Tuesday, August 23, 2016

An Open Letter To Bette Midler

Dear Bette,

I adore you; I have from the first moment I saw you … dressed as a mermaid … in a wheelchair. I admire your brassiness, your boldness, your nerve; your verve. There are days when I want to be you, even if just for a moment.

And I am a rabid Twitter follower of yours; I find your Tweets high-larious, and sometimes thoughtful, or at least, thought provoking. But this week you Tweeted something that had me feeling that you are a little less divine, Miss M.

When the news came out that Caitlyn Jenner’s “reality” show had been cancelled, I was quite pleased. When the show began it seemed to promise to be a show about trans women, and the trans community, and I, for one, felt we needed a reality show like that, if only to educate all of us about what it means to be trans.

Sadly, however, the show devolved into a Caitlyn fashion show; she was far less interesting that the trans women “friends” she had on each week, including, but not limited to, actress and advocate Candis Cayne; Jenny Boylan, the first openly transgender co-chair of GLAAD’s National Board of Directors; Jen Richards, creator of We Happy Trans, a site which celebrates positive transgender experiences; and Chandi Moore, a trans woman of color, who shared on the show how she began in the world of drag before fully transitioning to her true self.

From these women, though less so from Caitlyn, we learned more about trans women; what it means to be trans and how trans women navigate through society. I liked the show … for the first few episodes … until it became just another vehicle for a media whore. And so, when it was cancelled I breathed a sigh of relief that there would be one less “reality” show featuring a narcissist as “star.”

You also seemed relieved that the show was ending — you’ve taken on Caitlyn for her rabidly Republican leanings in the past — but then you ruined that all by tweeting this:
“Now that @IAmCait has been cancelled, will she go back to being Bruce? Will Kris take him back? Do I smell a re-wedding?!”
This I found highly offensive, insensitive, and a bit dangerous, too.

It’s offensive because the mere suggestion that a trans women, or trans man for that matter, can simply change their gender at a whim, especially once their TV show is cancelled, demeans the trans community.

She … she … cannot change back into Bruce; this isn’t like changing your clothes. It took Bruce Jenner decades to come to the understanding that he was trans; and years to transition and come out as trans and live openly as trans and so to suggest that Caitlyn Jenner would now simply devolve back into Bruce because a television show ended is, as I said, offensive.

And your remarks are insensitive because, while you thought you were making a funny at Caitlyn, you were actually putting down every single trans man or women out there; you seemed to be saying, in those few words, that being trans is nothing really, just another form of drag … of putting on clothes and make-up for a hoot; a thought for the day. It’s not; especially when we see trans women murdered nearly every single day just for being trans. To turn them into a punchline or a witty little Tweet is the height of insensitivity.

And that’s where the dangerous part comes in; when people who are less than accepting, less than understanding, read your tweet, whether on Twitter before you deleted it — was that because it suddenly hit you that it was all kinds of wrong, or because you were nailed for being less than accepting — or all over the news where it has since landed, those less than accepting people might act on their intolerance toward trans men and women.

And what about those people struggling with their gender identity, and living in a world that does not yet understand or accept them, who forget their hope for a moment, who forget their right to live as they choose for a moment, who forget they are worthy of everything the world has to offer for a moment, and end their lives.

Your words feed into that.

And think of all those trans kids, fighting to be accepted, fighting to be their true selves, fighting to use a goddamned bathroom, reading your words, the words of someone who says she’s an LGBT ally, and finding that you think them a joke; think about them and how your words hurt.

And, maybe you did, because, as I said, you deleted that Tweet … though we all know they never really go away, which is why one should really think before Tweeting.

But you deleted it and then you apologized … to the Human Rights Commission [HRC]:
“DEAR FRIENDS @HRC, WHOM I HAVE ALWAYS SUPPORTED. SORRY LAST TWEET OFFENDED. AN IDLE MUSING. I SEEM TO HAVE MISREAD THE TEMPER OF THE TIMES.”
An “idle musing”? That’s what it was? Perhaps then, most definitely, you should think before Tweeting because this wasn’t idle; and I don’t know how you could misread the “temper of the times.” Jokes about people, about innate parts of their being … skin color, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, weight, whatever … are never acceptable, never a misreading of the times.

And so I was less than thrilled by your apology because you failed to apologize to your target: Caitlyn Jenner. And where was the apology to the trans community, wounded by the shrapnel of your “joke”?

Transphobia isn’t funny; trans women are dying and it isn’t a joke; trans people are fighting for acceptance and it’s no laughing matter. So, when you demean one trans woman you demean an entire community.

And I wonder ... if you can so easily "joke" that a trans woman can flip a switch on her gender, would you say the same about gay men and women, that we can just 'go back" to being straight if our lives don';t work out, or our shows are cancelled? I doubt that, so it boggles my mind even further that you would say it about Caitlyn. 

Had you made a joke about a black woman, it would have been aimed at the entire black and you would have apologized to that community; had you ridiculed Muslim woman or a Jewish woman it would have targeted their entire community and you would have said “I’m sorry” to all of them.

