Irish transgender community identifies with Caitlyn Jenner

Activist says real change can only come through legislation


Vanity FairIreland’s transgender people are celebrating the coming out of a striking cailin, Caitlyn Jenner, only a week after the same sex marriage referendum was passed.

Hollywood money can buy anything it seems, including the medical know-how to turn you from a physical man into a woman. Money and fame can acquire the best photography and styling to ensure that, whoever you are, you look like a bombshell on the cover of July’s Vanity Fair. A brilliant PR machine can transform even a 65-year-old woman who, until a few weeks ago, was a male with a ponytail suffering from gender dysphoria, into the world’s spokesperson for being transgender.

Yet while acknowledging that fame and wealth can speed things along, Ireland’s transgender community is still feeling affirmed by the rebirth of Olympic gold medal winner Bruce Jenner as Caitlyn Jenner. Despite the Yes victory in the Equal Marriage Referendum, transgender people have been feeling as though the “T” for trans has been left out of LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender], says Broden Giambrone, chief executive of Teni (Transgender Equality Network Ireland).

Even Barack Obama has recognised Jenner’s triumph, tweeting “It takes courage to share your story,” in response to Jenner’s first ever tweet. She broke the Twitter world record within four hours, receiving over 1 million tweets. Obama was the previous record-holder.

"New legislation allowing trans people to determine their own gender on their birth certificates but only with a medical certificate is currently going through the political process here," says Giambrone. Teni want transgender people to be legally allowed to determine their own genders without a medical certificate. 

Giambrone (33) is a “trans man”, meaning that he was identified at birth as a female and then in his late teens transitioned to becoming a male, which he has been for the past 14 years. 

“If the Government does introduce progressive legislation, it would be a great example internationally, but as it stands now Ireland is the only country in the EU that has no process for gender recognition,” he added.

For trans people to be able to catch up with lesbians, gays and bisexuals in terms of rights, would help, he adds. “When I came out as trans, my mother was quite scared, fearing that I would never get a job, or find love, be beaten up or killed – which are normal mother worries. What became apparent to her is that she could have a miserable depressed daughter or a son who has grown up to be quite confident.

“Caitlyn Jenner’s experience is quite different from the average experience, in that she has money and privilege. Most of us grow up far away from Hollywood. But it’s when you listen to her speak about her own journey, especially in the Diane Sawyer [TV] interview before the Vanity Fair cover, that she resonates with a lot of trans people.

“Some trans people would say it’s a media spectacle, but for people who are just starting out on the journey of exploring their identity, to see someone who speaks as confidently and honestly as she does, she’s a great role model,” he adds.

Jenner’s fame before his transition was renewed when he became a Kardashian husband and step-father, often displaying annoyance as he dealt with the female hormone roadshow that is the Kardashians in the Keeping Up With the Kardashians reality TV show. What no one knew then was that he wanted to be female like his beautiful step-daughters – and a woman who could turn heads.

“Family support is one of the most important things for a trans person and the Kardashians have been supportive,” says Giambrone.

Jenner’s transformation from male athlete to female sex goddess appears to have taken place with indecent haste, but no two trans people follow the same path. Giambrone says that “for most trans people it is something you have been struggling with for a very long time. Jenner told Sawyer about those experiences of struggling with gender identity for many years.”

According Teni, Irish trans people suffer from suicidality, with 78 per cent considering it and 30 per cent attempting it. “Part of it is the struggle inside yourself, part of it is the negative messaging about what it means to be trans. They feel they won’t be able to have a happy, successful life so it’s great to have Caitlyn Jenner show people that while she is privileged, even at the age of 65 she is living an authentic life,” says Giambrone.

“It’s so important for us [the trans people] to access health care family support as we transition, which can dramatically transform your mental health, but in Ireland it’s not easy to get what you need,” he adds. Medical procedures to assist transitioning are covered by the public health system in Ireland, he says. However, cosmetic surgery is not.

“For most people, access to the care and support they need would have a deeper impact in Ireland than Caitlyn Jenner does in Hollywood.”

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