3 min

Message to Caitlyn Jenner: respond to trans protesters

You booked a speaking tour, now show up and listen, says trans writer

(Caitlyn Jenner, who made headlines on the cover of Vanity Fair in July 2015, should be candid about why she cancelled the speaking tour that should have brought her to Vancouver on Feb 23, 2016, writes Amy Fox./Vanity Fair)

Hi Cait,

I see that your “Up Close and Personal” speaking tour was drawing protesters better than the intended deep-pocketed audience, and now you’ve cancelled it. If you are serious about being a transgender spokesperson, now is the time for some long-overdue public reflection.

As I’m sure you know intimately, any transgender public figure has become an ambassador for the cause, whether they like it or not.

Being forced into this role is unreasonable and unfair, but even when a trans person’s greatest contribution lies solely within the field of taxidermy, tax law or tactics, they are now a cultural force in this gender revolution.

The words of even the most politically agnostic will shape policy and art, and touch the heart, and so will impact the lives of a vulnerable multitude. And so the wise pick those words carefully. They know that everyone errs, and anyone can expect blowback from those whose lives and loves bear the brunt of another’s hasty tongue.

How those involuntary spokespeople respond to that blowback will determine whether they merit the role that’s been unjustly forced upon them, or if they will struggle onwards as a great figure in their chosen field and a terrible spectacle in their more prominent role of trans ambassador.

It sucks. And to all those drafted into the transgender diplomatic corps, you have my sympathies and, if you want it, my support.

But if you start with the above and then actively pursue status as an out trans person who is famous for being trans, then court the tabloids, appear on talk shows, and start a speaking tour all centring on your gender experience, then my support is still on offer, but my sympathies are not.

You chose this. So book up, buck up and try not to fuck up.

Your first duty is showing up to gigs informed, preternaturally articulate and with a measured passion for justice.

Your second duty is to hear your community’s feedback on your first duty, then to respond thoroughly and transparently.

If you, for some reason, don’t engage in dialogue then expect protest. And remember, whether they are right or wrong, those siblings with picket signs and Facebook screeds aren’t trying to attack their community — they’re trying to defend it. From you.

So if you want to rise to your new role, step one is being candid about why you cancelled your tour.

Was it the protests or wasn’t it?

Either way, what is your response to your siblings with signs? When trans folk say “you are hurting us,” what is your reply?

You have many replies to choose from and I don’t claim to know the best response, but I know the worst — silence.

Non-response implies that you’re not listening, and that your trans critics are not worth listening to.

And the funny thing is, I know you are listening. Yes, you came out kind of oblivious as to your impact, as do many of us. From your curiously lukewarm comments on women marrying women (never mind your three ex-wives), to your public tolerance of slurs against trans women, and your proud membership in a party whose loudest voices are happy to impoverish, humiliate, marginalize, incarcerate and even outright murder a lot of your trans siblings — you made a terrible impression on the very people who would have gladly educated you had you asked.

So now what?

Well, those siblings don’t trust you — now. They don’t think you can learn — now. And they won’t give you space to speak until you give them space to speak. That starts with active listening.

But I can see you listening. You are changing, growing into your role, erring less, striving more, becoming that ambassador and using your gifts to reach people that I would never approach. But you still have a ways to go.

You have a wide, mind-stretchingly diverse community to represent — or at least to acknowledge, to talk with rather than hide from.

And you have the money, fame and guts to do this with excellence. You have the opportunity to move out of the tabloids and into history. So, will you take it?

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(Amy Fox is a writer, actor and producer on The Switch: A Transgender Comedy.)

(Editor’s note: This column was corrected on Feb 16, 2016 to remove a characterization of Caitlyn Jenner that was based on a Jenner quote about what it means to be a woman in a sexist world that was mistakenly taken out of context.)