Caitlyn Jenner Is Neither the Advocate the Trans Community Needs Nor the One It Deserves

cj and dl
Caitlyn Jenner continues to search for a middle ground that does not exist.

In an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon last week, Caitlyn Jenner indicated that she would be open to running for office if the circumstances dictated it. “…would I be better working from the inside? If that is the case, I would seriously look at a run. It just depends on where I would be more effective.” The question and comment were brief in comparison to the segment at large, where she discussed her new book and her frustrations with the Trump administration’s hostility to transgender rights. But the unfortunate answer to her rhetorical question, an answer that she seems completely unwilling or unable to grasp, is that she currently stands a zero chance of being an effective advocate for the transgender community in either the public or private sector.

The most telling exchange is her assertion that even after the Trump administration rolled back transgender protections, she would be glad to go play a round of golf with him, but she cannot because “my community would go nuts.” She goes on to state casually and in her typically self-assured demeanor that, “I would ask him, what the hell were you thinking?” and then says that Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III are two people who “need a talking to.” She follows, “I’m not a one issue voter. There’s more to it than just trans issues.”

As Governor of Indiana, Mike Pence was the point man for the most openly anti-LGBT state government in modern American political history. Statements he made as a congressional candidate in 2000 indicate that he was an advocate for conversion therapy, and let’s not mince words, conversion therapy is nothing more than a form of psychological torture for LGBT individuals, primarily youth. His spokesperson denied the allegations last summer. Around the same time, language supporting the practice made its way into the GOP party platform for the first time. His signature is on Indiana’s 2015 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, not the first and sadly not the last attempt to legalize public discrimination against LGBT citizens and their civil rights.

Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is named after two major figures of the Confederacy and is a former(?) segregationist. (Here’s where Sessions supporters will chime in to parrot the GOP talking point that his career began when he supposedly worked to ‘defeat the segregationist’ Lurleen Wallace in the 1966 Alabama gubernatorial election. They always manage to leave out the inconvenient fact there were 3 candidates in that election, with 2 segregationists and 1 non-segregationist, the latter of whom Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III did not work for. Sessions worked for Jim Martin, the other segregationist Republican candidate.) While Sessions hasn’t been as visible in opposition to LGBT rights as Pence over his career, he has managed to earn a lifetime score of 0 from the Human Rights Commission for his voting record. In short, this means he has never once even accidentally voted for a bill that would advance LGBT civil rights.

The troubled history for both Pence and Sessions regarding LGBT issues is all well documented and goes much, much further than what I’ve laid out here, but I think the point is clear. The idea that these two men, who have spent nearly a combined 75 years in public political life being firmly opposed to even the slightest advance of the rights of anyone who is not also a straight white man, are going to have their minds changed by a “talking to” from Caitlyn Jenner, or anyone else for that matter, is simply absurd.

Caitlyn’s history of being a Republican is long and clear and doesn’t really need to be rehashed. When she says “my community would go nuts,” it’s a community she has never done more than halfheartedly embrace (if even that), and it’s a community she has never shown even the slightest interest in putting above her own tax bracket, at least so far as the ballot box is concerned. Given a choice between the community and the Republican party, she has chosen to back the party at every opportunity.

Being a community advocate would not require her to become a single-issue voter- very few people anywhere on the spectrum are. It wouldn’t require her to become a Democrat or to stop believing in limited government. It would require her to prioritize things like members of the trans community being able to use the bathroom in peace or to simply exist in public spaces without fear of harassment or scorn, above her own marginal tax rate. It would require her to stop voting for people who are openly hostile to her and the trans community’s basic rights, and to speak openly about her reasons for doing so. To be a member of a community, to be embraced by it, is to give freely of yourself to the community without expecting anything more than the same embrace in return. To date, she’s given little indication she cares about any member of the community outside of herself.

She has faced incredible amounts of derision from both sides of the aisle. Much of it has come from people being cruel for the sake of being cruel, taking what they think is a free shot at a member of a marginalized group. Caitlyn Jenner is a human being, and should be afforded all the dignity and understanding as the rest of us. Caitlyn Jenner is an American citizen, and under the US Constitution, she has the same civil rights as the rest of us. Those rights should be held sacred, fought for and defended, whether she herself is willing to fight for them or not.

But her failure to fight for transgender issues is very real, and the type of opposition she has faced from the two sides surrounding her has been very, very different. The derision she has faced from the left stems almost entirely from her personal political priorities. The derision she faces from the right is a denial of her basic right to exist- not just in public spaces, but at all. Until she faces that simple fact, and adjusts her world-view accordingly, she will never be anything close to an effective advocate. She will continue to unintentionally contribute to the hardships of transgender individuals who do not have the wealth and resources she possesses, the resources that allow her to hold the community that she would otherwise be a member of, at arms length. She will only continue to be an apologist for her and their marginalization.

-Harrison Anderson