Let's step back away from things for a moment and consider the object of O'Neill's ire, the newly-named Caitlyn Jenner. Quite apart from her politics, which are iffy; and the privilege wealth has brought her, which is considerable; many millions who've tracked the press rumours and followed her from celebrity (ex-)husband and Kardashian hanger on to coming out as someone undergoing a transition from one gender to another will have been touched. Not a few are likely to have been educated and forced to confront their own misunderstandings and, in some cases, prejudices. Nor should the personal courage of Jenner be underestimated either. Imagine the mental strain of living your entire adult life - Jenner is 65 - feeling at odds with your body, and then risking your relationships with family and friends, as well as general shunning, to come out as someone who wishes to change their gender. It's a bloody terrifying prospect. In my view, anyone who takes that step deserves commendation and support through what can be, and often is, an unimaginably difficult time. And that includes someone like Caitlyn Jenner.
O'Neill's 'Call Me Caitlyn, Or Else', which is supposedly aimed at a progressive audience, tries so hard to drape itself in the tradition of leftist cultural critique, but fails spectacularly. Ostensibly a criticism of the celebrity grown up around Jenner and, understandably, some of the sharp defences of her, what O'Neill betrays is a snobbish semi-Nietzschean disdain for the herd. Not for one moment does he consider that some people really do find her story genuinely life affirming for all kinds of reasons, nor that Jenner's coming out represents a blow struck for trans-acceptance when this is a community of people on the receiving end of bigotry and violence. I'm supposing the notion of solidarity went into the shredder along with his many unsold copies of Living Marxism. No, this is a spiteful piece that basically objects to a) the existence of trans people, and b) the very idea they should have a political voice. The things some former socialists will say for a couple of hundred quid.
Now, O'Neill can't be a congenitally stupid man. Getting a regular paid writing gig these days requires a bit of nous and some familiarity with the hot button issues of the day. And as someone who is plugged into the media for a living, I have to assume O'Neill isn't ignorant of some facts around trans issues. That, for instance, the incidence of mental illness is much higher among trans people than the general population. That hate crimes against trans people are on the rise. And that in the USA, seven trans women were murdered in the first month-and-a-half of this year, all of whom were not white.
O'Neill cannot but know this, and yet still turned in a piece of sophistry that punches downwards. There are many names for doing such a thing, but "progressive" isn't one of them.