When I was ten years old, I remember waking up in bed, cuddled up in my sheet from the night before. As I lay there day dreaming, I tucked the sheet around me imagining it to be a flowing ball gown, elegant, sophisticated and completely feminine. The fantasy came from deep inside me and in the moment was overwhelming.
It persisted on into the next Halloween season at which time I proposed a “unique” costume idea to my mother. I would go as her. Creative thinker that she was, my mother went for the idea.
On the night of, I pulled it off extremely well. Dress, makeup, pumps and pearls. I was not a comic rendition of a woman, I looked like a younger version of my mother. Strangely, under the cover of “Halloween” no one saw my motives of self exploration, nor reacted with knee jerk misogyny, homophobia or transphobia. I went off in the night collecting candy.
I hated it. What I discovered conclusively was that I was not in the least transgender. I was, and am, a cisgender guy, a male in a male body. I probably had gone only a block and I began to loathe everything about the presentation I was in, not because it wasn’t working, it was, but because it was not me.
That walk down a city block in heels may have given me a glimpse into the disingenuous feelings a closeted transgender person has to feel every single day. I don’t know that for a fact, I can only imagine that to be true.
Was my walk down that street at that young age courageous? Was I a hero? Probably not. I was in no danger as I had managed the time and place conveniently, and I had played my experimentation as a gag, a lark, a creative idea.
Now we are in the age of Caitlyn Jenner. Public tabloid discussion quickly morphed from whether Bruce Jenner might be transgender to a debate on whether Caitlyn Jenner is a hero. Presumably, the latter discussion has gained more momentum by Caitlyn being awarded the prestigious Arthur Ashe Award for Courage.
My sons are 12 years old and we have discussed Caitlyn. They truly did not understand how she felt, and her need to emerge as her true self from a male body. The issues involved needed to be explained to them. I also explained to them why she is, in my opinion, a hero.
There are others who apparently need a similar discussion. HLN’s show Dr. Drew On Call assembled a panel to discuss whether Caitlyn was courageous and deserved an award. The panel consisted of Segun Oduolowu, Zoey Tur and Ben Shapiro.
As far as television goes, the panel and their interaction ended up being less like “The View” and more “Jerry Springer”. Oduolowu immediately drove the conversation to the level of hyperbole by screeching that Caitlyn Jenner was “a fraud”. His misguided points never once explained how Jenner was not authentically transgender, but focused on lives lost to AIDS in the 1980s. The cranky Shapiro, who seemed anxious to throw transphobic barbs at Tur, seated next to him, interrupted Oduolowu’s train of thought quickly. The barbs hit their intended recipient and Tur threatened to send Shapiro home in an ambulance. She then shot pointed comments of her own attacking Shapiro’s lack of emotional maturity.
Meanwhile, as this demeaning slug fest was playing out in one medium, graphic memes were making their way across another. These images attempted to contrast Jenner with disabled veterans. Social media images presented the premise that heroism was a competition in which if one was heroic in one way, it detracted from another’s heroism in another.
I decided that it was time for a letter.
To The Dr. Drew Panel and Those Who Question the Heroism of Caitlyn Jenner,
What exactly is a hero? When I hear the word, the first thought is of my dad. He was a career marine who put his life on the line for his country. He was also a man who put his kids and family first in his life and let us know he loved us every day. He sought to spiritually enrich us, and everyone around us, to the best of his ability. He always chose the brave and right thing over the easy and least intrusive.
If you say “hero”, I think of him.
When you say “hero”, here is what I do not think about: Your attitude Mr. Shapiro. You, addressing the transgender state of Caitlyn Jenner, and of Zoey Tur, who was seated inches from you, was bold, brash and in-your-face, but it was not heroic.
Willful ignorance is not heroic. Reducing a person’s heart, soul and dignity to the physiological make up of their body cells is not heroic, especially when even the most perfunctory research would tell you that your assessment was factually incorrect.
