2021 Update: It was over six years ago that I wrote this article about Caitlin Jenner coming out as transgender. My definition of a hero was a person who was admired for great or brave acts. At the time she met that criteria, but no longer. Since then I’ve learned about intersectionality, privilege, and what real advocacy looks like. Caitlin Jenner supports policies that hurt transgender girls in sport. She supports Donald Trump, a president who was very vocal about his anti-LGBTQ stance. She wants to be the Republican governor of California, representing a party who openly attack LGBTQ people. She does all this undermining of the LGBTQ community from her privileged perch of being a very wealthy, white American who will not suffer any consequences for the policies her party is pushing. I’ll give her credit for bringing more light to transgender identities, but that’s it. Now she is a person whose words and actions hurt people and that is not heroic at all.
It’s been a few weeks since Caitlyn Jenner revealed herself on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine and blew up the internet, but since then things have died down a bit. Well, for her anyway; now we’re all focused on the absurdity of Donald Trump running for President.
There’s still a lot of chatter about Caitlyn though, and it’s coming from people who are really focused on passing judgment on her status as a hero. Is Caitlyn Jenner a hero? I have seen multiple FaceBook posts recently that say she is not a hero. These posts show photos of firefighters or soldiers and say these brave men and women are courageous heroes, but that Caitlyn Jenner is not brave, or courageous, and certainly not a hero. These posts use the support of our servicemen and women to poorly mask intolerance of people in the transgender community. It’s so obvious and transparent that it makes me cringe. I wonder how the people Caitlyn Jenner is being compared to feel about being used to put someone else down. I wonder if they feel the same as I do, that Caitlyn Jenner is a hero, and are they ticked off that they’re being used to spread negativity.
hero: a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities.
The people who don’t admire Caitlyn Jenner lump her with the Kardashians, and their habit of seeking constant media attention. But that’s not fair; prior to her transition Caitlyn Jenner (then named Bruce) won the Olympic Men’s Decathlon and the fame that followed was earned for athletic prowess, unlike the fame so gratuitously heaped on the Kardashian family.
Yes, Caitlyn Jenner used the media during her transition but what else was she supposed to do? The media was her most powerful tool to spread information about what it means to be transgender. The media is how we disseminate information and news and she used it for that purpose. What were her other options?
Detractors say that she didn’t need to speak about her transition at all, that she should have kept it private, and they don’t like her transition being shoved in their faces. I call bull on that option because a) no one forced them to watch a televised interview or purchase a magazine; and b) she is part of a famous family and the media would have hounded her relentlessly if she transitioned to Caitlyn without some explanation. Others say that Caitlyn Jenner is not a hero because she’s getting paid for her media appearances. Firefighters, police officers, and soldiers get paid (not as much as they should) too, but no one is denigrating their character over it.
Caitlyn Jenner’s outing as a transgender person was a media extravaganza, but that media helped educate people on what transgender means by putting a famous face to it. When Caitlyn came out she expected hate and vitriol, but she did it anyway because she needed to be true to herself and to be a person other transgender people could see living their authentic life. That is bravery. Doing something that is scary and potentially painful because you know it is the right thing to do.
The statistics on suicide in the transgender community are staggering. It’s estimated that 41% of transgender people attempt suicide. When Caitlyn Jenner came out she needed to create a media sensation because she had only one chance to spread the word far and wide and get as many ears listening as possible. The more people she reached the higher the chance that her story could save someone else’s life. That is a hero.
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