Caitlyn Jenner, And Why The Music World Needs To Do More To Support Trans Rights

Electro-pop act MS MR will be donating a portion of their tour’s ticket sale profits to a trans-rights charity. The production half of the duo, Max Hershenow, explains the importance of supporting individual expression…

I’m mostly exhausted by the idea of trying to keep up with the Kardashians, but I’ve been fascinated by the emergence of Caitlyn Jenner – formerly known as Bruce Jenner, who recently divorced Kris Jenner, mother of Kim Kardashian – as the face of the trans community. While it’s immensely exciting to have such a high profile advocate for trans rights, Caitlyn’s high profile, high budget transition comes with complicated questions of class and race in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, and her hyper-feminised coming out has forced me to think about gender norms and expectations in the context of my own sexuality and gender expression.

Understanding my sexuality in terms of class has been a personal evolution, and I’ve begun to position my sexuality in the context of relative financial and racial privilege. Although I grew up gay in the presumably sexually repressive environments of rural Idaho, Honduras and Ecuador, I honestly can’t think of a time when my gayness got in the way of what I’ve wanted to do: my family and friends have always been immensely supportive, my college peers prided themselves on their openness and queerness, and even as I’ve spent the past four years in a more public position as a member of the band MS MR, my sexuality seems to be a nonissue for most journalists and fans, or a reason to like us more.

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I’m immensely grateful to have been given the space and support to define my own sexual identity, and to have the freedom to continue letting my relationship to it evolve, but it’s important to recognise that my experience is not just a matter of luck, but because – at least on the surface – my gayness fits into the socially prescribed boxes of sexuality, and because my middle class upbringing in a white American family comes with the privilege of sexual self-confidence.

On a more extreme level, Caitlyn Jenner’s transition, while absolutely a milestone for trans visibility, must be understood within the context of racial privilege and the bizarre world of reality TV. Most importantly, her enormous wealth allows her to present herself as a heterocentric ideal of white feminine beauty; beyond simply raising the profile of the trans community, I hope her coming out will also help to inspire a conversation on gender expectations that helps us recognise the diversity of gender expression and sexuality. This is an opportunity to question our inherent understanding of what it means to be female or male, gay or straight, and anything in between.

As a band, MS MR’s core ethos evolves around individual expression and a deep-seated belief in equality, self-determination and equal opportunity, and we feel we have a responsibility to bring attention to organisations that work towardsthose causes. Because of this, we’ve chosen to give a portion of our ticketsales on our upcoming tour to Third Wave Fund, a grassroots fund that supports feminist, queer and trans-rights organisations. While Caitlyn has obviously had a major impact on the immediacy of the culture-wide conversation on trans rights, the grassroots activism sponsored by TWF is equally important in challenging deeply embedded assumptions about gender and sexuality. Their work with organisations like the Brown Boi Project, which is focused on providing alternative spaces for gender expression to undermine traditional expectations of masculinity and femininity, especially in communities of colour, feels exceptionally important.

Diverse sexualities and genders make communities vibrant. While Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out has jumpstarted the conversation, there’s more work to do to provide safe and supportive spaces for nonstandard gender expression.

For more information visit thirdwavefund.org

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