Caitlyn Jenner’s alliance with Fox News is a net win for the trans community — even if we feel betrayed

Jenner wants people to trust her voice as representative of the trans experience without alienating her rich, conservative friends. And with that, truthfully, I can empathize

Jake D. Sauls
New York
Thursday 14 April 2022 19:58 BST
Caitlyn Jenner, seen here in her first appearance as a contributor on Fox News, talks with Sean Hannity about Flordia’s so-called ‘Don’t say gay’ bill.
Caitlyn Jenner, seen here in her first appearance as a contributor on Fox News, talks with Sean Hannity about Flordia’s so-called ‘Don’t say gay’ bill. (Fox News/screengrab video)

I had no idea who Caitlyn Jenner was before her infamous Vanity Fair cover in July 2015. I wasn’t around for her Olympic gold medal in ‘76, and the brand of fame she’d more recently cultivated with (now ex) wife Kris hadn’t exactly intersected with my interests or media habits. But while many considered her coming-out cover to be in bad taste, for one transphobic reason or another, I adored her for it. I loved that it was so audacious, so polarizing, so easily debatable that it generated hours of conversation at the little sandwich shop where I worked that year, finishing up my Master’s degree remotely from a small town in Texas and quietly transitioning from female to male.

When Jenner, then 65, came out to a lot of public ridicule I told myself that the least I could do was advocate for her, but I realize now there was some self-preservation involved. I was 32 that year, well-liked by the women I worked with, who were strong and mostly conservative, with big personalities and hearts. Not realizing I’d been assigned female at birth, they flirted, fussed over me, and tolerated my wokeness like one might treat a scampish child. The opinions and experiences they shared often surprised and delighted me, but their thoughts on transgender people came straight from Fox News. It’s a strange exercise in cognitive dissonance to hear a friend say, over post-shift drinks, that “people like him should kill themselves,” while waving a hand in the general direction of a group of humans that includes yourself.

I can’t be the only trans person who found inspiration in Jenner’s transition and defended her bitterly against the critics in their lives. I’m clearly not the only one who feels a sting of betrayal when she tweets things like, “It’s not transphobic or anti-trans, it’s COMMON SENSE!” in support of Florida Governor DeSantis’ call to strip swimmer Lia Thomas of her recent NCAA championship win. Interesting words from a woman who praised the Olympic committee for allowing medically transitioned athletes to compete in accordance with their correct gender in 2019.

Jenner knows that to be NCAA-approved, a transgender woman must be on testosterone blockers and estrogen for at least one year. And she knows firsthand what that regimen would do to an athlete’s body. I’d been on testosterone only four months when I started that job in Texas. I’d already gained 20 pounds of muscle in my thighs, arms and shoulders. Even my feet had grown in size. Lia Thomas has been medically transitioning since 2019.

The truth is, Jenner wants it both ways. Last weekend, in a confusing piece written for the New York Post, she called transitioning an act of living her life “authentically” – while continually referring to Thomas’ supposed “biological maleness.” Yet she uses the women’s room at Trump Tower and lobbies against laws that would jail her for doing so based on her own biological maleness. She claimed she’s not a “trans activist” during her debut as Fox News contributor, yet gave tens of thousands of dollars to gender-affirming charities after coming out.

Jenner also wants people to trust her voice as representative of the trans experience without alienating her rich, conservative friends. With that I can empathize. Her loyalty to – and desire to remain accepted by – her wealthy Republican buddies isn’t actually so different from my own experience.

I believed for a long time that the financial, emotional, and social toll of coming out to my co-workers in 2015 would have been too much to bear. But it was a part-time kitchen job and easily replaceable. Truthfully, it was easier for me to use Jenner a shield by making her into a talking-point with my colleagues, all the while feeling great about using my newfound male voice for good. In doing so, I reaped the benefits that this privilege afforded me. I liked my co-workers. It was validating when they unquestionably accepted my maleness and liked me back. Of course Jenner clings to her wealth, fame, and connections in a world where untold numbers of transgender lives go unfulfilled and end tragically. Who wouldn’t?

However betrayed we may feel by Jenner’s odd alliances, though, we must view her contributions to Fox as a net win for the community. For many viewers, Jenner’s will be the only openly transgender voice they’ve ever stopped to listen to. Period. It’s meaningful that my former co-workers will soon regularly find a trans woman on their radio in the school drop-off lane, invited to dinners in front of the TV, and even in their beds as they troll through the network stations late at night.

Before they know it, they’re going to start calling her Caitlyn. They’re going to start gendering her properly. They might even find themselves fearing her a little less. That’s the power of visibility: this familiarity will force the radical right to humanize her – and by extension all trans people – in ways that my closeted advocacy never could.

We’re lucky to have Caitlyn Jenner on our team — at least she’s an argument we can usually win.

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