Here's what's fascinating about Caitlyn Jenner: Since undergoing her transformation, she has gone from being part of the most fortunate and privileged group on the planet—wealthy, white, and male—to a community which is more susceptible to violent attacks, poverty, and varying forms of discrimination than any other. Despite her status as a trans woman, Caitlyn is still rich, still white, and certainly more famous than ever. Even so, she is considered a minority now, and one shouldn’t expect the demographic shift to go completely smoothly. On the other hand, who would have thought she'd have the hubris to step into the spotlight and serve as a de facto spokesperson for a community which, as it turns out, she knows very little about.
Perhaps it's problematic to reduce a woman to one voting issue. But when that woman is outspoken on national TV, and positioning herself as a representative for others like her—one who is already more privileged than many people she represents—yes, she should be held to a different standard.
To her credit, though, Caitlyn Jenner wants to learn. And through her reality show, I Am Cait, she is getting schooled by her trans sisters on national television. Yet there is a stubbornness to Jenner that is increasingly painful to watch. During the show’s season premiere, which aired earlier this week, Jenner defiantly defended the GOP as a party of tolerance.
In a heated debate, trans activist and writer Jennifer Finney Boylan asked Jenner who among the GOP presidential field would be most supportive of trans people. In response, Jenner claimed, “All of ‘em.” Jenner said this without adding “SIKE!” or howling in ironic laughter. Instead, Jenner continued, “None of the Republicans say, ‘Oh, I hate trans people,’ or, ‘I hate gays.’ Nothing like that. They do more, ‘I want a thriving economy so every trans person has a job.’”
When Boylan noted that conservatives were behind efforts to repeal the anti-discrimination ordinance known as the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), that offered broad non-discrimination protections, Jenner said, “Don’t go there.” Jenner went on to say, “Republicans and conservatives are not these horrible people out there trying to oppress people… I don’t know anything of what they said down there, but I’m not blaming it on Republicans and conservatives.”
Jenner admits she knows nothing “of what they said down there,” but speaks on the issue anyway. Meanwhile, Boylan was right: Conservatives and religious leaders managed to defeat the anti-discrimination ordinance by preying on voters’ transphobia with signs like “NO MEN in Women’s Bathrooms.”
Interestingly enough, when the subject of Hillary Rodham Clinton came up, Jenner dismissed her, arguing, "[Hillary] couldn't care less about women. She cares about herself.”
Clinton has actually pledged support to women and the LGBT community; one expert argues she'd "do wonders for women." If there’s anyone who seems to only care about herself—notably when it comes to her politics—it is Caitlyn Jenner. That’s not to take away the good that she’s done in terms of boosting trans visibility, and with respect to reaching out to young trans people, but there is a missed opportunity with Jenner when it comes to speaking truth to power.
For those who might argue that I Am Cait was taped months ago, it’s pretty clear that Caitlyn Jenner is still singing the same song. In a recent profile for The Advocate, Jenner says: “I like Ted Cruz. I think he’s very conservative and a great constitutionalist and a very articulate man. I haven’t endorsed him or anything like that. But I also think, he’s an evangelical Christian, and probably one of the worst ones when it comes to trans issues.”
Jenner acknowledges, “Democrats are better when it comes to these types of social issues,” but then cites reasons why the GOP is better, mentioning the national debt. Jenner goes on to say about Cruz: “Wouldn’t it be great, let’s say he goes on to be president. And I have all my girls on a trans issues board to advise him on making decisions when it comes to trans issues. Isn’t that a good idea?”
Probably not. Cruz called protections for transgender students a “ridiculous” decision promoted by “zealots” and stated, “I don’t want my daughters taking showers with little boys.” In a separate interview, Cruz said that respecting trans students’ identities amounts to “inflicting” them on other students.
Caitlyn Jenner becoming the “trans ambassador” to President Ted Cruz seems about as likely as Donald Trump going down on George Lopez on the Mexican border. Still, Jenner repeated her pledge to talk to the GOP candidate recently on the Today show.
This is why Jenner is such a polarizing figure. She seems to be more concerned with the economy and financial issues than trans issues. I don’t expect her to abandon her political ideology, but I do think anyone who purports to serve as an advocate ought to be informed and be willing to amend past stances should they be proven wrong. So far, that is not the case with Caitlyn Jenner.
Yes, I Am Cait is a TV show, and thus, needs conflict and tension to thrive. Jenner's conservative views serve as vessel for that. While I don't expect her to be the perfect spokesperson overnight, you would think these new friends—who were very much hired to serve as equal parts homegirl and educator—might've made a dent by now. They haven't, and the friction hasn't produced great ratings; the season opener scored a series low. What we're watching is a stuck-in-her-ways Jenner more or less ignoring reality on a reality show.
If it doesn't make for good television and it isn't good for the trans community, what is the point?
Michael Arceneaux is a Houston-bred, Howard University educated writer who wants a show that'll allow him to recite UGK lyrics with Beyoncé. He's working on his first book, I Can't Date Jesus, for Atria Books.