"It's just a snapshot of what we have to go through just to live": Caitlyn Jenner, trans activism and the long road to acceptance

A New York Times documentary series details the trials and traumas of transgender people's fight for justice

By Jenny Kutner
Published June 15, 2015 3:45PM (EDT)
 Caitlyn Jenner       (Vanity Fair/YouTube screenshot)
Caitlyn Jenner (Vanity Fair/YouTube screenshot)

There are hundreds of thousands of transgender Americans who are not Caitlyn Jenner. They are on our minds more often these days primarily because of the former Olympian and reality star, whose recent coming out has offered a long-awaited and much-needed boon to trans visibility. But as observers have already pointed out, community visibility isn't quite everything: While Jenner's joyful transition has presented an excellent example of what acceptance looks like, her economic privilege also offers an opportunity to discuss the life-or-death struggles -- to attain healthcare, employment, housing and security -- that shape many trans people's everyday reality.

That discussion has been ongoing among transgender activists and allies in the LGBTQ community, who have worked for decades to fight for recognition, rights and freedom, but is only now opening up in the mainstream. And, as Trans Women of Color Collective executive director Lourdes Ashley Hunter explains to the New York Times in a new documentary short on trans activism, that conversation must necessarily be about violence.

"I can remember a time where I went to take a shower, and a man came into the shower and raped me," Hunter said of her time in a men's homeless shelter, where she was forced to stay after a women's shelter would not accept her gender identity. "He had a razor blade. There was nothing that I could do. When I went to the shelter staff to tell them what had happened to me, they blamed me. They told me that I didn't have to be there -- that it was my choice to live this 'lifestyle' that I was living.

"And so, for me," Hunter added, "having to have those experiences is just a snapshot of what we have to go through just to live."

The Retro Report documentary, which lays out the road from 1960s trans rights marches to #CallMeCaitlyn, highlights the work of earlier trans activists that has contributed to the public visibility of figures such as Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, Chelsea Manning and, of course, Jenner. Watch the short film below:

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