I love medical students. They’re just crazy enough to do what I did 25 years ago, but haven’t yet had the idealism beaten out of them. They are young, driven, and honestly, a hell of a lot smarter than I was at the time, let alone now. Meeting with them, I see their stars rising as mine slowly sets, and yet they afford me opportunity to feel on top of a social situation. “You know that thing you want to do? That you are betting your entire future on? That you think about, dream about and obsess about until you can nearly taste it? I’ve been there. Done that.”1
So, when my psychiatrist asked if he could interview me in front of his medical students, who were studying gender and sexuality, I allowed as how it sounded like a lot of fun. I was expecting a handful of students, but ended up with the entire first year class–50 or so–a much better number for me. I am substantially more comfortable in front of a crowd than I am within an intimate circle, and I was definitely going to need to get comfortable. I understood going in that I was a rara avis to be dissected, and that their scientific curiosity would express itself in some very personal, intimate questions.
The hour did not disappoint. One student’s brilliant question2 gave me early occasion to point out that, contrary to worn cliché, there is such a thing as a stupid question. Without further clarification on my part, the students artfully avoided the most cringeworthy ones. Still, this was a psychiatry class, and they did ask tough, personal questions. When did I know? Were there earlier inklings? How had my sex life been affected? How did we manage to stay together as a family? Was I having problems at work? And what do I think about Caitlyn Jenner…
Just as in 2016 all Americans are expected to have an opinion on Donald Trump, so also must all trans-people be ready with an opinion about Cait Jenner. I tell you now what I related to them then–that coming out is hard, and that coming out in front of a billion or more people must be harder still; that I recognize that she is a shameless self-promoter, but that I am old enough to know that this has been part of her DNA since at least 1976; that trans people don’t undergo personality transplants. We work out gender shift within the context of who we already are. I think she has made some missteps, but that so have we all, and I wouldn’t call her out.
Until this headline…
Caitlyn Jenner Wants to Be ‘Trans Ambassador’ for Ted Cruz
WTF. I mean seriously…what the fucking fuck?
Being Ted Cruz’s transgender ambassador would be roughly equivalent to being the Teletubby ambassador to Mordor. Cruz regularly equates transgender people with sexual predators. He makes appearances and receives support from pastors who are not just anti-gay, but thoroughly on record as wanting to rid the nation of LGBT people. He devotes particular political energy to railing against protections for transgender children. That his five year old “knows there is a difference between boys and girls” is a regular punch line in his smarmy stump speeches. Some people are beyond persuasion. The best thing one can do regarding Cruz on transgender issues is to fight like hell to make sure he never gets elected.
I empathize with Cait as a fellow sojourner…a late-transitioning MTF transsexual who managed for a long season to bear the unwelcome burdens of masculine expectation, always longing for a different one to carry. I understand that she needs to be her own person and follow her own beliefs. Nevertheless, I cringe when she has four minute conversations with notoriously bigoted pastors, then acts as if some major breakthrough has occurred. Or when she visits with urban underclass women facing pressures she could never imagine, helpfully suggesting that maybe they should just “get a job.” Now she expresses her immense admiration for Ted Cruz and wants to help him on transgender issues.
There are good reasons why transgender people are wary of the GOP. Without a single exception, proposals to limit transgender rights have arisen from Republican legislatures or executives. We understand the codes. “Protecting our children” means kicking trans kids out of sports, clubs or bathrooms. “Defending the family” means legally invalidating trans or gay partnerships. “Defending religious liberty” means enacting laws which allow people to justify discrimination against LGBT people on the basis of their beliefs.3These things are not just coming from the far right fringes. They are mainstream Republican policies. They want judges who will “strictly interpret the Constitution,” by which they mean bolstering the 2nd Amendment (guns) and gutting the 14th (equal protection under the law for all citizens). Candidates for major office actually promote their hostility to transgender rights as positives, egged on by their rank and file. I’m sure just as many trans people come from conservative backgrounds as from progressive, but it’s damned hard to stay there if you are paying attention. Cait clearly is not.
Through no fault of her own4, the general public sees Cait as a leader if not the leader of the American trans community. Well, I’m not Cait, and many within the trans community are becoming frustrated with the extent to which she does not seem to grasp the issues which bear on us most acutely.
Why should she? This is all new for her. Coming out for Jenner has brought social promotion, positive attention and a resurgence of financial potential. It usually does the opposite. She is totally unconstrained by the often prohibitive costs of medical care. Although I certainly recognize her courage, no other trans person I know has ever received an award for it. For most of us, being trans isn’t a series of road trips and adventures with our posse in The Mystery Machine.
My best guess is that her path is horrible. From time to time I wish she’d spend a bit more time figuring herself out before she opines to the press. Then I remember that the only difference between her microphone and my blog is the number of people paying attention. She relishes the spotlight, but I doubt she could escape it either. I take a breath, continue to wish her well and give her due props for enduring transition under the microscope. Still, I can’t sit quietly when she backs a smug, ill-tempered, transphobic bigot for our nation’s highest office. Even from a sister, this is unforgivable.