BY DONNIE CIANCIOTTO | I ’m going to tell you a secret. I’ve never watched a single episode of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.” I’ve never read an article about any of them, regardless of how many times they’ve “broken” the Internet. The Kardashians have just never done it for me.
I also didn’t care much about Caitlyn Jenner — formerly Bruce — until it was impossible to buy a six-pack and a bag of chips without 12 different tabloid covers about her staring at me in the checkout line. I’m a transgender man, so I also tuned in because it’s personal.
When Diane Sawyer interviewed Caitlyn, I was glued to the TV. Immediately after, I was glued to social media waiting for the fallout. But it wasn’t until Caitlyn’s Vanity Fair cover that the proverbial LGBT shit hit the fan.
“She’s never fought for LGBT rights!”
“She’s not a positive role model for our community!”
“She’s [gasp] a Republican!”
I’ll admit I can’t wrap my head around the oxymoron of LGBT Republicans. I imagine a lot of them are reacting to internalized homophobia, fear of rejection from family, the pursuit of personal wealth above all else, and any number of “issues.”
Consider the many conservative, anti-LGBT politicians caught having secret sexy time with other men (I’m talking about you Ted Haggard, George Rekers, Randy Boehning, Eddie Long, and many others). As much as I want to smack these guys, I also pity them. Though I’ve been pretty miserable at times in my life, I’ve never been that self-loathing or let’s-go-meet-an-escort-and-not-tell-my-wife miserable.
But Caitlyn Jenner doesn’t deserve to be in that category. Like many transgender people, she spent the majority of her life in denial. Like me, she started hormone therapy years ago and then stopped because she was afraid. That really does a number on your psyche.
Most likely, Caitlyn didn’t start advocating for transgender people until she was fighting her own internal battles, hoping this “thing” would just go away. Coming to grips with being transgender was difficult enough for me, and I’m just an Average Joe who works in the theater industry, has two gay brothers, and an accepting family. I’m not a gold-winning Olympic athlete who defined masculinity on a box of Wheaties. I can only imagine how difficult it’s been for her.
If Caitlyn is as Republican as her critics claim, we should give her the benefit of the doubt. As she embraces her true self and lives authentically, the labels and ideologies she clung to for protection may fall away. No more facade to keep up, no more box to fit in — she’ll find freedom living the way she was born to live. At least that’s been my experience.
She hasn’t faced employment or housing discrimination because of her gender identity, but that’s no reason to discount her story. It’s got to be quite a shock to go from privileged, white, straight guy to older transgender woman, especially if she also now identifies as a lesbian. That’s a minority double coupon and a mindfuck, even for Kardashian fans.
Granted, I’ve met formerly privileged transgender women who transition later in life and suddenly believe they’re the mouthpiece of the movement. They make it easy for me to tease, “Yeah, your life must have been so hard living as a rich, white, straight dude.” Some deserve my bitter cattiness, but not all older transgender women are like that, including — so far — Caitlyn Jenner.
Besides, blanket criticism like that only hurts the transgender community. It’s simply a personality thing. Some people are nice and some people are jerks, regardless of their gender identity. The fact that Jenner didn’t have to fight for her rights up until this point is no reason to kick her out of the club. It’s an opportunity to embrace her and say, “Welcome to the other side of the coin,” while releasing balloons and doves into the sky.
As a legally-recognized female and, likely, a lesbian, Caitlyn went from being able to get married anywhere to having to wait for the forthcoming Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, just like the rest of us. So, instead of looking at her as a privileged, white male, let’s see her for what she is: a transgender woman. That makes her family.
If the LGBT community can’t accept one of our own because of hang-ups or biases — against Republicans or, even worse, Kardashians — then we are the ones with the problem. We don’t have to like every transgender person we meet, but I think we should at least try to understand his or her journey, and the first step is respect. Caitlyn Jenner is fighting a battle, just like all of us. Respect that.
When a high profile celebrity like Jenner comes out as transgender, it brings unprecedented attention to the movement, and that’s a good thing. Because of Caitlyn, the world is being educated about transgender people.
Seriously, who wouldn’t want to be on the cover of Vanity Fair? And yes, she does look glamorous. Even though her looks mirror society’s narrow, gender-binary definition of “beautiful,” are you really going to hold looking like Jessica Lange against her? I still want to look like Jessica Lange!
As Caitlyn told Diane Sawyer, the transgender experience is different for everyone. But by coming out so publicly, Caitlyn has enabled transgender rights and needs, from safety in schools to health care, to be talked about in an unprecedented way. From Chaz Bono to Carmen Carrera, Laverne Cox, and now Caitlyn Jenner, there’s no longer an excuse to deny the transgender experience. Shouldn’t that be celebrated?
What Caitlyn does with the spotlight is up to her, good or bad. But the path she’s opened for the community as a whole is a good thing. If having Caitlyn on the cover of Vanity Fair starts a conversation that eventually makes it easier for transgender people to access gender-confirming surgeries — a much better term than sexual reassignment surgery — how could anyone say that’s a bad thing? Maybe now a young transgender girl like Leelah Alcorn won’t lose hope and take her own life — because when she googles “transgender” Caitlyn appears on the cover of Vanity Fair.
I’m looking forward to watching Caitlyn’s new reality show because I’m genuinely curious about her journey. But If you’re not interested, you don’t have to watch it. After all, I don’t keep up with the Kardashians.
Donnie Cianciotto is a 34-year-old transgender man and a writer, singer, actor, craft-beer enthusiast, former drag king, political junkie, and activist from New York City, currently trapped in Arizona. He’s the founder and artistic director of Musical Mayhem Cabaret.