My opinion of Caitlyn Jenner has been one of much dissent. From the moment she appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair, I championed her bravery and commended her for being, historically, one of the first highly visible trans women to share her journey with the world at large as it happened. The first time she uttered her name before millions of viewers, she became a cultural phenomenon, skyrocketing into the stratosphere of celebrity the likes only her children had seen previously. I was not necessarily a “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” fan and had admittedly only seen a few episodes over the years. However, one thing was clear, Bruce, the family patriarch, was often chided when he spoke, and left sulking quietly in the shadow of the monolithic fame the Kardashian’s had accrued.
As the media hounded Caitlyn with speculation regarding her gender status in the years leading up to her confirming, once and for all, to Diane Sawyer that she was transitioning, I felt nothing but sympathy. My heart hung heavy in my chest as Radar Online posted images of her weeping in her car prior to her coming out. It felt like their pursuit of her went well beyond the compromise of her privacy, but the lengths tabloid journalists and paparazzi went to became nothing less than inhumane and dehumanizing. They documented every doctor visit, every surgical procedure, publishing photos that sold to the highest bidder as we witnessed the media dissect a human being like an animal, splayed out for their poking and prodding. It was journalism without conscience, and pop culture eagerly consumed it. The story behind the photos is one that possesses far more gravity. We do not know the impact, emotionally or psychologically, that the ceasless stalking was taking on a vulnerable person during an incredibly sensitive period of their life. Part of me wanted to rescue her. I could not possibly imagine the burden, in excess of the taxing process of transitioning her gender, than to be so routinely mocked, humiliated and displayed for the sake of mass media gossip.
Millions tuned in to watch her confirm what the world had suspected for years, and she seemed happy, having reconciled her gender within herself, her family and friends, but not without great personal sacrifice. As a public figure, Caitlyn put the word “Transgender” on the lips of the entire world. I suspect that she thought her disclosure would lay to rest all the harassment and speculation she had endured for so long and finally… maybe… she could move on with her life, striding forward to resume some semblance of normalcy.
Instead, she appeared to capitalize on it further, inking a lucrative deal with the producers of Keeping Up With the Kadashians to star in her own spin off. The much decried I am Cait. It was a two season series wherein Caitlyn demonstrated her shocking lack of Trans history, education and our ongoing struggle, both politically and socially for acceptance. To her Transgender allies who viewed her as the Great Trans Hope, she outed herself as a staunch republican and avid Trump supporter- despite his anti-LGBT alignment with evangelical conservatives who viewed us as harbingers of the downfall of moral society. Caitlyn appeared tone deaf to our position as a marginalized community in desperate need of recognition. Despite being flanked by Transgender and gender fluid icons, including Jenny Boylen, Kate Bornstein, and Candis Cayne who joined the cast of I Am Cait to use it as a platform of outreach and information, they found themselves locking horns with her instead of being empowered by her. At the time, I criticized Caitlyn harshly, justifiably, saying specifically “This is a person who didn’t want to become a woman; She wanted to become a Kardashian.” That’s genuinely how I felt. Caitlyn seemed more fascinated by flouncing around in couture fashions and sitting front row at New York Fashion Week shows than concerning herself with the plight of Trans Americans. Her ignorance; The perceived disinterest in the challenges and obstacles that Transgender people face every day seemed out of her orbit. She made reckless, damaging statements like this one to TIME magazine:
“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.” — Caitlyn Jenner
The words sent chills down my spine. Given that many Trans women place so much emphasis on “passibility” in our community that it has generated an intense self-hatred within them, I felt like she had just kicked those women in the face. Her privilege was undeniable, and despite transitioning, she demonstrated a lot of Male privilege and aggressive behavior on her show that was both alarming and disappointing. She would raise her voice to fellow cast mates who tried to inform her opinions and arrogantly shun their efforts to educate her. In one episode of the second season, Candis Cayne walked away, shutting herself in the back room of the Motorhome they were traveling across the country in. During her confessional, she said; “She just talks and is yelling at us and it is an uncomfortable situation.”
Indeed, watching the show became uncomfortable. It was painful to see a bevvy of highly qualified community leaders trying to talk a loose cannon off a ledge, and it wasn’t working. It resulted in more frustration than it did entertainment. Ultimately, the show was cancelled and Caitlyn, who voted for Donald Trump and donated to anti-LGBT politicians, was dubbed a traitor to her own community. The backlash was instantaneous. While simultaneously having Trans-Hate hurled her way by evangelical conservatives, alt-right extremists and bigots who kept referring to her as Bruce while making fun of her appearance, she was now persona non grata in her own community. It felt like she gave our opponents the stick to beat us with. So severe was the rejection of Caitlyn Jenner that even Trans community leaders rebuffed her participation in Trans-related events and petitioned against awarding her any honors. Trans activist, Ashlee Marie Preston, made headlines when she confronted Caitlyn at a charity event and said what most of us had been thinking.
The disservice she did to the Trans community had been immeasurable, and the sense of an opportunity lost is undeniable when one considers how a woman with such a powerful platform and visibility could have shaped ideas, opinions and opened the lines of communication ensuring the passage of accurate information about Trans people- especially for our trans identifying youth who are bombarded with hatred and live in fear every day of their lives, much in thanks to the administration that Caitlyn blindly, unapologetically supported.
