LIFE

The Big Problem With Caitlyn Jenner

She's infuriating and enthralling. Here's why you shouldn't dismiss her just yet.

04/05/2017 5:10 AM AEST | Updated 05/05/2017 1:52 AM AEST

I have a confession to make: I’m a Caitlyn Jenner fan and I have been since she first came out two years ago and instantly became the most famous transgender person on the planet.

That’s a confession, really, as Jenner is wildly despised by many people in the LGTBQ community, of which I am a part, and not without good reason. To put it bluntly: her politics suck.

The Olympian and reality TV star has recently been on a publicity tour for her new tell-all memoir, “The Secrets of My Life,” during which she’s spoken at length and on multiple occasions about her controversial identity as a Republican and her support for President Donald Trump

Jenner supports the party that passed the most anti-queer platform in history last summer; the party that drafted and signed into law the virulently transphobic House Bill 2 in North Carolina last year; the party that is attempting to bring similar legislation to other states, like Texas, as well as literally hundreds of other anti-LGBTQ bills. And she backs a president who wasn’t able to get much accomplished during his first 100 days but did manage to make sure he rolled back Obama-era federal guidance that protected trans kids.

Of course just because you’re queer, that doesn’t mean that you’ve got “good” politics ― or that you particularly care about aiding or even being a part of your community ― but Jenner has spent the last two years as a trans advocate. What’s more, she’s actually put her money and her energy where her mouth is and has raised millions of dollars for trans causes and spent much of her (at least publicly visible) time educating about trans issues while she herself learns about the community. In fact, the two seasons of her E! reality show, “I Am Cait,” were so admirably dedicated to exploring trans issues and showcasing diverse trans lives that most viewers, presumably expecting splashier, less earnest exploits and adventures, stopped tuning in and the show was canceled. 

So how can Jenner possibly reconcile her Republican identity with her trans identity? The problem is she can’t really ― especially if we take into account the concept of intersectionality, something of which she appears to be stunningly, troublingly ignorant.

She’s attempted to explain away the outrage that she faces for her political choices by saying that she isn’t a “one-issue voter” and that it’s “easier to convince the Republican party to do a better job when it comes to all LGBT issues than it is to convince the Democrats [to do better on a whole host of other issues.]” She claims that she is simply for less regulations, less governmental intervention, lower taxes, which are pretty standard talking points for many Republicans (not to mention someone who might feel guilty about touting a party as homophobic and transphobic as the one to which she’s pledged her allegiance). 

Unfortunately for her (and all of us), it doesn’t really work that way. Aside from the party’s rabid, unrepentant transphobia and homophobia, what Jenner doesn’t see (or is too blinded by her considerable privilege to see) is that the trans people she’s fighting for aren’t just trans. They’re also women or people of color or immigrants. They’re also individuals who live at or below the poverty line. And so on and so forth. By ignoring this intersection of identities ― and supporting the GOP, which ignores or actively works against so many of these identities ― Jenner also ignores the rich, complex realities of these trans people’s lives. 

Jenner may not want to be a 'one-issue voter' but she shouldn’t ― and really can’t ― be a successful one-issue activist.

How can she possibly think that a party that does not have the best interests of women or people of color or working or low income people or immigrants can ― or even wants to ― fight for a poor trans immigrant woman of color? Even if she were somehow miraculously able to convince them not to be transphobic, what about the rest of their bigotry and its consequences? Jenner may not want to be a “one-issue voter” but she shouldn’t ― and really can’t ― be a successful one-issue activist. In order for Jenner to truly have the back of the transgender community, she needs to understand how many issues are at play for any given trans person on any given day. And in order for her to understand that, she needs to recognize her privilege as a white, incredibly wealthy woman with the means to avoid the devastating kinds of discrimination and violence that too many trans people cannot avoid ― discrimination and violence that is not purely or neatly based on solely their transness.

Which brings me back to my confession: I do like Caitlyn Jenner and despite how disappointing her politics have been, I do think her heart is in the right place. When I tell people this, they chastise me or complain that I shouldn’t be giving her any attention when there are so many other trans people who go unseen. But I find this kind of thinking myopic and I refuse to throw this 67-year-old baby out with the bathwater and dismiss her as merely problematic or wholly useless because of her affiliation with the Republican party, which, for the record, infuriates me. She is useful, and while I don’t intend to defend her politics, she has been in the trenches sweating to raise up the transgender community. Her very existence has allowed for millions of people to begin to grapple with what it means to be transgender, especially older generations who knew and loved her before she transitioned. And that matters. A lot. And so does her incredibly huge platform, which she says she intends to continue to leverage to change even more minds and, in turn, change the lives of transgender people.

So how do we solve a problem like Caitlyn Jenner? First and foremost, we should absolutely call her on her shit ― and she’s peddling plenty of it ― and rebuke and critique her when she advocates for politicians and platforms that treat queer people like second class citizens or worse. But we also need to approach her with compassion and patience. She’s not the same as queer figures like Milo Yiannopoulos, who truly are enemies of the community. I believe she really does want to do right by LGBTQ folks but her privilege and her lack of understanding about the community remain consequential roadblocks. As Jenner herself has admitted time and time again, she’s very new to the community and she has a lot to learn. If we throw up our hands and simply ignore her or erase her or demonize her without trying to engage with her, we’re not only wasting an opportunity to shape a potentially vicious and victorious advocate, we’re failing one of our sisters.

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