It’s Time To Ignore Caitlyn Jenner
It’s true that Jenner was a culturally significant figure in the recent tidal wave of trans visibility, but taking up space is not in and of itself radical.
A t home in her gleaming estate mere days after the Trump administration rescinded guidelines on protecting transgender youth, Caitlyn Jenner donned a pastel-pink blouse and addressed thousands of threatened children who feared for their safety. Her message? “You’re winning.”
Jenner went on to chide Attorney General (for now) Jeff Sessions by calling him insecure and intimating he was a bully, and closed with a request for the President of the United States to personally call her, “one Republican to another.” It was a terrifically lukewarm bit of armchair advocacy from the woman Glamour heralded as a “Trans Champion” less than two years ago — but even this anemic, self-aggrandizing speech was more than her community had come to expect.
To put it bluntly: It’s time to start ignoring Caitlyn Jenner instead of treating her like a trans icon.
While it’s true that Jenner was a culturally significant figure in the recent tidal wave of trans visibility, simply taking up space is not — in and of itself — an especially radical act when you’re a white woman with an eight- or nine-figure net worth. The amount of influence which Jenner wields is staggering, but she has yet to use it in any meaningful way, while trans activists and community builders living far below her level of privilege toil every day, doing the real work.
What has Jenner done since coming out? Well, she won a Teen Choice Award for Social Media Queen in 2015 and nabbed a gig as the face of H&M Sport last March. She was one of last year’s Time 100, and in June 2016 she became the first trans woman to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated. She also posted a video on behalf of Donald Trump during the Republican primaries, noting that she used the women’s bathroom in Trump Tower and “nobody got molested.” We’ll come back to that.
Jenner also began her own reality TV franchise that shed light on her transition, though the show was canceled after its second season. Looking back on I Am Cait charitably, its largest contributions to the general discourse may have been the segments in which other trans women called Jenner out on her privileged bullshit. This became apparent in season 2, when Jenner embarked on a prolonged bus trip with “friends” such as Jennifer Boylan and Kate Bornstein.
I Am Cait’s largest contributions to the general discourse may have been the segments in which other trans women called Jenner out on her privileged bullshit.
While her companions may have been controversial figures in the trans community, Jenner was another beast entirely. In one infamous clip, Jenner asserted that then-candidate Trump “would be very good for women’s issues…I don’t think he’s out there to destroy women or take things away or any of that kind of stuff.” Boylan put it best when she exclaimed, “Kill me now,” and left the room.
Those segments highlighted one broad truth: how woefully out of touch Jenner was with regards to intersectional feminism in general and transgender rights in particular. I Am Cait professed to share the story of how Jenner would conquer the steep learning curve: After a lifetime spent steeping in different kinds of privilege, Jenner would be confronted with reality. The only problem is that nothing ever really got through to Jenner, even after witnessing the deeply personal and nuanced discussions Boylan and Bornstein had with one another and meeting with myriad community activists to confront complicated and often painful lives Jenner never had to live.
Jenner still calls herself a Republican due in large part to her class status: As a fabulously wealthy woman in the entertainment industry, she is protected by such a buffer of royalty checks and media attention that she has little to worry about personally. This fundamentally affects her political judgment and enables her to separate economic conservatism from social conservatism — she can claim to support her community while not understanding the systems of oppression that keep trans people disproportionately in poverty.
Simply put, Jenner is Trump’s useful fool.
To be fair, she’s far from the only one. YouTuber Blaire White has made a career out of being a conventionally attractive white trans woman who parrots right-wing talking points in videos with titles like “Transgender Children? NO.” and “Racism Against Whites.” I myself once attended a support group alongside a trans woman who was relatively wealthy; after I shared some anxiety I was feeling due to financial insecurity, she proceeded to tell me a story about the tax loopholes she exploited to keep herself in a lower income bracket.
Conservative trans women are rare, but they’re real, and radically disconnected from their community’s struggles. Jenner is merely a high-profile example of this cluelessness, but as we approach two full years since her coming-out on 20/20, that worldview becomes exponentially more toxic coming from a woman who claims to be a transgender role model. Perhaps if Jenner had made any visible effort to actually set up meetings with Trump, elevated the voices of trans activists like Mariah Lopez and Kat Blaque, or divulged the names of the Republican lawmakers she met with last September (the better to pressure them on trans issues), she might be worthy of being taken seriously. The fact that she hasn’t even tweeted since posting a limp video supporting Bono’s ONE Campaign for International Women’s Day proves she isn’t.
Simply put, Jenner is Trump’s useful fool.
A month and a half ago, Jenner tweeted out a different message: “Republicans need help understanding LGBTQ issues and I’m here to help!” If this is “help,” Cait, spare us. Were Jenner ill-informed — but silent — I might be less disgusted. But visibility is a dangerous weapon, and when Jenner does speak, she can do real damage to what credibility and legitimacy trans women have accumulated in Western culture.
When Jenner vapidly joked that the hardest part of being a woman is “figuring out what to wear” during an interview with Buzzfeed, everyone took her seriously — because, well, that’s an awfully Caitlyn Jenner thing to say, isn’t it? Thus did TERFs who found ample new fuel for their torches as they howled about “he-shes” and “men appropriating womanhood.” I fear that every new Jenner interview will add five years to Germaine Greer’s hateful lifespan.
If Jenner had ever shown a single sign of learning from her repeated mistakes and misconceptions, the trans community wouldn’t be tearing out our collective hair wishing she’d just go away and stop making us all look bad. As “TS Madison” Hinton said in a video reacting to Jenner’s “call me” message — “sit your phony ass down.” She isn’t just embarrassing — her ubiquitous visibility and ignorant rhetoric is actively damaging; she doesn’t understand her siblings and can’t properly advocate for us. I say that Caitlyn Jenner has shown us she can’t be trusted to learn or know better, so it’s high time she abdicated the spotlight and let the rest of us get to work.