As I said, Miss M, I adore you; the LGBT community adores you … though maybe a little more cautiously right now.

Throughout your career, your damn the torpedoes sense of showwomanship, you have shown us in the LGBT community that we can be ourselves; that we can live out loud, and be proud, and be who we are; and I thank you for that.

Every time you stepped into a spotlight and showed the world that you are different, that you are not what people might have expected, but dammit, you are out there and you will be yourself, in their faces, you helped a gay kid do the same thing in his or her own life.

I thank you for that. But I need to you think beyond the punchline, beyond the joke, beyond the "idle musing" and how, sometimes, what you say can have a ripple effect.

Caitlyn Jenner cannot snap her fingers and go back to being Bruce even if she wanted to, but you can snap your fingers and set them to the computer keyboard and apologize to her, personally, and to the trans community, in general.

Think on that, please.

12 comments:

Miss Lady Finger said...

I totally agree with your letter, and assessment of the show. I too started out doing drag and then transitioned years later. I particularly enjoyed like you, the other subjects of Caitlyn's show. If could have developed into a wonderfully positive show and give a real education. I hope maybe someone will approach the other girls about doing a show. Possibly Viceland, who already have a wonderful show called Gaycation. They are featuring very with times shows and subjects, and show the true side of things. Most shows are a documentary style. I'm sure they could find an audience their. As for Bette Midler, I have always thought she could be obnoxious.

Bob Slatten said...

Thanks Miss Lady finger
I, too, hope E! will do another show about trans women--and men--so that some of the stigma can be erased and minds can be educated.

the dogs' mother said...

The world is full of many wonders.
And then there are those Kardashians.

Mick said...

I love 'dogs' mother' response above. Because that helps explain how I felt about Bette's tweet. I thought of it as a funny snipe to one of your 'favorite' families, the Kardashians. I never considered it as a snipe to trans women everywhere until I read your post.

I love your blog and read it everyday. You are awesome! I see your point and how you perceived it. I understand. But it was highlarious and very Kardashian, do you see?

Dave R said...

Hhhmm, I wouldn't be surprised if he does go back to being Bruce, I mean he still has the equipment, all he'd need to do is get rid of the implants and kick the hormone treatments.

Bob Slatten said...

@Dave
You should read my post because your view of trans people is the exact problem. Their gender isn't something they change at will.
And, please, Caitlyn Jenner is a woman, whether or not she's has sexual reassignment surgery or not, and for you to continue saying she's Bruce or she';s a man is offensive..

Helen Lashbrook said...

I cringed when I read that tweet; it is offensive. It implies that what must have been a difficult journey for Caitlyn, was money orientated rather than a quest for her real identity.

Chris said...

I agree with Dave the Boxer, there is something about Jenner that isn't real, and since s/he did not go 'all the way' with her trans, I think s/he presents a different line of questioning about sexuality -- and it isn't cross-dressing in this case which means I'm not sure what territory is being explored which has always made me skeptical about the whole process Jenner went through to become whatever s/he is presently.

Bob Slatten said...

@Chris
Caitlyn Jenner is transgender, no questions. And a great many trans persons do not fully undergo gender reassignment surgery because it's either too expensive, too dangerous, or they don't feel the need.

Whether or not Caitlyn has undergone full gender reassignment , I don't know; I've never heard her speak about it. But, you aren't a man just because you have male genitalia; a man who has been castrated, for whatever reason, is still male if that is his gender identity. A woman who undergoes a radical hysterectomy is still female, as is a woman who has had her breats removed because of cancer or a cancer threat.

Gender is less between our legs and more what's in our minds.

Cross-dressing is not transgender.

Kirk said...

Your points are well taken. I've expressed skepticism about Jenner and I shouldn't have. She should be given the benefit of a doubt.


"...would you say the same about gay men and women, that we can just 'go back" to being straight if our lives don't work out...?"

No, you can't.

Blobby said...

I didn't cringe at the tweet. If it's un PC of me to do so, than so be it.

Caitlyn and co seem to do anything for 'fame' and 'reality tv'. And while your gender identity shouldn't be on that list - it was. She used it to not do education or enlighten any community other. She used it for a tv show to make $$$$. I think that family might dry up and die if they're not on tv.....and that includes Caitlyn. And I think they'd go to most lengths to be on it - including drying up and dying on camera....if the price is right.

Caitlyn (and before her, Bruce) was just as bad. Famewhoing her/him self out.

Bette's phrasing might have been wrong, but the sentiment was right on the money.

Biki Honko said...

BRAVO Bob!

I hadn't heard about Miss M's tweet, but thank you for posting the tweet and your very well thought out rebuttal. It matters not what people thought of Bruce and now Caitlyn, nor of the very public family, Kardashians. Caitlyn may not be everyone's cup of tea, but she is a woman and even if she had of had zero surgery done, she is still "she" and the switch is permanent.