Former Police Commission president, one-time candidate for supervisor and now executive director of the SF Human Rights Commission, Teresa Sparks spoke with KRON 4 yesterday as the media was flooded with the images and fresh Vanity Fair profile of Caitlyn Jenner. Sparks is careful to point out, as a number of trans people have in the last 24 hours, that Jenner comes from a place of extreme privilege, which sets her distinctly apart from the vast majority of the trans community. "If you have a lot of money," she says, "you can do those kinds of things... facial surgery..."
But, overall, she acknowledges that someone as famous as Jenner is going to have a big, positive impact, regardless. "Anytime somebody like her can get 15 million, 17 million, 20 million people start understanding 'What is transgender?', then that makes a big difference. That could be a movement shift."
She notes how extraordinary it is, too, how many hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers Caitlyn gained in just a matter of hours as of this morning it's up to 2 million, and Jenner tweeted last night that reaching 1 million in four hours was already a world record. Sparks says that most transgender organizations don't even have a fraction of that number of followers, or that kind of reach.
Sparks is careful to say, though, that we shouldn't expect Jenner to become an activist overnight, and that she will need to time to get comfortable in her own skin. "Rightfully so, it should be about her right now. She's going to retain this audience appeal... but it's first about her getting comfortable, and becoming who she is." She explains how Jenner went through ten hours of facial feminization surgery, and would likely have panic attacks (like she had following the surgery) as well as "up and down emotions" in the coming months.
"She's a strong, committed person, and she'll get through it," says Sparks. "But it's not going to be all glamour." Sparks also warns how someone as famous as Caitlyn is going to suffer the trauma of transitioning under great public scrutiny, with cameras seeking out every flaw, which is likely only going to make the process harder.
In a moving new essay on her blog, trans actress Laverne Cox also notes the difficulties most trans people face in trying to conform to cisnormative beauty standards as Jenner is clearly trying to do, and can do with great wealth. "There are many trans folks because of genetics and/or lack of material access who will never be able to embody these standards," she writes. "More importantly many trans folks don’t want to embody them and we shouldn’t have to to be seen as ourselves and respected as ourselves."