Thoughts on Caitlyn Jenner

Most people are very happy for Caitlyn Jenner in her recent debut. They wish her well; they wish her happiness. You will be hard pressed to find too many people openly making disparaging remarks or blatantly not supporting her. However, what has caused controversy is that she was recently awarded the ESPY Arthur Ashe Award, and many believe she is undeserving. The three main names many bring to the forefront as more deserving, are Lauren Hill, a freshman basketball player who continued to play the sport while battling terminal brain cancer, Noah Galloway, a former US soldier who lost his left arm and leg in battle but continues to participate in famously difficult fitness competitions, and Jim Kelly, a former NFL player who  has used his fame and personal loss to bring awareness to Krabbe disease (the disease that took his son's life) and to his own battle with squamous cell carcinoma.


I. Definitions

As defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
  • BRAVE (adj)- facing or dealing with (something dangerous or unpleasant)
  • COURAGE (n)- mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty
  • HEROIC (adj)exhibiting or marked by courage and daring

II. What is the Arthur Ashe Award?

Now, from the ESPN website, here is a description of what exactly the Arthur Ashe Award is. I have also underlined and bolded sections to make it a quicker read:
The Ashe Award is one of the most prestigious in sports. Recipients reflect the spirit of Arthur Ashe, possessing strength in the face of adversity, courage in the face of peril and the willingness to stand up for their beliefs no matter what the cost. The award is inspired by the life that Ashe lived, using his fame and stature to advocate for human rights, although, at the time, those positions may have been unpopular and were often controversial. From speaking out against apartheid in South Africa to revealing to the world his struggle with AIDS, Ashe never backed away from a difficult issue, even though doing so would have been easier. Winners of the Ashe Award strive to carry on Ashe's legacy in their own lives - - inspired by those who do so each day.
ESPN has also stated that there are no "runner-ups" for the Arthur Ashe Award or any of the big awards for the ESPYs. [Source]

One also does not have to be or have been  an athlete to receive the award. The past five recipients:
  • 2014: Michael Sam, an All-American football player who became the first openly gay man to be drafted into the NFL. 
  • 2013: Robin Roberts, a former anchor for ESPN until 2005 and then an anchor for Good Morning America. She has had a public and difficult battle with breast cancer 
  • 2012: Pat Summitt, a former college basketball coach who holds the most all-time wins for any NCAA coach in all its history. She has also been public about her battle with Alzheimer's disease.
  • 2011: Dewey Bozella, who was wrongfully convicted of murder and spent 26 years in prison before having his sentence overturned. While there he became a light heavyweight boxer, and he eventually got to have his professional fight in 2011.  

III. Who was Arthur Ashe?

Photo via Washington Post
Now, here's a highlight of Arthur Ashe's life and why he has a prestigious award named after him. I used this article as a source:
  • Arthur Ashe was an African-American tennis player. 
  • He attended UCLA, where his tennis accomplishments included being the first African-American player named to the U.S. Davis Cup team. As a sophomore, he was featured in Sports Illustrated's "Faces in the Crowd." In 1965 he won the individual NCAA championships and contributed significantly to UCLA winning the team NCAA tennis championship.
  • Ashe served in the US army from 1966-68, stationed at West Point in New York, reaching the rank of second lieutenant. He also continued participating in tennis tournaments.
  • He is the only African-American man to ever win the U.S. Open.
  • In 1969 he co-founded the National Junior Tennis League, a program designed to "foster a sense of discipline and attention to academics." Many of the programs in which Ashe would become involved often focused on children, minorities, education, and tennis. The main concern of these programs, though, focused more on teaching life skills rather than trying to become the best at something.
  • In 1969, when he was denied an entry visa into South Africa because of Apartheid, he would become a fervent activist for ending Apartheid for the rest of his life.
  • In order to protect the interests of tennis players, he helped create the Association of Tennis Professionals.
  • When he retired from tennis in 1980 due to continuing pain from a bad heart attack, he ended his career with 818 wins, 260 losses, and 51 titles.
  • In his retirement, he was extremely active between continuing contributions to the world of tennis, activism, and education.
  • Unfortunately, a surgery in 1983 included an HIV-positive blood transfusion, and Ashe would discover a few years later that he had the virus. He would keep this a secret until 1992.
  • He decided to hold a press conference to reveal his disease, and he began to bring awareness to AIDS, which was heavily stigmatized at the time. His AIDS activism included his founding of the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS, a speech to the UN General Assembly on World AIDS Day.
  • He was thus awarded the Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year, an award given to an "athlete or team whose performance that year most embodies the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement." I would like to note this is twelve years after he retired from his tennis career. 
  • Arthur Ashe died in 1993 and was buried in the Governor's Mansion in Richmond, VA, the first person to lie in state there since Stonewall Jackson (a very famous Confederate general) in 1863. 
  • A statue was erected in 1996 on Richmond's Monument Avenue, a place that formerly commemorated Confederate war heroes. The statues is of Ashe holding books in one hand and a tennis racket in the other to symbolize knowledge and tennis. 

