If you’ve been awake in recent weeks you may have seen the current cover of Vanity Fair which showed a stunning Annie Leibovitz photo of Caitlyn Jenner after she made her transition. I admit to looking at it initially with a certain amount of curiosity and thinking, “beautiful” and “good for you,” before moving onto other headlines from that day. Throughout the rest of the week various online news outlets (and even NPR) kept the story alive by reporting on celebrity reactions, the tweets from her children, and some promised future interviews with her ex-spouses, friends, the guy at the coffee shop, etc. I admit I lumped it all under “celebrity news I’m not interested in, “ because let’s face it, unless Jodi Foster is coming to my house to invite me to consult on her next project or Timothy Olyphant is writing me a note admitting to keeping a photo of me in his trailer, I don’t care. Anything Kardashian related headed my way makes me want to poke myself with a sharp object. Apologies to Us, People, the Enquirer, Daily Mail, etc., but I don’t see anything you report as real news (but you guys are great for the hair salon or bathroom)..
I watched the tidal wave of “news” on the matter crest and then slowly ebb away.
During the peak of all of the excitement a gentleman made a certain Facebook post complete with an image grabbed from online depicting two soldiers that went viral. The gist of the post being that Caitlyn’s transition was not “brave” or “courageous” or “heroic” unlike the image being shown in the other photo he selected – one depicting a soldier carrying a comrade who had his pistol drawn as he was being carried off – real “American” courage. While attempting to credit the source of the photo, this same gentleman discovered that the picture was actually a photo of a toy figure, and the person who created the image was a man who had been beaten nearly to death because he was a cross-dresser. The gentleman quickly owned up to his mistake and followed-up with a post about the lesson he learned that day. I personally had great respect for him, because he could have easily let that information slip past, but instead he wrote about it and how it transformed him.
When I read about his error I snorted a bit at the irony, and once again returned to other news. I certainly never planned to post my thoughts on it; I had none – nothing really new to add. Then today rolled around, and I saw the same post re-posted, but missing the key follow-up post, and then for no good reason I took a moment to read the comments that followed. I guess I was satisfying that most human need to rubberneck at train wrecks, or maybe I just felt like getting mad (it was a rather slow day truth be told, and MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!).
There’s really never a good reason to read most comments to any story. Regardless, I hopped down that nasty rabbit hole of bile and gritted my teeth as I read the most hateful wretch bubbling up in support of the original post. The writers were completely oblivious to the follow-up post (or maybe they were blatantly ignoring it). They used the post as a vile catalyst to feed on each other’s disdain, on each other’s hatred and ignorance.
I suspect most of what was said in response came more from a place of “why is this news” than anything else, but unfortunately they worded their disgust ways that went to the proverbial “there” by hammering on phrases like “American heroicism”. This Caitlyn’s transition was not “brave”. That it was not “courageous”.
What is Bravery? Courage? What does it mean to be Heroic?
Merriam-Webster tells me Bravery is “to have the quality or state of being brave.” Brave – “having or showing courage <a brave soldier> <a brave smile>.” Courage = “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” Among the definitions of Heroic = “exhibiting or marked by courage and daring.”
Bravery isn’t limited to the beaches of Normandy, the Helmand Province, or the streets of Saigon. Bravery is the bullied kid that still gets on the school bus under threats of violence every single day. Bravery is my gay friend walking into his dorm room every day while in the midst of being tormented by his roommate who used my friend’s towel as toilet paper and his pillowcase as tissue paper and not falling completely apart. Bravery is holding warlords hostage to come to the table and reach a peace agreement for Liberia. And bravery is sometimes staring defiantly into the face of a photographer in the Phnom Penh S-21 prison, knowing you will be executed.
Bravery ranges in size from an elementary school girl singing her first solo to astronauts riding an explosion that flings them to the moon. and bravery doesn’t know international boundaries; it’s not just an “American” thing; it’s a “human” thing. To believe that it is somehow contained within our borders is to be grossly out of touch with a much larger world. And bravery doesn’t always occur to the battlefield either – ask any of the 9/11 (or 911) responders.
You do not have to be part of the LGBT community to understand that what Caitlyn Jenner did, in front of the world, was brave. Putting yourself out there for the world to judge is hard, and doing it when you’re a well-known former Olympian makes it that much harder.
Dislike the story because it’s sad that it’s still news – and it’s actually important news for the LGBT community, because we’re currently not in a place where we simply accept that a person made a choice (as evidenced) – maybe a choice we don’t approve or understand, but a choice that was theirs to make. Dislike it because you’re tired of the Kardashians. Don’t dislike it because it doesn’t depict “bravery.” It does.
Caitlyn Jenner is brave. As brave as anyone I know.