WashU Expert: Caitlyn Jenner may be Turning Point in America’s Awareness of Transgender Issues


Caitlyn Jenner’s first public appearance on the cover of Vanity Fair has sparked quite a stir. The Twitter account for Jenner, formerly Bruce Jenner, reached 1 million followers in just over four hours.

Her story reminds us that even the most personal decisions are linked to broader social conditions, said an expert on later-in-life gender transitions at Washington University in St. Louis.

“For many people who transition in later life, this opportunity stems from decades of transgender activism and community organizing,” said Vanessa Fabbre, PhD, assistant professor at the Brown School, whose research focuses on exploring issues at the intersection of gender, identity and aging.

“In the United States, transgender and gender non-conforming people have been working tirelessly for years to fight social injustices and expand opportunities for gender expression,” she said.

“As Jenner acknowledged, transgender struggles existed long before she came into the spotlight, and there is still a long way to go before our society is safe and affirming for people who embody and express non-normative identities,” Fabbre said.

“I admire Caitlyn Jenner’s openness and honesty, and I hope the public interest she has sparked will be a turning point in Americans’ awareness of these issues, as well as respect for those who have been working to make this moment possible.”

Fabbre’s most recent paper, “Gender Transitions in Later Life: A Queer Perspective on Successful Aging,” was published this year in The Gerontologist, the journal of the Gerontological Society of America. The study explores the experiences of transgender persons who contemplate or pursue a gender transition in later life in order to develop culturally diverse conceptualizations of health and wellness in older age.

Fabbre and her partner, Jess T. Dugan, are working on “To Survive on This Shore,” a book and website project of photographs and interviews highlighting transgender and gender variant older adults.

Fabbre is available for media interviews at vfabbre@wustl.edu .