Caitlyn Jenner Explains What It Means To "Become a Woman"

AP

It hasn't even been a year since the world was introduced to Caitlyn Jenner. Over the past several months, she's used her high-profile coming out and transition to educate the public about both what it means to be transgender as well as question gender's rigidity. Jenner, who was named to the 2015 Glamour Women of the Year list in no small part due to her efforts, used her acceptance speech at Monday night's awards ceremony to continue to do just that.

Her realization: "When it comes to gender, everybody in this room is on a journey," Jenner began. "We are constantly learning, growing as human beings, learning about ourselves."

While many think of gender as a fixed concept, plenty of scholarship has argued gender is actually a social construct. Jenner seems to agree, and quoted the 20th-century French scholar Simone de Beauvoir's thoughts on the matter. 

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"You are not born a woman, you become one," Jenner quoted. "Words I live by."

But this realization was hardly simple for Jenner to come to, she said, noting that for "many, many years" she lived in isolation, as "an outsider." And she now knows she's hardly the only one.

"There is a segment of this population, when it comes to gender, there is massive confusion, deep down inside," she said. "It has caused problems throughout the world — because this is an issue about humanity, it doesn't have borders."

Her journey: Coming out was "by far the best thing" Jenner ever did, she said. "Now, actually, I like going out, and I like being myself. And in doing that, it's been amazing the opportunity we have for change, for people to understand this issue because it's so difficult."

In fact Jenner — who has certainly been demonized and attacked for her identity — has done much to raise awareness about the issues transgender people face. Over the course of her show, I Am Cait, for example, Jenner has visited the family of Kyler Prescott, a 14-year-old transgender boy who committed suicide in May, to raise awareness about the disproportionate prevalence of mental health issues in the trans community and has elevated the work activists associated with the Human Rights Campaign have been doing for years.

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Jenner also gave credit to the activists and public trans figures who paved the way for her own advocacy, including Laverne Cox, Janet Mock and Geena Rocero. 

"What I have learned about this community is what a great group of women there are out there, who have worked so hard to be authentic to themselves and authentic to womanhood," Jenner said.

This message is meaningful for all individuals but is arguably especially salient for transgender youths, many of whom face serious obstacles. For example, an estimated 40% of homeless youth is LGBT-identified, and the majority of that population is homeless due to family rejection on the basis of these identities, according to one study by the Williams Institute, a University of California, Los Angeles, think tank. Trans youth also experience higher rates of mental illness-related issues. But studies also show that when trans youth can authentically express their gender, their mental health improves. 

Jenner's speech was more than just a means to accepting an award, therefore, but another opportunity taken to publicly model acceptance — both of one's most authentic self and of others — proving once and for all that few recipients could be more worthy.