Most Transgender people and our allies came to resent Caitlyn Jenner.
In fact, Cait seemed like a new four letter word that sent people curling back their lips in disgust. How could someone so smart, a passionate motivational speaker at one time, be so stupid? One can surmise that it’s the consequence of living as a highly privileged Republican male for 64 years, holding with great conviction conservative ideologies and indoctrinated world views- in a guest appearance on the daytime talk show, Ellen, Jenner said she considered herself a “Traditionalist” regarding marriage equality, and when pressed about whether or not she agreed with it, Jenner seemed apprehensive, conceding only that “It will be the law of the land.” Again, Caitlyn shot herself in the foot. She had left the world wondering how a member of a disenfranchised community can seem completely unaware of her own vulnerability to prejudice, bigotry and inequality. Perhaps she hadn’t considered the consequences of Transitioning? Maybe she just wanted to don the fancy Diane Von Furstenberg dresses and develop a makeup line with MAC cosmetics but hadn’t thought that she’d actually be considered “One of those people.” And now, here she was, whereas once upon a time she was a celebrated athlete, now she had been effectively “othered.” And she seemed confused by it. She still managed to convince herself that she held the position of the majority; To exercise privilege and prejudice rather than be the recipient of it. She could not grasp the concept that she had, by her own actions, displaced herself and was now a minority.
Questions swirled around Caitlyn. Was she only now realizing that she had become a social underdog? Was she considering de-transitioning to regain her compromised status in hetero-normative society? In one of the final episodes of I am Cait, when speaking to her ex-wife, Kris Jenner, she was asked about her romantic life. She seemed uncertain about whether or not her female status meant she would date men, completely oblivious to the fact that gender and sexuality are completely unrelated. It begged the question on whether or not Caitlyn had even undergone the stringent counseling required of most trans individuals prior to transitioning. She lacked the most basic information to such a degree that it was terrifying to observe, even as a viewer.
And then, dearest reader. I came to an obnoxious realization.
I was wrong.
In my eagerness to have a Trans Jesus and join the hive-mind of finger wagging nay-sayers, which was justified, I persecuted someone in a much different way than I might have had they been some random cisgender man or woman who was a complete moron. I didn’t just dismiss Caitlyn, and neither did the greater trans community. We crucified her.
With clarity, I see now an older woman who lived her life in the wrong body, something I identity with and respect. She wanted to correct herself so that she could improve her quality of life. She had no obligation to improve the quality of mine. She did not ask to be our spokesperson or that we share her views of the world, and she never represented herself as intending to do so.
All emotions aside, stripped to the bare bones of the matter, we threw her, unequipped, into a role she did not ask for. The level of expectation placed on Caitlyn Jenner the moment she hit news stands in that white corset became unreasonable and excessive. She had gone from from a figure of hope that we held on a gold and ivory pedestal to social pariah overnight. The demands we made actually stole from her identity, her beliefs, her convictions, her life experiences over 66 years as we tried to reshape her- or our misguided idea of who we believed she should be for us- into something we could be satisfied with. We wanted a Trans idol, and we presumed, without permission, that she wanted to be that. When she wasn’t the perfect specimen of our collective Trans identities that we could glorify, we punished her, vilified her even.
Outrageous as it may seem, Caitlyn Jenner doesn’t owe me anything. She isn't required to represent me, seek my approval, give me her approval, agree with my politics or my world views. She possesses self sovereignty, just as I do. She isn’t a liar or a fraud, and she doesn’t owe any of us an explanation for who she is, what she says or how she chooses to live her life. We do not own Caitlyn Jenner. She’s not a product we bought only to find it doesn’t function as we thought it should.
Caitlyn Jenner is a human being. And many of us in the Transgender community have forgotten that. She is not perfect, but the way we’ve disregarded her suggests that we thought she should be, when, in fact she shouldn't be held to a different standard than anyone else. In short, we created the idea of Caitlyn Jenner, and when she disappointed us, we kicked her out. The irony here is, the same thing has been done to many of us by those who claimed to love us. By our parents or our family, by our friends, from our job or apartment, because someone disapproved… because we didn’t meet their requirements or moral standard that dictates what we should have been. Caitlyn Jenner never intended to be our divine leader, she also never thought she’d become a martyr.
I will not defend the things that Jenner has said or done in the past. The fact remains that, when it came to the Transgender community, she did us no favors from her platform. Before she even got her feet wet in her new identity, we placed a crown on her head and insisted she know our agenda from back to front. We asked an awful lot, immediately, from a person who, after waiting a lifetime, finally developed the courage to live as their authentic self. However, I must also give credit where it is due. As she has grown into her skin, she has learned how to use her platform much more effectively.
She has come forward and publicly condemned anti-LGBT politicians. Recently, Jenner was awarded the Champion of Israel and LGBTQ Rights award and during her speech, she leveraged the opportunity as she stood before some of Donald Trump’s closest allies, to emphatically criticize his Transgender Military ban. She has gone through a trial by fire before, during and after her transition, and now that she’s found her footing, despite all the publicized missteps and the self-created chasm that developed between herself and the Trans community, she seems to have found her voice, acknowledge her position and is now more than ever before, equipped to use it for the greater good.
All she needed was something we simply refused to afford her before thrusting her onto our platform as an accidental activist.