When I argued for the need to critique Caitlyn Jenner’s harmful statements with regard to trans and wider LGBTQ activism back in September, I was writing from a place of curiosity as much as defensiveness. How could it be, I wondered, that a woman who is surely surrounded by assistants and public relations professionals on a daily basis, a woman who so carefully controlled the roll-out and monetization of her trans identity, regularly finds herself saying stupid things for which she must later issue heartfelt apologies? How could someone with access to all the resources in the world—including, especially, message-crafters and educators—be so perennially needful of penitent blog posts and contrite promises of further “learning” and “growth”?
Back then, I was willing to consider the notion that coming out is hard, coming out into activism harder, and that we all make mistakes. Who knows? Maybe Jenner just had a mental slip when she didn’t recognize the bitter irony of expressing doubts about same-sex marriage while asking for dignity for herself on Ellen. Or maybe the PR flacks were enjoying themselves at the driving range when she prattled on to Matt Lauer about being chill compared with the annoying pronoun-policing of “the community.” But with Jenner in the news for a fresh set of arguably even more ridiculous comments, I’m done. There are two possibilities here: Either Jenner’s cycle of gaffe and apology is a calculated strategy for staying in the news via some kind of perverse, pseudo-athletic narrative of failure and comeback—or she’s really too ignorant to merit any attention as a serious advocate for queer causes.
That’s a harsh thing to say. But Jenner’s actions are worse. Here’s what she actually said in a recent Time magazine interview, on the occasion of being included in the “Person of the Year” issue:
One thing that has always been important for me, and it may seem very self-absorbed or whatever, is first of all your presentation of who you are. I think it’s much easier for a trans woman or a trans man who authentically kind of looks and plays the role. 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. So the first thing I can do is try to present myself well. I want to dress well. I want to look good. [Emphasis added.]
Jenner may be “stunning,” as the South Park guys put it in a recent episode, but these words prove she is not “brave.” Throwing the entire subset of trans individuals who, for whatever reason, cannot or do not want to pass as cisgender under the bus and playing into one of the most damaging stereotypes plaguing trans women (see the anti-HERO campaign in Houston) is not brave. It is gross.
And then there’s the breathtaking tone-deafness on display in Jenner’s stating in a recent video on the state of trans rights with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power that, “I’m pretty comfortable with the issues here in the United States.” Comfortable—in a year darkened by a terrifying rash of murders of trans women and by incredibly effective political campaigns premised on the outright lie that trans people want to rape your kid in the bathroom. And finally, we have Jenner’s reaffirmed commitment to voting GOP in 2016—a party in which there is currently no candidate that a self-respecting LGBTQ person could imagine endorsing and still be considered sane.
In response to criticisms of these comments, Jenner has penned (undoubtedly with oversight) yet another apology lamenting that she has “still so much to learn.” But here’s the thing. These screw-ups? They are not a matter of some tricky point of terminology or deep theory that you can only access after unlocking Queer Level 5. (Indeed, Jenner herself noted elsewhere in the Time interview that she has been “learning” for six months now—enough time to actually take in some hardcore queer theory if she wanted to!) These mistakes are basic. They are ideas and truths that any moderately compassionate, halfway curious cisgender or otherwise non-queer person could learn in a focused hour or two. That Jenner is still making statements like this as a trans woman—and again, a trans woman who came out with the support of a well-informed team rather than the typical case of struggling through the process isolated and confused—is, at this point, suspicious. Whether it is an offensive media game or a truly concerning display of ignorance, I can’t say for sure. But I am certain of one thing: I cannot take it seriously anymore.