Mean Girls, Caitlyn Jenner and the Responsibility of Being a Trans Ally

transgender flag painted on...
transgender flag painted on...

This past Saturday, along with some fellow queer friends, I made my way to the neighborhood park where a local organization was showing the film Mean Girls. I ordered vegan tacos from a food truck and enjoyed a margarita or two during the showing, so it was an otherwise very pleasant outing. That was until the emcee started to speak. Now, I'll refrain from using the emcee's name as well as the name of the company who put on the event, as public shaming isn't really my MO, though five minutes of searching for them on the internet you can probably figure it out if you wanted to.

The comedian started out by mis-gendering Caitlyn Jenner and not bothering to use her real name, all in attempt to make a mean-spirited joke about her family, comparing the Plastics of North Shore High School to the Kardashian sisters.

The emcee proceeded to mock "Bruce's" desire to "become a woman" but proclaiming that she, the emcee, "didn't have a problem with that," and instead took issue that "he" raised a bunch of spoiled children. This was cringe-worthy to my squad and I to say the least, so a few of us began to tweet the company asking if a correction and apology could be made, especially since this was supposed to be an LGBTQ-inclusive space, in an LGBTQ community. Had they responded with the acknowledgement that a mistake was made and apologized, everyone could have moved on. Allies make mistakes right? We learn from those and apologize and that makes us better allies. But that's not what happened here.

Instead, a non-apology was made: "Our MC [Name] is a huge LGBTQ supporter. If anything she said was misconstrued, we truly apologize. Anyone who is transphobic definitely cannot sit with us!"

Hold up. Nothing was misconstrued. Someone was mis-gendered and not properly named. Jokes were made at the expense of someone's lifelong struggle to live authentically, by someone who claims to be an ally. This was tragically disappointing. Am I missing something here?

Well anyway, that was before the internet commenters joined in, who I perceive from their profiles to be mostly white cis-gender gay men. Once they chimed in, we got some fairly perfect examples of the common misunderstandings of trans people by folks who claim to be allies. Examples of a behavior that is sadly far too prolific within our community right now.

1. "She is one of the biggest LGBT allies we have, she's also a comedian. This means she makes jokes."

I am aware that comedians make jokes. I've actually heard of that happening before. Caitlyn Jenner is even quoted in her acceptance of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award as saying: "If you want to call me names, make jokes, doubt my intentions, go ahead, because the reality is, I can take it, but for the thousands of kids out there, coming to terms with being true to who they are, they shouldn't have to take it."

Most allies read that as a beautifully courageous statement, and it is. Caitlyn recognizes that she has privilege and can be the punching bag for those who feel they need to get out another joke we've all heard a thousand times. But the reality right now is that Caitlyn Jenner is becoming a figurehead for transgender people gaining the right to live authentically and safely. Forty one per cent of transgender individuals report to have attempted suicide at some point in their lives, and at the time of this writing, 11 trans women have been murdered in this country this year just for being transgender. When you invalidate the identity of the movement's figurehead, you're invalidating the identities and struggles of each and every person she is bravely attempting to give voice to, and that is not behavior expected of an ally.

2. "Clearly these mean girls with social media are not as active in the community as they would like to think or they would know that she is a HUGE LGBT supporter not in just words but in action, events, causes, and also friendships. Stop trying to tear down your allies you little pricks."

LOL.

Being called a prick by a gay man for standing up for trans people just gives me life. I won't give in to the temptation to tout my credentials on what I do for a living and how I'm active in the community, but it's true, I hadn't heard of this comedian before. My companions hadn't heard of this person before. I'm fairly certain there were many more people in attendance who hadn't heard of this comedian before. We don't know her history as being an ally. And that right there is the point. Any transgender person in the audience can hear those statements and take offense. Their gender legitimacy is called into question very publicly, and you know what? It feels like shit. If you are a true trans ally, you're not just an ally to your friends and supporters. You're an ally publicly as well as privately, and your words and behavior should always reflect that. I know. It's not easy. But nobody ever said changing the world was.

3. "I've heard her make many supportive comments about the trans community and post messages in support of Caitlyn."

If you've chosen to be an ally, excellent, but that means it is now your responsibility to use your platform to always be a good ally. If you make a mistake, hey it happens. I fuck up all the time. But you take a moment, recognize a mistake was made, and correct it. That's part of being a good ally. If people see you as a good ally because of your record or the demographic you serve, then they will see mis-gendering as okay behavior. And if you don't correct it and apologize, they'll never know it wasn't. You are not an ally just by saying you're an ally. Being an ally is a constant process of educating yourself, evolving, and advocating for those who have been marginalized.

4. "She made a point to come see me speak me speak on gay rights at the statehouse this past pride. Someone who is transphobic would not have bothered."

So we're back here are we? Well, let me just remind everyone for a moment that not all gay rights are necessarily trans rights, and transphobia within many gay and lesbian spaces is very real. Just because we have marriage equality doesn't mean the work is over. In fact, many would argue, and I include myself in this bunch, that marriage equality was never the most important issue deserving of our collective power as an awesome queer force (but that's another blog for another time). Trans people and people of color have been historically shoved aside in the fight for middle-class white gay rights. So yes: it is very possible that someone who is transphobic could still attend a gay rights rally. I'm not saying this comedian is transphobic, but what she said was not in keeping with the actions of an ally, and the event's decision to issue a non-apology in defense of those actions take it to the level of transphobic behavior.

I'll end by saying that I don't believe this emcee to be a bad person, and I don't believe white, cis-gender gay men to be the enemy. I am very much so a white/ cis-gender/ gay man myself. The enemy is the same ignorance and hate that leads to transphobia, racism and misogyny. It's the same ignorance that causes us to jump to defend our mistakes, rather than attempt to understand why or how we could be wrong. It's the same hate that drives people to inexplicably murder another person they deem as other, or wrong, or perverted, or less-than. We need our allies, and we need our allies to actually be allies. Not just in words, but in constant education, evolution, and action.