We’ve been here before with Kellie Maloney: late transitioning, ex sports superstar, comes out and smug people with no actual experience of being trans themselves from every corner of life come out to “congratulate” her and wish her well and celebrate all the wonderful progress that’s supposedly been made for and on behalf of trans people. Of course, with Caitlyn, it’s much worse than that, because her family has been at the centre of a media frenzy since 2007 and people actually recognise the name “Bruce Jenner”, if not Caitlyn.
In this magazine cover, we’re celebrating many insidious things. Primarily it’s the unrealistic and for many unattainable standards of patriarchal beauty, no doubt accentuated by the photoshopped cover on the issue of Vanity Fair. The pose is very typical: in lingerie, hands behind back, warm look - in a word, sexualised beyond compare. It’s no coincidence that practically every adoring comment from every well meaning liberal has been about how “amazing” she looks - and it’s no surprise that this is something fuelled by money and resources that average trans people simply do not have. Simultaneously, this raises the bar for everyone yet to come out and everyone yet to transition - comparisons between this heavily manufactured sixty something and the individual struggling to get by will be lazily drawn by every half hearted supporter they find, normalising accentuation surgeries costing tens of thousands and making it even harder to get through it.
Jenner is coming at this from a position of extraordinary privilege. Which is bad in itself, because it means none of the threats of going homeless, being unable to pay for medical treatment, or being fired from jobs simply for coming out are things that were realistic considerations at any stage. But as a celebrity, trans activism now has another high profile spokesperson - one who’s a member of the Republican party in America, which means Jenner is explicitly anti gay, anti public healthcare, anti choice, anti welfare, and anti many of the things you’d expect trans activists to automatically be in favour of, because we tend to have suffered the worst and seen, either directly or indirectly, how hard the lack of these things can hit our own community. Jenner is not a good spokesperson for trans people.
And most insultingly of all, I’ve seen condescending tweets from people who aren’t trans assuring us that “we can hold two thoughts in our head” about how Jenner is privileged, and how far trans people on the street (literally) have to go. That hasn’t been the experience here with Kellie Maloney, who’s a member of our own deeply backwards UKIP, and it will not be the experience with Caitlyn Jenner. Waiting lists in the UK continue to grow - it’s been over one year for an initial consultation for several years, with no sign of reversing, and surgery is doubling the rate of referrals against people who’ve had “the operation.” Homeless shelters are closing, charities are losing their funding, and support for trans youth is evaporating. Having advocates at the top who are not only blind to these problems, but actively work against our interests in ending them, simply isn’t good enough. It’s an insult to us.
Trans liberation doesn’t end with Vanity Fair. It doesn’t even fucking start there.