As a “real progressive,” I cannot agree that it’s OK for anyone to tell anyone that they aren’t a woman until they lose their “pee-pee.”
On Tuesday, accomplished author and self-proclaimed progressive Anne Lamott posted this tweet:
“Is it okay to be a tiny tiny bit tired of Caitlyn? Yes, was very brave but so far he’s gone from man to mannequin, instead of man to woman.”
This tweet was met with some approval and retweets, but the majority of comments rushed in to defend Caitlyn, especially on Anne’s misuse of the pronoun “he” instead of her preferred “she.” To that, Anne replied via tweet,
“Will call him a she when the pee-pee is gone.”
I’ve been a fan of Anne Lamott and her work for years. As a writer, her book Bird by Bird provided insight and inspiration at times when the words weren’t flowing, and I was getting too caught up in fears and unattainable goals of perfection. That’s why these tweets are so incredibly shocking to me.
I’d always thought of Anne as being a kind, empathetic soul. I got this impression from her Facebook posts, her tweets, and the time I met her in person when she came to read at my college. I wouldn’t have imagined her judging a woman so harshly based on what she looked like on a magazine cover. And, to add insult to injury, this is a trans woman who Anne won’t even refer to as a woman, clinging to an unfair and misinformed perspective that “real” men have penises.
I was one of the people who jumped in Anne’s comments to defend Jenner. I never followed sports or the Kardashians, so I’m a fresh slate coming to this story, knowing only that a man named Bruce Jenner took the brave step to openly acknowledge her true identity as a woman and even embraced it by presenting her new feminine look on the cover of a magazine. The fact that some feel Caitlyn looks a bit stiff, mannequin-like, and masculine on that cover doesn’t seem particularly relevant to the true story—that someone has taken this courageous step to be who she really is.
Some people have said that part of the problem is the way the media portray women—overly sexualized, lifeless, and made-up. When I’ve posted about being shocked at the criticisms Caitlyn is getting from people I thought were more accepting, several friends of mine have told me that Caitlyn should “get used to this” because this is how famous women are treated.
Should we just accept that it’s OK to poke fun at Caitlyn’s appearance now because she’s a woman in the media? What if, instead, we questioned how and why we feel it’s acceptable to openly judge the appearances of all women in the public eye. Yes, I think her being a trans woman makes this extra-problematic because there’s more at play, both consciously and subconsciously, than people judging someone’s appearance just to judge it. There are prejudices and biases some people might not even be aware that they have, and these can seep into seemingly innocent comments about a woman’s appearance.
What if we also realize that the media is the media. Vanity Fair chose how to make-up and style Caitlyn Jenner for that cover. They were going off traditional standards of beauty and expectations we have for a woman on a magazine cover. And then maybe we can start to understand that if she looks weird or mannequin-like, it’s not her fault, or part of her identity, or how she wants us to see her.
Finally, we can look at ourselves and question whether it’s OK to publicly insult anyone’s appearance just because they’re famous, because they’ve chosen to be in the spotlight. Maybe Caitlyn has motives other than bringing awareness to trans issues, but those motives are irrelevant. She took the risk, she made the change, and she brought new light to issues that desperately need attention.
That’s all I care about. And that’s why I’ve unfollowed Anne Lamott. Especially because, instead of an apology, Anne tweeted:
“Haven’t deleted Caitlyn tweet, bc comments were inaccurate, vicious hysteria. You know my heart. Real progressives can agree to disagree.”
Except that there was no vicious hysteria in the comments. What I saw was respectful discourse asking that Anne reconsider how she labels and views transgender people. What I saw were people standing up for Caitlyn and all of the trans men and women who are regularly hurt by these kinds of misinformed comments.
As a “real progressive,” I cannot agree to disagree that a woman who wants to be called a woman should be called a man. As a “real progressive,” I cannot agree that it’s OK for anyone to tell anyone that they aren’t a woman until they lose their “pee-pee.”
I’d like to think that there are no “real progressives” who will agree to disagree with that.
Alana is a writer, freelance editor, and occasional ukulele rocker living in Los Angeles. Her essays have appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Role Reboot, The Manifest-Station, and more. You can visit her website at alanasaltz.com and follow her on Twitter @alanasaltz.