Chelsea Manning made her distaste for Caitlyn Jenner apparent on Christmas Eve with a tweet that criticized the former Olympian’s very public transition from male to female.
In line with the holiday spirit, Chelsea painted Caitlyn as a “Grinch” for the way she has handled her newfound hyper-visibility among trans women. Manning dug in by calling out just how regressive she thinks Caitlyn’s brand of progress has been.
— Chelsea Manning (@xychelsea) December 24, 2015
Over the past year, Caitlyn has become the face that the majority of Americans associate with the transgender movement, along with Chelsea and Laverne Cox. Already a part of the most Googled family on earth, Jenner’s gender identity was being wildly speculated about long before she even made any announcements about it. A very public divorce from wife Kris Jenner further amplified speculation. Once photos surfaced of her with long hair and painted nails, it came to a full-on fever pitch.
By the time she made her Vanity Fair cover appearance, declaring “Call me Caitlyn,” her coming out had turned into a mammoth media event. Within a matter of months, she had pushed whistleblower Manning and actress Laverne to the back of the stage. Front and center, there was Jenner — accepting an ESPN Courage Award, filming her reality series I Am Cait, talking about her struggle.
In a moment lauded by many — even those who would later renege their support — Caitlyn accepted her award with a lengthy speech in which she implored the public to look in — past the politics of Chelsea, past their lack of comfort with the trans movement — and find it in their hearts to change their views about women like her.
“If you want to call me names, make jokes and doubt my intentions, go ahead, because the reality is I can take it. But for thousands of kids out there coming to terms with the reality of who they are, they shouldn’t have to take it… Trans people deserve something vital; they deserve your respect. From that respect comes a more compassionate community… My plea for you tonight is… join me in making this one of your issues as well.”
Shortly after the applause faded, the honeymoon ended. Jenner’s affiliation with the Republican party sparked widespread irritation with trans women who bemoaned a rich, white woman becoming the face of their movement. She appeared on The Ellen Degeneres Show and expressed hesitance at getting behind marriage equality. Months later, Caitlyn continued to make clear that she would be voting Republican in the upcoming presidential elections — despite widespread efforts within the party to fight anti-discrimination ordinances.
Further inciting rage, in an interview with Time Magazine she made comments about trans women needing to “present” themselves in a way that reads feminine. Again, Jenner ignored how different her experience is from that of an everyday trans woman. Caitlyn can afford a range of procedures, top line make-up, and tailored clothing that a very small minority of women undergoing a transition have access to — and what’s most upsetting is that she doesn’t even seem to realize how damaging such comments are.
“If you’re out there and, to be honest with you, if you look like a man in a dress, it makes people uncomfortable.”
Problems aside, Caitlyn provided an extremely beneficial aid to the trans community. As a boring, rich white woman — and a former Olympian no less — she was able to extend a hand to the kind of person who felt too uncomfortable with trans people to begin an evolution in thought. Jenner will, undoubtedly, be remembered positively for that at least. Her moment was simply too big to go unnoticed — even Manning nearly faced solitary confinement for sneaking a copy of the Vanity Fair interview.
But Caitlyn Jenner could have been — and still could be — so much more. Carrying on the torch that was set aflame by Chelsea Manning, she had the opportunity to make real progress, but, instead, she kept it Kardashian — shallow, exploitative, and selfish.
[Image via Twitter and Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Glamour]