from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention found similar numbers last year: 41% of transgenders have attempted suicide.
Not everything is bad, though. Britain is actually ranked #1 in Europe for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual, as per the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. People's perceptions are changing.
Vici Foster, a health care assistant from Keynsham, believes the younger generations will be more open. "I work with a young transgender male, although I'm not sure how long he has been living as a man," she tells Blasting News. "Some of the older generation don't understand it," she reckons, but things have been progressing. "People need to open their eyes, the world is changing and so are the people that live in it. Just because it's very different to what you consider the normal doesn't mean it's wrong," she states.
Nuno Mourão, a business development executive who works in the City, has the same opinion. "There's a transgender woman working right here in the financial district. No one cares if she used to be someone else and no one disses her," he shares with Blasting News.
Dr. Boag remains cautious, though. "Much of the public still view transgender identity as a choice or confuse it with transvestitism or 'drag', which are different things entirely," she warns. "We are certainly far away from a utopian ideal of global tolerance for transgender people."
There is also a debate about what being transgender really means, and if it should lead to surgical sex reassignment. Some advocates, like former transgender and conservative Walt Heyer, are calling for better assessments of what is known as "gender dysphoria", a sense of belonging to a gender that is not the one the body has. With some people who regret changing their gender, this is a whole new type of discussions. And they're all happening now, for the good of the transgender community. #Youngsters