IV. What exactly does it mean to be transgender?

Now let's look at a brief description what exactly being transgender means, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), and what its place in society has been. 
Transgender is an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth. Gender identity refers to a person’s internal sense of being male, female or something else; gender expression refers to the way a person communicates gender identity to others through behavior, clothing, hairstyles, voice or body characteristics.
Is being transgender a mental disorder?
A psychological state is considered a mental disorder only if it causes significant distress or disability. Many transgender people do not experience their gender as distressing or disabling, which implies that identifying as transgender does not constitute a mental disorder. For these individuals, the significant problem is finding affordable resources, such as counseling, hormone therapy, medical procedures and the social support necessary to freely express their gender identity and minimize discrimination. Many other obstacles may lead to distress, including a lack of acceptance within society, direct or indirect experiences with discrimination, or assault. These experiences may lead many transgender people to suffer with anxiety, depression or related disorders at higher rates than nontransgender persons.
What kinds of discrimination do transgender people face?  
Anti-discrimination laws in most U.S. cities and states do not protect transgender people from discrimination based on gender identity or gender expression.
Out of a sample of nearly 6,500 transgender people, the report, ["Injustice at Every Turn"] found that transgender people experience high levels of discrimination in employment, housing, health care, education, legal systems, and even in their families.
Many transgender people are the targets of hate crimes. They are also the victims of subtle discrimination—which includes everything from glances or glares of disapproval or discomfort to invasive questions about their body parts.
If you don't think the transgender community is still stigmatized, let's look at the recent headlines not related to Caitlyn Jenner that pop up when one types in "transgender" into the Google News Search Bar (relevant as of June 4, 2015):

  • "Transgender people are reported banned from Tinder" | Business Insider
  • "Transgender Woman Pushed onto Subway Tracks in App..." | TIME
  • "Mike Huckabee's creepy transgender 'joke'" | CNN
  • "From Blake to Jessie: a 7-year-old's transgender story" | The Guardian
3/4 of those articles discuss something negative happening to the transgender community.

V. Now, who exactly is Caitlyn Jenner? 

We all know her for a few things under her former name Bruce Jenner. 
  • In July 30, 1976, Bruce Jenner won the gold medal back from the Soviet Union for the decathlon at the Montreal Olympics and set a world record until 1980. A decathlon is a combined athletic event that includes: a 100 meter run, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400 meter run, 110 meter hurdles, discus throw, pole vault, javeline throw, and a 1500 meter run spread out over two days. He was given the unofficial title of "World's Greatest Athlete." [Source]
  • His step-daughters and daughters with Kris Jenner are famous (often times thought of as infamous) for their reality show, "Keeping Up with the Kardashians." [I hope I don't need to quote a source on that...]
  • In an interview with Diane Sawyer, Jenner confirmed a year or two of speculation about who he is and told the world, "For all intents and purposes I am a woman." [Source] To read some of the highlights from the interview, here is The Guardian's article.


You will note that with the above I tried to be as objective and fact-oriented as possible because this is the part I would like to actually share my opinion and thoughts on Caitlyn Jenner winning the Arthur Ashe Award. Here's the TL;DR version of what I'm about to discuss. Keep in mind I am trying to be as logical as possible. 

Caitlyn Jenner deserves to win the Arthur Ashe Award. 

With that said, here is what I am NOT SAYING:
  • Lauren Hill, Noah Galloway, and Jim Kelly are less deserving. 
  • Any soldiers, cancer survivors, those fighting cancer, athletes, war victims, war heroes, war survivors, etc are less deserving than transgender people.
  • Any soldiers, cancer survivors, those fighting cancer, athletes, war victims, war heroes, war survivors, etc are more deserving than transgender people.
  • ESPN isn't using this as a publicity stunt.
Here are some facts people get horribly wrong about this whole situation:
  • The Arthur Ashe Award has runner ups, and that is why Hill, Galloway, and Kelly were slighted. They weren't. There is no public documentation or press releases that in anyway imply they were runner ups. Because the Arthur Ashe Award doesn't have any. Who were the Arthur Ashe Award runner ups in 2007? No one. Because they don't exist.
  • That Caitlyn Jenner declaring she is transgender is just a rich guy dressing up in female clothes, wearing make-up, and undergoing plastic surgery. 
  • That being a hero, being brave, and being courageous can only be applied to soldiers. I've seen way too many of those posts on Facebook, and it's so backwards. Soldiers are heroes. Soldiers are brave. Soldiers are insanely, mind-blowingly, beautifully courageous. (Listen, I can't even get hit in the arm without caving like a little bitch, do you know what would happen to me on the battlefield? Death. That would happen. Instant death.) However, Hero, Brave, and Courage are not terms that can only be applied to soldiers or those battling cancer. Are those guys the kickass versions of these terms? Hell, yeah. But that doesn't mean they're the only ones. People go through internal struggles and internal battles, and it's incredibly sad if you don't believe they're not showing bravery in their own lives. 
Before coming out, coverage of Caitlyn Jenner's transition had been an ongoing joke. The speculation and rumors and commentary have been rude, invasive, and they treated Jenner as a freak in the midst of a media circus. Late night comedians have shared their fair share of Jenner-transgender related jokes over the years. Other famous families have shared their downright appall at transgender-related issues (Oh yes, I brought up the Duggars.) The transgender community, as seen in the above APA article, has suffered from discrimination, ignorance, and sometimes downright hatred. Which, one might recall, is how the AIDS community was treated during the eighties and nineties due to misinformation (for pop culture tellings of this, look at Rent and The Normal Heart). You know, the community that Arthur Ashe dedicated his final years to helping via his foundation and UN speech. You know, that work that led to his being named the SI Sportsman of the Year twelve years after he retired from tennis. 

