Caitlyn Jenner Shouldn’t Have To Stand For All Trans Women

It’s great that Caitlyn Jenner is winning fans on I’m A Celebrity, says Juno Dawson – but she doesn’t represent most trans women’s experience.

Caitlyn Jenner

by Juno Dawson |
Updated on

In an increasingly divided world, we are encouraged to pick a side every day. Everything is left or right; Leave or Remain; Kate or Meghan. Few people, however, leave me as conflicted as Caitlyn Jenner, currently serving her reality TV sentence down under in I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here!

I’m not going to slag her off on a personal level – trans women get enough of that in the press without us turning on each other. Besides, Jenner has done more for trans awareness than anybody else. Her Vanity Fair cover in 2015 blasted the notion of transgenderism into every corner of the globe. A universal awakening. Unlike trailblazers April Ashley, Nadia Almada or even Laverne Cox, Jenner was already a well-known personality, thanks to her previous career as an Olympic decathlete and then, more recently, on reality TV as the former spouse of Kris Kardashian.

See how I got through that whole paragraph without getting her gender wrong once? That’s important for later. The problem isn’t necessarily Jenner, it’s the press. The press can be lazy. When a woman from a minority group makes waves in the media, it’s all too easy for that individual tobecome spokesperson for the entire group. We’ll never know how much Jenner wanted to speak on behalf of transgender women, but nevertheless, that was the position she found herself in after that magazine cover.

Unfortunately, that’s problematic. Jenner’s experience is far too drenched in privilege to be considered representative of anyone but herself. A phenomenally wealthy, Republican-voting Trump fan with a penchant for wedging her foot firmly in her mouth does not speak for me. The fact she avoided any charges for a fatal road accident in 2015 was... questionable. She once notably said the hardest part of being a woman was ‘deciding what to wear’ after being named US Glamour magazine’s Woman of the Year.

I’m sure – like fully sure – she was being humorously flippant, but that’s sort of the issue: if we elevate one or two people to the position of ‘role model’ they become emblematic for all of us. Every half-baked thought that pops out of Jenner’s mouth is weaponised against a community she isn’t truly part of. That quote has been used by anti-trans groups to illuminate how trans women are superficial flakes who’ll never qualify as ‘real women’. That’s how high the stakes are in the current climate, and that’s why Jenner appearing on ITV for the next month makes me nervous. Who knows what mad shit she’ll say, and how I’ll have to defend it for the next five years. Already, Twitter is proving itself to be the absolute worst by picking apart Jenner’s appearance and speech. The use of her old name or gender are commonplace.

They could have a transgender MAN in the jungle! Yes! They exist! What about Emmerdale star Ash Palmisciano?

I demonstrated in the second paragraph how simple it is to treat trans people with basic manners, but I guess it’s bants to take quick, cheap, Ricky Gervais-style pot-shots, isn’t it? (Presenting the 2016 Golden Globes, Gervais made Jenner the butt of a series of jokes.)

Making transphobic comments about a trans woman’s appearance should concern all women. Trans women are often judged on how they look, how well they ‘pass’. This isn’t criteria we set for ourselves. Flagging how beautiful some trans women are, or how ‘successful’ someone is at ‘looking like a woman’, is indicative of how all women are treated in society. First, it suggests a culturally agreed notion of what a woman looks like: thin, petite, feminine. It also demonstrates how women are valued based on how they look – we are all ranked in terms of being passable, just in different contexts. It’s just more an observable effect in the case of trans women like Jenner. (For what it’s worth, I think she looks phenomenal for 70 years old.)

I’ve tried, but I can’t be mad at Jenner. Her series, I Am Cait, showed a different side to her. Ambitious, yes, but a people-pleaser, a class clown always trying to crack a joke. She’s the wacky aunt you only see at Christmas. As I write this, I’m only two episodes into I’m A Celebrity and it’s this side to Jenner we’re seeing. She was maternal towards a terrified Nadine Coyle, companionable with the camp mates – happy to answer questions about her past. This is questionable too: Jenner has a role in life beyond educating cis people about what it means to be trans. Like, they can google it when they get out.

No doubt that’s what the producers are hoping for. Once more, Jenner is putting trans issues centre stage on primetime TV. While I always welcome representation in the media, this is the same representation we had in 2015. The makers could have called upon RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Agnes ‘Peppermint’ Moore, a very clever transgender woman with a lot to say on race, class and politics. What about model and activist Munroe Bergdorf ? Or they could have a transgender MAN in the jungle! Yes! They exist! What about Emmerdale star Ash Palmisciano, or former EastEnder Riley Carter Millington?

It feels like the media wants trans people in a certain box. We’re wheeled out to be debated, when no human life should be up for debate. We have no real voice behind the scenes, no editorial control of the way we’re presented. I’m assuming the people producing I’m A Celebrity are not trans. They get to decide what story Jenner will tell in the jungle and that’s worrying to ‘regular’ trans women like me.

READ MORE: I’m A Celebrity: Who Is Caitlyn Jenner’s Partner, Sophia Hutchins?

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