What are your thoughts on Caitlyn Jenner?
Have you seen that Vanity Fair cover, the one with her and the perfectly-coiffed hair and makeup framing a coy smile—you know, “Call Me Caitlyn”? That one? Don't you think it's crazy, how beautiful she looks? Don't you think it's nuts that a former Olympic athlete and billionaire that lives in the Hollywood Hills and has dozens of plastic surgeons on speed dial, no 9-to-5 job to attend to, no manual labor to perform, a squad of hired hands to do all her errands and a walk-in closet full of designer clothes looks good in a photoshoot by Anne Leibowitz, a world-famous photographer? Isn't it crazy that Caitlyn Jenner, the billionaire, didn't interrupt this expensive and professional photoshoot for her cover on Vanity Fair to go, “Hey Anne Leibowitz, world famous photographer, I know you brought in this legion of makeup artists and a lighting team packing bulbs brighter than the surface of the sun but just go ahead and throw all of that in the trash. Let's do something more natural. I don't think this whole team is really promoting the down-to-earth attitude of the Jenner surname. Maybe I can wear this sheet of plastic wrap as a dress instead of going with the whole Chanel thing, just something thrifty, you know, I don't care what you do, Anne, FUCK ME UP.”
When Caitlyn came out, America was shocked at how good she looked. In reality, I know this was just a general expression of shock that any transgender person could look good, and I know this from experience. I am transgender and I look better than all of you, but whenever I tell people nowadays that I was actually assigned female at birth they say something like, “Wow, I had no idea. You're pretty handsome. I wouldn't have guessed.”
This is followed by a tense silence where I think I'm supposed to say “thank you.” And I don't. Because transgender people aren't easily-distinguishable freaks with eyeballs dotting the trio of dicks growing out of our elbows, I'm not going to thank someone for implying that I do not “look transgender” due to my lack of... hambeast-ery? I don't know. Weird thing to zero in on. I noticed you haven't complimented my sweater, even though it's doing an amazing job of covering up all the elbow dicks. I'm just saying.
I came out to my parents as transgender in 2011. We were all eating barbecue. As a Sociology major I'd planned to open up the conversation by deconstructing some of Judith Butler's theories on gender performance, then carry on by explaining the identity spectrum and gender dysphoria as defined by version IV of the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual. I brought a whiteboard so we could do it presentation style. But when the time came I had half a slab of ribs hanging out of my mouth and what I ended up saying instead was, “This is meat. I am transgender.” Probably never going to make the cover of Vanity Fair with that one.
Regardless, I'm not hiding anything. This is who I am. Don't compliment me on what I'm not. Don't compliment me on how well I tricked you. I'm not tricking you, I'm not lying to you, I'm just out here living my life. This is the life of a person, not an armless, badly-dubbed Muppet out to destroy America's families. I was out to destroy America's families but I was planning on starting with the Kardashians—yet another thing Caitlyn ruined for me with her goddamn article.
Maybe you're reading this right now and thinking, “I do not give a shit about Caitlyn Jenner.” Well, that must be nice. For months I, too, persisted in not giving a shit about her. I passed the Us Weekly and People magazines on the rack, ignoring the candid photographs and all that invasive speculation, thinking, “It's none of my business, which is awesome because I also just don't give a shit.”
But there came a time in my life—right after this Vanity Fair article came out—where everyone I knew was asking me, “What are your thoughts on Caitlyn Jenner?” And I mean everyone. Not just my family and friends but random fucking people.
Example: one time I was looking for apartments. The leasing agent had just seen my old legal name from the credit check, which is very feminine and very none of your business when she turned and asked, “What are your thoughts on Caitlyn Jenner?” The way this lady swiveled her neck around before she asked me this question—I swear it went a full three hundred and sixty degrees. In my eyes, she might as well have locked the passenger door and followed up the question with a whispered, “You'll never escape.”
And months later, I haven't.
In fact, if you Google the words “Caitlyn Jenner Chicago Tribune” and click on the article you will see a small paragraph at the bottom quoting Adam Polak, 24, of Florissant, MO, where I tell a journalist my thoughts on Caitlyn Jenner, since this is apparently the only opinion I have that anybody wants to know and will ever know from me in the history of my life forever.
Coincidentally, a week after submitting my first draft of this story to You're Being Ridiculous I was invited by a friend (who is also transgender) to attend Caitlyn's fancy keynote speech and luncheon at the Chicago House fundraiser downtown........ for free. It seemed like fate.
And I had a great time. The energy was good, the crowd was responsive. My friend was super drunk and it was adorable. This was the first time we'd ever seen a transgender woman command a room like this and it was, at least, worlds better than watching Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs lower a basket into a murder pit or any other pseudo-trans cartoonish character I'd seen as a child. But even as I watched Caitlyn's expression when she talked about fighting for privacy from the paparazzi, I still wasn't sure how I felt about her.
