This week, Caitlyn Jenner made her debut on the cover of Vanity Fair. The reaction to this from the rest of the media was largely supportive. It was also, however, just a little bit awkward. The AP write-up of Jenner’s debut initially referred to Caitlyn as "Bruce" and as “he.” The Washington Post, in a similar vein, retracted a headline that referred to Jenner as “Bruce.” An analysis of the tweets about Jenner's Vanity Fair shoot announced that “people are generally using the correct gendered pronoun when mentioning Caitlyn’s official Twitter account,” finding that, in the first flurry of discussion, 1,179 tweeters used “she,” compared to 176 who used “he.” This was presented as good news—evidence, essentially, of the progress that’s been made when it comes to progress itself.
Which it was, sort of. Compare the response to Jenner's transformation to the reaction two years ago when Chelsea Manning’s attorney announced that Manning identified as a woman, and wished to be referred to with female pronouns. News organizations debated whether she should actually be referred to as “a woman” named “Chelsea,” and Manning ended up taking the matter to court, which ruled that she should be referred to, indeed, as a woman. What has been pretty much taken for granted in the conversation about Jenner is implied by the media reports’ quick corrections of their errors: the idea that Jenner herself should get to decide how she is identified by other people. The GLAAD guidelines that advise that one should “use the descriptive term preferred by the individual” have been adopted by mainstream news organizations. There’s a sense—as people struggle to show support using the right pronouns, the right adjectives, the right assumptions—that there are, in fact, correct terms to be used: “she,” not “he,” “woman,” not “man,” “Caitlyn,” not “Bruce.” These terms are correct because, as GLAAD says, they are preferred by the individual.