A narcissistic, right-wing reality TV star is running for public office.
No, Donald Trump has not announced his 2024 presidential campaign. Caitlyn Jenner is running for Governor of California as a Republican in the expected recall election of Governor Gavin Newsom .
As a gay man, I suppose many might expect me to support Jenner, a transgender woman, because of “identity politics,” the view that our identities should be the focal point of our politics. But I have news for you: I would rather drink Trump-branded bleach than vote for a millionaire Republican—even an LGBTQ one.
Because the truth is, identity politics will only get you so far. It’s something I’m keenly aware of, as someone who is working class. And though this is not always the case, there is often a fundamental tension between a politics rooted in material issues and one rooted in identity.
Of course, as a gay man, I am acutely aware of policies that harm myself and other gay folks. I still resent Republican’s using same-sex marriage as a wedge issue in 2004 , not only because they rode a wave of anti-gay amendments to electoral victory, but because they were homophobic and had a real detriment to my life.
Ironically, this means I would never vote for Jenner, who despite being trans opposed same-sex marriage— until she realized it was hurting her brand . I would never vote against my own individual interests as a gay man and the class interests of gay and lesbian people as a group.
But I also would not vote for Jenner because my own class interests—that is, my economic class interests—are not the same as Jenner’s. And this is where liberals often falls victim to identity politics itself.
There is a tendency to look at voters as part of a block with narrow interests predetermined along the axes of race, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Politicians on the left tend to look at things like same-sex marriage and the Equality Act as being “gay issues,” with the assumption that simply being on the right side of those issues is enough to win our support.
It is not, as Andrew Yang recently discovered . Earlier this week, Yang met with a premier LGBTQ Democratic club in New York. But what he did with this opportunity was tout his gay staffers and his desire to visit a lesbian bar, two things no one seemed to care about. By employing identity politics to pander to stereotypes, Yang completely neglected to talk about the issues the club cared about—chiefly, housing and homelessness. Yang not only failed to get the club’s endorsement, but he is now mired in a controversy surrounding the visit.
Supporting “gay policies” simply is not enough for me and for millions of LGBTQ voters. The reason for this is rather simple: I am gay, but I am also working class. And like many of my gay brothers and sisters and many straight Americans, our lives are plagued by economic instability and a real need for a pro-working class agenda.
In my experience, being working class has held me back far more than being gay ever has. From early on, it disadvantaged me compared to my wealthier peers. I graduated from one of the poorest and worst-performing public high schools in Kentucky . My parents and grandparents, hardworking people who toiled away in factories and garages, could not afford private tutors or lessons. There was no one to help me navigate the college admissions process because no one in my family had ever gone to a university. Even then, I was limited to state schools; no one explained to me how many scholarships were available, and the Ivy League was never mentioned to me, by anyone, ever, as a possibility.
I never heard “Dream big, little boy” growing up. Instead, I was told to hope that one day, I might find a secure job. That was the best we could hope for.
That mentality stuck with me as I entered the workforce, where I could not rely on the networks parents of middle- and upper-class parents milk for their kids and elite universities provide for their alumnae. I have never to my knowledge been denied a job because I am gay, but not being able to work for free kept me from unpaid internships that could have bolstered my career fresh out of college.
That doesn’t mean the Equality Act isn’t important to me. But there are other issues which weigh more heavily on my decision about who to vote for. Having access to affordable healthcare and cheap housing is what matters most to me. Fixing our electrical grid so that my electricity doesn’t go off and the bridge below me doesn’t wash out whenever it rains would have a more immediate and material effect on my life.
These are the kitchen table issues that identity politics so often ignores, yet these are the things that matter most to voters. Voters, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, care more about their material circumstances than they do ideological culture wars; at least, voters who are exposed to the vicissitudes of daily life do. I wouldn’t know about those who are never beset by financial worries.
I doubt Caitlyn Jenner worries about the electricity much. Jenner, who once described herself as “economically conservative, socially liberal” and who told the 2016 Republican National Convention that “it was harder to come out as a Republican” than as a trans woman, voted for Donald Trump in 2016. She supported his massive tax cut for the wealthy and deregulation of the economy and only recanted her support when he turned on the trans community. Put simply, Jenner is not a friend of the working American.
Expecting someone to support Jenner or any candidate because they identify as LGBT is to ignore the real class consciousness we need to be building: a class consciousness among the working class.
It is time we eschew identity politics and engage with the real conflict, that between the wealthy who control the economy and the workers they depend on to make them money. Social justice is a noble cause, and I am not suggesting we give up the fight for LGBTQ, racial, and gender equality. But we all need to start realizing that identity politics and the endless culture wars predicated on it are meant to divide, not unite, the working class.
Nothing makes this clearer than Caitlyn Jenner’s run for governor as a trans Republican. It might just be the nail in the coffin of identity politics.
Skylar Baker-Jordan writes about the intersection of identity, politics, and public policy based in Tennessee.
The views in this article are the writer’s own.
Correction, 4/24/21, 4:02am EDT: The spelling of Caitlyn Jenner’s name was corrected in the headline and article.
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