It was one of the most iconic images of 2015.
A woman in a white bustier with a half-smile on her lips, looking saucily down the lens of the camera.
Arms back, bust forward, it was an image of confidence. An image of a woman who is comfortable, sexy and feminine.
Caitlyn Jenner’s cover of Vanity Fair with the headline “Call me Caitlyn” defined a year in which the trans* community was more visible than ever, where high-profile people talked about their identity, and refused to be defined by the idea of only two life-long options for their gender.
2015 wasn’t the year that people suddenly forgot which bathrooms to use.
And it wasn’t the year that being transgender or gender diverse was invented – there have always been people whose genitals haven’t defined how they feel.
But it was the year we started seriously talking about the notion that, for many people, the gender they were allocated at birth doesn’t fit how they feel inside.
We started to see transgender people on our TVs. Importantly, we started seeing trans* characters on TV actually played by actors who themselves identify as transgender. Sophia on Orange Is The New Black (on Netflix) was played with touching nuance by Laverne Cox, and Jamie Clayton played a trans* hacker in one of the most healthy and supportive relationships on TV in Sense8 (also on Netflix).
The Amazon series, Transparent (shown in Australia on Stan), won two Golden Globes in January and five Emmys in September – with a Best Actor Golden Globe and Emmy for Jeffrey Tambor, who plays the lead – a transwoman named Maura, a retired political science professor who comes out to her family about always identifying as a woman, despite living as a man their entire lives.
This year, some prominent brands went gender-neutral. Facebook provides more than 70 gender options and allows users to choose their pronouns. In August, Target removed gender-based signs in bedding and toy aisles. Clothing ranges, underpants, fragrances – all started to embrace the idea that gender is less and less relevant to what people actually enjoy.
In an interview in June 2015, Ruby Rose schooled everyone on what it means to be gender fluid: “I’m not a guy; I don’t really feel like a woman, but obviously I was born one. So, I’m somewhere in the middle, which – in my perfect imagination – is like having the best of both sexes.”
Also in June 2015, Miley Cyrus announced that she was gender fluid: “I’m just equal,” she said. “I’m just even. It has nothing to do with any parts of me or how I dress or how I look. It’s literally just how I feel… Being a girl isn’t what I hate, it’s the box that I get put into.”
Transgender model Andreja Pejic became the first transgender model to be featured in Vogue. Loiza Lamers, a transwoman, won Holland’s Next Top Model. In March 2015, 15-year-old YouTube superstar Jazz Jennings was the first transgender teen to appear in a Clean and Clear skincare commercial, and she had her own reality TV show (I am Jazz) started in July 2015.
While it’s much easier to discuss, change or otherwise embrace your gender identity as a wealthy, successful and privileged star – the internet has also been flooded with images of young people being accepted for how they feel, rather than their anatomy.
In February, Brisbane mum Renee Fabish shared a slideshow that she had made about the gender transition of Milla who had always felt like a boy. Renee wrote, “Hello my friends and family… I’d love you to watch this slideshow I put together… It explains some major changes that are underway for Milla and our family… Milla needs our support now more than ever!!” It was shared rapidly across Australia and around the world.
You can watch Milla’s journey here:
The sheer joy on the face of Corey Maison being surprised with her first package of hormone therapy treatments made her the face of transitioning teens in September.
But sadly, as gender-diverse people became increasingly visible, 2015 was also a year defined by transphobia and violence against the trans community and people who buck gender norms (if you search “trans woman” in Google, the first search suggestion is “trans woman murdered”). A transwoman is murdered every 29 hours, yet many of these crimes fail to be reported – or when they are, the details of the victim’s gender diversity dominates the story.
At the very end of 2014, Queensland’s Courier Mail ran an obscene headline when a transwoman, Mayang Prasetyo, was murdered by her partner (who then mutilated and cooked her corpse) in Brisbane. “Monster chef and the she-male” screamed the cover, and inside the paper, Ms Prasetyo was referred to as a “lady-boy”.
As more people feel that they can live openly with their true gender identity, they become a target of violence. They are also disproportionately represented in suicide statistics. As 2015 started, we heard about the suicide of Leelah Alcorn, who had been assigned a male identity at birth, but who came out as a female to her parents at 14. Instead of being embraced and supported, she was rejected and sent to conversion therapy. Leelah wrote a devastating suicide note on her Tumblr hoping that her death began a dialogue about gender identity before she walked into traffic at age 17.
Leelah wrote: “After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was… I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong. If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids… My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s f***ed up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.”
The only light that emerges from these events is that these deaths weren’t invisible. We saw these women. We saw them and we spoke about them. The support they deserved to receive in life, they finally received in death. And hopefully that gave strength to others. Not just the strength to come out, but the strength to be better parents, to be better friends, to be better allies and better humans.
Because that’s the positive that has come from 2015.
2015 has allowed gender-diverse people to edge a little towards the light. To see their own stories and faces reflected in the media and on the TV. To feel like they can live a proud life.
It was the year when people who may have always felt a bit different found words to describe how they feel. It was the year that people put up their hands and said: Yes. That’s me. This is who I am.
And the year that the rest of the world said the one thing they had always failed to say: Welcome.
MORE: Amy Stockwell explains the year of gender fluidity on the Mamamia Out Loud podcast: