Caitlyn Jenner makes the news yet again, and yet again, whenever trans rights or issues are discussed, she is at the center of that discussion. Earlier, Jenner was the subject of two public feuds, so to speak – one with James Smith of New York City, whose late wife Moira is a 9/11 hero, and the other is actress Rose McGowan. I’ll get to McGowan in a minute. First, Mr. Smith.
Moira Smith was a cop with the NYPD, who died on 9/11. In honor of her bravery, Glamour magazine named her “Woman of the Year” in 2001. In the ensuing years since, other women have been honored by the title, some real heroes like Smith, and others celebrities like Helen Mirren or Britney Spears. Last year, Laverne Cox was honored as Woman of the Year. So, this year, Caitlyn Jenner was bestowed the title, which did not sit well with Mr. Smith, who decided to send back the award and wrote on Facebook:
“On October 29th, 2001 I was honored to accept the Glamour Magazine “Woman of the Year Award” posthumously given to my wife, Police Officer Moira Smith. Moira was killed on September 11th, 2001 while rescuing thousands from the World Trade Center. EMT Yamel Merino was also posthumously honored that evening for her heroism.
I was shocked and saddened to learn that Glamour has just named Bruce Jenner “Woman of the Year”. I find it insulting to Moira Smith’s memory, and the memory of other heroic women who have earned this award. Was there no woman in America, or the rest of the world, more deserving than this man? At a time when we have women in the armed forces fighting and dying for our country, heroic doctors fighting deadly diseases, women police officers and firefighters putting their lives on the line for total strangers, brave women overcoming life threatening diseases…the list of possibilities goes on…is this the best you could do?
I can only guess that this was a publicity stunt meant to resuscitate a dying medium.
After discussing this slap in the face to the memory of our Hero with my family, I have decided to return Moira’s award to Glamour Magazine.”
So, obviously, if the magazine is giving out these honors to brave women like Moira Smith, then Caitlyn Jenner pales in comparison. After all, her contribution to social justice is minimal at best. But what is disturbing about Smith’s missive is his misuse of Jenner’s name (“I was shocked and saddened to learn that Glamour just named Bruce Jenner ‘Woman of the Year'”) and misgendering her as male (“… more deserving than this man?”) He goes on to argue that there are other, more deserving women who should’ve been crowned Woman of the Year by Glamour magazine.
That argument that Jenner doesn’t deserve the honor is a solid one. After all, what did she do? Aside from coming out? But folks on social media – including the TERFs who claim to fight for women’s rights as long as it’s the right kind of women (hmmm, exclusionary feminism, it didn’t work in the 70s and it won’t work now) and the lizard-brained fundies who still hold on to the claim that Jenner isn’t a woman but a product of an elaborate and very expensive makeover. I hear arguments that to be a woman means one must understand sexism, the threat of violence and sexual assault, childbirth (yup, some of these so-called feminists went there), menstruation (yeah, there too), the income wage gap, and job discrimination, among other anti-woman ills. These evils are horrible, and women have to face many of them – all women. Because trans women – particularly trans women of color – also worry about violence and sexual assault. They may not worry about childbirth or menstruation, but many worry about access to hormone treatments. Trans women of color face murder rates that are epidemic. Many trans women have to turn to sex work (a reality for cis women, as well). And trans women are some of the most vulnerable in our society when it comes to job discrimination. And in some states, where they pee is up for debate. But in the magical fairylands of some of these TERFs, trans women are living these lives of privilege, because they, like everyone else in America has gotten Caitlyn Jenner confused with the rest of the trans community.
Caitlyn Jenner is not the face of the transgender experience because there is no one face – there are many men and women, all of their voices vital and important. While Jenner’s role in the movement is much-needed visibility, her privilege shields her from most of the horrible problems that many trans women (and cis women) face. But let’s face it, Jenner’s daughters all have the kind of independence and privilege bought by their income, that they too won’t have to struggle in the same way that women do in this country. They don’t worry about issues of access to healthcare, paid leave, job discrimination, or the income wage gap. Jenner’s issue with womanhood isn’t about being trans, it’s about being a rich, privileged 1%er who is at best, a tourist in the world of anti-tran discrimination.
So, at the Glamour event, Jenner was interviewed for a quick fluff piece that was meant to be fun, informative, and inspirational. In the quick interview, Jenner was asked what is the most difficult part of being a woman, and Jenner – who is at a Glamour event, mind you – Glamour, the magazine whose site has a headline that reads “14 Times that Ariana Grande Didn’t Wear a Ponytail” (we’re not talking about the Economist), that the hardest part about being a woman is “figuring out what to wear.” A doofy statement sure. But let’s step back and think for a moment about the context in which Jenner said this – we’re talking about a woman who is faced with being authentic for the first time in her 65 year-old life. For many of us who are pretty okay with our identities, the simple act of choosing an outfit is something we take for granted. For Jenner, it’s a new thing – she’s almost like a teen-aged girl, getting permission from her mom to wear what she wants for the first time. It can be an overwhelming thing – especially, since clothing is often such an important marker of gender identity.
Anyways, lots of memes popped up on the Internet, grabbing Jenner’s statement and superimposing it on pictures of women with their faces mutilated by acid or disfigured by bruises and cuts. The implication is that Jenner, who’s so swaddled in privilege and wealth, has no idea what it means to be a woman. Except she does. She knows what it means to be a rich and pampered woman. Her obliviousness is no different to Sarah Palin, Ann Romney, Kris Jenner (see what I did there?), Hillary Clinton, Barbara Bush, Gwyneth Paltrow, or any other famous, rich (usually white) woman who has forgotten that not every one is a gazillionaire. But when Palin, Romney, Jenner, et al say something stupid, these women are judged solely for their words, and not for their identities as women. But for Jenner, we always have to remind her that not only is she privileged, but she was also presented as male at one point.
