Superstar contributor AJ McKenna is forced to return to the Caitlyn Jenner Halloween costume debacle as CJ declares the outfit inoffensive. But what implications does a statement like this have for the trans community, when a white Republican with significant privilege says they’re in on the transphobic joke? I Am Cait has undoubtedly given voice to many trans issues, and continues to do so, but can Caitlyn be a role model if she bows to misogyny and transphobia instead of taking a stand?
Damn it. Damn it, Caitlyn Jenner. I thought I was only going to have to write about you once. God knows I would much rather Laverne Cox was getting a lot more attention from the media than your old, white Republican, gay marriage-disliking ass. But that damn Hallowe’en costume forced me to abandon my stance. And now I flick through my newsfeed and find you defending that godawful insult to nylon? Saying you ‘don’t think it’s offensive’, that in fact you think ‘it’s great’? Why, woman? Why?
Ah, but of course – you like it because you’re ‘in on the joke’. What joke is that, Caitlyn?
The idea that as trans people we’re intrinsically funny? That we look like men in dresses? That anything we may ever achieve can be sarcastically written up as blurb saying how a piece of cheap fabric and a badly-kerned sash are a ‘tribute’ to how ‘inspiring’ we are when we all know what type of guys are going to strap on that suit at their office parties?
But of course you can say that you’re in on that joke, because you were never at the business end of it. This joke was never really going to hurt you at all – you admitted as much in your speech accepting the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. This joke was never going to have any repercussions for you, insulated as you are by wealth and fame. But the trans women who have to walk down the same streets as people wearing that costume this October, the closeted trans people in office jobs who will see their co-workers laughing at the office bantzmeister wearing it and be reminded why they fear coming out, they are the people that joke will affect.
Look – I get the desire to play along, to seem to be a good sport, to not look easily offended. But there’s a world of difference between admitting that the joke doesn’t hurt you but pointing out who it does hurt and simply laughing it off, which is what you’re doing now. And not just laughing it off, but trying to create distance between yourself – Caitlyn the Good Sport – and ‘the community’ of ‘easily offended’ trans people getting our panties in a bunch over a Hallowe’en costume. I’ve seen people play the ‘good tra**y’ card before – I didn’t think you’d go from saying that trans people deserve respect to trying to convince Planet Cis that you’re one of the good ones in less than two months.
I’m not one of the good ones, but I am one of the lucky ones. Not as lucky as you, maybe, but lucky enough to be white, to have had pretty much a middle class upbringing, and to live in a country like the UK, where murders of trans people are comparatively rare. If I were a trans woman of colour living in the US, I would feel a lot less lucky, and I would know exactly the repercussions your flippant declaration that you’re ‘in on the joke’ of that costume would have for me. Should I remind you, Caitlyn, of some of those who weren’t lucky enough to be in on that joke? Or should I credit you with the ability to Google them yourself?
All I know is that I didn’t want to write about you and instead I’ve written about you twice, and there are people who are much more worthy of attention. There’s no real need to devote much more time to you: we can see who you are. You’re in on the joke. And that was all that ever really mattered, wasn’t it?
You’re going to have to do something pretty damn amazing for trans people for me to write about you again. I suspect I’m going to have a very long wait.
AJ McKenna is the author of the poetry pamphlets A Lady of a Certain Rage and names and songs of women, and the album …the gunshots which kill us are silenced. Her poetry film Letter to a Minnesota Prison was screened at the South Bank Centre in 2012, and she performed her spoken word show, Howl of the Bantee, at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015. AJ previously served as So So Gay‘s Deputy Editor. She is about to embark on the Apples & Snakes tour, Public Address III, which is being directed by Hanna Silva. She lives in Newcastle with two cats and two lesbians.