The Power of Trans Vulnerability

We can't underestimate the power of trans people sharing their vulnerability, because it is so rare and so precious. As a genderqueer person, I feel constant pressure not to be vulnerable. In order for my femininity to be respected and valued by others, I feel pressure to be polished
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To be honest, I was nervous. It was an hour before one of the most famous transgender people in the world was set to come out on national television, and like many trans activists, I had a knot in my stomach. A litany of questions swirled in my head: What was Bruce Jenner going to say? How were they going to present their transition? How were they going to talk about the trans community? Would they make note of the fact that their story was only one of many? Would they acknowledge the privilege that they have as a white, wealthy trans woman? Would they help move the trans community forward on matters of national and local policy?

I gnawed my lip nervously as I sat down to watch the interview. Twitter at the ready, I prepared for the worst.

But within the first three minutes of the special, my anxiety subsided into quiet admiration. I wasn't quite sure what I'd expected, but it certainly wasn't this.

I expected Bruce to be composed, poised, prepped and polished. I expected them to have on a glamorous outfit befitting a Jenner. I expected them to present themself to the world for the first time as a gorgeous, cisgender-passing woman. I expected them to have their guard up and to have rigorously rehearsed answers to each and every question.

I saw none of that. What Bruce presented to the world was not a transitioned woman, but a woman in transition. They presented themself in a simple blue shirt, little makeup, black slip-on shoes and a pair of imminently parental white socks. They were not glammed up or made-up -- they even began their interview with a ponytail.

The Bruce Jenner we saw was not glamorous. The Bruce Jenner we saw was vulnerable. And that makes all of the difference.

We can't underestimate the power of trans people sharing their vulnerability, because it is so rare and so precious. As a genderqueer person, I feel constant pressure not to be vulnerable. In order for my femininity to be respected and valued by others, I feel pressure to be polished, to wear the highest heels, to put on the brightest lipstick and to sport the most gorgeous outfits. I feel like I have to be conventionally beautiful (in the cissexist, misogynist, racist, imperialist sense of the term) so that other people can learn to respect the transgender and genderqueer community. If I don't present myself as conventionally beautiful, people consistently dismiss my femininity and my genderqueer identity.

More than that, I feel that I have to be composed. As the token trans person in many people's lives, I have to know the answer when someone asks a question about the trans community. Because I'm so visible, I have to be a spokesperson. I have to put my guard up, say the right things and present 100 percent certainty in my gender identity.

But the reality is that gender identity doesn't work that way. No one is ever 100 percent certain in their gender identity, because gender identity is a journey, not a destination. Everyone -- whether you're transgender or cisgender -- is learning more about their gender identity throughout their lifetime.

What was so powerful and surprising about Bruce's interview was that they admitted they didn't have all of the answers yet. From using the pronoun "he" for the whole interview, to discussing their uncertain feelings about their sexual orientation, Bruce presented the world with a work in progress, not a final product. They showed us all that it is okay to be trans without having all of the answers. They showed us that it is okay to come out as trans even while you're figuring things out. They showed us that you don't have to know how to explain everything in order to be embraced, and that you don't have to fully pass as a woman in order to exist and be respected as a woman.

We can't underestimate the cultural significance of Bruce's vulnerability. By showing their vulnerability to the world, and by asking the world to embrace them nonetheless, Bruce provided a powerful model for trans acceptance. As trans people, we don't only need support and acceptance once we have transitioned. In fact, support and acceptance are even more vital when we are transitioning, because it is during those early days of our gender exploration that we are most vulnerable.

One of the tenderest moments in my life was the moment when I first walked around in high heels publicly. As I left my dorm room and stepped into the world, I was mortified. I was scared because I had never worn heels in public before, but more than that, I was scared because I didn't fully understand what it meant that I wanted to wear high heels in the first place. I hadn't yet put together the pieces of my genderqueer identity -- clarity about my identity would only come years later.

In those vulnerable early moments when I first began expressing my genderqueer identity, the support I received from my friends was life changing. The support I received when I was still uncertain about my identity gave me the space I needed to claim my identity and love myself in new ways.

That is why Bruce Jenner's vulnerability is so important; because it helps millions of people learn to support trans people when we need it most. Moreover, Bruce set a profound example for young trans people across the country. Through embracing vulnerability and showing it publicly, Bruce helped a generation of young trans kids learn that you don't have to have all the answers before you come out. You can be yourself and be supported by your family not only when you know who you are, but as you're learning how to explain who you are.

So to Bruce Jenner -- and the thousands of transgender or gender non-binary people across the world who are courageous enough to live authentically -- thank you for your vulnerability. The world is a kinder and more empathetic place because of it.

Note: There has been a lot of public debate about what pronouns journalists should use when referring to Bruce Jenner. Because Bruce has not clarified their pronouns publicly, I have chosen to use the gender-neutral pronouns they/them/their for the purposes of this article.

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