Caitlyn Jenner Again Proves That Trans People Can Be Transphobic, Too
“The hardest part about being a woman is figuring out what to wear.”
Back on November 10, Caitlyn Jenner incited controversy when she articulated this opinion to Buzzfeed. In the full interview, which lasted less than two minutes, she said nothing about sexism or transphobia, and it’s become fairly obvious why: for Jenner, the hardest part of being a woman has nothing to do with entrenched, oppressive isms, but with the all-important matter of her image.
If we needed more proof that this is the case, we got it a few days ago, when Time quoted Jenner saying, “If you look like a man in a dress, it makes people uncomfortable.” (Comments she’s since apologized for.)
Some immediately wondered whether the comment was an acknowledgment of the deep prejudices that are routinely targeted at trans-feminine individuals. If you read the whole interview, though, it seems Jenner cares more about whether or not she “puts people at ease” than whether the bigotry of society is worth conforming to.
It’s a strange point of view for someone whose very identity flies in the face of heteronormative society, but in some ways, I understand where it’s coming from. As a trans individual, it’s easy to feel like you must not rock the boat any more, for fear of capsizing the life you have built for yourself.
The problem lies in Jenner’s blithe acceptance of the way things are; how she doesn’t question the deeply-rooted prejudice fueling society’s views of transgender women. It would have been one thing if she’d said something to the effect of, “This is the way I feel I must live my life and these are the reasons why, but this is not ideal and I applaud those who choose to live their lives in ways that actively challenge heteronormative standards of beauty.” What she actually said, though, is so far from that sentiment that it reinforces what we have finally come to know about her views on transgender women: Caitlyn Jenner is transphobic.
Some will argue that this is impossible, but if holding philosophical views in direct opposition to your own best interest were legitimate grounds for disqualification of your identity, then every pro-life and anti-feminist woman would suffer this loss as well.
Let me break this down.
If a cisgender woman claims that rape culture doesn’t exist, then she is buying into a culture of misogyny and is actively supporting systemic sexism. If a transgender woman claims the same position, she’s also supporting systemic sexism.
Similarly, if a cisgender woman claims, as Cathy Brennan does, that trans women are “men invading women’s spaces,” then she is being transphobic. If a transgender woman states, as trans woman Helen Highwater did, that saying “trans women are women” is a “vicious lie,” then she is supporting the very same dangerous, medically incorrect idea which actively harms the transgender community. It’s just that she’s also supporting an idea that’s diametrically opposed to her own best interests.
Willful ignorance in the face of scientific fact is born of a hatred and fear that can afflict even those who are most affected by that ignorance.
Jenner’s words are transphobic because they perpetuate the idea that it is reasonable for society to expect trans-feminine individuals — those who identify as non-binary, as well as transgender — to always conform to a beauty standard that unjustly favors thin, wealthy, white, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied women at the expense of those who do not meet all of the above requirements and more besides. This is willful ignorance bred from a privilege that she has yet to acknowledge.
While Jenner’s words may seem relatively uneventful, they feed into an ideology that actively hurts transgender people. The idea she is reinforcing is one that exists in the heads of those like U.S. Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton, who choked and murdered his sexual partner Jennifer Laude because, upon discovering Laude was trans, he said he felt like he was raped, and he “was repulsed [and] felt violated and angry.” The leading attorney on his defense team, Rowena Garcia-Flores, even flat-out said that Pemberton choked Laude because she had a penis.
This action, and others like it, is rooted in what’s known as the Trans Panic defense, a variation on the Gay Panic defense that was used by the murderers of Matthew Shepard in 1998. The Trans Panic defense is predicated on the notion that a murder is at least partially excusable when there’s “discomfort with . . . a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity,” as outlined in a new California law prohibiting the practice.
The idea that a trans person has a responsibility to make people feel comfortable can have very dire consequences. And it’s exactly this idea that Jenner has perpetuated with her remarks.
True, Jenner may not know how dangerous such a notion can be, but it is very clear that at best, she hasn’t made the effort to know about transgender individuals less fortunate than herself, and at worst that she simply doesn’t care. In fact, there is good reason why the latter might be the case, given her disdain for the LGBTQ community, which she derisively referred to on the Today show by saying, “You know, GLAAD, all the people in the community — are like ‘Oh my god, you have to get the pronouns right; you have to do this, you have to do that.’”
At the end of the day, the thing to take away from all this is that Caitlyn Jenner, like any human being, has the potential to be misogynistic and transphobic. Being transgender does not grant her immunity from prejudiced, dangerous ideas, and I am concerned that some may try to find ways to rationalize the danger in the things she says because they feel as though it might be considered inappropriate to criticize one of the first mainstream transgender celebrities.
Let me be clear: it is never inappropriate to call out dangerous ideas, and as a transgender individual myself with more than enough flaws, I certainly hope my friends and colleagues do me the courtesy of calling me out on my bullshit when needed. I can only hope I am never as blind to the suffering of others as Caitlyn Jenner.
In that same interview with Time magazine, Jenner made the following statement: “I am not a spokesperson for the trans community, I am not. The media kind of projects me as being the spokesperson, but from my standpoint, I am not.”
I am glad, at least, that we can agree on that much.
Lead image: Flickr/Alberto Frank