You could not have cared less about enriching anyone, let alone protecting them, as you reduced all of humanity into your pondering of chromosomes in human cells as the criteria for extending dignity by stating that “every cell in Caitlyn Jenner’s body, is male, with the exception of some of his sperm cells,”
Nature, the International Journal of Science, refutes you. They state, “Sex can be much more complicated than it at first seems. According to the simple scenario, the presence or absence of a Y chromosome is what counts: with it, you are male, and without it, you are female. But doctors have long known that some people straddle the boundary — their sex chromosomes say one thing, but their gonads (ovaries or testes) or sexual anatomy say another. Parents of children with these kinds of conditions — known as intersex conditions, or differences or disorders of sex development (DSDs) — often face difficult decisions about whether to bring up their child as a boy or a girl. Some researchers now say that as many as 1 person in 100 has some form of DSD2. When genetics is taken into consideration, the boundary between the sexes becomes even blurrier. Scientists have identified many of the genes involved in the main forms of DSD, and have uncovered variations in these genes that have subtle effects on a person’s anatomical or physiological sex. “
A hero does not misrepresent easily accessed information to win a point.
Mr. Oduolowu, you faulted Jenner for not speaking up on behalf of AIDS victims in the 80s. Since I buried over 40 close friends at that time, I found your rhetoric almost as offensive as Shapiro’s. My friends who died of age when you were at best, a child, would not attack Caitlyn Jenner as you have. They would understand the closet in which she was trapped, as many of them were in a similar one. Their illness and subsequent deaths forced them out of hiding, and ultimately set an awareness in motion, an awareness from which you yourself are a benefactor. They , to a person, would not condemn Jenner for her own closet, but would be celebrating her ultimate break through.
A hero does not use the pain of others to shame others who had not caused that pain.
Ms.Tur, your behavior is the most familiar to me. It reminds me of my son Jesse’s. My son is a super personable, bright kid. He has an elevated sense of justice and right and wrong. He also has an innately quick temper. On occasions in the past where another kid has treated him badly, he has reacted and lashed out. Invariably, it would be he, and not the original offender who would get in trouble. It has taken a few years of reinforcement, but he finally has embraced that he did himself no favors by his previous choices. Our talks went like this:
Me:: Pal, what went wrong in this situation?
Him: I got mad and got in trouble.
Me: Did the other guy get in trouble?
Me: Were you right that he harmed you to begin with?
Me: Who did your reaction harm?
Him: Me. I got in trouble. Al l the attention got on me instead of him.
Me: Exactly. He harmed you, and then you harmed you.
Him: There has to be a better way
Me: I’ll help you find it.
Ms. Tur, I appreciate you were backed into a corner by an emotional bully. The choice to strike back at an even lower level was not only not heroic, it was not effective. He was the true bully, but managed to then paint himself legitimately under threat.
As this conversation was going on in the land of cable TV, a bigger one was on social media. Images of disabled veterans were being thrown against images of Caitlyn Jenner. These images had the intention of shaming Jenner for being considered heroic.
The energy behind this mob outrage seemed even larger than any effort to reward these and other veteran heroes for their sacrifice. Accessible benefits are apparently not the issue, exclusive use of a word is.
I am not addressing this letter to the people who put together the simplistic and superficial memes, however.
I wish to address the vast Mob that responded to them.
The hero questioning memes went beyond veterans to ones that even included other sports figures. One was a juxtaposition with Tim Tebow for example.
That image alone garnered 192 thousand “likes” against Jenner. It featured almost 15,000 comments, the vast majority of which were unintelligible but decidedly nasty.
The Mob attack brought forth thoughts about Jenner’s own words, “If you want to call me names, doubt my intention, go ahead, because the reality is, I can take it. But for the thousands of kids out there coming to terms with who they are, they shouldn’t have to take it.”
So, to the Dr. Drew Panel and the Mob: What is a hero?
To me, and to my sons, a hero is someone who in the face of taunts, ridicule, and shaming speaks out not for herself, but for others first.
Yes, Caitlyn Jenner is a hero. She is one not for being transgender. She is a hero because she is standing up to you.
She is one, because YOU made her one.
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Photo: Flickr/Magazin Ekstra
This post is dedicated to Emma of Wipe Out Transphobia who has blazed a trail for Caitlyn Jenner and other modern heroes.