I am irait. [~1,000 words]
I woke up this morning, logged on to Facebook with a bowl of cereal, and saw the news about Cait’s Insta pic with Hillary going viral, if you want to call it that. I (foolishly) clicked into the feed on the story. It was mostly just pointed misgendering, toxic transmisogyny, a playground of genitals jokes, and utter dehumanization & alienation–you know, the usual.
I wanted to write a post about it. Doing call-outs on all the problematic shit people were saying. Pointing out how it doesn’t matter whether or not you agree with her on politics, you should still treat her like a human being.
But then I was like: Do I really wanna tackle Facebook politics on Caitlyn Jenner?
I decided not to so do it, but I still wanted to write something. And this is more for people outside of the trans community, who don’t have any sort of source on trans issues outside of John Oliver or (worse) Fox News.
Here’s what I really want to say: Caitlyn Jenner is not our idol; she’s yours.
I don’t know a single trans person that looks up to Caitlyn Jenner. Everyone is happy for her, sure. Trans people love to see other trans people come out. For me, personally, I love to see her alive and well.For some of my older friends, she’s a pretty powerful symbol. For my generation, she’s kind of already a historical phenomenon, but one we respect like the fall of the Berlin Wall.
She is really a significant trans person in that she was the first to go through with a binary transition in such a public way. A lot of people don’t seem to understand this, and I don’t know if it’s because they never saw the tabloid racks back then or they just don’t remember them, but Caitlyn was pretty much forced out by a media onslaught.
She’s savvy enough to know that she can work the media to her advantage. That’s really what all the Kardashians seem to grasp (and is maybe why we really hate them–that is, because they have the resources to exploit media we all believe we could exploit as well). Which is really fortunate because the intense pressure and scrutiny she remains under gives me anxiety, and I don’t even know her. My point being that there’s a reason the Vanity Fair cover was so important; it was Caitlyn’s way to reclaim herself in supermarket checkout lines. (But we still can’t even get people to call her Caitlyn.)
But my larger point is that when I see Caitlyn on TV, or the ‘net, or hear people discussing her, I don’t see or hear a trans messiah who has come to deliver us to the promised land. She’s not an angel even when she is demonized. I never expected her to fix everything that’s wrong for me. Why would I? She’s rich, WASPy as hell, and lives a life of mansions, country clubs, and SUVs with tinted windows. People like her don’t give a shit about people like me unless I’m the one parking their car, fixing their plumbing, or in front of them somewhere.
And there’s really nothing she’s done that make me want to be her. I don’t want to be an olympic athlete. I don’t want my own reality series on any network, let alone on E! And I certainly people don’t ever think of me, as they did of her according to the first paragraph of her Wikipedia article, as an “all-American hero“. She and I really only have one thing in common.
And that’s why strangers on the street have asked me what I think of her. Not because it came up organically or because Caitlyn walked by. Because they clocked me as trans and wanted to let me know what they thought of our icon.
But she isn’t our icon. She’s the icon of the trans community that the cultural majority uses. Like a thumbnail on the desktop of their brains, Caitlyn’s face is what they double-click when they want to talk about anything related to gender non-conformity. For a lot of people, it seems that the same qualities (e.g., whiteness, attractiveness, tendencies towards traditional & conventional) that made her a symbol as an olympic champion make her a powerful symbol as a trans woman. That’s why it doesn’t surprise me that she’s conservative. As a woman, she’s 100% their demographic target. As a trans woman, she’s not.
If she’s actually ignorant of the fact or willing to ignore that Republicans view her identity as a political issue, it’s totally plausible that she thinks they would love her help winning votes. I don’t think Caitlyn is actually going to help Ted Cruz or Donald Trump if she supports them; quite the contrary, they will keep their distance because her support could actually hurt them in the eyes of their transphobic supporters (I mean–you know–if they have any).
The tragedy of it all is that her political ignorance has turned into just another attack point, just as her gender was before and her sexuality is now. (Which–by the way–isn’t it so fucked up that you can read about a real person’s struggle with their sexuality as it’s happening without their consent?)
So, what can you do, dear reader? (A.k.a.: Here’s my call to action.) Stop treating Caitlyn Jenner like she’s a trans idol. She’s a cis idol for trans representation. And like many of the stolen idols cultural majorities enshrine as symbols, she’s a poor representation of the actual culture people from the majority use her to represent.
Idolatry is a sin to begin with, but it’s especially heinous when the idol is an actual human being. Setting her up as an angel will only lead others to call her a demon.