The Conversation About Caitlyn Jenner Proves One Thing
It was the first article that came to the top of Google when you searched for Caitlyn Jenner yesterday: A piece from Daily Mail claimed that “Jenner’s reps ‘demanded ESPYs award in exchange for PR plugs and Diane Sawyer interview.'” The article suggested that “representatives of Caitlyn Jenner reportedly negotiated her ESPYs award in exchange for PR plugs in her upcoming TV series and threatened to pull out of her 20/20 interview. Reports have emerged that Jenner’s team approached ESPN with the idea that she win the Arthur Ashe Courage Award just as details were being finalized for her 20/20 interview with Diane Sawyer on ABC. ABC and ESPN are both owned by Disney, and ABC aired Wednesday’s awards ceremony.”
There were other notable screams from the interwebs over Jenner’s ESPY award, including, most notably, Friday Night Lights producer Peter Berg’s Instagram photo that pretty much speaks for itself.
Even before the ESPY award, many notable public figures have made downright absurd comments about Jenner, everything from author Anne Lamott saying she’ll call Jenner a “she” “when the pee-pee is gone” to defunct NAACP advocate Rachel Dolezal comparing herself to Jenner due to her “transracialism.” The fact is, this public discourse proves one thing: We still have a lot to learn and a lot to discuss when it comes to issues of gender.
Even Jenner’s ESPY’s speech, although at times deeply moving, seemed to focus so heavily on outward appearance. She made references to how hard it was to pick out a dress and do her hair, and commented that the U.S. women’s soccer team knew how to “clean up.” I, myself, was a little disappointed with those remarks, despite the fact that they were meant to be slightly comedic, as it emphasized the notion that “being female” largely has to do with standards of outward beauty. Clearly, it safe to say that Jenner knows better, and I’d hope she realizes that, through her privileged platform, that she can continue to raise a social consciousness over trans issues. We need this discourse in order to evolve, and one has to give Jenner credit for her willingness to spearhead the conversation, even if her experience does not echo the lives of other trans people.
And, yes, there is discussion happening: Several weeks ago, I was visiting my parents and cooled off in their pool. My father, who is in his late 50’s, and I talked, extensively, about trans issues. I never, ever, in a million years thought I’d be having this kind of talk with my dad, despite how utterly “cool” he is with who I am as a gay man. Yes, he “misgendered” Jenner a handful of times, but quickly corrected himself, and I chalked that up to him growing up with “Bruce Jenner,” the athlete. But what was remarkable was that I was able to share with him why some trans folks weren’t down with the public exposure that Jenner was getting, that Jenner was, without a doubt, highly privileged, that some of my students were going to botched clinics to get hormones because they couldn’t afford or didn’t know better. In short, it opened his eyes.
“I never thought of that,” he finally said. “That, you know, not all trans people can relate to her story.”
That’s the kind of beauty that can come out of this discourse, and we shouldn’t forget it.