Say what you will about Caitlyn Jenner. If you’re not a fan, there’s plenty of gasoline to fuel your fire. She’s a staunch Republican despite the GOP’s anti-trans stance on everything from anti-discrimination bills to gender neutral bathrooms. She’s a trans activist that’s still extremely removed from the trans struggle thanks to her high profile and great wealth. She’s also a member of the Kardashian clan, a group of reality stars who are known for being famous and not much else. But Jenner’s story is unique, and for once, there’s some good attached to it.
Back in April, she partnered with MAC to launch the Finally Free lipstick line. 100% of proceeds would be donated to the MAC AIDS Fund Transgender Initiative. For once, instead of a TV show or self-promotion, Jenner was using her influence for a great cause.
In the last 6 months, it turns out her charitable focus has paid off big time. The lipstick collaboration generated more than $1.3 million in sales revenue. And every dollar of that profit is going directly to the trans community. The money will be divided amongst 21 national trans charity groups.
The purpose of the initiative is to help trans people improve their quality of life, gain access to healthcare and start erasing the nasty stigma that still exists across the nation.
This was a big win for Jenner whose very public transition has garnered her some impressive accolades. In 2015, she was named one of Entertainment Weekly’s entertainers of the year and Glamour’s women of the year. She was even honored with the Espys’ Arthur Ashe Courage Award. Her transition has been the most open, heavily documented and well-received in history.
But despite her latest efforts to give back and constant recognition by those outside of the LGBTQ community, Jenner still struggles to connect with the very community she’s a part of.
During a 2015 interview with Ellen DeGeneres, Jenner shared that she hadn’t been supportive of gay marriage until recent months. She even alluded to the fact that gay marriage was in fact something different than “traditional” marriage. That same week, in an interview with Matt Lauer on the Today show, she shared that the Halloween costumes mocking her Vanity Fair reveal cover weren’t offensive. She realized that the community found it offensive but she didn’t. It was as though she was a separate entity from the trans community-a topic that was explored in multiple episodes of her now-canceled reality series I Am Cait. She later went on to poke fun at how watchdog groups like GLAAD obsess over use of the correct pronouns.
For a woman who’d just gone through arguably the most visible transition ever, she seemed removed from the experience. It was as though her status as a celebrity removed her from the pain and struggle that so many trans people face day in and day out.
While she’s done little to change public perception of her political views, her fundraising efforts reveal a step in the right direction.
In May, she sat in a New York Times-conducted conversation with two LGBTQ teenagers who felt she wasn’t using her influence for the greater good of the community. The conversation seemed eye-opening for Jenner, but the teens didn’t exactly seem moved by her responses to their questions.
Still, the fact that she was willing to face the criticism and have a direct conversation with members of the community shows a shift. She may not be where she needs to be in order to move the needle, but she’s getting closer with each interview and fundraiser.
Just last month, Jenner took heat for sharing lighthearted photos on Instagram within hours of stepdaughter Kim Kardashian West’s Paris robbery. Angry fans lit up her comments, confused about how she could press forward without expressing any type of concern for West’s well-being.
It may seem silly that fans are so entangled in personal family matters, but that sense of removal is indicative of a bigger problem with Jenner. Whether it’s the trans community, all LGBTQ people or even her family, she doesn’t feel connected to a cause unless it directly impacts her.
Her transition experience has really been unlike anyone else’s before her. Her privilege has allowed her to share her personal growth with the entire world and, for the most part, be accepted with open arms. Most trans men and women don’t have that pleasure. She fails to realize that and continuously speaks of herself as someone separate-unaffected by daily trans struggles because she has enough wealth to override them.
The success of her lipstick collaboration with MAC is an indication of what she’s capable of. Perhaps now that I Am Cait is canceled, she can use the new free time to continue fighting and raising money for the community. Only time will tell.