When I left the Hilton I saw a tiny cluster of folks with megaphones and cardboard signs. The signs read “I AIN'T CAIT.” They were protesting Caitlyn as a keynote speaker. They were protesting her Republicanism, her dismissal of public assistance programs that help lower-income transgender people pay for our hormones, the advantages afforded to her by being rich and white that so far removed her from them.
I recognized a couple of the protestors. We volunteered at the same non-profit. These were the people who helped me to legally change my name. And there I was, quite literally caught between the riches of an approving public and the angry, unsatisfied voices we really need. When a protestor confronted me I told them I agreed with what they were saying and they asked, “Then why were you in there?”
I didn't know how to respond. “Free food?” ...Seemed like a bad answer.
Then Caitlyn exited the Hilton flanked by a team of body guards. Now, to put this in perspective, in 2015 alone a reported twenty-one transgender women have been murdered in hate crimes, which is greater than 2014 and most certainly an under-estimate. Almost all of the trans people killed were women of color. The contrast is there for anyone to see. Then came the Tribune reporter with a notepad, asking me for my thoughts on Caitlyn Jenner.
What I told her, basically, is yes, everything the protestors are saying is true, but Chicago House still managed to raise over ten thousand dollars for the Trans Life Center the evening of Caitlyn's keynote speech. This is a program that helps low-income trans people, those with HIV/AIDS—something good still happened, in fact, things these protestors almost certainly want to exist were at least partially funded by this event, and even though Caitlyn kind of sucks that has to count somehow. Doesn't it?
It's hard not to feel like part of the problem when here I am attending luncheons, standing up on stage and masturbating over my superior gender discourse. Caitlyn, Cece, Islan, Mark, Laverne, Brandon, me, all the protestors outside: a them, an us, and a we. They said, “There is no such thing as the transgender community.” Why? Because we argue with eachother literally all of the time and none of the white people ever know what the fuck we're doing? Because we all secretly hate and love each other in equal measure? That's what a community is.
I have been on testosterone for over a year and a half, a process we call hormone replacement therapy or HRT. I am personally fond of the phrase “super puberty” because the changes are quick and un-predictable and intense and always happening out of order. My voice dropped an octave over the course of six months. I get zits and mood swings and weird boners. Sometimes I swear I'm the oldest teenager alive and I want to act like it, I want to bury myself in shitty poetry about unrequited love since I always have plenty anyway and I want to hide until I find my dignity. I want to hide. I wish I was allowed to hide sometimes. I want to rip off my own face and replace it with Ryan Gosling's face, I want to photoshop my past out of existence and sometimes when people say, “I didn't know you were transgender because you look good” I want to say “thank you.”
And that's disgusting. I have to remind myself that it's not a compliment. I can't and won't say “thank you” because I have to respect myself and all the other people who can't say anything because they aren't here anymore.
I have to remind myself that this is a process, becoming real is a process and beauty is realness. So I am the zit, the awkward patch of facial hair, the weird thigh bruise, the pathetic peach fuzz of a mustache I refuse to shave because it's my pathetic goddamn mustache, goddammit. I will hold my full-grown pubescent head high and tell the truth.
The truth: I ordered a dick off the internet to try to help me feel better. The website made me select the color from a drop-down box. I could choose between chocolate, caramel, or vanilla, and I'm thinking, “Wow, pretty optimistic to name these after flavors considering the fact this penis is made of silicone, so sucking on one of these things is about as pleasurable as swallowing an entire Barbie.”
When my vanilla penis arrived in the mail it ended up being too big to fit in my pants so I had it dangling off the head-board in my bedroom like a sad, flaccid Christmas ornament. This is what I have to work with and I am one of the lucky ones.
What I'm trying to say here, honestly, is that sometimes I fucking hate being transgender. It complicates everything. It has destroyed relationships with people I love. Even without that, the image of my body I've got in my head has never and will probably never match what's in the mirror, I mean in a way that goes beyond the superficial right down to the fundamental, sexual core of existence and that's downright miserable and I no longer care that I'm not supposed to admit it.
To be truthful, to be wholly and completely “you” is what it means to be transgender, also. Beauty is honesty, it has to be, or it means nothing, and honesty is the willingness to show yourself. No one is beautiful while they're in hiding. We aren't beautiful because we look like you; we're not beautiful because we look how you want us to look; we're beautiful because we are as we are and we are not afraid.
The truth is beautiful. The truth is ugly. I won't apologize for the truth, and that's why I don't say “thank you.”