If I have ever suggested that Caitlyn Jenner be considered a role model, I sincerely apologize. I defended her coming out, I stood against the mocking halloween costume, and I still hold to those positions … but I was flat-out wrong if I ever said that people should look up to her. In fact, I was wrong in my first piece about her when I suggested that, given her fame, her coming out would be perhaps the most positive thing that has happened to bring Trans issues into the public dialog. That would have been the case had Caitlyn decided to exercise a little bit of humility and act like a decent human being. But, unfortunately, she did what she always does – acted like the narcissistic and shallow person she is, and served as a device to de-legitimize the Trans community with her unique brand of privileged ignorance. Yes, I was wrong about Caitlyn if I suggested she be seen as a role model, and I’m sorry.
For those not aware of what has me so angry, here’s what Caitlyn said in a recent interview with TIME. “I think it’s much easier for a trans woman or a trans man who authentically kind of looks and plays the role. So what I call my presentation. I try to take that seriously. I think it puts people at ease. If you’re out there and, to be honest with you, if you look like a man in a dress, it makes people uncomfortable. So the first thing I can do is try to present myself well. I want to dress well. I want to look good.”
Others are outraged about this and unpacking it, and I’m going to do the same. There are so many problems with this statement that it’s difficult to decide where to start. First of all, and perhaps the most obvious point, is that the initial sentence delegitimizes Trans people who identify as non-binary. It’s clear that Caitlyn’s perspective does not include ALL Trans people, and that is problematic. Second, the entire comment oozes of privilege. The vast majority of Trans people are not able to afford the massive amount of money she spent on facial feminization surgery, etc; and to suggest that they aren’t taking their presentation “seriously” is a slap in the face. Caitlyn Jenner is so unaware of the world around her, that I shudder to think some people actually take her words to heart. Some further thoughts:
: Let’s not ignore the implication that Trans people are “playing a role.” This is perhaps the most serious problem with what Caitlyn said. I don’t know if that’s really how she feels, but if it is, that she is playing the role of a woman, what are the implications? I hate to be guilty of the de-legitimizing tactics I’m accusing her of, but given what she said I think it’s fair to wonder about her authenticity. How damaging would it be in the arena of public perception if it turned out that she really believes her own words? The most famous Trans woman in the world not a woman at all, but just playing a role? Looking the “part,” instead of looking like a “man in a dress?” I don’t want to think this. I hope it was just a poor choice of words.
: The “man in a dress” narrative is not new for the Jenner/Kardashian crew. Khloe Kardashian used it in an interview a few months ago, and Caitlyn is more than happy to just throw it around as if nobody gets hurt by what she says. “Man in a dress” is extremely harmful and transphobic, as it delegitimizes Trans women entirely. Instead of being called what she is – a woman – a Trans woman is called a “man in a dress.” This terminology is unacceptable.
: I would like to say that I hope Ms. Jenner feels ashamed of herself for doing more harm than good, but I really don’t think she cares. She’s made it clear on multiple occasions that she doesn’t care. As for making people feel uncomfortable … so what? That’s really their problem. If I choose to put on a dress and go to the mall, and someone has a problem with that, too bad. You’re uncomfortable? Try pretending to be someone you’re not for most of your life, and then tell me about being uncomfortable.
Caitlyn Jenner won the Arthur Ashe Courage Award for her courage in famously coming out on the cover of Vanity Fair. She was short listed for TIME magazine’s 2015 Person of the Year (placing 7th). The reality show documenting her transition and life as Cait, is putting her thoughts and ideas on display, a dangerous thing when you think about how many struggling teens in search of information might stumble across her completely disconnected and misinformed ideas. While Hollywood and many of my fellow leftists praise and celebrate her, I simply cannot partake. Caitlyn Jenner is a self-absorbed, unaware product of privilege. She is continuously asked to speak on issues she knows nothing about, being given unearned credit as an authority on LGBTQ+ issues. She is against marriage equality, she doesn’t understand the struggle faced by LGBTQ+ people who don’t have millions of dollars to buy friends, and I don’t think she cares about them anyway. I don’t think Caitlyn Jenner cares one iota about anyone but herself, and from where I’m sitting that seems obvious.
If we are looking for Trans role models, how about Laverne Cox? How about Tiq Milan? How about the countless others who are down-to-earth people doing something positive for the Trans community? How about the Trans people living authentically and helping in real ways, instead of taking to reality TV for their own grandstanding? We have a lot of Trans role models. Caitlyn Jenner is NOT one of them.
One more thing: there is a new book out called “Outlasting the Gay Revolution: 8 Principles For Long Term Cultural Change.” Don’t waste your money on it, it was written by Dr. Michael Brown and isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. I bring it up because his primary argument is that our movement is self-defeating. When these things happen – the ‘Drop the T’ petition, Caitlyn Jenner causing outrage among the community she is supposed to be a supportive member of – people see what Dr. Brown has to say coming to fruition. I disagree of course, it seems to me that mass opposition to those ‘bad apples’ is a sign of solidarity, but the religious right sees it differently. We can’t stop Caitlyn Jenner from saying stupid things – she is a Republican after all – but we can be aware of what our opponents are saying so that we can argue against it. And one of the things we can start with is rejecting toxic influences like Caitlyn Jenner as role models.