Recently Vanity Fair released the cover of their magazine with Caitlyn Jenner (formerly Bruce Jenner) on the cover with the title “Call Me Caitlyn” on it. For some, it was met with applause and for some it was met with hostility. Then, later on, it was revealed that the Arthur Ashe award for courage award, given at the ESPYS, was going to be given to her. This, again, was met with the same praise and hostility.
This is something that is going to take a minute for people to be okay with. People don’t like change and especially don’t like it when it happens in the form of something that is unknown. As of right now people are generally okay with the idea of gay and lesbian marriages but if you asked someone about it even a decade ago it would be a completely different story. Now, we transition to something a little different. Now we’re talking about people who identify their gender in a different way and it’s confusing to some. It isn’t as simple as you have male parts and therefore you’re a man. There are more layers to it than that. The sex of a child is biological and the gender of someone is what he or she feels they are. It’s a lot to digest if you weren’t aware of it before now.
So why should you care about this? Why should you care that Bruce Jenner decided to be known as Caitlyn and completely change the identity? In one sense you shouldn’t care. In a way you shouldn’t care about this any more than you care about who Taylor Swift is dating.
In another sense this is something that is pretty seismic, not only in sports, but everywhere. The reason you should care is because of the emotional ramifications it brings to people.
For someone my age (25) I know Jenner as a member of the Keeping Up With the Kardashian show. To my parents, Jenner is the decathlon champion that was plastered all over the Wheaties boxes in the 1970’s. Jenner was Michael Phelps before Michael Phelps was born. That two-sided celebrity makes Jenner’s announcement connect to two very different types of audiences. So, maybe in those two different audiences it reaches someone who identifies with her.
People have had inspirations forever. When you were little maybe you idolized your parents or an athlete or a celebrity or a firefighter. People idolized Jackie Robinson because of what his emergence into baseball meant. People idolized Yao Ming when he came into the NBA in 2002 and people idolized Harvey Milk when he took office in 1978. People took pride in that because people tend to find inspiration in people who either look like them or have similar viewpoints. Caitlyn Jenner now does that exact thing for transgender people. She gives them the leader that nobody else was in the public eye.
Having the platform that Caitlyn Jenner has is something that is indescribably important. If it had been anyone else making the announcement maybe it doesn’t resonate as hard. After all, movies like Transamerica and Boys Don’t Cry have been out for at least a decade and it hasn’t done as much as one Vanity Fair picture. Sometimes you need to shock the American public in order for them to get an idea about something that’s in the shadows.
I’ve also seen people post things about soldiers and comparing the courage of them to Jenner’s. While I see the correlation in the sense that what soldiers do is heroic, it also misses the point.
Are people in the military heroes? Absolutely! No question! They do things that most of us would never have the courage to do. They fight everyday for the freedoms that everyone (myself included) takes for granted. Doing something that is worthy of the Purple Heart or the Medal of Honor is a sacrifice that I can’t even begin to fathom. They are heroes in every sense of the word and have an immense amount of courage. I have the upmost respect for what they do. I would never disrespect someone who serves for our country.
On the other hand, what Caitlyn did is brave and heroic as well, just in a different way. Living with the identify of being transgender is something that has been destroying people for decades. If this is how she felt at 65 years old then I’m guessing she felt this way for years. I doubt it was something she felt a month ago and decided to go for. Doing something like this is a decision you don’t make lightly.
Recently, an American Foundation for Suicide Prevention study from the Williams Institute did a study dealing with suicide attempts among transgender and gender non-conforming adults.
The results showed that about 4.6% of the general population will attempt suicide. Nearly 20% of gay or lesbians attempt suicide and transgender or non-conforming people attempt suicide at a 41% rate.
Just think about that for a second. Nearly half of people who identify themselves as transgender or a non-conforming gender attempt suicide. At the very least that has to mean that living with that, as your identity, is difficult.
I understand that people don’t want to have anything other than sports infiltrate their sporting experience. Concussions, steroids and domestic violence have all had their moments on the outsides of the game and this deserves its time as well. It deserves its time because there are literally thousands of people playing in both collegiate and professional sports and if what Caitlyn did earlier this week helps that person out, then what she did was worth it. If what she decided to do makes those numbers dip, even in a small way, then the courage she showed matters.
There aren’t many “barriers” that are still seen as unbroken. Michael Sam and Jason Collins were the first professional athletes to come out as gay but they weren’t the “star athletes”. If LeBron James or Calvin Johnson came out as gay then the conversation immediately shifts another direction. Caitlyn (Formerly Bruce) isn’t to the level of LeBron or Michael Sam but the celebrity of Jenner matters.
This isn’t something that America is going to wrap their arms around anytime soon and that’s okay. You don’t have to love what’s going on. You don’t even have to publicly endorse what Caitlyn did but if you understand that the announcement Monday gave hope to a lot of people around the world and that it mattered for them, that’s fine. People deserve to be happy and this seems to have made Caitlyn Jenner happy and maybe other people around the world. Congratulations for them. Who am I to get in the way of that?