Last week, Caitlyn Jenner messed up. Big.
While discussing what makes "a good image" during an interview with Time, the Olympian and trans activist said she works very hard on her "presentation" because she doesn't want to make others uncomfortable by looking like "a man in a dress."
Yeaaah ... no.
"One thing that has always been important for me, and it may seem very self-absorbed or whatever, is first of all your presentation of who you are. I think it’s much easier for a trans woman or a trans man who authentically kind of looks and plays the role. So what I call my presentation. I try to take that seriously. I think it puts people at ease. If you’re out there and, to be honest with you, if you look like a man in a dress, it makes people uncomfortable. So the first thing I can do is try to present myself well. I want to dress well. I want to look good." — Caitlyn Jenner, Time, Dec. 9, 2015
As you can imagine, the backlash was swift and critical, prompting Jenner to respond (which I'll get to in a moment).
But, unfortunately, it's not the first time she dropped the ball.
In August, Jenner failed to understand why it's critical that social programs are made available for the trans community. The following month, she claimed to be "in on the joke" when it came to an offensive Caitlyn Jenner Halloween costume that mocked the transgender experience. And remember that time she gave a wishy-washy response regarding her support for same-sex marriage (which was a little odd coming from an LGBT activist)?
Many fans were frustrated with her most recent blunder and rightfully so. In large part due to her reality TV fame, Jenner is one of the most visible trans activists out there — her words, and the messages behind them, matter.
Jenner's "man in a dress" remark is a problem for a few important reasons.
First of all, she implied it's valid for someone to feel uncomfortable by another person's expression of gender.
It's not anyone's job to make me feel comfortable around them through their gender expression. It is my job, however, to accept everyone — cis, trans, or otherwise — regardless of how they look or where they fall on the spectrum of gender.
Secondly, no matter what someone looks like — even like a "man in a dress" — they're deserving of the same respect as any other person.
Plenty of people choose to express themselves in ways that don't conform to the binary, the "man" vs. "woman" society we (unfortunately) live in. And that's not only just OK, that rocks. Our world is a diverse one — let's embrace it.
And thirdly, Jenner's comment shows her privilege as someone with the financial means to express herself however she feels fit.
Many trans people lack access to the health care (and teams of hair, makeup, and clothing stylists) needed to help them appear how they wish to look. And, considering how costly medical procedures can be, many can't pay out of pocket. The statement from Jenner — who clearly doesn't share this problem — was pretty tone deaf.
Fortunately, Jenner realized she messed up and apologized.
And this time, she hit the nail on the head.
In a blog post published Dec. 14, 2015, Jenner made sure to right her wrong and "promise[d] to keep learning" in the years ahead.
"I think I caused a lot of hurt with this comment, and I’m truly sorry."
Jenner poignantly touched on how she dropped the ball on all the points mentioned above (really, you should read the post), but here's one particularly important tidbit:
"I am only one person. There are a lot of ways of being trans. And I want to help create a world in which people are able to express their gender in any way that is true and authentic for them. And most importantly — a world in which how a trans person is treated isn’t dependent on how they look."
Yes, Jenner has had some harmful — not to mention cringeworthy — moments during the fight for equality.
And each and every time she fumbles the ball, we should make note of it. (After all, it comes with the territory of being a leader.)
But we should also applaud her when she makes an effort to make things right.
"I am guessing this is probably not the last time I will say the wrong thing, or say something the wrong way," she wrote.
"I promise to keep learning, and to try to be more articulate in the future. We have a lot of hard work to do. I am looking forward to doing it together."