In an interview with Time Magazine it would appear that Caitlyn Jenner has once again gone and upset certain parts of the transgender community by making some pretty ill thought out and insulting comments about the physical appearances of trans women.
In the interview Caitlyn talks about projecting a ‘good image for this community’, referring to the transgender community. The interviewer asks her ‘And what is a good image?’, giving Caitlyn the opening to make her comment that has upset many people.
‘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 that it is much easier for trans women or trans men who authentically kind of looks and plays the role. So what I call 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. When I go out, Kim says, got to rock it because the paparazzi will be there. The second thing I want to do in living my life authentically is be intelligent on the subject. Hopefully as time goes on I’ll learn more and more and more and get better at that.’
Now, some of you may have noticed one or two things in that one response that highlight a number of concerns, I know many other people have.
First and most obvious, Caitlyn makes the comment about some trans women looking like a ‘man in a dress’, and the fact that it ‘makes people uncomfortable’. This one tiny statement is so insulting and damaging it’s shocking that it’s coming from another trans woman. Then again, I’m sure some people in the trans community are actually very familiar with this kind of thing.
Something that not many cis people will realise is that there is actually a lot of transphobia within the trans community itself. It’s not a pleasant thing, and it’s not something that the trans community likes to highlight, as it will give our haters something else to latch onto, but it is very real. Trans-on-trans transphobia is quite simply when one trans person judges or makes comment on another trans person’s identity or physical appearance in order to make that person appear less valid, to put them down, to insult them and exclude them. All this is usually done in an attempt to make the person doing it feel better about themselves.
Whilst some of you might be reading that and thinking that it’s ridiculous and that it couldn’t possibly happen, well, just ask people in the transgender community about it. Chances are if they haven’t experienced it themselves they’ve seen it happen to someone they know. I have, more times that I’d like. I’ve even been on the receiving end of it. I’ve seen people who are worried about their physical appearance find trans women to abuse for ‘not looking feminine enough’, purely so that it will boost their confidence as to how feminine they themselves look. A ‘well, I don’t look that bad so I must be okay’ approach to dealing with their own fears and insecurities.
Caitlyn is essentially doing this. Yes, it might not be targeted at any one person in particular, but that just makes it worse. She’s making broad sweeping statements that can effect many members of the transgender, and gender non-conforming, community that can cause damage.
Cailyn is saying that if you don’t fit into the very rigid ‘rules’ of the cis-normative standards of beauty then you ‘make people uncomfortable’. She’s saying if you don’t ‘authentically’ look male or female then people will make an issue of it. She’s reinforcing every fear that someone who doesn’t stick to these cis standards that they will be treated badly, that they will get mocked and harassed, that their lives could be put in danger, because they don’t look ‘real’ enough.
What’s worse, is that she’s telling cis people that it’s okay to think this way too. Earlier in the same interview she spoke out against the notion that she’s a ‘spokesperson’ for the trans community, saying ‘I am not a spokesperson for the trans community, I am not. The media kind of projects me as being the spokesperson, but from my standpoint, I am not. I am a spokesperson for my story and that’s all I can tell.’ She’s making it clear that she doesn’t want to be the trans spokesperson, but she also acknowledges that a lot of people view her that way. With the amount of media attention she receives, and her prominence in the international community she has to realise that even if she does not want that title, a lot of people will always see her as having it. Because of that, she should really consider her words a lot more carefully.
She may not want to be seen as the figurehead for the trans community, and pretty much every other trans person is against that idea too, but she should have that in the back of her mind when speaking about the trans community. The things she says will be seen as speaking for every trans person by certain people, and if she’s putting across the view that the only ‘authentic’ trans people are the ones who don’t look like a ‘man in a dress’, then that’s giving cis people the all clear to discriminate against those trans people they don’t feel meet their cis standards of beauty.
Not everyone in the trans community wants to meet these standards Caitlyn. Not every trans woman wants long flowing hair and an hourglass figure. Not every trans man wants a big beard and a six pack. Some people just want to live how they feel comfortable, whether it fits into the world view as being ‘authentic’ or not. Some people don’t want to live as either male or female, and their validity as a person should not rest on whether you feel they look ‘authentic’ or not.
You’re a rich person Caitlyn, a very rich person. You probably use more money in a day then I do in a year. Many, many members of the trans community are far from your level of wealth. A lot of members of the trans community would technically be ‘poor’. We cannot afford the best clothes, the best makeup, feminisation surgery or stylists. We don’t have the money to be able to dress exactly how we would like all the time. Many of us have to make do.
The level of poverty in the trans community is high, one of the highest in any minority group, we can’t go out and throw money at our appearance just to not make people feel uncomfortable. Some of us are happy with the way we look and present, some of us aren’t, but can’t do anything about it because we don’t have money like you do. Should these trans people never go out into the world because they might make cis people feel uncomfortable?
The message being sent in this interview is a bad one. Caitlyn is basking in her achievements and throwing the rest of the trans community under the bus, and not for the first time. She says that she doesn’t want to be a spokesperson for the transgender community, but in the same interview says that ‘In doing what I do it will be more of a leadership role’. She’s full on contradictions and mixed messages. She wants to be seen as a great leader of the trans community, to be praised for how ‘authentic’ she is as a woman, but will gladly throw other members of the transgender community into the firing line to do so.
To me this just looks like another case of trans-on-trans transphobia, where someone in the community is looking down on others to make themselves feel better about their own fears and insecurities. Unfortunately, it coming from such a prominent and public figure means that her words and actions will cause a lot of damage.