Here's what's been going on after Caitlyn Jenner's Vanity Fair reveal. Comedians have changed their rhetoric. Sure they've still got jokes, but they show a clear respect towards what it means to be transgender. The transgender community has received a ton of positive attention, and one can see this as a highlight in their struggle for acceptance in today's world. Jenner is a public figure, whether its via her Olympic gold status, her not-so-lauded movie and television ventures, or her not-so-lauded, sometimes-lauded Kardashian family. By taking control of the media speculation and conversation via public means (reality show, interview, magazine), she has helped change the conversation concerning the transgender community, and, whether she believes she is a spokesperson or not, she has shed a positive light on the topic. By being on the cover of VF, the conversation around transgender isn't on the defense for once.

So yeah, Jenner hasn't been an athlete since the seventies, but if you look at the award again, you don't have to be a current athlete or even an athlete in the past ten years. And yeah, Jenner wasn't a soldier or a cancer survivor, but that doesn't mean she doesn't show bravery, heroism, or courage (based on their Webster definitions) in her decision to be public about her lifelong battle with herself to become Caitlyn Jenner. Deciding to be openly transgender is still not an easy thing for most of the transgender community, and it is something that has led many to "anxiety, depression or related disorders at higher rates than nontransgender persons" (APA). By doing so and calling it the "new normal," Jenner has provided many with a little more courage in their own lives. 

Now, I don't particularly find the ESPY committee to be totally pure-hearted in their decision to award Jenner the Arthur Ashe Award. Yes, people, you can believe Jenner deserves the award and still mistrust the people giving it to her. Let's be honest, how many people normally tune in to the ESPY Awards each year? Now how many people tune in to the ESPY awards who have little to no interest in sports? Now how many people knew who Arthur Ashe was or what the Arthur Ashe Award was before all of this? I can't give you too many answers to the latter, but I can tell you the ESPY Awards hover around 2.0 million viewers each year. You know how many people watched Diane Sawyer's interview with Jenner? 17 million. I'll let you do the math figuring out what went on in ESPY's minds while they decided on this award. Something along the lines of "Brilliant PR" probably happened at least once in someone's mind even if it wasn't said out loud. 

  • Caitlyn Jenner deserves the Arthur Ashe Award based on Arthur Ashe's legacy, based on the award's description, and based on what she has done for the transgender community.
  • Arthur Ashe was one amazing person.
  • Noah Galloway is a courageous, brave hero.
  • Lauren Hill was a courageous, brave hero.
  • Jim Kelly is a courageous, brave hero.
  • Caitlyn Jenner is a courageous, brave hero.
  • My friend who overcame her depression and anorexia is a courageous, brave hero.
  • The girls I know from my childhood who are now living their lives after battling cancers that took away their teenage years are courageous, brave heroes.
  • These guys are all courageous, brave heroes. 
  • The terms Courage, Brave, and Hero are all terms that have broad meanings, and to pigeonhole them into specific categories says more about you than about the people you're choosing or not choosing to apply them to.
  • The ESPY committee definitely didn't give the award to Caitlyn Jenner for 100% pure reasons, but you're frankly never going to get the confession out of them, so either watch or don't watch it when it comes on. I have never watched it, so I'm still probably not gonna watch it. 
  • Belitting someone just because of perceived injustices (by which I mean the runner up thing that doesn't exist) is rude, bigoted, ignorant, and 100% part of the problem.
  • If the ESPY Awards don't at least double their views to hover around 4 million, I will be shocked. Kylie Jenner alone, has about 6x that many followers on Instagram.
  • If you made it to the end of this article, I commend you good sir or ma'am, and thanks for reading.

No comments :

Post a Comment