“On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero,” goes a line in the book and film Fight Club.
While of course it obviously alludes to the inevitability of death, I have long taken it to mean in a joking way the inevitability that people will become victims of certain outcomes. Everyone will eventually get into a relationship-ending fight, lose a job, or, in my favorite example, become a social pariah.
Indeed, I have seen it over and over again; we eventually begin to devour people we initially celebrate as a hero, put things the wrong way, or simply have an unpopular opinion, and it occurs on scales as small as local art scenes or as large as global celebrity. Heroes are torn down, and celebrity darlings are gutted like freshly caught fish. In this case, I refer to probably the most famous transgender woman in the world, Caitlyn Jenner.
Just a few weeks ago, Jenner decided to decline an award that was to be given to her by St. John’s Well Child & Family Center in Los Angeles for her efforts to support its trans health program after a petition circulated and op-eds were written protesting the award. Additionally, just a few weeks before that, Jenner was called out in a widely circulated video for her politics by a well-respected transgender activist. Before that, when Jenner criticized Donald Trump for his reinstatement of the ban on transgender service members, she was thoroughly dragged on Twitter. I do believe it’s safe to say that at this point Jenner has been effectively run out of the LGBTQ community.
So what now? If I were Caitlyn Jenner’s PR person, I would recommend she finally take that much-deserved retirement from public life. Of course, this is easier said than done for a person who has been famous longer than most of you have been alive. There’s nothing wrong with refusing the spotlight, taking time for yourself, and just enjoying the quiet for a bit, which again is easier said than done since she’s part of the most undeservedly famous family in America. She’ll be pursued by paparazzi who will take those telescopic photos, harass her walking out of hair salons, and pester her eternally, but choosing to not make public statements or center herself in any sort of public discourse about transgender issues would be best.
Given enough time, she might even make it back into the community. No, really, she could. What she could do is what she should have done in the first place: take some time to educate herself, raise up some voices, and raise money for trans causes without expecting attention for it. Now, unfortunately she’s burned a lot of bridges, and it will take a while to get back into the good graces of the community in general, but there will always be a few who will hate her guts no matter what.
But there also should be something here for the community to think about: What happens next for us? In a lot of the op-eds and callouts, she was called a sellout, a fraud and a fake, and on and on. She was criticized for her wealth, for her privilege, for her politics, and so forth. Some criticism was deserved, very much so, especially for her naivete about Trump and her conservative politics, and some is undeserved.
We tend to forget that while being trans makes us part of one community, we’re still extremely diverse in every other way. I found it amusing that so many people whose politics skewed slightly to the left of the Communist Party suddenly were faced with the challenge of supporting transgender service members when they normally would be calling America a colonialist empire (I’m not gonna debate you on that issue, just noting the irony of the situation). I’ve seen the community go after each other because of LGBTQ cops and soldiers, race, religion, wealth, politics, and more, and it always amazes me how quickly we’ll run each other over in the intersectionality with a big old bus.
Jenner spent the majority of her life living as a white, wealthy, famous man, with all the privileges and blindness that come with it. She was inevitably going to say or do something wrong once she came out in such an unavoidably public manner, and we really did give her a chance to get better, but man, were a lot of us foaming at the mouth for her to screw up. One of her earliest public callouts was that she wasn’t supporting trans women of color, as she walked out of a fundraiser for this population.
Another I recall was a petition for her to give away her money and read some books (by a person who specifically listed her book and organization as recommendations). Let’s be real. She was screwed from the start. When she called out Trump’s ban on trans service members, people dragged her for that, quite gleefully, I might add. Which really struck me as odd since … well, wasn’t her speaking out in support of the community and against the Republican establishment what we wanted?
There will be another Caitlyn Jenner, and there have been others before her. I recall one trans person with a large following who has been called out by the community for some truly hateful comments. They burned a lot of bridges along the way with trans people, even though they were supposed to be “one of the good ones.” That’s what gets me; that even “the good ones” will get publicly dragged and thrown out of the club.
It’ll eventually happen to all of us, including me. I admit to a bit of ego indulgence and have Googled myself and found people writing hate blogs about me, which is honestly flattering in a way. But still, even the wokest of the woke will get dragged eventually. Oh, I know you think you won’t, but you will. It’s inevitable. You will eventually trip over your words, chose the wrong way to put something, or have a position that just isn’t up to date with the bleeding edge of progressive values. You’ll apologize for someone you’re biased toward when they screw up and get dragged into the mud with them.Something you said in private (because everyone is awful when not performing in public) will get discovered and you’ll get tarred and feathered. Your politics just won’t be the mainstream even if they are relatively benign. Eventually, you too will get “read for filth,” which is a really horrible way to describe another human being who isn’t a serial killer or sex criminal, by the way.
Of course, you’ll be shocked and saddened, you’ll try to apologize your way out, and if you have the money, maybe even buy your way out, but it won’t do any good. You’ve been tossed out. The irony is, you might look back on the times you ran someone out of the community. You’ll ponder on the times you thought someone didn’t deserve the opportunity to be educated and spoken to reasonably. There will be the YouTube video you posted or the heavily hashtagged tweet you made that got really popular as you jumped on the angry mob bandwagon against someone who fucked up just a little bit. You might think about how you were so quick to condemn and ostracize someone who fucked up and realize you helped create this culture that went beyond the necessary callouts and attempts to educate and became a hateful mob. You’ll do this if you have the ability to self-reflect enough if you’re lucky. You’ll consider yourself the unfortunate victim if not.
I’m not going to defend Caitlyn too much. People really did try to educate and help her, some with the patience of a saint (such as Jennifer Boylan), but Jenner just didn’t learn fast enough and was behind the curve on catching up. She really should have known when to keep her mouth shut, to avoid the spotlight, and to raise and center other voices. A lot of her pain in this process is her own fault, and there is no one to blame but herself and her publicist for not acting more wisely.
However, there will be those whose faults and crimes against the community aren’t so well publicized but just as loathed. We won’t have the benefit of money or fame to cushion the blow. We’ll simply be cast out, which to a lot of us will be emotionally crushing to the point it might make life unbearable, since the community is key to our emotional health. Caitlyn Jenner should be a lesson to us all that fame and celebrity are dangerous thing and that we will eventually all be victims of the mob once we inevitably screw up. Unless we change the expectations and understanding of our community, eventually everyone’s timeline will reach zero.
AMANDA KERRI is a writer and comedian based in Oklahoma City. Follow her on Twitter @amanda_kerri.