Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Caitlyn Jenner and Punching Downwards

If the inhabitants of these fair islands get the politicians they deserve, can the same be said about the professional commentariat? I feel moved to ask because Brendan O'Neill, the faux ra-ra-revolutionary turned tedious troll has indecently exposed his idiocy, or his cynicism depending on how you see these things.

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.


Phil said...

I hold no brief for O'Neill or any of the Spiked crew, God knows, but you haven't engaged with his arguments at all - simply said that he shouldn't have made them. Which is one of the things he's objecting to. Some of the things he says are petty, tendentious or misleading - par for the course from that crowd - but that particular objection strikes me as reasonably well founded, & your reaction tends to confirm it.

BCFG said...

I tend to think that modern consumerist society, the way it is configured and the way people view this post modernity (I know, how old fashioned!) has made being transgender sort of fashionable or a more natural part of human existence.

I think alienation is for those who find this materialist, hedonistic and dare I say decadent orgy all a bit much.

Personally, I would take materialist, hedonistic orgy above mass poverty any day but the problem comes when this materialist, hedonistic orgy carries on in plain sight of mass poverty. Again this is where alienation will thrive.

And not to question the 'herd' is to endorse it!

flyingrodent said...

I'll agree with Phil there - O'Neill is an arse, and is being a huge one about this particular issue, but he's not wrong that there's been reams of nonsense issued about it and that many people's immediate response to disagreement about even the wackiest statements is furious denunciation. While it would be better for everyone if O'Neill just went away quietly, I think the reaction to him is proving his point quite starkly.

asquith said...

You lot have all come late to the party, I've been haating O'Neill and all his works since an especially obnoxious Ethan Greenheart column in 2008. He has actually achieved the feat of becoming worse since then.

Furthermore, I don't see what keeps these people from understanding that poor people can be trapped in the wrong body, or obliged to live a lie. They may not be able to afford the relevant surgery, or get on magazine covers, but:

(a) Caitlyn is a human being like any other, last time I looked
(b) It isn't somehow anti-working-class to be interested in social issues and not being an utter tool towards everyone. The world isn't some Militant Tendency meeting in 1984.

Thus it is, apart from the economic reasons why I'm a liberal rather than a socialist, there's a certain strain within the movement that is objectionable. It's not just crypto-Tory Spiked "contributors" who have this problem, I see it a lot among people who'll boast about how "Old Labour" they are as if it were some kind of achievement.

asquith said...

Additionally, is she fit? I can't decide, I really can't.

BCFG said...

To just clarify my criticism of this post:

I accuse Phil of missing the actual trend, i.e. that being transgender is becoming normalised, is becoming a more rational condition of human existence, rather than Phil's contention that the trend is to more fear, more hate etc etc.

Phil uses mental illness stats to try to prove something, if we looked at suicide rates we may take a sympathetic view of masculinity for examle, except Phil doesn't and continues to see women as victims.

I think we should have far more positive things to say about transgender people, this post tries to lend a sympathetic ear but actually falls into the trap of still treating transgender issues as not being a normal part of modern society.

Get with the project Phil! Nothing to see here.

Phil said...

Come to the party late? I can't let that go by.

Back when there was a Revolutionary Communist Party, members seem to have been under quite heavy manners when it came to shifting copies of Living Marxism; you'd often see street sellers standing outside the shops as they were closing or trying to hawk the mag to cinema queues, like something out of the Apprentice. One evening in the early 90s, in London for an assertiveness training course (companies did that sort of thing back then), I was heading back to my hotel when I encountered an LM seller, forlornly trying to flog a magazine whose cover you couldn't even read in the fading light. Rather than slink past as if he wasn't there, I responded to his hail with a firm "No thanks". "Why not?" he asked, gamely. This caught me off guard. Before I knew what I was doing, I'd wheeled round and shouted at him, "Why not? Because you're a bunch of fucking fascists, that's why not!" Then I walked away.

They did say on the course that being assertive was actually quite different from being aggressive - but fuck it, I needed to say that.

So that's how long I've hated those guys.

Gary Elsby said...

The former Bruce Jenner won gold in the most demanding of Olympic sports, dined with President's and only just lost out to Christopher Reeves to star as Superman.