That collective groan you heard recently? It was the transgender community nationwide learning Caitlyn Jenner launched her bid for Governor of California.
That whistling kettle-like sound you also heard? It was our collective anger boiling over when she said this weekend, “It’s a question of fairness, that why I propose that biological boys that are trans competing in girls’ sports in school…it just isn’t fair, and we have to protect girls’ sports in our schools.”
When a reporter asked Jenner if her views de-legitimized trans girls’ identities, she ran away. You can see the whole exchange right here.
Never mind that the laws Jenner professes to support stigmatize an already vulnerable population. Never mind that supporters of these laws can’t produce concrete examples of trans girls unfairly outcompeting or disadvantaging cisgender girls.
Never mind that these laws will likely result in harassment of cis’ girl athletes, potentially forcing them to undergo invasive genital examinations to play sports. Never mind that the International Olympic Committee and the NCAA already have regulations to address the hormonal issue of trans women in sports.
No. Facts are inconvenient in the world of GOP politics, where Caitlyn Jenner lives. In that world, and in Caitlyn’s world, it’s all about Caitlyn.
Fewer politicians and celebrities have experienced a bigger fall from grace (except maybe Rudy Giuliani and John Edwards) than Caitlyn Jenner.
Once, she was a hero of the trans community. In those distant halcyon days of 2015, when she graced the cover of Vanity Fair with her journey, Jenner no doubt inspired some trans people to embrace their own identities and start their own journey.
Then, 2016 happened.
Jenner, fresh with influence and a new reality show, decided Ted Cruz would make a fine President. That’s right: Ted Cruz, who never missed an opportunity to be transphobic on the campaign trail.
Cruz was promptly eviscerated by Trump, who then earned Jenner’s platitudes even though he was filling his campaign (and later his administration) with far-right zealots, who then spent four years enacting a veritable slate of plans to discriminate against the LGBTQ community.
Jenner, for her part, would go on to apologize in 2018 for endorsing Trump. She made some efforts to repair the bridges she had burned by donating to support transgender people.
But when Jenner decided to run for governor, she reconnected with some of those in Trump’s orbit — including Caroline Wren, who helped organize the former president’s Jan. 6 pre-insurrection rally, and Brad Parscale, Trump’s former campaign manager.
When I started writing this article, I thought Jenner’s campaign was merely a means of giving the Republican Party plausible deniability or the equivalent of “I have a trans friend.” Polls routinely show Americans support LGBTQ rights, and 7 in 10 support the Equality Act in Congress. I hoped Jenner was positioning herself to advocate on behalf of trans youth within her party.
Unfortunately, Jenner’s comments are devastating. As a former U.S. Gold Medal Olympian, Jenner’s comments give the GOP a way to bypass claims of transphobia and claim credibility in the field of athletics. With her statement this past weekend, Jenner shows she is willing to harm the trans community and will parrot baseless talking points for… pretty much nothing.
In politics, we call that a useful idiot.
This term refers to politicians who are willing to sell out their country, party or constituency in pursuit of political advancement and power, but who then gain none of those things. Jenner is making a Faustian bargain, desperately seeking attention and approval from people who are actually intent on stripping away her legal rights.
Because let’s be blunt: Jenner isn’t going to be Governor of California. Her campaign barely exists on paper, let alone in the world. Since announcing for the race, she has done no interviews and held no campaign events. Other California Republicans with a better shot and more serious long-term aspirations are likely to enter the recall effort soon, too.
Through it all, Jenner will have gained nothing. Definitely not the office she covets, not the attention she learned to crave as a reality TV star, and certainly not credentials as a transgender activist.
No, with her careless words about trans girls in sports, Jenner has helped anti-transgender Republicans in 34 states who needed ammo to gun their trans sports ban bills across finish lines nationwide. Jenner has done nothing but cause immeasurable harm to some of the most vulnerable members of our community.
She will eventually fall into well-deserved obscurity, desperate to relive her glory days of 2015. But it falls on us, the shoulders of the LGBTQ+ community, to undo her damage. We will need to stand fast against the onslaught of this horrendous anti-trans legislation sweeping across the country.
I offer this as a politician with a clear track record of looking out for the collective good: to all you trans kids out there, don’t hold Jenner up on a pedestal. Don’t listen to her, and don’t give up.
You ARE valid. You DO belong. Never stop fighting for YOUR place in this world. The words and actions of cynical self-interested politicians like Jenner may hurt, but their time is fleeting, and their ideology is failing. The future belongs to you.
(cover photo by Web Summit-Flickr is of Caitlyn Jenner presenting to its international conference in 2017 in Lisbon, Spain.)