Quora Question: Is Caitlyn Jenner a Role Model for Trans Youth?

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Former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner will write a book with Buzz Bissinger, a Pulitzer winner, Grand Central Publishing announced on January 19. Carlo Allegri/Reuters

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Answer from Jae Alexis Lee:

Whether Caitlyn Jenner is worthy of admiration or not, let's talk about some things she has done.

Caitlyn Jenner, in coming out on a national stage, has provided a cultural touchstone for trans people nationwide (and yes, worldwide too.) Trans children who may never have seen Carmen Carrera on RuPaul's Drag Race (or since then), they likely never saw Laverne Cox on Orange is the New Black, and there's very little chance they saw Aydian Dowling on the cover of Men's Health.

Caitlyn brought the discussion of trans identity into American homes in a way no other person yet had. She broke walls, opened doors and showed an entire generation of questioning and trans youth that being trans is in fact a thing, that there's a word for what they're feeling. That puts her in a position to be a role model.

Caitlyn has also transitioned in a way that I don't want to call easy but in a way that's very different from how most trans people transition. Caitlyn has never had to worry about whether she can afford surgical interventions for her dysphoria, she's never had to worry about whether she can even get to a doctor for hormones… she hasn't had to confront those problems. At the same time, I don't know many trans people who have had to face constant media scrutiny, paparazzi attention and criticism for literally everything she says in public spaces. While I might cringe sometimes when she speaks, I have no difficulty respecting her for facing the unique challenges of transitioning on a global stage that she faces.

Since transitioning, Caitlyn has made an effort to make a positive impact for trans people. While she may say some cringeworthy things, and I'm not sad to see her show leaving television, I won't deny that she's doing things to materially contribute to improving lives for transgender people. Sales of her signature lipstick support a transgender initiative from Mac's AIDS fund, and she's continued to engage in opportunities to raise funds or directly contribute to organizations that help trans people.

Caitlyn Jenner isn't perfect but very few of us are. While I've been a longstanding critic of many of the things she's said, she's demonstrated a willingness to learn and a drive to make a positive impact for trans people. I can respect that, and I think most people who aren't convinced that any charity effort by a celebrity is a publicity stunt can respect that as well. I've said she needs to do better, but I see her actually doing better, and that too I can respect.

Caitlyn isn't a role model for me, I look more to Janet Mock, Carmen Carrera, Laverne Cox and several other notable trans women as role models, but she is a role model for many people, and she isn't unworthy of that position. Most importantly, she's aware that people look to her as a role model, and her actions indicate that she takes that responsibility seriously. So, for me, even if I'm critical of her, and even if I don't look to her as a role model, I can easily respect her and I can understand why she would be a role model to others.

Why do people think of Caitlyn Jenner as a role model when she didn't do anything? originally appeared on Quora—the knowledge-sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions: