Cis gay men and Caitlyn Jenner: a match made in ignorance and assumption

Cis gay men have fallen out with Caitlyn Jenner because she still plans to vote Republican. Jonathan Boniface explains why this shouldn’t come as a surprise, and explores some of the misguided assumptions that cis gay men make of trans people. 


Gay men have fallen out with Caitlyn Jenner. The love affair is apparently over for many of us. The reason – she would still vote Republican. Colour me shocked! (Goodness, I really do hope that my prosaic style is conveying my deep-rooted sense of sarcasm here.)

Sarcasm aside, one could argue that cis gay men need more trans role models. In the last couple of years, US trans women like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox have come into the gay male consciousness (not that I’m seeking to draw broad comparisons between the experiences of two very different trans women). Given the ignorance of trans issues – and the trans community at large – demonstrated by many cis gay men it would seem, on the surface, that the public profile of these women has to be a positive development, and it would be if cis gay men didn’t develop such a bizarre relation with such figures, most especially with Jenner.

The love affair with the latter highlights the sort of assumptions that so many cis gay men make regarding trans people. Their affection and admiration was secured by a single Vanity Fair cover. The same gay men who probably poked fun online at Caitlyn Jenner before she started her transition now formed an orderly queue to fanboy because she ‘looks so good’. Don’t get me wrong, my words here imply no criticism of Caitlyn Jenner herself; rather I seek to criticise the shallow fickleness of those who sought to pedestal her based on what they perceived to be the ‘success’ of her cosmetic transition, a judgement based on their own insipid notions of what a trans person should look like.

The assumptions go far beyond the appearance. Many of Caitlyn Jenner’s new fans assumed that her transition would be in mind and beliefs as much as in ‘physical appearance’. They made the assumption that because Caitlyn Jenner had ‘joined’ the LGBTQ+ ‘club’, she would automatically think like them and hold the same ‘values’ that they do. Well, there are two issues with this: first, the assumptions made of Jenner; and second, said values themselves.

Their affection and admiration was secured by a single Vanity Fair cover. The same gay men who probably poked fun online at Caitlyn Jenner before her transition now formed an orderly queue to fanboy because she ‘looks so good’.

Dealing with the first issue: Jenner was a confirmed Republican before her transition and still enjoys the privileges bestowed upon her in American society by wealth and skin colour. As much as I disagree with Republican policies myself, I’m not naïve enough to assume that just because a person has transitioned, they are automatically going to embrace a more empathetic way of looking at the world. I think that assumption is  patronising in the extreme, as it suggests an almost hive mentality that reduces the individual’s role in forming, maintaining and promoting their political values.

Or, put more bluntly, you’re kidding yourself if you assumed that Caitlyn Jenner would suddenly become a ‘liberal’ as a result of her transition. Why the hell should she?

The second issue is the ‘values’ of said gay men. When I say values, what I actually mean is a very one dimensional manner of looking at and interpreting US politics. Many of the UK-based cis gays clutching their pearls over Caitlyn Jenner’s Republicanism are the same people championing the campaign of Hillary Clinton in her bid to become the first female president of the USA. Nothing wrong with that in principle; I don’t think that anyone with any appreciation of equality could deny that it would be a hugely significant step for a woman to become US president. That said, these same cis gay men generally have a pretty shaky grasp of US politics and Clinton’s record. Whilst there are aspects of Clinton that can be praised, most of their admiration seems to be based on the fact that she appears so damned ‘fierce’. This judgement is reinforced by any number of gifs and memes but, in particular, one that has now become an iconic image – Hillary Clinton sending a text message whilst wearing her sunglasses and frowning. Just as with Caitlyn Jenner and the Vanity Fair cover, isn’t it amazing what one simple image can do for people’s perception of you?

Put more bluntly, you’re kidding yourself if you assumed that Caitlyn Jenner would suddenly become a ‘liberal’ as a result of her transition. Why the hell should she?

None of this means that Caitlyn Jenner should now be vilified – she’s not ‘disappointed’ anyone because she hasn’t changed her views, they’re hers to hold. Anyone expressing their disappointment in her for continuing to vote Republican needs to go away and have a word with themselves. Part of the issue is the fact that gay men love to build up their icons, but they love to viciously tear them down just as much (does Lady Gaga spring to mind, anyone?). Fine, criticise her views by all means, but don’t seek to destroy her for ‘betraying’ you – a trans person does not deserve censure for their political views any more or less than any other LGBTQ+ person. I can understand LGBTQ+ people, and the trans community in particular, being saddened and frustrated by a high profile member of our community holding fast to a political ideology that does not serve to push forward an equality agenda. But even so, it shouldn’t be surprising, and there are better voices than my own to express that.

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 12.53.01In some ways, it’s reminiscent of Kellie Maloney, whose relationship with UKIP continued after her transition, until the anti-equality rhetoric and standpoint of the party led to a change in her affiliation. This is how political views are shaped and developed, by a whole range of experiences.

Part of the issue is the fact that gay men love to build up their icons, but they love to viciously tear them down just as much (‘does Lady Gaga spring to mind, anyone?).

Whilst, as I’ve already argued, it’s good that the high profile of people like Caitlyn Jenner raises trans issues in the consciousness of gay men, this attention comes to the detriment of the experience of the rest of the trans community, such as trans women who don’t fit the ‘mould’ that cis gay men have in their minds. They like peeking into the world of Caitlyn Jenner because it’s a nicer world of wealth and privilege, featuring a trans woman that they like to look at because ‘she can pass’. God forbid you point out to many a cis gay that not every trans woman actually wants to present an appearance that suits your view of what she ‘should’ look like.

Instead of expressing their shock and outrage that the woman they’ve put on a pedestal doesn’t share their values, cis gay men should instead educate themselves on the issues that affect the vast majority of trans people, such as the prejudice, discrimination and violence that trans women and especially trans WOC face every day in our society. And that’s just for starters.

God forbid you point out to many a cis gay that not every trans woman actually wants to present an appearance that suits your view of what she ‘should’ look like.

In short, let’s focus on the experiences of ordinary trans people, rather than expressing our shock and horror that a high profile trans women hasn’t changed her political views.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter (@gaes_elskhugi)

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