It was supposed to be the pinnacle of one journalist’s career: Dawn Ennis, who said she is the first transgender person in TV network news to come out, interviewing Caitlyn Jenner in what Ennis thinks was Jenner’s first interview with a professional transgender reporter.
“It was the first time I met someone who, to me, personally is a hero,” Ennis — who worked for ABC — told The Washington Post in a telephone interview. “She really got to me.”
But the dream interview, published in the Advocate on Wednesday, took a funny turn when Ennis asked about Jenner’s politics.
“I like Ted Cruz,” Jenner said. “I think he’s very conservative and a great constitutionalist and a very articulate man. I haven’t endorsed him or anything like that. But I also think, he’s an evangelical Christian, and probably one of the worst ones when it comes to trans issues.”
Say what? It’s well known that Jenner is a Republican. But if Cruz is “probably one of the worst” on trans issues — which the Texas senator, who has said “my five year-old … knows there’s a difference between boys and girls” in a conversation about transgender students’ bathroom privileges, seems to be — how could Jenner, the most famous transgender person in the world, support him?
Though Jenner allowed that “the Democrats are better when it comes to these types of social issues,” she had an answer — that focused on economic and fiscal policy.
“Number 1, if we don’t have a country, we don’t have trans issues,” she told Ennis. “We need jobs. We need a vibrant economy. I want every trans person to have a job. With $19 trillion in debt and it keeps going up, we’re spending money we don’t have. Eventually, it’s going to end. And I don’t want to see that. Socialism did not build this country. Capitalism did. Free enterprise. The people built it. And they need to be given the opportunity to build it back up.”
In another exchange, Jenner went even further.
“You’re going to be Ted Cruz’s trans ambassador?” Ennis said.
Jenner: “Yes, trans ambassador to the president of the United States, so we can say, ‘Ted, love what you’re doing but here’s what’s going on.’”
In her story, Ennis concluded: “She wasn’t joking.”
For Jenner — already considered by some to be a privileged, white woman who, though she is an icon, is not an appropriate representative for the trans community — things on the Internet got a little toasty.
“Jenner isn’t wrong that transgender people would benefit if they could secure jobs,” Zach Ford wrote at Think Progress, a liberal website. “But the economy isn’t what’s keeping transgender people from finding employment — it’s anti-transgender discrimination.” Ford added: “Caitlyn Jenner simply cannot be taken seriously as an advocate for the most disadvantaged transgender people if she’s lauding Ted Cruz in the same breath.”
i was all for caitlyn jenner until she said she was a white feminist conservative who is unsupportive for marriage equality
— dead boyfriend (@unsmokabIe) March 4, 2016
Jenner wasn’t without her defenders: “If you’re not trans, I don’t give a damn what you think about how you feel Caitlyn Jenner is hurting trans people,” one Twitter user wrote.
If you're not trans, I don't give a damn what you think about how you feel Caitlyn Jenner is hurting trans people.
— Terrell J. Starr (@Russian_Starr) March 4, 2016
But how did this make Jenner’s interlocutor Ennis — herself dismissed from ABC, and the subject of a forthcoming documentary by Deana Mitchell, who photographed the duo for the Advocate — feel? The lead-up to the interview, Ennis’s last before she left the Advocate to care for her children after the death of their mother, Ennis’s spouse, did not lack for drama.
“My goal for the past year has been to meet the woman who has been elevated by the mainstream media to the status of transgender icon, whether deserving or not — many would say not,” Ennis wrote in her piece. “… I don’t consider my transition to be anything like anyone else’s, even though, like Jenner, I lived a double life for years. I was dishonest with my wife — and myself — about my needs, and I am what some people refer to as a ‘late transitioner.’ I’m 51 and didn’t come out until I was 49. Jenner came out last year and is now 66 — and looks fabulous. I’ve never felt more compelled to lose weight.”
Faced with a woman she so admired, Ennis came away impressed.
“She is no bulls–t,” she told The Post. “… What you see is what you get. I was very taken with her very frank and direct style. She answered every question I put to her and did not dodge a single one.” She added: “I still feel like I made a friend when I met Caitlyn Jenner.”
But Ennis, who said she’s voted for Democrats and Republicans, couldn’t entirely ignore Jenner’s politics. As Ennis wondered in her piece: “Is she just a rich broad who likes her privacy and can afford to live above the clouds, and why not?”
Pretty much. As Ennis told The Post: “Like many people I know who have achieved great success, there are issues beyond civil rights that affect her.”
“What she is is part of the Kardashian family — part of that entire part of the world where fashion and expensive things are everyday things,” Ennis said. “She did not go to the drive-thru. She is living in a different dimension … she’s a rich lady. Pass the Grey Poupon.”
And, Ennis pointed out, transgender people are still permitted to be themselves.
“I don’t have to be anyone different — I can be who I was, and a different ‘who I was,'” she said. “… Even though I may dress differently … it doesn’t mean I’m not still a journalist, not still a sports fan, not still someone who loves her children. That’s what it comes down to. She feels she’s a conservative. At this time, I’m not sure anyone on the planet except maybe Ted Cruz can convince her that she’s not a trans ambassador.”
In this unpredictable election year, Ennis suggested things might change.
“I think her politics are going to evolve,” Ennis said. “I just think they haven’t yet. I think they haven’t yet because nobody will throw cold water in her face. Cruz will probably respond – that will be the cold water. He will show her being his trans ambassador isn’t in the cards.”