On April 24, 2015, I, like millions of people, watched Bruce Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer. I’d heard the rumors about his desire to transition to a woman, and I wanted to hear what he had to say, rather than getting the information tabloid style.
Over the years, like all of us, Bruce had aged, no longer the young man who’d won Olympic gold. As he appeared with Diane, he sported longer hair pulled back into a neat ponytail as well as signs of some facial plastic surgery. As a mature man who’s rarely photographed with a smile on his face, Bruce was composed and introspective, but then, that’s what the interview was about His eyes told the story of inner turmoil and unhappiness.
As he spoke of the years he’d wrestled with the knowledge that he wasn’t the person the world had come to know, my heart broke for him. To think he’d spent sixty-odd years pretending is more than I can fathom.
That night, he put a public face on a situation that exists for many people of all ages, all over the world. While not the first public face, he is the most recent. In the early 1950s, George Jorgensen, a former GI, publicly transitioned to Christine, after years of “being lost between the sexes.”
The following is from biography.com:
In 1950, Jorgensen traveled to Denmark to begin the transformation from man to woman. The treatment, available only in Europe at the time, included hormone therapy and several operations. Her story became public in 1952 while she was still in a Copenhagen hospital, making big news in the United States. Overwhelmed by the attention, Jorgensen had to deal with such headlines as “Bronx ‘Boy’ Is Now a Girl” and “Dear Mum and Dad, Son Wrote, Have Now Become Your Daughter.”
While I’m sure Ms. Jorgensen’s transition created a stir, as Renee Richards’ did in the seventies, I am struck by how little we have advanced as a people in our acceptance of things we might not understand. For some reason, Caitlyn Jenner’s appearance on Vanity Fair has entitled people to discuss their approval or disapproval.
The other day on Facebook, people reserved the right to make jokes about Caitlyn, because the political correctness had gone too far. In another discussion, a woman went on a rant about how a sixty-five year old man shouldn’t bother with such a frivolous thing, when there were so many other issues in the world. She intimated that at sixty-something, we should be satisfied with our lot and concentrate on more important things.
I argue that there is nothing more important than happiness, whether derived from our work, our play, our partners in life, our children, social service, or being true to who we are inside. The prescription for happiness comes in all forms and neither age, race, gender, nor sexual orientation should exclude anyone. What sanctimonious prig(s) decided that only those whom everyone else understood were entitled to happiness?
When did our inability to understand another’s plight become license to degrade that very plight and the person experiencing it? When did mean-spiritedness replace our love for our fellow human beings? When did jokes and titters become a replacement for compassion or even our discomfort at something that we don’t understand? Since when is a prerequisite to someone’s happiness another’s self sacrifice? Don’t each of us crave love and understanding when we are going through a transitional time such as divorce or loss? What special kind of ignorance has crept into the souls of people that they are entertained by the pain of others?
Why should Bruce Jenner NOT become Caitlyn and smile, maybe for the first time, because she is, at last, who she is meant to be?
There is no reason. Not that people won’t understand – her family does and her sons say that they always knew something was missing. Not because there are those people who will make fun – they are the smallest of the small. Not because she is sixty-five and, hell, her life’s almost over, so she might as well live out her days as others might have her do. We all know sixty-five year olds long ago lost the ability to feel, mourn, cry, regret. Isn’t sixty-five years long enough to fulfill the expectations of others, but never once for yourself?
Is the subject uncomfortable? So what? Who says we need to be comfortable with everything so it can exist? A requirement of Caitlyn’s transition isn’t whether the watching world is comfortable or if we understand. Caitlyn’s pain isn’t on the outside for all to see. She’d carried it inside her for as long as her memory serves.
And then, as if the self-appointed critics hadn’t had enough of a field day, a furor erupted when ESPN chose Caitlyn Jenner for this year’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award, meant to honor people “whose contributions transcend sports through courageous action.” Let us not forget that at one time, Bruce Jenner was the world’s greatest athlete.
ESPN’s statement reads in part:
“Sometimes that courage is demonstrated over the course of a lifetime and sometimes it is demonstrated in a single act that shines a light on an important contemporary issue. At all times, there are many worthy candidates.”
“This year, we are proud to honor Caitlyn Jenner embracing her identity and doing so in a public way to help move forward a constructive dialogue about progress and acceptance.”
One argument against the bravery aspect is that true bravery is exhibited by our military, our first responders, families that live hand to mouth because they don’t have the money Caitlyn “has at her fingertips.” “Can’t he focus on something besides himself?”
True bravery comes in all forms, in varying degrees. Caitlyn’s courage doesn’t negate that of the aforementioned, while theirs doesn’t negate Caitlyn’s. Caitlyn Jenner is a beacon for transgendered people across the globe. If one person follows her lead and steps out of the shadows, then that is a step in the right direction.
As human beings, we’re born with an overflowing abundance of compassion and love in our hearts. There’s always room in our hearts for those people whose struggles aren’t our own, just by virtue of the fact that they are struggling.
View the interview with the former Bruce Jenner at either of these links:
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