Yes, she’s stunning. You don’t make it to the cover of Vanity Fair without being arrestingly glamorous. With her long, tousled hair and movie star pose, Caitlyn Jenner, as shot by Annie Leibovitz for the magazine’s June issue, looks for all the world like any previous notable cover star. She’s even sporting a champagne-colored bustier, just like previous cover girls Kate Upton and Katy Perry. And after spending the better part of six decades “living a lie,” the Olympic champion and reality star formerly known as Bruce Jenner deserves to look and feel as beautiful as she wants to be, and Vanity Fair deserves all due thunderous applause for putting a 65 year-old trans woman front and center on its pages and cover. This is a breakthrough moment in trans acceptance, and you’d better believe that you and I are privileged as hell to be witnessing it. Now let’s just try to build on it, and extend that acceptance beyond the glossy and gorgeous.
Gender isn’t just, as Jenner told Diane Sawyer earlier this spring, “my heart and my soul and all I do in life.” As RuPaul once observed, “We’re born naked, and the rest is drag.” We define ourselves by our exteriors. So it makes sense that Jenner, as a wealthy television star, appears to now be leaning in the direction of a particular form of Beverly Hills beauty. She plans soon to go through what ABC refers to as“facial feminization surgery.” That she can, as a trans person and a senior citizen, be sincerely called beautiful by the fashion world is a luxury that she possesses. When I first saw her Vanity Fair cover Monday, with a new chic look that recalls model Janice Dickinson — or, it has been observed, the lovely Jessica Lange — I couldn’t help wondering what the response would have been if she’d been photographed looking more like Maura from “Transparent” instead. I thought of gorgeous, sexy trans man Aydian Dowling, and wondered what the journey is like for those who don’t have his charisma and buff body.
You don’t have to be transgender to comprehend that the world is a more pleasant place if you have money and looks. But as Laverne Cox so eloquently pointed out in her Tumblr post about Caitlyn Jenner Tuesday, “I must echo these comments in the vernacular, ‘Yasss Gawd! Werk Caitlyn! Get it!’ But this has made me reflect critically on my own desires to ‘work a photo shoot,’ to serve up various forms of glamour, power, sexiness, body affirming, racially empowering images of the various sides of my black, trans womanhood.”