Caitlyn Jenner seems to come up every time the Kardashian/Jenner clan are mentioned in social media. A lot of problems that people seem to have with her are that she continually misspeaks on transgender issues, and has won Woman Of The Year seemingly ‘just’ for coming out as a trans woman, when people argue that there are other women who have achieved ‘more’ than her.
Some would argue that Caitlyn has achieved a lot and deserved the award. She is arguably the most famous person to have transitioned publicly since Christine Jorgensen, over 60 years ago. Because of how prominent the Kardashian/Jenner families are online and in social media, her coming out and transitioning process can encourage others who are secretly transgender to tell people, having seen the support Caitlyn received.
While that may be true, Caitlyn has said some pretty problematic things regarding being trans. In her interview with Time, she said:
“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.”
She seems to disregarding and ignore the positions of trans people who aren’t in the social or financial positions to come out and be supported. And while she recognises that she is a privileged, rich, white woman, to say that looking like a man in a dress makes people uncomfortable is problematic, no matter how it’s slanted. Trans people who do not ‘pass’ as their gender are often more ostracised and more easily the target of hate and violence, and passing puts people at ease because of the discomfort people have around questioning gender roles.
Although, why should it be her responsibility to represent all trans people? So many criticisms of her come from people who say, “She doesn’t speak for me!” Except, nobody elected her to be ‘the voice’ for transgender people; the only reason she’s the ‘face’ of the trans community is because the media made her that. While there are certainly better representatives, none are as public, as widely and thoroughly known before they transitioned. We have seen Caitlyn when she was Bruce, and then throughout her public coming out process. She has, to some extent and especially so early into her coming out, tried to involve elements of political advocacy into her dialogue. She has discussed the recent suicides among transgender teenagers, the murder of two trans women of colour, and her reality TV show has invited guests including a group of accomplished trans women to speak.
However, Caitlyn Jenner has largely mis-used the podium that she has gained and with it and her position in popular culture, that she could have used so wonderfully to communicate for equality. It’s hard to argue that trans people aren’t a lot more visible because of her; a Google news search for “Caitlyn Jenner” gives 9.5 million results. However, the press surrounding her has just proved to be a distraction from other news in the transgender community. The media ignored the huge spike in murders of trans women, her TV show drowned out the focus on another series, I Am Jazz, which focused on more accessible trans struggles of a trans teenage girl, which may have meant far more to many viewers or opened many more minds.
A lot of the problems with Caitlyn Jenner, though, don’t even stem from what she’s done. Some trans people say that if someone is cis, to judge Caitlyn Jenner for anything is transphobic whether it’s intended or not. Remember Ricky Gervais’ joke at the Golden Globes? But part of accepting trans people is viewing them in the same way as anyone else, and by treating them as faultless heroes who can do no wrong is to do a disservice that can lead to further marginalisation. To say that it is transphobic to judge Jenner, as a cis person, cannot be correct because an opinion of an action that someone has done, such as the criticism of Jenner surrounding the car crash, has nothing to do with gender; sometimes, trans people can be bad people and do bad things, and can be called out on it, and people don’t have to be liked just because of how they identify.
Caitlyn Jenner is a trans woman, who is held as the face of the trans community, and yet it stands that there were much better Woman Of The Year options. Laverne Cox, a trans woman, is seen as a more progressive, intersectional vocal advocate for trans people. Jada Pinkett Smith is trying to end human trafficking. The president of Planned Parenthood, which provides community health care, contraception, pregnancy and abortion support, refuses to back down, despite the constant hate and violent attacks the charity receives.
The hardest part of being a woman, Cait, is not deciding what to wear. Trans women face much bigger problems than that on a day to day basis. She speaks from a podium with little concept of the discrimination, violence and poverty that a lot of trans people have to face when they come out. Call her out on the problematic things she says and does, but call her Caitlyn.