There is one positive thing I can say about conservatism: Its systemic fear of the other is quite easily weaponized by its targets.
Enter Caitlyn Jenner, the newest candidate for governor in California.
For those who don’t live here, let me catch you up: Our current governor, Gavin Newsom, was caught having a dinner party in Napa during the pandemic, right after his administration recommended that Californians not gather for Thanksgiving. Between an alleged $11 billion worth of unemployment benefits the state granted to fraudulent applicants during the Covid-19 outbreak and a dozen other pandemic missteps, a Republican campaign to recall Newsom that actually began pre-Covid started to look to many people in the state like a decent way to rebuke his various indecencies.
Backing a celebrity conservative against an embarrassed Democrat in a recall election has worked once before for the Republicans.
A recall election is now likely — which is why, at a time when more than half of U.S. states are deciding how to enact laws to require broader discrimination against transgender people, Jenner, the reality star (and aspiring pariah), has heeded the call to rip off both taxpayers and the Republican fundraising apparatus.
Holding titles as the gold-medal winner in the 1978 Olympic decathlon and the 17th-place winner for most tolerable character in “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” Jenner was part of a small contingent of prominent LGBT people effusive in their support of the Trump administration.
Why is not much of a brain teaser: Jenner is rich and wants to stay rich. Actual, material solidarity with other trans people — for whom transition can cost tens of thousands of dollars they often don’t have — could possibly challenge the comfort of her status.
Caitlyn Jenner wins — and the rest of us, trans people and Californians, lose.
She wasn’t going to find a place in the heart of the nation’s trans people, the majority of whom are financially struggling, because she doesn’t really know or appreciate the typical trans experience and has never made any effort to do so.
But in a way, that is fine, because neither do the donors she’s going to spend a recall collection bilking.
The conditions are perfect for the grift. The Republican Party, reeling from a national electoral defeat and its identity as the “party of Lincoln” overshadowed by, among its other acts, its anti-mask, anti-trans, anti-science antics — and a little light treason — has an outside chance of winning the governor’s mansion of the liberal mothership.
Plus, backing a celebrity conservative against an embarrassed Democrat in a recall election has worked once before for the Republicans.
And here Caitlyn comes: wealthy, white, famous and loves “the queers” but is still iffy on same-sex marriage.
The conditions of the California recall are perfect for the grift.
Caitlyn Jenner is two things in one trans package: She’s both the conservative ideal of a transgender woman (if they have to allow for us to exist at all) in that she has no interest in challenging the gender binary or, really, any status quo; and she’s also the epitome of the critique of trans women supposedly upholding conservative ideas of gender roles through the pursuit of womanly aesthetics made by anti-trans campaigners who claim to be extreme left-wing feminists.
And while I hate to grant that those people are right about anything, getting a bunch of rich old bigots to pay for TV time so you can wring your hands about poor people and foreigners stealing all our benefits is pretty much the gold standard of upholding traditional white womanhood.
The real problem now is that, whatever happens, Caitlyn Jenner wins — and the rest of us, trans people and Californians, lose. She’ll get to do her act, and have it beamed directly into millions of homes across California, on the Republicans’ dime.
And so, whether she ends up as the governor of California or just gets a run on the next season of “The Masked Singer,” she will likely come out of this wealthier, moderately more famous and, if not more accepted, more tolerated by the very political machine that despises and wants to actively institute the legal necessity of discriminating against the children and young adults who haven’t yet grown into adults like her.
It’ll also, either way, be a win for the faux-populist facet of the Republican Party that will try to put anyone with an IMDb page in elected office.
And even if Newsom wins, the Republican Party will come away with just a little more social credibility on LGBT issues that it doesn’t deserve — a morsel of plausible deniability as to its true nature: I’m meeting you halfway, you stupid hippies.
But trans people don’t have to lose because of Jenner’s run. When conservatives point her out as some template of the trans experience, call that out. When your complacent liberal friends who spent their weekends protesting Trump but not Biden’s “overflow facilities” default to low-effort transphobia in defending Newsom, call that out.
And when Jenner eventually goes on “Dancing With the Stars,” maybe use that time slot to watch “Umbrella Academy,” “Pose,” “Dramaworld” or literally any other show starring a trans and nonbinary person not implicated in another person’s death.
Grifters are gonna grift, and trans people exist and are beautiful (if we want to be). But we do not have to countenance the mainstreaming of Jenner normativity.