Caitlyn Jenner made her debut this week, with a glamorous photo spread and cover story in Vanity Fair. The gold medal-winning Olympian formerly known as Bruce Jenner’s transition into womanhood has played out on the public stage, like almost all things Kardashian-related, and thus, that transition has led to an outpouring of opinions and concerns regarding just what it means to have trans celebrities like Jenner and Laverne Cox of Orange Is the New Black assuming the spotlight. For the most part, the entertainment community was supportive of Jenner’s proclamation. The Kardashian clan has mostly shown love and support, and social media indicated that almost everyone was glad to see someone coming into their own authentic self.
But the supportive spirit wasn’t shared by all. A petition was posted on Change.org urging the International Olympic Committee to take back the gold medal Bruce Jenner won in the 1976 Games. Fans criticized the ESPYs decision to present Caitlyn Jenner with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2015 ceremony. And in the hip-hop community, certain artists used the news as an excuse to make transphobic jokes—or worse.
Timbaland reposted a meme from the popular comedy Coming To America that read, “His Momma named him Bruce, Imma call him Bruce.” And veteran hip-hop star Snoop Dogg went much further. Snoop posted a meme on Instagram featuring singer Akon with a caption that acknowledged the star’s work to bring solar power to Africans while slamming Jenner’s transition. “Shout out to Akon! He is about to supply 600 million Africans with solar power. Im really upset that this isn’t major news but that science project bruce jenner is #Society.”
Snoop’s apparent position is one of the more disgusting and transphobic responses to the Jenner news. Presenting the transition of a celebrity against the humanitarian efforts of another is disingenuous; it’s solely for the purpose of dismissing what Caitlyn Jenner and her transition mean in regards to American culture. Pretending that this story is just irrelevant tabloid fodder ignores the cultural ramifications of trans celebs being recognized by mainstream platforms and the effect that it could have on young trans Americans struggling with identity and acceptance. It’s telling those people that their struggle isn’t important at all. There is always something “more worthy” of our attention, says the “I don’t have a problem with those people, but…” crowd.
But to assume that Snoop’s bigotry is representative of all of hip-hop would be a bit wrongheaded.
Hip-hop, like America in general, has a long and oftentimes ugly history as it pertains to the LGBT community. Acts ranging from Boogie Down Productions to A Tribe Called Quest to Outkast to Common to Eminem have all been vocal about their discomfort with lesbian and gay people, in particular; but in more recent times, we’ve seen a shift begin to take place in the music and culture. This shift is indicative of how popular culture in general has moved away from the hateful and ignorant rhetoric of homophobia and transphobia. And many in the hip-hop community were supportive of Caitlyn Jenner’s announcement.
Azealia Banks tweeted that “Caitlyn Jenner looks exactly like Jessica Lange. Wow!” Charlemagne the God of Power 105’s Breakfast Club tweeted: “Just give Bruce his respect and post this as a Women Crush Wednesday and not a Man Crush Monday.” While Charlemagne still chose to refer to Caitlyn as “Bruce,” it’s still worth noting that some hip-hop artists and media didn’t condemn the former Olympian for his bold and very public transition.
In what became a viral sensation, Florida rapper Plies posted a video on Instagram affirming, “It’s Caitlyn, bih.” “So, this nigga named Caitlyn, bih,” Plies says in the clip. “Ain’t no Bruce, bih. Bih got titties, bih. Bih gone act like we ain’t seen titties, bih. I on know where bih got titties that fast, bih. You lookin’ for Bruce, bih? Ain’t no Bruce, bih. It’s Caitlyn, bih.”
50 Cent posted side-by-side pictures of Caitlyn Jenner and ex-wife Kris Jenner—with text over Kris’s picture that read: “Hold the fuck up how this bitch look better than me.”
Even Timbaland followed his initial repost with a statement voicing support for Caitlyn Jenner. “This was a repost I thought was funny I'm not making fun of him I support him but stop it we can all laugh sometime dammmmm it's just a dam repost someone sent to me !!!!!” he claimed. Whether or not one chooses to believe him, just recognizing that his fan base didn’t share his apparent view on the subject was evidence that the attitudes towards the trans community is beginning to shift among hip-hop fans and artists.
Homophobia and transphobia in hip-hop are well-documented, and some may assume that hip-hop and transphobia go together like marijuana and Funyuns. But that would be a gross oversimplification of what’s been happening in the culture. Because hip-hop is becoming more open; it’s no more transphobic than America is, in general.
Plies’ declaration that “Bruce gone, bih” and even 50 Cent’s, “This bitch look better than me,” were statements that acknowledged that this is who Caitlyn Jenner is and we should be respectful of that, however she chooses to identify herself. Was it presented in the most thoughtful and tactful ways? Probably not. But it is recognition that however she chooses to identify is her prerogative and it’s not anyone else’s job to police that. The negative responses weren’t just limited to hip-hop artists, after all, with actor Drake Bell and Tom Cruise’s son, Connor, among those voicing criticism over the Caitlyn Jenner news
Hip-hop has a long way to go towards being more embracing of the LGBT fans and artists that exist within the culture. But it’s convenient to present hip-hop as uniquely homophobic in spite of the cultural shift we’ve seen in recent years. Most of the rappers who still proudly proclaim their homophobia, transphobia, and outright intolerance of those in the LGBT community are older artists like Erick Sermon and Lord Jamar. It would be a lot more shocking if Drake decided to gay-bash. That doesn’t mean we assume that no young hip-hop artists and fans are automatically more “tolerant,” but it does mean that we can’t assume that homophobia is just par for the course in hip-hop. There are as many varied opinions within the music as there are within the greater context of our society.
Maybe we can all become better people via these types of transitions.