So, Rose McGowan. On a particularly yucky Facebook post, McGowan blasted Jenner writing “Caitlyn Jenner you do not understand what being a woman is about at all. You want to be a woman and stand with us- well learn us. We are more than deciding what to wear. We are more than the stereotypes foisted upon us by people like you. You’re a woman now? Well fucking learn that we have had a VERY different experience than your life of male privilege…” She later added an amendment that read, “Let me amend this by saying I’m happy for what she’s doing visibility wise for the trans community, and I’m happy she’s living her truth, but comments like hers have consequences for other women. How we are perceived, what our values are, and leads to more stereotyping. If you know you are going to be speaking to media About being a woman, maybe come to understand our struggles.”
Aaand, because some trans-friendly folks (as well as trans folks) gave her some crap, she posted, “Let me take this moment to point out that I am not, nor will I ever be, transphobic. The idea is laughable. Disliking something a trans person has said is no different than disliking something a man has said or that a woman has said. Being trans doesn’t make one immune from criticism. I know that being a public figure is not easy. Being Caitlyn Jenner is most assuredly not easy, but that doesn’t absolve her of her of responsibility. Living as a woman in this backwards society is hard. We need all hands on deck. Those who have the microphone speak to many. Especially that family. I’d be thrilled to fight alongside Caitlyn Jenner. I just want her to know there is a monumental fight to be had. Let’s start retraining thought patterns. Let’s go forwards, not backwards. And maybe next time I’ll curse less. Maybe. Fight on.”
But the problem is McGowan was being transphobic, but because her target was a particularly low-hanging one, she gets some sort of pass. In her post, she writes that Jenner not “understand what being a woman is all about.” The problem with that is that no one, and everyone who identifies as a woman knows what being a woman is all about because Rose McGowan’s identity and concept of womanhood is obviously very different from Caitlyn Jenner’s. And while I find Rose McGowan’s political and social consciousnesses and identity (which I assume is intersected with her gender identity) much more interesting and vital than Jenner’s, it doesn’t mean that Jenner’s is somehow wrong. She then asks rhetorically “You’re a woman now?” No, Jenner was always a woman. Trans people are born that way – just because Jenner’s transition was open and public for the last year or so, she has spoken about her struggles with gender identity for her whole life. Jenner was never a man, she was always a woman, but she was misgendered at birth, and forced by rigid gender roles to conform to traditional masculinity for more than 60 years of her life. Yes, those years brought her great wealth and acclaim, both of which causes Jenner to misspeak. A lot. But again, Jenner isn’t new at being a woman – she’s new at being one openly and publicly, too different things.
McGowan writes that living in our backwards society is hard. And she’s right – it’s very hard. Especially hard for women. Particularly women of color. But trans women don’t have it easier. Folks like to imagine that trans women benefited from years of privilege, and examples like Jenner’s don’t help. The truth is most trans women won’t have the easy-ish road that Jenner did. Most trans women won’t be able to transition into glamazonious goddesses and come out looking like WWII pinups if they wanted to. McGowan’s followup to her initial post essentially reiterates what I said: that Jenner shouldn’t get a free pass because she’s trans – if she says something stupid, it’s the same as if it were a cis man or a cis woman (though again, in McGowan’s world, there are three categories: “trans person, man, and woman”). Except that she did question Jenner’s credentials as a woman – something, theoretically, she couldn’t do, if she were railing against a cis woman.
The reason I bring this all up is because in Houston, scaremongering efforts to demonize the trans community resulted in the failure of anti-discrimination law. The opposition to the law won on the fear of having trans women use women restrooms. There’s also a project that seeks to remove the “T” from the LGBT movement and it’s got a petition on change.org. And there is support for this largely-symbolic move by members of the gay community and the feminist community (and the folks who straddle both communities).
And I’m sad.
I’m sad for all my trans friends. And I’m sad for all the trans kids out there. And I’m sad for the trans activists, whose work has been made harder by the backlash engendered by Caitlyn Jenner. And I’m sad for Caitlyn Jenner, who doesn’t even have the luxury of being a celebrity without having to be reminded constantly of how she’s failing as a woman and failing as a trans icon.
As I write this, I realize, I think about Caitlyn Jenner a lot. Too much, in fact. I never was a fan of her or her family, nor did I follow their various, unsavory exploits on television or the tabloids. I was proud for the hot minute that a lot of the communities on the Internet was supportive of Jenner (though a lot of it was due to her being gorgeous). I just wish that every time Caitlyn Jenner popped up in a comment thread, the discussion did not have to turn into a Trans Issues 101 class. I wish that trans folks didn’t get put on blast because a vacuous member of their tiny community is its de facto mouthpiece. I wish that cis women did not feel that trans women were somehow encroaching on their right to be called a woman – I wish that no woman would feel the need to make a laundry list of all the micro and macro aggressions she went through, so that she can prove that she is somehow more deserving of the title of “woman” than a trans woman – and more than that, I wish these women never had to go through any of these micro to macro aggressions.
Despite my disagreement with McGowan, she did say something in her second post about Jenner that I found very true – and devastatingly heartbreaking. She wrote “I just want [Jenner] to know there is a monumental fight to be had.” McGowan’s right. The fight is monumental. In Texas, it’s reported that over 100,000 women have resorted to performing their own abortions. In other states, clinics are shutting their doors and lawmakers are adding more obstacles to make choice impossible. These attempts at restricting women’s rights should have all of us up in arms, mad as hell, and standing up against the forces that work against progress. Women’s rights should be on all our minds. All women’s rights.