There is a very ugly thing that exists within the transgender community that we don’t talk about much. There are many way to describe it, but perhaps the most descriptive is trans-on-trans transphobia: when one transperson judges or makes comment on another’s identity or appearance in order to denigrate, insult or exclude them. Or when one transperson judges another due to their appearance or gender-expression.
Cosmopolitan has reported that, in an interview with Time Magazine, Caitlyn Jenner said:
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 dressm 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. When I go out, as Kim says, you’ve got to rock it because the paparazzi will be there.
This is trans-on-trans transphobia. No ifs, buts or maybes. It’s transphobia. From one of the most high-profile transpeople in the world no less.
Deconstructing her words, it is immediately apparent that there is a deep insecurity and not a little fear of not being accepted for the woman she is. In Caitlyn’s pampered, privileged life things like money don’t actually matter all that much. Proof absolute that all that wealth and appearance can’t help someone take the emotional and mental steps necessary to a successful and secure-in-ourselves transition any quicker than the rest of us.
Of course, to some, Caitlyn herself looks like a man in a dress. That’s why some bright spark decided to sell Caitlyn Halloween costumes earlier this year. Ones based upon her ‘coming out’ picture in Vanity Fair where the art of cosmetics, plastic surgery and those dressing her was exerted to the full to make her look as feminine as possible as reported by the Huffington Post. You can even buy ‘Pin the hair on Caitlyn‘ party games! (Please don’t! This is transphobia too.) There are people in the world who don’t see Jenner as anything other than a man in a dress. So if she is a distasteful holiday parody, what does that say about the rest of us who don’t have her privileged life?
Of course all transpeople want to dress well. We all want to present ourselves well. It’s just we aren’t all cis-normative like she is. Nor do we all want to say the same things Jenner wants to say – which I think it’s fair to interpret as “I am a person transitioning later in life, but I can still look really good and get to do things like be in glamorous shots on magazine covers.” Some of us just want to live our lives as who we are, away from cameras and glitter.
All of us, all transpeople, every single one of us, want to live without fear of facing transphobia in our lives. Many of us aren’t happy with our appearance. Many of us blame that appearance for why we face transphobia in every single day of our lives. According to the Trans Mental Health Survey (Scottish Transgender Alliance et al. 2012) fully 80% of transgendered people consider suicide. That’s how bad the problem is: bad enough to consider killing ourselves to get away from it.
In her rampant transphobia that she is trumpeting to the world, Caitlyn Jenner is adding to the level of that abuse by buying into the idea that there is some kind of bar that divides transpeople. On one side are the acceptable men and women (presumably like her) who fit neatly into a gender-binary and who’s appearance is completely conventional and indistinguishable from any other person of that gender. On the other are the failures who don’t make the grade and who she claims don’t, ‘…put people at their ease.’. This is gatekeeping, pure and simple. Jenner thinks she has some kind of right to judge who the beautiful people are. I would suggest that, in the words of Marylin Manson, she ‘…can’t smell her own shit on her knees…’.
Caitlyn’s words are transphobia. She is using her privilege and appearance in order to bully an entire community to conform to her ideas of cis-normative gender-transition by broadcasting it from the glossy end of the media.
She just joined the Dark Side. She is encouraging the English-speaking world to judge transgender people based upon their appearance. She is directly and unashamedly hurting her own community by inciting transphobia against it. She is an even worse transphobe than those cis-people who hold prejudice against the transgender community, because she is trans herself.
My message to Caitlyn is take a long, hard look at your naked body in the mirror. Spend some time meditating upon your own insecurities and fears. Think about the hugely negative effect your words will have on people just like you.
Then make a public grovelling apology for your bigotry and a big donation to a transgender support charity that helps the people transphobia harms, and keep your opinions to yourself in the future!